Recent Post on LETS Blog: Using Google Docs

I’ve been using Google Docs more and more with each semester.  I find it a great tool for organizing my work, files, and student work.  It’s pretty easy to set up, to organize, and to keep track of students and their work.  Since it is attached to the student’s school email and all done online, it avoids issues of compatibility and software issues.  The most software they’ll need is an updated web browser.  Any browser works well, but you can expect some wonkiness.

For the rest of the article, click on through to the LETS Blog.

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Look What I Made: Potpourri

So recently, I came into an abundance of wonderfully smelling flowers in vases that were starting to enter into the decay stage.  Rather than let them go to waste or try to hang them upside down to dry them out (my cats would have had a field day with that!), I decided to use my dehydrator and make some potpourri.  It was a pretty easy process and makes for a wonderful olfactory delight in the apartment.

So here's how I did it:
Flowers:  Step 1:  Bring the flowers together and find a container to put the pedals in.
Step 1:  Bring the flowers together and find a container to put the pedals in.

Flower pedals: Step 2:  Remove pedals from stems and place in bowl. Do your best to mix them up with all the other pedals.
Step 2:  Remove pedals from stems and place in bowl. Do your best to mix them up with all the other pedals.

Pedals in the dehydrator.  Step 3:  Spread out the pedals on the dehydrator trays. Fill the tray so that there's ample overlap.
Step 3:  Spread out the pedals on the dehydrator trays. Fill the tray so that there's ample overlap.

Dehydrated pedals. Step 4:  Run the dehydrator (temperature and times may vary, but continue until pedals are crunchy).
Step 4:  Run the dehydrator (temperature and times may vary, but continue until pedals are crunchy).

Bagged dehydrated pedals. Step 5:  Place the mix in an air-tight contain--preferably one in which you can press out any extra air.
Step 5:  Place the mix in an air-tight contain--preferably one in which you can press out any extra air.

Aroma lamp.  Step 6:  Find an aroma lamp that works well for you. (It can be run by tea lights or light bulbs)
Step 6:  Find an aroma lamp that works well for you. (It can be run by tea lights or light bulbs)

Aroma lamp with pedals. Step 7:  Place dried flowers in the cap. Add a non-scented oil (or even water) and enjoy the delightful smells.
Step 7:  Place dried flowers in the cap. Add a non-scented oil (or even water) and enjoy the delightful smells.

Pretty simple, quick to do, cheap, and a great way to upcycle flowers and keep their usage going long after they've hit their peak.  Enjoy and let me know if you've tried it!

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

Tales of Running: First and Last Impressions

When I was in middle school, my dad signed me and my brother up for a lacrosse camp.  We went to this camp once a week (or twice--I don't clearly remember the frequency) for several weeks.  I wasn't entirely into lacrosse but I was mildly curious in it and more interested in it compared to football or baseball by this point. Like most programs, they broke us up by age, so while I hung out with the youngest kids, my brother was with the high school kids.  My group was paired with Coach Logan.  My first impression of him--through the haze of the 12-13-year-old know-it-all attitude while trying to climb or aspire to a higher run on the social hierarchy that was developing--was rather sad.  Coach Logan was quirky, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.  But to my developing and judgmental mind, he was someone who must be high and an idiot.  I remember we ended our practices with "Indian Runs" (I do hope they have been renamed since then).  For those not in the know, this is where players run single file and the last person in the line must sprint to the front of the line.  But Coach Logan didn't just want us to do run (that I could actually handle; despite disliking running, I could tolerate Indian runs, because it was the only time I go to zoom past my teammates).  He wanted us to call out an "Indian chant" while we did it. I remember a profound sense of thinking he was an idiot.  It was likely one (further) reason I lost interest in lacrosse.

Fast forward to freshman year of college at Salem State (some 5-6 years later).  My brother had already been there a few years and was getting involved in the lacross club.  My brother convinced me to join up and play in the spring.  Of course, when I did, I came to find that the coach of the program, was none other than Coach Logan.  There was no chanting this time around, but his approach and attitude was still the same.  He clearly knew the sport, but his  demeanor seemed to rub me and coupled with my previous experience with him, it was hard for me to break out of that frame. I lasted maybe two months.

Over the ensuing years, my brother continued to interact with Coach Logan.  Trevor eventually became and still is the Salem State Lacrosse Coach and has helped develope the club into a Division 3 program.  I've not have substantive interaction with Coach Logan during much of the ensuing years.  But very quickly, in the last year, he popped back up on the radar.  Last fall at the Wild Turkey Run on Thanksgiving, my brother, sister-in-law and myself were doing the run.  Sure enough, Coach Logan showed up.  I found out later that he did a lot of these runs and that my brother saw him regularly.

But in mid-August, Coach Logan showed up on my radar again.  In fact, he showed to my last three races, the trail run, the 25K, and the 30K.  As I prepared to the trail run, I turned around to see Coach Logan walking up the pathway.  He recognized me and we started chatting.  He listened to my experience and how bad I had gotten into running.  He was delighted and excited to hear about it.  We shared a discussion on vibrams and his excitement and enthusiasm were palpable.  He talked about the idea of humans getting back to being "human" and thoroughly using their bodies as the gifts that they are for many people.  It was an interesting conversation to have because it seems so much a part of Coach Logan and part of his overall personality that I clearly disregarded when I was that middle-school punk.  He introduced me to his wife and several of his friends that were at the event.  He spoke kind words of me and to me.

