Monday, January 16, 2017

My Educational Autobiography

In my recent course on teaching and learning in my program, we were asked to write an educational autobiography.  I have done such activities previously and always found them insightful to who I am at the moment and as a means of seeing what differences influence me each time I re-write it.  I also realized, it might not be a bad idea to share my educational autobiography for those of you who are interested in learning a bit more about my learning experiences.  

Word cloud of this educational autobiography in the form of a lightbulb.

Learning As Living

I couldn’t excel in the emotionally and socially-alienating structure of high school even though I was intelligent; it was a toxic environment that led to depression, self-harm (bulimia and cutting), and suicide attempts.  Upon entering higher education in 1997, I sighed with great relief.  In college, I found a home to which I would spend all but one of the last nineteen years as a student, an educator, and a staff member; sometimes, all three at once.

My father encouraged my intellectual curiosity, insisting on being a life-long learner and that the longer one lived, the less one knew.  As the stay-at-home-parent in my middle class, suburban, white family, he reiterated these messages often.  I like to think there was something innate about me that drove me to be a learner but my upbringing, coupled with the privileges afforded it, strong encouragement from mentors all along the way, and being the younger brother of an athlete (leaving me have to find my own area where I excelled), tells me that my circumstances strongly guided my desire to be involved in academia and to pursue what might be considered excessive education (a bachelor and associate’s degree, three master’s degrees, and a doctorate).

However, four other realms strongly intertwine with my educational development:  libraries, the internet, books, and writing. They all overlap and weave into one another; it’s hard to fully untie them.  Living within walking distance meant I regularly visited the library throughout middle and high school, just to explore and learn new things.  Not only would the library introduce me to some of my favorite authors and books over the years, but they would introduce me to audiobooks, a form of reading and learning that has fundamentally changed my life.  Around this same time, I gained access to the Internet and like the library, this allowed me ample opportunity to explore the pockets of knowledge and even teach myself new things (such as website design).  As a respite from high school alienation, I also took to writing fiction and creating my own worlds.  Eventually, I would complete a several-hundred-page novel by the end of my junior year of high school (after re-writing it several times in freshman and sophomore years).  These accomplishments and pursuits stimulated my intellectual curiosity and confidence so that upon entering college, I was already primed in some fundamental ways for succeeding (self-determination, research exploration, dedication to long-term goals, willingness to learn for learning’s sake).   

            I went to the local state college, though I had been accepted elsewhere.  I intended to be a high school history teacher (something that changed upon entering college and realizing, returning to high school seemed a bad choice) and saw no point in accumulating unnecessary debt; I also formed the belief that learning differences between institutions was minimum.  I advocated my way into the Honors Program being on the edge of qualified and here is where things came together with a strong socially, emotionally, and intellectually supportive environment among the faculty and students that made my experience quite powerful.  Between mentors in the Honors Program and in my department, I soon realized by my sophomore year that more degrees would follow, a master’s degree for sure, but now the specter of a doctoral degree was formulating. 

Over the twelve years of learning in higher education, I’ve realized some important aspects about my learning. I learn best when I have the flexibility to take the learning in the direction that I feel is important but that flexibility is tempered by guidance and high expectations.  For instance, my final project in my American studies master’s degree allowed me to pursue a fascinating subject (transpeople representation in media contrasted with the history of transpeople), but my advisors kept pushing me to make my writing stronger through additional application of theory and revising.  By contrast, my final project for my instructional design degree felt less useful in that I was able to explore what I wanted (hybrid flexible pedagogy), but received superficial feedback on my work (grammatical edits).  The failure to provide strong critical feedback has always lessened my educational experiences.  I believe I am a reasonably intelligent person and I’m not interested in affirmation of my intelligence (though it can be appreciated), but rather I want feedback on how to make it better or insight into what I have missed. 

