Bulleted Update

Will post a proper update one of these days, but for now:

  • Still no conclusive answers on the pain issues I’m having. It’s the longest story ever and most of it sets my teeth on edge. But the good news is that I’m not in excruciating pain any more. Hopefully that will last and I wouldn’t complain if the pain disappeared completely.
  • Discovered two sores on Uschi’s right front paw. Not sure if they are related to her skinning her pads, but the one looks pretty alarming. We have a vet appointment today.
  • New job continues to be fun, though not without its own brand of stress. We have three sessions this weekend!
  • Registered for the fall semester. Supposedly the last classes I’ll have to take for my program. If history is anything to go by this will change 100 times before the semester starts and I’ll have anywhere from a single class to an entire year left.
  • Looking to have portraits done again. Bit up in the air as to when exactly what with the odd weather and my broken guide dog.

An Update!

I’m posting! This is worthy of mention because I’ve sort of not been doing that. But since no one ever comments on blogs anymore unless it’s someone popular or famous I wouldn’t know if anyone actually cared. I miss when people commented, but I admit I am guilty of the read-and-move-on thing, though I try not to be. However, that new fad where people just reply via Twitter or some other social network will never be one I’ll take up. (It’s a pet peeve of mine, if I wasn’t being blunt enough for you.)

I would blame the not really posting on the burnout from a year of daily posting, which is fair as I haven’t even wanted to read blogs since that’s been completed but I’ll get to that in a bit. I could also blame the not posting on having my time taken up by the massive amount of schoolwork being thrust upon me, but I haven’t been procrastinating on my work and it’s been quite manageable. Okay, I’ve procrastinated a little, but I’ve been surprisingly productive aside from that.

No, actually my lack of presence has been less amusing and completely out of my control. You might recall a brief mention of my ongoing pain issues that stemmed from a stiff neck. Well, that was three weeks ago and I’m still basically in agony and it’s not exclusive to my neck. As it is my hands are really bothering me and it is difficult to type, so I’ll save the meat of all the pain stuff for another post. I’m just slightly better after visiting a chiropractor yesterday, so while I may not necessarily be on the mend I’m hoping things will become more manageable and I can sit at my computer without wanting to sob piteously.

Anyway, my literal non-presence has left me quite a backlog of Internet-related things to catch up on. I am not even going to pretend that I will read all forty bajillion updates that everyone I follow has had. But it does seem that while I was ignoring all the goings-on everyone was suddenly bitten by the blogging bug and started updating more frequently (or, in some cases, period) and at least half of those people have relocated their web-presence. I just went through my sidebar and got rid of all the dead links and updated anyone with a new link, but that is merely a fraction of my RSS reader.

My back and hands are letting me know that I need to be finishing this up.

Online Courses

Nearly all of my post-undergraduate work has been in the form of online courses. This is by necessity as I do not live close enough to any school with the degree program I’m pursuing and I’ve used up any reserve ability to relocate at least two moves ago. In other words, it’s not by choice because I have a few issues with the setup of online courses and in the simplest words you might say “I don’t like them.” This isn’t exactly a warning, though you’re welcome to take it as such, but rather I’m feeling an urgent desire to vent.

I despise busywork. I don’t mind doing work. Even a lot of work doesn’t faze me. But if that work does not actively teach me something or showcase my own understanding of the course material then I find little point in doing it. Unfortunately, the foundation of almost any online course is discussion posts. The idea is that these “discussions” are the equivalent of what happens in a real classroom situation. This is misleading because (a.) this assumes that not only does every physical class have discussions but that every student participates equally in them and (b.) there isn’t any actual talking in discussion posts.

Taking each point individually, first even in the classes where discussions occurred they were never the foundation of my learning experience. Possibly this is because I could usually be found tucked away in a back corner (with the pretext of keeping my guide dog safe from being trod upon) where I very pointedly tried to not draw attention to myself. Even when classroom participation was necessary by design, such as Sign Language, I mostly found it embarrassing to be singled out. Furthermore, I can assure you that a good number of my undergraduate classes were little more than the professor standing at the front of the room, droning on. I took a course once where the prof actually read the textbook to us each class. (I am not joking.) So, the assumption that writing an answer to a posed question and/or replying to another student’s answer is the same is patently wrong.