Sure enough, the following week at the 25K, bright and early, there he was as I walked up to the registration table.  All smiles, inviting, happy.  His happiness at seeing me there served as some of the motivation needed in the day to get me through the trek.  He was there at the end of the race to congratulate me.  At one point, he introduced me to a friend as an "inspiration" for the challenges I was tackling with my running.

On Sunday, September 16, I did the Nahant 30K.  It was one of the harder challenges in my life.  And somewhere around the 12-13 mile mark, I came around a bend, and who was there cheering me on:  Coach Logan.  He was a marshal for the race and this was his spot to direct runners.  I smiled, gave him a thumbs up and kept plowing forward.  The way the race was set up, we turned around and would be passing him again.  Again, the smiles, the cheers, the thumbs up.  The encouragement, enthusiasm, and sincerity writ large across his face.

That is the last impression I have of Coach Jim Logan.  He suffered a heart-attack at the race and died later that day.  I found out on Monday and was hit hard by it.  A 65-year old man who two weeks prior had run a 25K race--not as a new challenge, but just something he did, like all the other races he participated in.  A man who circled around my life and inspired me.

When I think about the nearly 20 years I've known of the man, what saddens me most is that I thought so little of him for most of that time, never understanding or appreciating the fullness or actually knowing the man.  That daunting influence of a first impression from my childhood kept me from seeing the man that he was.  It's a shame because he clearly had a big heart and understood things about life and running that I wished I had understood years ago (though who knows if I wouldn't have actually been ready to hear it--until I did finally "get it").  I won't ever get to fully know the man that Coach Logan was, though his lasting impression weigh heavy upon me. and I'm likely to carry his thoughts with me on many a run in the future.

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Adventures in Learning: Or My Skepticism About "Adults" Part 2: Learning In Adulthood.

So in a previous post, I took to task some of the concerns and problems that I find with Tenant and Pogson's Learning and Change in the Adult Years.  Now, I'm going to discuss Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner's Learning in Adulthood (Henceforth: LIA).  We had 2 chapters to read for LIA.  Chapter 3:  Adult Learners:  Who Participates and Why & Chapter 13:  Cognitive Development in Adulthood.  Here we go!

Chapter 3:  Adult Learners:  Who Participates and Why

The first assumption I have trouble with is "participation in adult education is largely a voluntary activity." (Pg 53).  But is it?  A teacher getting his/her master's degree could be construed as "voluntary"--but only voluntary in so much as that teacher wants to keep his/her job (in MA, I believe the rule is that a teacher needs to obtain one within 5 years of starting a teaching position).  There were numerous jobs I worked where we were required to get training and certification in order to keep our jobs.  Is that voluntary?  In the big picture of it, yes, but in the real context, no--not really.

Later on, the authors explain "Almost all studies of participants in adult education focus on formal, institutionally based programs.  This, of course, is due to the ease of gathering this information from learners and institutions that sponsor programs.  It is much more difficult to assess participation in nonformal, community-based activities or in informal self-directed learning."  (Pg 54).  Ok, big problem here.  If we're trying to understand and explain what "adult learning" is, and we haven't in any real way captured and studied what appears to be a large chunk of adult learners--can we say anything substantive about adult learners?  And coupled with that is the fact that we're making assumptions about that audience that isn't entirely true (such as its voluntary).

It reminds me of the problem with serial killers.  All profiles and information that we have created with regards to serial killers is generated by serial killers who were caught.  There are studies that suggest we've caught only a fraction of actual serial killers, so do we actually have a legitimate profile of a "serial killer" or a limited view of failed serial killers?  Similarly, we've captured only a portion of adult learners, a fair percentage may not be there entirely voluntarily.

I'm also surprised that they don't really account for the increase in adult education over the last 40 years and connect it to the issue of degree inflation.  That is, adult education doesn't seem entirely of people seeking to improving themselves but recognizing that the credentials of yesteryear (a 4 year bachelor's degree) doesn't hold up nearly as well any more and to be competitive or to even advance (or not be laid off), means one has to further specialize and educate himself/herself.

Then there's the issue of "formal" and "nonformal."  Here is not a criticism but something I think worth noting.  With the rise of MOOCs, badge systems like CodeAcademy, the question increasingly is--is there discernible difference or does the difference matter?  (It may now--but as we move forward, the answer's not clear).

At other times, I feel the authors aren't really paying attention to what they are saying:  "An astounding 63 percent of adults reported participating in informal workplace learning."  (Pg 60).  Why is 63% "astounding"?  Given the desire for advancement for many and the nuances of different jobs, this seems normal...not astounding.

Overall, a better question to ask in all of this is would people get as much additional education (formal or informal) if it didn't mean a potential advance in their work (either in pay or position).  And is there good reason to differentiate learning for career advancement as opposed to learning for self-development?