As a student, I become quite frustrated and devalued when artificial barriers are put in the way of my learning (something strongly influenced by my roles as an instructor and instructional designer).  When I struggle with my education, I want it to be on the concepts and ideas of the learning, not with peripherals.  Therefore, if the instructor is using tools, they need to make sure the tool and their use of it are as seamless as possible.  Too often, I have grown frustrated with an instructor throwing 20-30 readings into a single folder in Blackboard with no consistent naming convention.  The result is a few hours, downloading, renaming, and organizing the readings in a manner that allows for me to actually know what it is I have to read.  Such hurdles distract unnecessarily from my learning rather than enhance it. 

I thrive as a learner when I begin making connections within the discipline or area of study and how it operates and its overlay.  More importantly, I feel like I’m succeeding when I begin to create new connections, hypotheses, and knowledge within that area.  In my undergraduate program, as I began to consider what to explore for my Honor’s thesis, I found myself being able to interconnect my learning in several different courses (Russian history, Gender in Latin American History, Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, and Contemporary European History) to understand a historical anomaly about the Russian witch-hunt and be able to explain it, through research.  Being able to speak to something that no one had covered or explored showed me that I had been successful in my pursuit of a history degree.

This reflection would be remised if I did not also consider the informal learning that has played an essential role in my educational autobiography.  As mentioned the library, books, and the internet continue to be my sidekicks to learning, always present and used to further explore what I’m interested in and also to explore other subjects and cross-pollinate different subjects to look for ideas or different frames.  Then, of course, there is the ways in which being an instructor and instructional designer has helped me to understand my own learning and also helped me to learn that same material to which I was teaching.  That is, teaching has showed me there are entirely other ways of learning material and that it becomes one more learning tool. 

In so many ways, this autobiography is insufficient to a degree that I feel like each sentence could be its own introductory sentence to a chapter in the book on my education. Everyone may experience trouble with this but my challenge is that I have above average education even for a doctoral student and have thought deeply about all of it over the years.  That’s not to say this exercise isn’t useful or that I still don’t learn from it, but that I still feel constricted by doing the autobiography justice. For decades now, I have seen myself as a voracious and enthusiastic learner.  I’ve come to understand learning as a fundamental aspect of life and that its pursuit is another way of maintaining one of the most powerful traits that I think humans possess, the ability to change and grow.

If you have enjoyed this post and want to learn more about my adventures in my Phd program, check out this series of blog posts.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Gratitude: A Year Full Of It

So at the start of 2016, I began a new project.  Each day, I would acknowledge some things that I am grateful for.  Typically, it was three statements:

  • I am thankful for...
  • I appreciate...
  • I am grateful for...

Word cloud of the full year of gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.
The entire year's worth of gratitude in one image.

One year later and I can say that I did this almost every day of the year and those days that I missed, I certainly made up for those days that I missed.  In total, I recorded 1326 statements of gratitude, which averages out to about 3.5 statements a day.  I really liked these quiet moments in the morning where I took the time to just be thankful for what I have in my life.  It helped center me (as I've said repeatedly) and will continue the practice well into 2017.  

A secondary practice that came from doing this daily is my weekly thank you note.  Each week, I take the time to write out a card to someone who has played an important role in my life and then, I send that card to that person.  I've really enjoyed this and found it rewarding to be able to compose my thoughts and say something meaningful to the people in my life that have been so kind and helpful.  And so often, I hear from the people that the card arrived on the perfect day---a day they were in a sad state of some kind or another and the card brightened their day.  I appreciate hearing such sentiments though I'm just happy the person knows they are appreciated.   

How did I do it and keep consistent?  I've come to live by my Google calendar and email Inbox.  What I've done is more likely to work if you attempt to limit the amount of unread email to only that which you need to do.  I quickly turnover email that doesn't need my attention or if it's something that I can easily delete or archive.  Each day, I have a series of reminders from my Google calendar show up in my inbox for different "Daily Do's".  I can delete the reminder once I have addressed the item.  Thus, each day, I get a daily reminder about completing my gratitude exercise.  Coupled with this, I created a very simple Google Form (one question:  "What are you grateful for?").  I put the link to this Google Form in a prominent place in my bookmark bar.  Therefore, I can quickly get to the form and proceed to fill it out.  I'd be curious to others to hear how they construct their gratitude practice and what they have found useful. 