Which brings me to my other point. Discussion posts in an online class are little more than further mandatory reading in what is already a very text-laden environment. Generally they take the form of a question, which doesn’t merely require a response but a “high quality” answer. I don’t know why, but every professor emphasizes the need for this — generally with caps — because without fail 95% of the class doesn’t bother with following this demand. “High quality” here means that the answer should be a critical response that is thorough, well-written, and above all else is properly cited. That means that you need to dig through the class materials (e.g., the textbook) to find the answer and then go find an outside source to back up your own words. (I must have missed those days when I had to have a journal article handy in a physical classroom.) But your grade is also dependent on replying to other students’ responses with an equally critical response as your own answer. I find this to be the most trying aspect of any online class because, as I said, only 5% of your fellow classmates actually bother to follow the instructions. Unfortunately, merely following directions does not make them intelligent and you’re likely to find that they have supplied the most illogical conclusion imaginable to the question. So, finding an answer that you can reply to that will assure you receive credit can be not only time consuming but a major test of your personal zen. What little amount discussions serve to showcase your understanding of the material to the professor is overwhelmed with the chore of teaching your fellow classmates without insulting them.

The fundamental issue with online classes is that I find they boil down to this: the instructor posts his/her notes, gives various assignments to complete and some exams to take. That is not teaching. At best that is facilitating my own learning. Even when the instructor is present and participating in the learning environment by giving timely feedback and encouraging “discussions” the student is still the driving force in this method of learning. More often than not in my experience the instructor does not do this and I’m left wondering why I can’t just CLEP my way through my degree.

Along with these inescapable constants, I also have a recurring issue with online courses that I’ve never dealt with in a physical class: grading without recourse. By that I mean the professor gives absolutely no wiggle room with grading — and any grade given is final. Under the best circumstances I find this type of grading unfair. In my experience this revelation is usually sprung upon the students — it’s not in the syllabus but noted after the first wave of assignments/tests/etc. are graded. I’m not a fan of pass/fail grading systems nor do I like not having a means to debate the worth of my work, but I can respect a professor’s use of such methods if s/he is upfront about it from the beginning. I know what to expect then and I can prepare myself accordingly (read: set myself up for the bitter disappointment of not getting my A). When the announcement is an afterthought, it puts me in a vulnerable position within the class because now every point has become that much more valuable. This is even more of a problem if the professor is also one that does not grade things in a timely manner and/or eschews providing feedback.

Also, if you couldn’t tell, online classes make me incredibly passive-aggressive.

Holiday Card Portraits

And that’s all of the holiday portraits! I figured since these last two are fairly close to these two, I would just post them together. But lest you feel cheated, I do have another to share that I think is rather cute, though, I consider it an outtake simply because it wasn’t what I wanted it for the cards.

I don’t know if it’s the unseasonably mild weather we’ve been having or all the other stresses going on, like my basement flooding and the long overdue college refund, or some other elusive thing but I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that Christmas is only a week off or even truly get into the holiday spirit. I’m pleased that my holiday cards are completed and even went out early (for once!) and my holiday shopping is almost complete, but I still haven’t finished decorating my house and I’ve hardly begun to wrap gifts. Not to mention other than a batch of chocolate chip/chunk cookies that I made for tonight’s holiday movie marathon at Alice and Josh’s, I haven’t baked anything. Thursday was National Cupcake Day even, so that’s saying quite a lot.

Oh, well, perhaps the combination of good food, wine, and company while watching holiday miracles on TV will work their own magic to get me in the mood. At the very least, it wouldn’t be Christmas without allergies clogging up my head, so between the kitties and the tree I’ll have that accomplished before night’s end!

December 14, 2011

Even though my prerequisite courses are behind me — and completed with a 4.0! — the college continues to make my life miserable. I’m finding it hard to remember a time when I wasn’t faced with some ridiculous dilemma stemming from my academic career because as it stands the two go hand-in-hand. I’m not remotely fond of this coupling.

Basically the situation boils down to the college being reluctant to give me my full refund. They’ve twice now paid me part of my refund and various excuses about why and how they haven’t fully paid me back have been given. As it stands now I’m likely not going to see the remaining balance owed to me for another three weeks.

This is very unhelpful for holiday shopping and I’m thoroughly stressed out about it.

I’ve been trying to look at the bright side of this, but the only bit of silver I can find is that every aspect of working with this college has solidified how very much I love my graduate school. Too bad there’s no way to use that as a form of payment towards holiday gifts.