However, where the chapter does shine and I feel works past some of what feels like light or superficial discussion is the section labelled "Problematizing the Concept of Participation."  In turning the question of participation on its head and questioning the underlying assumptions and cultural rhetoric, I think they do much better and are critical about ways in which systematic defaults allow us to privilege those who fall in line and disregard those who don't (often by the fundamental attribution error).  As they put it: "So although the rhetoric of adult education suggests some rather lofty ideals for the purpose of the endeavor, the reality suggests a more conservative purpose: maintenance of the status quo, which today means a capitalist economic system that values individuality, independence, and entrepreneurialism."  (Pg 72).

Chapter 13:  Cognitive Development in Adulthood.  

I find myself falling in with the "neo-Piagetians" who "recognize that these qualitative changes...may not occur for all aspects of thinking, but rather tend to be 'local and domain specific in nature.'" (Pg 237).  I tend to agree and find myself just as guilty of localizing sense-making.  I do my best to push it to larger systematic levels, but that too is often harder to do without practice (or realistic terms to rely upon).

But where I find great value about understanding learning (though not necessarily "adult learning"), is the discussion of postformal thought.  "a more advanced level involves an individual's ability not only to think logically but also to reflect on this logical thinking....People who possess postformal thought believe the following:  First, they know that all knowledge is incomplete and subjective.  However, they recognize that they must act despite the limits of their knowledge.  They understand that there is not one 'Truth' but many 'truths' and they commit to one set of beliefs knowing that there are many.  Further, they understand that contradiction and subjectivity are inherent in all logical and objective observations....They go beyond problem-solving to problem-solving behaviors, characterized by 'creative thought vis-a-vis discovered problems'....In short, formal operational thought 'presume[s] logical constituency within a single logical system'....In contrast, postformal operations 'presume somewhat necessarily subjective selection among logically contradictory formal operational systems, each of which is internally consistent and absolute.' (Pg 327).

As I understand it, the postformal understand recognizes the lack of objectivity and therefore, knows no matter what their approach/decision, it is limited and likely will need to be contradictory to another answer and approach to something else.  It's being consciously aware that learning, while always enlightening is always limiting.  It kind of reminds me of what my father always said.  "The more I learn, the less I know."  This seems to capture that concept.  I ultimately know less, but still move forward with making sense of the world as a result of continued learning that is tempered by contradiction, subjectivity, and instability.

LIA does well in this chapter providing a variety of theories, explaining who was involved in forming them, their potential and their limitations.  However, the "Transcendence View" seemed to be poorly developed and explained.  If anyone cares to explain that one to me; I'll give you a prize.

As LIA moved into dialectical thinking, I got a little excited.  Though hard and sometimes, I find myself re-reading it several times to get it.  The dialectical approach fits and though I don't entirely agree that it "becomes the hallmark of mature adult thinking" (Pg 344), I do believe it shows a higher level of thinking.  I disagree because 1. I still don't care for this concept of an adult learner; 2. Because I don't think it is fully possible to constantly maintain this state of mind.  It's exhausting for our brains.  It's most likely a sign of evolution, but to maintain and move through the world ceaselessly in this state doesn't seem entirely possibly.  That said, I do certainly appreciate attempt to "work within these relationships, miserable as that might be, to advance our ways of thinking and working" while recognizing "that 'the other side will not go away, [and] probably should not."  (Pg 344).  After all, it's election season and many of us wish the other side(s) would go away.  Ultimately, I see the dialectical approach striving for nuance and subtlety.

Two more bits and I'm done.  I promise.

Labouvie-Vief's view is that "while the theme of youth is flexibility, the hallmark of adulthood is commitment and responsibility.  Careers must be started, intimacy bonds formed, children raised.  In short, in a world of a multitude of logical possibilities, one course of action must be adopted.  This conscious commitment to one pathway and the deliberate disregard of other logical choices may mark the onset of adult maturity."  (Pg 347).  I have issue with the word "maturity" and its connotations.  Maybe it was a poor word choice, but I'm still not buying that one becomes inflexible and that decisions made about life's path destroy flexibility.  If that were the case, then starting new families, new careers, new hobbies, new faiths wouldn't occur, right?

Finally, their discussion of wisdom, while interesting at times, failed in one substantive way.  More than anything else, wisdom is social.  That is in order for wisdom to be conferred/recognized, it's within a social context.  So much of other types of learning or adult thinking can be internal, but it seems to me that wisdom is social.  It is executed in some real of publicness between one or more peoples.  Sages (heralders of wisdom, right) are so because of the wisdom they bestow upon others.  Oracles, prophets, etc--they all may be wise people, but they are only so in a public context.

Ok, I'm done...has anyone actually read this far?

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Adventures in Learning: Or My Skepticism About "Adults"

So starts my rambling (and yeah--it's definitely a rambling) about the readings for the second class.  I have lots of questions, problems, and thoughts to share--I probably won't get to most of them and we had limited class to really even cover a speck of what the readings entailed, but away we go!  We've got 2 texts for this class:

  • Learning and Change in the Adult Years:  A Developmental Perspective by Mark Tennant & Philip Pogson.
  • Learning in Adulthood:  A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd Edition by Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, and Lisa M. Baumgartner.

Book covers to Learning and Change in the Adult Years and Learning In Adulthood
For brevity sake, I'll probably refer to them as LCAY and LIA respectively.   I'll work with LCAY first.