So here's all of the word clouds from each month along with a link to that month's reflection.  I'm fascinated by the things that show up time and again as significant and repeated items and those that don't.  Consciously or not, the grateful statements definitely reflect the different things that are going on in my life at any given time and thus some things are more stressed than others at certain times.  

January's Gratitude

Word cloud of the January's gratitude notes in the shape of a circle.

February's Gratitude

Word cloud of the February's gratitude notes in the shape of a cloud.

March's Gratitude

Word cloud of the March's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.

April's Gratitude

Word cloud of the April's gratitude notes in the shape of a circle.

May's Gratitude

Word cloud of the May's gratitude notes in the shape of the word, "LOVE"

June's Gratitude

Word cloud of the June's gratitude notes in the shape of a cloud.

July's Gratitude

Word cloud of the July's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.

August's Gratitude

Word cloud of the August's gratitude notes in the shape of a word balloon.

September's Gratitude

Word cloud of the September's gratitude notes in the shape of a leaf.

October's Gratitude

Word cloud of the October's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.

November's Gratitude

Word cloud of the November's gratitude notes in the shape of a word balloon.


Word cloud of the December's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart..

Well, that's the (first) year in being grateful.  I have all this and so much more to be thankful for and appreciate that I have the opportunity to share it with all of you out there.  Thank you for reading and journeying along with me for this adventure.

So, what are you grateful for?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News

Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News by Jeff Jarvis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm an admitted fanboy of Jeff Jarvis. His previous book, Public Parts, changed my understand about social media in profound ways and has helped me think differently about the Internet as a whole. Geeks Bearing Gifts follows as the ideological extension of Public Parts in that Jarvis lays out the challenges and the struggles of news media and how they should pivot towards newer strategies for considering what news is, how to deliver it, and how to maintain its legitimacy. He certainly offers many nuggets of wisdom on how news can and should improve while also providing some provocative thoughts on how news media fails and will continue to do so unless we reinvent what it means. People are likely to resist his message but in the face of a failed media landscape, they don't seem to offer other viable options.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

My Most Recent Reads - December 2016

I end the year with another month with a good amount of reads that I was full enthralled with but many of which I cannot really speak about since they are ones that I am reviewing elsewhere.  I will probably come back and write reviews for a good deal of them since some of them will likely be some of my most recommended reads for the year.  I can at least talk a bit about two of the books of the past month:

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin

Word cloud for this blog postMartin explores the history of dramatic television in the last two decades, defining it as the third golden age of television.  The title refers to the defining feature of this third golden age in that both onscreen in the form of lead characters and off-stage in the form of the rise of the "show-runner" writer is universally male.  In tracing the history of many of the most famous and genre-defining shows, Martin shows how the leading characters (Tony Soprano, Vick Mackey, Don Draper, Walter White and others) are men in constant desire of power in a variety of forms and willing to do harm to achieve it.  They are contrasted with often more-complicated but still flawed creators and writers who are also trying to leave their own mark on the world.  Taken together, the book holds up a fascinating mirror to the American culture and in particular, males.  It's a nice slice of Americana, gender studies (though not necessarily too overt), and cultural history.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

Word cloud of TED Talks review in the form of a brain.
Anderson, the head of TED, the central repository for engaging ideas in small 7-18 minute speeches by many key industry leaders (of almost every industry) presents a concise and clear guide to organizing and preparing to give the best speech of one's life.  Focused largely on giving a "TED Talk," which is not necessarily every talk one is likely to give, Anderson walks readers through everything from different approaches on preparing, to technical considerations to delivery styles and wardrobe questions.  He draws upon many of the most famous TED talks to illustrate the best examples of what he is discussing and while he does refer to bad examples, he usually is vague on the details, sparing the targets (and probably himself from lawsuits).  I appreciate Anderson's ability to pull together different aspects of a speech and clarify with each, what is the essential consideration one must keep in mind. Anderson's guide provides a lot of great information and ideas about how to improve one's speaking technique and is likely to be useful to anyone trying to hone their presentation skills.

