Friday, May 08, 2009


Dust Bunnies of the Mind

- Blackboard is buying Angel.  As soon as we got the news, we made an appointment to meet with some counterparts who use Moodle or Sakai.  Blackboard has been colossally unhelpful in its upgrade cycle -- Angel had been one of the more viable alternatives.  Now, not.  I anticipate a sharp spike in the use of open source platforms.
- Most mornings, my route to work involves a stretch of highway with traffic lights, shops, and hotels with varying levels of seediness.  One morning earlier this week, I saw a school bus stop at one of the relatively cheap hotels, and a boy about TB's age climb on.  I had never seen that before.  I admit not knowing the back story, but it's probably not good.
- Note to statewide consortia, initiatives, task forces, projects, etc.: Please, please, please stop scheduling statewide all-day workshops during final exams.  Thank you.
- I think "wrongitude" should be a word.  "I have not yet begun to explore the depths of your wrongitude."  "Your proposal's wrongitude is breathtaking."  "Wrongness" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
- Three weeks ago, the stimulus looked like it would give us two years to restructure.  Two weeks ago, it looked like it would give us one year.  Last week, it looked like two years again.  This week, even one year is in question.  I'm getting budgetary vertigo, and I'm not alone.  It's hard to live up to 'transparency' when things change this quickly, and for reasons entirely outside your control.  At this point, I just want a solid number for next year, even if it's bad.  It's getting impossible to keep postponing decisions.

- Apparently, NBC is planning a situation comedy this Fall featuring Chevy Chase, among others, leading a merry band of losers as they make their way through community college.

I'll just admit to being conflicted about this.

I'll start with the easy snark, just to clear my throat. NBC? Chevy Chase? I give it three weeks, tops. Anyone who saw Chevy's late night talk show in the 90's – all three of us, basically – won't be expecting much. Will it rock America the way Cops and Robbersons did? History will decide.

Okay, that's done.

Many years ago, Judd Apatow did a criminally underappreciated series called Undeclared, which was sort of Freaks-and-Geeks-Go-to-College. It was wonderful, it was accurate, it was ignored. (The same was true of Freaks and Geeks, which was one of my favorite shows ever.) Part of what made Undeclared great was that it didn't fall into the usual storylines of either Animal House or Dead Poets Society. (For the record, I prefer Animal House. “This is no time for thinking!” is one of the great lines of cinema, for my money, and Belushi's eyebrows still make me laugh.) Instead of either 'college is wanton debauchery' or 'heroic teacher saves souls,' it captured the combination of humanity and banality that actually exists on most campuses. Of course, dorm life is still a minority experience, and the show never really found an audience.

It's much more common to set tv shows in high school than in college, probably in part because high school is a much more common experience. If community colleges are starting to get familiar enough that a network is willing to gamble a mass audience, I see that as good.

The part about 'losers' gives me pause, but it's hard to make comedy about winners. And I have to assume that the losers won't be too far gone, since they have to be sympathetic enough for advertisers to tolerate, and successful enough that we could imagine them not immediately flunking out.

If anything, this is probably the time to get the requisite smartass comments out of the way, so we can take the high road when it goes on the air. The world really doesn't need another “would you marry a chinchilla?” reality show, nor does it need the umpteenth Gritty Police Drama. A show that portrays community colleges as flawed but basically good, full of flawed but basically good people gradually getting their stuff together, isn't such a bad idea. And if we retreat into the usual Stuffy Professor tut-tutting, we'll only confirm a really tenacious and unhelpful stereotype of higher education.

Regarding "wrongitude," I myself prefer the (not-yet-a-word) "wrongth." As in, "your proposal is laden with wrongth." The word's strange mouth-feel adds to the sense of...well...wrongth.
Have you looked at Scholar360 (as an alternative to BlackBoard et al). It is supposed to cost a lot less than BlackBoard.
Three things.

I hate Moodle. I'm an open source advocate, but it has too many steps and is counter-intuitive. I wish you luck with this.

Do you pronounce "wrongitude" with a hard or soft g?

Here in Ontario it is quite common for people on social assistance who are waiting for public housing to live in motels (seedy ones, in seedy areas, as you described). Many of these people are recent immigrants, often refugees. Even when the economy was good this was the case because the waiting lists for affordable housing are so long it takes years.
FWIW, I like using Moodle better than Blackboard because it seems more flexible (illusion or reality, I don't know) and had a short learning curve (at least for someone who had used Blackboard but didn't seek IT service help). YMMV.
Hmm, it's not clear to me from the post that you actually watched the trailer for the show. If not, I'd give it a look: I think it's actually a very kind a sympathetic view of CCs even if, apropos of your past few posts, it doesn't quite get the demographics right. And it looks more amusing than 90% of the sitcoms on TV, so maybe it has a chance of surviving. If nothing else, McHale will bring his cult following along from "The Soup".
Also, regarding the TV show, I think it's by the creators of Arrested Development, which might be a good sign.
I can't believe it! I just learned Angel after using Blackboard the semester before. I can't wait for the emails from our tech guy - new workshops all over again.
We signed a 3-year contract with Angel a few months ago, and then told Blackboard where they could stick it. Ouch! If that isn't wrongitude, I don't know what is.
School buses stop at all kinds of non-single-family dwellings here in the southwest.

Most towns don't consider "maintaining a permanent residence" as a prerequisite for educating children. (argue about the rightness/wrongness/opportunity for abuse etc. if you want but it's happening)

Oddly enough, most people don't get excited about legality/residency requirements until the High School level; but that's a function of the importance placed on football . . . (residency requirements for membership in a HS athletic program).
my university switched from WebCT to Sakai a couple of years ago when Blackboard bought them.

I have been told by our vice-provost that it has not been cheaper (we now spend money on dedicated IT staff/developers), but the support is much better and it is easier to make it do what we want.
Being a lowly adjunct I can't speak to cost, but I've really enjoyed using Sakai. Very powerful in terms of features, but also quite intuitive--I never had any training, and I don't think I've even needed to consult the help files once.
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