My overall problem thus far is that there so very little that defines the adult learner in a wholistic way.  The readings largely talk about a path to becoming the adult learner but it doesn't seem like that's a universal for every adult learner.  That is one has to wonder how many "adult learners" actually become adult learners at that high level.  It's hard to tell in part because we're not even sure how many adult learners there are and how they learn (if at all) differently from youth (more on that when I talk about LIA).

It seems within LCAY there's an attempt at balance that doesn't quite fit.  They're trying to depict the adult learner while at the same time throwing out disclaimers or ignore that the attributes given to an adult learner are not mutually exclusive to young learners.  They discuss often the fact that context matters or augments the learning process.  This makes sense--it seems the longer we are emersed in culture, the more social/cultural context will influence than biology.  However, if that is the case, than what you can say or make of an adult learner are highly limited and seem to be rendered meaningless.

In chapter 2, on "Intellectual and Cognitive Development in the Adult Years,"  shows in a rather scary manner, a series of charts on intelligent tests that indicate our intellectual capacities drop off in the 1960s.  Here is one of those places I find fault with.  Granted, I'm not 60+ or close by any means, but it seems to me the current research on the the elderly, learning, and neuroscience hint that even intellectual decline can be largely impacted by a change of frame.  In Wray Herbert's On Second Thought:  Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wirded Habits, the author shows research that suggest pervading stereotypes of the elderly actually influence how we conceive of ourselves as we get older (that good old labelling effect writ-large without own lives).  Thus, there is a serious consideration of how accurate is the research if so much of it is negatively impacted by such a cultural meme.  Inevitably, I'm sure there's an intellectual decline at some point, but I have to wonder what that would look like without the actual mindset that we have about the elderly.

Book cover to On Second Thought by Wray Herbert
In Chapter 8, the authors justify a more participatory approach to education with adults over children.  "Because teachers and learners are adult peers, there is a widely held view that the relationship between teachers and adult learners should be participative and democratic and characterized by openness, mutual respect, and equality.  To be sure, a relationship like this is desirable in all levels of education, but the political and social position of children presents a constraint that is not apparent in the adult context.  Adults who are learners in one context, may become teachers in another."  (Pg 171).  I don't buy this.  While it's clear the authors are referring to formalized teaching when they talk about adult learners being teachers, I think it negates the fact that so much teaching and learning takes place between children.  And it uses that faux difference to say there is a priority for using participatory approaches for adults.

I think I'll pause for now.  I think I'll need another post's worth to cover LIA.

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Letter to the Editor: Issue of sex change for prisoner deserved a deeper look

The Salem News’ handling of the Kosilek situation needs work. They framed Kosilek’s gender identity disorder and the attempts to address it through surgery as a “want” and tell us that insurers consider it “elective” so it must not be important. It’s like Botox, right? When did the insurance companies become bastions of correct decisions about health care?...

For the full letter, click on through.

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33 Years and My first 30K

I turned 33 this week.  With any luck, hope, effort, and technology, I'm at the 1/3 point of my life.  Totally optimistic, deciding that I'll live to 99.  But at least I have goals, right?  As birthdays go, it was enjoyable.  Those close to me celebrated it in different ways--showing their affection, care, and love.  I've not been big on birthday nor age for that matter, because it never really means much beyond tracking when I was born.  But if this were to be the 1/3 point (or hell, even the half-way point, I'd take that as well), I'm pretty happy with it.
Lance Eaton's time on his first 30K.

I treated myself to a race for my 33rd birthday.  A 30K race (close to 19 miles). I did the Nahant 30K.  My race results can be found here and while I am pretty much far in the rear of the group.  I'm ok with that.  I did it and there's only getting better from here is how I see it. Today's run was put on by the North Shore Striders, who were very cool and has me thinking I might need to join them in the near future.

I started this running shtick in July, 2011.  By winter, I had participated in 3 runs. All of which I found to be quite rewarding and enjoyable.  As the late spring circled around, I thought more and more about working my way up to a half-marathon.  Given that last fall, I was getting up to the 7 mile mark, I thought it was a reasonable goal.  Little did I know I would exceed it.  So I started running and blogging about my running.  My original high-water mark for the year was going to be the 25K Around the Cape on Labor Day.  But in the midst of making plans for the fall, I happened to come across the 30K.  I thought--what's 5 more kilometers (well, the unqualified answer to that is about 50 minutes).  It was rough, but I'm pretty happy I did it (ask my body tomorrow--hahahaha).  

So how did the race play out?  

Initially good.  The weather was great (cool and warmed up by race's end).   Unlike the 25K, I took to pacing myself immediately.  Nothing more than 10-11 minute miles.  Overall, this helped except where I largely fell apart at the last 3rd of the race.

Lance Eaton after his first 30K
The race took us along Nahant Beach and ultimately into Nahant and all about.   What I liked about the race was that it was one of those where you go out to a certain point and then back, roughly along the same route.  This helped with tracking and determining what kind of terrain lay ahead on the way back.  The path was also clearly marked and had many people along the way to direct you.  This coupled with 3 toilet stops and lots of drinking table, I felt the North Shore Striders did an awesome job supporting their runners.  And of course, the path was absolutely beautiful at times.  There are some great scenic views in Nahant and I will have to return to enjoy them more.