Monthly reads for 2016 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads)


  • Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  • Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin
  • The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement by William J. Barber III
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
  • Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith
  • The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
  • The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross
  • Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide To Thriving In The Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman
  • The Untold Story of the Talking Book by Matthew Rubery
  • TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson


  • Darth Vader, Vol 4: End of Games by Kieron Gillen
  • Poe Dameron, Vol. 1: Black Squadron by Charles Soule
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
  • Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests by Warren Ellis
  • Huck by Mark Millar

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: The News: A User's Manual

The News: A User's Manual The News: A User's Manual by Alain de Botton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

de Botton's work offers up an interesting take on the news. It is both critical and prescriptive about the full potential of news. He identifies many of the shortcomings of news that can be seen across the world. He starts each chapter with a clip from some news source and proceeds to explore just the story is representative or invokes the issues that he is discussing in that chapter. He then moves into explaining how there are certain retrievable elements within the story and solid reasons why the "news" covers certain topics (such as celebrities) but teases out exactly how news should address such subjects for the purpose of serving the public good.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book in a trilogy and I absolutely loved the first book and this second one is equally as compelling. It took me some time to get into it (I listened to the audiobook) because keeping track of the names was a bit tricky (it's translated from Chinese and names are not as familiar to me). The premise of the novel is that Earth has been made aware of an alien species that is set to come to Earth and destroy human life so that the alien life can prosper. It sounds pretty simple but Cixin crafts so many different layers about what this means, how this could happen, and why interplanetary dialogue is likely to be a very very tricky and problematic venture. The novel reads like an amazing and fascinating chess match among the main characters and the alien entities that I find myself for the first time in a long while impatient to read the final book in the trilogy. While I really enjoyed the first book in the series, this book proved even better.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Goals for a New Year, 2017 Edition

Welcome to 2017!  

Word cloud of this post in the form of 2017

Despite the craziness on the global level, we've arrived at 2017.  Politically, 2016 was a rough year.  Personally, I cannot complain.  I landed a new job, I've made progress in my PhD program, I've lost weight, and I earned personal bests in my running, despite injuries.  Overall, I'm healthy, happy, and loved.  But it's 2017 and I need some goals (for those new to this, you can check out my 2016 goals and how well I did with them).  I feel like these should all be doable this year, but who knows.  In reality, I probably won't hit all of them, but enough of them that like last year, I find this a valuable activity to get me focused on how to progress in the year.  

Give It a Tri

We all know that I have taken to running over the last 5 years.  This past summer, I returned to bicycling as well when my IT band was giving me trouble.  I also started working at college that has a pool, which means I started swimming as well.  My brother and a few other friends have been nudging me to try a triathlon in the last few years.  I always made a point to say that I wouldn't do one because it would require access to a pool and I wouldn't get a gym membership because I don't like the gym (too easy for me to convince myself not to go).  But now that I've got access to a pool and am swimming regularly, I think it's fair to say I should definitely do a triathlon.  Now, they train hardcore for Ironman races, which is NOT what I will be doing this year.  I figure that a few sprints and an Olympic are well within my range.  I figure that I will got for 3 in total for the year and see how it goes.    

15,000 a day

This will be a bit of a stretch goal in that I'm not sure I will be able to do this everyday, but I believe in the aggregate I will be able to meet this goal.  Basically, I want to aim for 15,000 a day.  I do this pretty regularly but feel like making the goal of 15,000 makes it a bit more challenging.  Mostly, I'm curious to see how long of a streak I can maintain if I start with the intention of doing 15,000 a day.  My previous streak was somewhere withing the 50-60 days mark.  