The two most challenging parts about the race were the downhills and the one section of dirty path with rocks.  Downhill is brutal in the Vibrams and I've yet to find a way to adjust to it (particularly later in the race).  I actually like uphills because it's easier to move upward with the shoes.  But also at one point in the race, there is a stretch of about 1/3 mile where there was a dirty path and rocks (which we had to go over twice).

I did a smart thing for this run and joined the Sunrise Start group (they start 1 hour ahead of the regular race, largely, because they are likely to be the back of the herd runners).  I liked getting the early start and not feeling like I was so far behind the other runners (even though I was).  It was also nice because I was surrounded by people who were more likely to be closer to my speed level; so if I began using one as a marker, I wasn't about to be blown away by them or burn myself our in keeping up.

Somewhere around the 2.5 hour mark for me, the first place runner came sprinting by (or what felt like sprinting by).  My gawd did he look amazing.  Long strides, sculpted body, wild beard, moving almost effortlessly at a pace that had him out of my sight within moments.  An awesome sight to behold at mile 12 (or 13--I forget).   I'm pretty sure he won--other runners who eventually caught up to me were easily a mile behind him, it seemed.  I will never be that guy--this I know.  But there is an honor in knowing that regardless, I still managed to do the same course as him (probably at twice the time).

All in all, it was a grueling race towards the end, but one I'm glad I showed up for and did.  It makes me wonder what I'll take on next.

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Online Education: Some Considerations

I took my first online course in the summer of 2000 and since then have taken about half a dozen.  I've also taught several dozen over the last 4 years and in my current position, I have helped faculty develop online courses to teach.  The following are the four critiques that I've come to realize that stilt the potential of online education.  Much of this comes from my experience as I've become an online instructor, while other is shaped by conversations and reported expereinces by others.

1.  Direct Entry.

We need to find ways to get access to portals instantly. In most schools, there's a 3-5 step process just to get into the course (going to log in page, logging in, finding specific course, moving pass the entry page and into the most recent/relevant page).  This needs to be streamlined--it's not that it's too much work, but if a person is at the computer, such steps often creates delay.  Besides keeping track of usernames and (every-changing) passwords, it still creates too many obstacles if we want our students to even idly drop by the course.  The way it is set up now, they will only come when they have to.  I would rather have almost instant access which would increase the potential for dropping in.

2.  Beyond the Discussion.

For many online classes, the discussion board is the central space of interaction.  And the discussion can be highly useful, but it also feels after some fifteen years, a bit antiquated.  Variations are coming forward like Blackboard Voice Authoring or even programs like VoiceThreads.  However, there should be something more to create dialogue in a course.  Or if we are going to huddle around the Discussion Board, we need to better tune our questions and types of conversations.  If we've removed the standard barriers that we find in the face to face classroom by giving the student time, resources, and opportunity to finely tune their response, then we should expect or push for better responses, no?

3.  Transparency and Automation

The path to completion should be clear from the onset.  When a student steps into the online class, there should be clear and direct path set out before them about what's expected of them, when it's expected of them, and how it's expected of them.  Rubrics, guidelines, procedures.  If the instructor hasn't laid this out in full detail, they are doing a disservice to the online environment.  A student should never have to ask for details for an assignment--they should be abundantly available from the start of class.  The argument about online learning is that a lot of responsibility to the student, but we do our students an injustice by not clarifying in detail, the nature of that responsibility.  It's not enough to highlight the assignments, readings, and due dates in the syllabus, the instructor needs to actually have the pathway clear.   There should be no mystery about what needs to happen in order for the student to succeed.

Coupled with the transparency is the importance of automation tools.  Most learning management systems (LMS) have some degree of automation that allows for events to automatically occur (emails sense, access to be triggered upon certain events, etc).  There are vastly under-utilized in many systems.  They can be used to facilitate a great amount of busy work (confirmations of assignments submitted, reminders for forthcoming assignments, etc).

4.  Competence with Technology

One shouldn't be teaching online simply because it's easier.  Some instructors approach online teaching that way.  It's a way in which they can balance one more course, one more subject, one more project.  There is effeciency to be found, but it generally shouldn't be at the behest of the center focus of teaching online:  technology.  More specifically, the instructor needs to be technology-compotent or at least willing to develop a more substantive comfort with technology to do things.  No instructor in the world would be hired for a face to face class if he/she said in the interview--"I'm very interested in teaching in a face to face class, I could see how it could make my life easier, but just to note, I have no clue how to use a physical classroom.  Yet there are instructors who take that approach to online learning.  No one expects them to be masters of all technology or even experts with their LMS, but they should--for their own benefit and their students--substantively learn and work to conquer the technology they use.  The failure to invest the time in knowing a good amount about the enviornment (which is technologically based) is not only a bad reflection of the instructor and the school, but of online teaching as a whole.

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Adventures in Learning

As many of you know, I'm work on Master's Degree #3 (MEd in Instructional Design), in part because I'm a nerd and in part, it would help my current position as an Instructional Designer.  One of their required courses (which is one of two that are required to be face to face) is The Adult As Learner.  And if you can't anticipate what I'm going to say next, you're not paying attention.  As part of that course, we're required to keep a blog.  My instructor kindly let those who are blogging already use their own blogs, so this series of posts will be labeled as "Adventures in Adult Learning."

So what is a course on The Adult as Learner entail?  The course description reads as "Students are introduced to the body of knowledge concerning adults as learners.  This course focuses on the principles of adult education, learning styles, variables that affect adult learning, appropriate training methodologies, reinforcement of learning, skill transfer, and measurement procedures for identifying learner characteristics.  All of these are uniquely important to the professional instructional designer to ensure learning materials which have the most significant impact possible."  Got all that?  There won't be a quiz later...just more posts.

The first class already attempted to change the paradigms of which many are accustomed to in the classroom.  The instructor did the typical round-robin of introductions and covered the syllabus, but then delved into a discussion about the agreed upon rules we could establish to make the classroom a strong and healthy learning environment.  With these establish class norms, she slid into discussing and providing material for consideration about group work since there will be some group projects.  This group project has things that I appreciate.  It allows for choice (which learning theory am I interested in) and purposeful application (teach the class about the theory using examples or by teaching the theory by using the theory in teaching).

Overall, I like the outlook and the content of the course.  The instructor discussed that we would be dealing with more intellectually rigorous material and that does excite me.  The first two courses haven't pushed my brain as much as I would like to (or that I think a "master's course" should).  Coupled with the fact that there is a research paper involved (though it's only 5-10 pages), I'm ready to learn about the Adult as Learner (and of course, the self-knowledge that will hopefully stem from it).

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A Youth Well (Mis)Spent: (Video)Games of My Mind

I was that kid.  I loved video games and was completely devoted to them.   Those that are out there that remember my 5th grade elementary class with Mr. Mercier will remember the ceaseless barage of video game references when it came to homework.  We had vocabulary and we had to make a sentence for each new word.  I made sure every sentence had something to do with video games.  (In retrospect, I wonder if committing myself to focusing on one arena lent to both learning the words more meaningfully and my interesting in writing fiction).  I had my first Nintendo (over the course of several years, I would end up with two since the first one broke from over use) by 2nd grade, my first Supernintendo by 7th grade, and several other game systems including Gameboys, Sega, and Playstation along the way.

Over the years, I fell in love with different games.  There was the original Super Mario Brothers, Tetris, Legend of Zelda, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out (I remember the first time I beat Piston Honda--epic win for me!), Wizards and Warriors,  Excitebike, E.V.O., Actraiser, Super Marioland, to name a few.  But there is one game that still lingers; that still embodies and triggers a great deal of whimsy, escape, magic, powerful storytelling, and just purse delight.  Final Fantasy II was the first RPG I played as a child that I grew to love dearly. (Note:  It was originally released on Super Nintendo as Final Fantasy II, but is widely recognized as Final Fantasy IV due to numbering in Japan)  It was as potent and as immersive story for my childhood as Star Wars and the Marvel Comics universe.

Final Fantasy II

The first time I played it, I had rented it from Tri-City Video (remember video stores?).  I didn't really get it at the time.  The closest I had come to an RPG up to that point was Legend of Zelda, which slightly counted, but was not quite the same (for instance, regular battling monsters would not result in increased experience or improved magical talent).  So I had trouble understanding the concepts behind Final Fantasy.  It was also right on the cusp of the internet (or rather internet in my house--sometime around this time, we acquired Prodigy, but I don't remember that being of much help to me in any capacity).  I (gasp!) read the manual and slowly made my wait through it.  It had interesting characters (Cecil, Kain the Dragoon, Tellah the Sage, and Rydia) and slowly but surely pulled me into its narrative.  It was an enjoyable and complex narrative (for a middle-schooler and early high school student, mind you) that dealt with worlds colliding, betrayals, salvations, and achieving one's potential.  The graphics weren't great by any means, but the story grew increasingly complex and interesting--the graphics didn't need to be done well; the narrative filled in the gaps.  Characters died or suffered greatly and it hit the user.  After all, some of these characters the player might have spent 20+ hours of adventuring and training with; only to see them turned to stone or sacrifice themselves so that the mission could continue.  But the most palpable experience of the game, was its ending.  After what culminated in over 100 hours of work often, the finale was equally rewarding.  The ending was my first experience on the level of what an epic ending can look like (You can view Part 1 here--go about 5 minutes into the video, and part 2 here).  I don't think I cried, but I was overwhelmed.  The story had ended and to some degree, I was left with sadness--the characters I had journeyed with were gone.  I could revisit them and adventure with them again (which I certainly did), but not anew.  It was, in fact, "game over."

I continued playing it for a while, trying to find all its little treasures and seeing how powerful I could make my characters, but eventually, my time with it was supplanted by Final Fantasy III (also known in Japan as Final Fantasy VI) and the new challenges that invoked.  Hurrah--new characters, new adventures, new challenges.  I sought out other RPGs and for a while go into the Phantasy Star series.  But eventually, in my freshman year of college, Final Fantasy VII emerged and I embraced it as it embraced me.

But always, when I thought of RPGs, my mind would go instantly to Final Fantasy II.  It's ending was clear but there was more to the story to be told.  I contemplated several times writing a novel that would serve as a sequel or tell the story of Final Fantasy II and its aftermath.  What happened after that?  There is a happy-ever-ending feeling to it, but there are some hanging strings, namely, Kain, who happened to be my favorite.  It was early narrative video gaming at its best and I wanted more.