And Another 15

I've lost 15 or so pounds with Weight Watchers.  I actually lost more but the fall semester and winter holiday season got the best of me.  My goal here is to get down to my goal weight and maintain it.  210 is the goal and I feel it's highly doable and of maintaining so long as I take to heart the ideas that Weight Watchers advocates.  

Stay On Target

I'm taking a break from having running goals for this year.  I still plan to regularly run and do a few half-marathons and such, but I feel like a break from the goals is a good idea while working on other physical aspects.  This past year, I hit two personal bests (under 40-minute 5-mile; under 1:55 half-marathon) that I never thought was possible.  I want to appreciate that and enjoy running this year without trying to outdo myself.  Call it a victory lap if you will, but just a year of enjoying running without a strict goal to work towards.  

Focus on the Breath

I've practiced different methods of self-awareness and reflection over the years and I feel like this year, I want to use what I've learned to focus on my breathing.  Much of the literature about mindfulness, self-control, emotional well-being, etc all extol the importances of the breath and I feel like it is speaking to me right now as something important to hold onto and focus upon as this year feels like it has the potential to get increasingly challenging given I'll be going soon into year 3 of the doctoral program and of course, the political craziness that is the US right now.  Working to take the time to notice and practice breathing can only help to center me more in the days to come.  

Less mindlessness

Whether it's eating without being hungry, ceaselssly scrolling Facebook, constantly checking email, etc, I want to take my focus on the breath and use it to help me to shift away from things that feel too unncessary or without direction.  That's not to say I'm giving up social media but just aiming to use it more systematically than I have in years past.  I want to work more to be in tune with what I need, what I'm trying to accomplish, and what I may be trying to avoid.  

Complete the book

So the Teaching History With Comics book still remains unfinished but I am working with the publisher to have a clear and direct plan to get it complete, which is good because I think it will prime me well for the project that will come next.  I feel like I have a good sense of how to move forward with it and will just need to keep myself on a steady production schedule.  

Figure out my dissertation topic

Yeah, this one.  I'm starting to get a sense of what my specific topic might be but feel that I really have to focus it this year.  So, I plan on journaling on it weekly to help me further flesh it out and hopefully be able at this time next year to more substantively say what it is that I'm doing.  

Read more books

I'm making a pack with myself to give up graphic novels for the year (unless they are the few that I subscribe to) in order to clear out the books that are in my to-read pile (and have been for too long).  I have to do a lot of school reading but I want to return to reading books for pleasure and personal interest, so I'm going to drop the graphic novels for a while.  Hopefully then, I can clean out some of my way-to-long- "to read" pile that I've been itching to get to over the past decade or so (maybe finally finish The Wheel of Time series or all of Sara Douglass's books!).  

Politically Activate 

The 2016 election still hurts.  It hurts because it seems to be an utter failure of a healthy and well-informed democratic republic; it hurts because so much of what the new administration represents is not only antithetical to what our country represents in its most idealized form (a nation that fairly and equally represents the interests of its entire citizenry), but because the identity politics war waged so hard and ugly by the right in terms of the people they were willing to disregard as not American and the ways in which they dehumanized so many different groups just boggles the mind of anyone who believes in equity, fairness, and equality.  The election was a wake-up call for many and I hope to be part of the change that will undermine or at least limit the damage that the incoming administration represents.  

So those are the goals for 2017.  Tall order?  Probably.  But that gives me plenty of opportunity to hit, miss, and improve.  I've also decided that one way of staying more on target will be to actually update the blog bi-monthly with where I am with things.  Let's see if I manage to do that, right?  

What about you?  What are some of your goals for 2017?  What would you want to see accomplished by 2018?  

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