Final Fantasy II: The After Years

So last summer, while playing around on my Wii; I came across information that there was now an extended version of Final Fantasy II called:  Final Fantasy II:  The After Years.  I was amazed and instantly purchased it on the Wii game system (it was a downloadable game).  And so there I was last summer, playing away just like I had some 20 years ago, thoroughly enjoying returning to these characters in learning about what has changed for them, nearly 20 years later (the story takes place about 20-30 years later).  I took my time and I delighted in returning to this world I had known so well and seeing the ways that it had changed (programming and time change all things--hahaha).

I played the game all last summer; after class, in the cooler hours of the evening, jamming away at the keypad, watching movies on another screen or listening to audiobooks.  It was delightful.  But the end of the summer drew near as did the end of the game.  As I got into the final dungeon of this game, I hesitated.  I continued in the same area, collecting experience and skills within the game without much desire to move forward.  In fact, I stopped in late August and did not revisit the game until this past July, nearly a year later.

Playing Final Fantasy II:  The After Years jettisoned me back into my youth like no time machine ever could.  I had flashbacks of the different peaks of the story, how the story made me felt, and what was going on in my life.  It triggered memories largely forgotten, including a summer day in eighth grade where I played away deep in the final dungeon of the game, battling blue dragoons (only as ferocious as behemoths), sitting on an ottoman, the TV mere feet from my face and my grandmother coming upstairs and seeing me play there.  She was finishing a roll of film on her disposable camera and took a snapshot of me.  Random moments like that.

I wasn't ready to end the game.  I dreaded the end of the game.  In so many ways, it was deeply connected to and interwoven with the experiences and emotions I connected with the Woods,  I lost myself in the story; I was in the world and these companions I fought along side.  It was as deep as any reading that touched me at the time and to boot, unlike so many other things in the life of a child and young adult; I was in control (albeit to a limited degree).  Thus, I was not ready to let that go last summer.  To end the game was to end that deep connection I was feeling with that time and place of my childhood.

This summer, on a whim, I returned to the game and started replaying it.  Maybe I was ready to end that connection or maybe I found someway to still hold onto it, but this would be the summer that I finished the game.  (Side Note:  In the making of this post, I came across there is a 3rd addition to this series--that takes place between Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy II:  The After Years, but it seems largely impossible to get a hold of in the US--and I'm ok with that).

Playing it this time around was just as enjoyable as last year and I had forgotten parts of the story so it pulled me back in fairly easy.  I again made it to the final dungeon; I maximized the attributes of my characters' skills through repeated fights and lingering. When it came time for the final boss, my characters did well and the end came.  It wasn't as grand as an experience as my youth.  That's likely because I've experienced a great deal of epic story endings since in novels, movies, comics, and games.  It's clear I have a more critical view of these things too since I can also recognize the ending was a bit forced--like the creators didn't know where to go with it entirely.

The ending after the final boss also felt disappointing.  The loops are largely closed but done so in five minutes--not the grandeur style of the original game.  I take this with a grain of salt though.  I'm more jaded about this ending in large part because I know more now about what it mean to play Final Fantasy II the first time around.  I realize the excitement of a brand new world opening up as opposed to returning to it.  There is that certain magic of newness that can be hard to recapture.  Playing the continuation of the game brought some of it back but more importantly, it reminded me of what I felt and experienced those many years ago.

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My Summer (Not) Vacation

So what did I do this summer?  For those not following (or have properly blocked me on Facebook or Twitter).  Lots.


Lance Eaton after his first 25K race.
There's the training and the running that I did for the 25K run.  That's been an aweome and inspiring project (for myself and hopefully, others out there).  To go in just over a year from being a complete non-runner to a runner doing impressive runs still feels crazy in my mind and brings a smile to my face in reflection.  It marks a major accomplishment in my own life.


I also worked on and developed a garden with two dear friends.  From seeds and saplings to fully-grown fruit/vegetable-wielding plants and bushes, the garden has always offered me a delightful reflection on tasting the fruit of my labor.  From tilling the soil, to planting, to weeding to harvesting, the experience is rewarding.  From June to September, each day visiting the garden is full of anticipation.  What is here today that wasn't yesterday?  Has that squash gotten any bigger?  Are the peppers ready?  What am I going to do with all this kale...mmmm...kale chips!  Even when it comes to doing the work of weeding, fertilizing, and fixing/adjusting plants, it's rewarding work.  Since my days of being the "Swamp King" at daycamp at the YMCA, I've always enjoyed getting my hands dirty and doing the garden word was rewarding akin to that but also it connected me to the soil in which my food was growing.
Square method gardening.
I taught two summer courses.  American Literature 1 at North Shore Community College and The Horror Story at University of Massachusetts in Lowell.  Both were enjoyable, though challenging.  The summer classes are a tough bind since one has to do a lot more in a shorter period of time and students' expectations about classwork is even lower than it is during the semester.  Still, being in the classroom is always rewarding and helps me think further about what this thing called "teaching" is all about.  I had a course on comics in American culture that was supposed to run this fall, but it got cancelled.  However, I did spend time preparing for an American Literature 2 course at NSCC and an online course on American Popular Culture at Endicott College.  Of course, I also took a graduate course as I'm working on a third's Masters Degree at UMASS Boston.

A little travelling.

I had two weekends away.  A weekend in Portland, Maine, and a weekend in Hampstead, New Hampshire.  Both were nice and relaxing, getting me away from the usual routine for 3-4 days and spending good time with good people.  They were filled with good food, an easy pace and interesting things to do.


I got back into regularly blogging.  I've found several different angles and ideas about what I want to write and discuss here and have a good amount of material that keeps me focused on this project.  Between writing about running, remembering, making, and making sense of the world today, I find myself finding it creating new ideas for different posts to the point that I have some 20 drafts that I'm working on.  It's exciting and that I'm back into regularly writing like I was in high school tells me something about where I am in life (and no, that doesn't mean I'm de-gressing).  I've just managed to find a way to make it part of my regular routines and hope that this opens up opportunities for me to push forward with publishing more.


I had relaxing evenings of video games , time with friends, reading, writing, and watching movies.  I enjoyed the down time, letting myself do what I wanted rather than what I needed.  In hindsight, it's interesting to see how much I was carrying around in terms of stress and angst that is now leveled off and allows me to breathe lighter.

All the while, I worked full time too, which is a job I'm still grateful and happy to be at.  It was a full summer.  Filled with accomplishments, personal challenges, good times with friends and loved ones, and much more.  It is probably one of the better summers I've had in quite a long time.  That's not to say I've had bad summers, but it felt less chaotic and more rewarding; more relaxing and less stressful.  In reflecting here, I realize how much I did, but also recognize how much fun I had.

So what did you do this summer?

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Tales of 9 Runs: A Tale of 2 Medals or I Just Ran a 25K, No, Really!

Lance Eaton before his first 25K race.
Boy Blue ready for
his run.
It was cheesy.  All of $. 50 of plastic and ribbon, but the sincerity and sweetness of it was pretty awesome.  In the picture below, it's the medal on the left.  My sister-in-law made it for me for my first 5K race that I ever ran (It's happening again this year for interested runners-- the 2nd Annual Lynda Talbot 5K in Danvers, MA).  It was cheesy but a kind gesture.  One that I recognize was just enough of a carrot to get me to the medal I received today when I finished my first 25K race.

Today's race was hard.  I wasn't there fully as I explained in my pre-run post.  But I got up, did my routine and got ready to run.  It was a laborious course with lots of hills but luckily the weather was on our side.  Largely in the low 70s and partly cloudy, the weather wore away less on me than some of the hotter runs during the summer, which was good because I made the cardinal error of going out too fast.  I did my first mile in about 9 minutes 15 seconds which for a run like this, I would have been better with straight 10 minute-miles.  I paced myself with people that were more prepared and ready for this and found myself feeling it around mile 5.  At the half way mark, I allowed myself to walk for about four minutes to let myself rest.  But the entire second half of the run, I found myself walking more than I would have liked.  I think in total, I walked between 12-15 minutes of the run.  However, despite that, I still had a time (2:50:50) that was better overall than what I ran when I ran my first 15 miles a few weeks ago. Considering the hills and previous mentioned issues.  I'm overall happy with it.  The critiques I'm providing are mostly my own accounting of how to improve for next time.
Timing for Lance Eaton's first 25K
No records were broken,
but I was happy to press the
stop button.

I know that I've lamented about this before, but I'm profoundly amazed that I did this and grateful that I've had the opportunity to train and work towards this goal.  This last year of running has hit me to the core.  I would never utter the words, "I'm a runner."  And now, I do. As I crossed the finish line, hamstring beginning to cramp and seeing the woman at the end holding out medals to grace finishers wish, I was pretty awed.  It's not as much about accomplishing the 15.6 miles, but accomplishing it and enjoying it.  Despite the fatigue and strain of my body, I still love running.  I'm not fast--I never will be and I don't need to be.  I just need to be on the road, moving one foot in front of the other and enjoying the projection of my body into the space in front of me, knowing that if I can if I can do it for one step, I can do it for two; if I can do it for one mile, I can do it for two.

Lance Eaton after finishing his first 25K race. As I look back at the runs and the writing (Run 1.  Run 2.  Run 3.  Run 4.  Run 5.  Run 6.  Run 7.  Run 8.  One note--I apparently messed up on the numbering--ooops)  I'm surprised about how much writing I have done on a topic that I would have loathed to read about, never mind participate in and write about. I plan to continue running.  In fact, I have this 30K race in two weeks and a half marathon next month.  I do believe there is a marathon or two in my future, but not something I'm likely to tackle this year.

I also want to thank my readers and my friends.  I don't get a lot of traffic--a few dozen if the post is released at the right time, but I know people are reading in the conversations I have in the real world and your words have meant just as much.  When people they tell me they've drawn meaning or even kinship from my what I've written about, that's pretty awesome.   Many tell me they like keeping up with me and hearing how the running is going.  Others appreciate the energy and excitement that I bring in hopes to absorb some of that for their own challenges.  There have also been the friends that I've had conversations with about running and they changes and differences they see in my as a result.  Undoubtedly, I ran this race, but equally important, I felt the support and encouragement from dozens of friends and colleagues.  So thank you!

Lance Eaton's race numbers thus far.

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