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Oct 26, 2007

Just-in-time scheduling

We live in the midst of an incredible information technology revolution. We ask questions that were never asked before, we can know things that otherwise simply could not be known. For example, here is a simple question: how many students will need class X in the next semester, and what time of the day will accommodate the most? To answer this question, we usually use the last year’s experience, some informal feedback, and whatever other hunches we might get. To prepare for especially hard-to-plan course like student teaching, we use some sort of application process. However, we can never account for fluctuation in numbers and scheduling conflicts.

Let’s assume the Math school decided to move their MATH 283 two hours down, simply because they cannot have faculty who can teach it during their regular hours. This means that Elementary kids cannot take our EDRD 419 class. So, a lot of them decide to try it in the following semester, and we cancel a low-enrolled class. Yet in the following semester, there is a bubble we have no idea about: kids whose time is it to take 419, plus all those who delayed last time because of Math, all want to take the class. They try to get in, they cannot, and then they start complaining to the Dean. So we realize there is a problem, create a sign-up list, struggle to find an instructor, and finally offer it anyway. All of this is OK, but costly: students are upset, our FT faculty maybe underemployed when we cancel, but then we have to pay an adjunct extra. School Director’s valuable time is wasted.

What we need is a data management system. Students will develop their four-year tentative plans, so the system will know how many students need what when, for at least a couple of years in the future. The closer it gets, the more accurate picture of student demand we will have. We would also have a better idea of our expenses in the future, and could plan our budgets accordingly.

Then if Math 283 will happen to get scheduled first, the system will know that students who need it also need EDRD 419, and will suggest the best times for it and other yet unscheduled classes, so most students do not have conflicts in their schedule. Of course, if we schedule first, Math folks have to use the free time available.

Of course, something like this does exist already; just check out all these products. Yet it does not appear any of them have the capacity to look several years ahead; they basically play one semester in advance, and help match people’s preferences (they ask students and faculty when they would like to teach or take classes). Of course, no student wants to drag his or her behind on campus at 7:30 in the morning, and faculty may have their own preferences. So, the system can keep track of three factors: how many people need a class, when they are available to take it, and when they would rather take it.

It is not really that complex, and probably not that expensive to develop. Other industries such as shipping may have used similar algorithms to manage different processes. Any takers?

Oct 19, 2007

Morsels of the Real

This is my sixtieth blog, and I am not sure how many more things I have to say about all this life. I have something today though.

We had a good conversation with my Philosophy of Education class last week. We talked about Buber, and about I-Thou relations. Basically, Buber says that what’s important in our lives is not necessarily what takes the most time, nor is it something you can pinpoint as a behavior or a principle. The brief, infrequent, fleeting moments is what’s most important. Otherwise, the routine of everyday work and home worries and interactions sweeps away the very humanity we all possess. Buber suggests that the usual lives we live are not completely human, that the only way to become a full human being is to seek and appreciate these fleeting moments, when another person comes in direct relation with me, and as Buber writes, fills the heaven. It is when we relate to another person outside of restrictions and considerations of our relative positions, characteristics, stereotypes, and expectations. Those moments are the morsels of the real that actually make our lives worth living. Just thinking about scheduling, budgeting, big and little conflicts, programs, curriculum, etc, etc. – just thinking about this is actually quite depressing without some sort of a window to the real.

Our lives in big bureaucratic institutions and impersonal suburbs actually make this worse: we do not go to war, do not get lost in the desert, do not think about survival. The opportunities to reflect on our lives are not that plentiful. So, small problems tend to look bigger than they really are, petty fights look like big fights, and generally, the routine tends to eat us alive. How do we develop the capacity to always be on for the real? How do we manage to also pass this capacity on to our students?

What I am talking about may or may not be spiritual life. It’s basically, the ability to encounter other people without BS, directly. Lots of deeply religious and deeply atheistic people develop such abilities, although many others never do. Some people are a lot better at it than others. The problem is, we never specifically learn or teach how to seek the I-Thou, and how to recognize it once found.

What worries me is that this will sound crazy to many people. Then you ask them to tell a story about their lives, and how they sometimes feel a very deep connection to another person in a specific moment of a specific conversation, when the outside world somewhat disappears. And they suddenly remember, and agree that yes, it felt real, somehow profound. So, here is my suggestion: let’s amend the Performance-Based Standards for Colorado Teachers as following:

Standard Nine: I-Thou relations

The teacher has demonstrated the ability to:

1 Seek dialogical relations with his or her students
2 Maintain openness to the Other
3 Develop the need and ability to experience live in its fullest
4 Create classroom situations conducive to spontaneity, complexity and carnival

Or something like that...

I look at the list of my 59 blogs and wonder: how many of them about the real, and how many are about the superficial? Hmm, perhaps not that many.

  1. How to alienate people and damage relationships
  2. The Nomadic conference
  3. Authority and power
  4. Going with the flow: On the horizontal transparency
  5. On-line is on the line
  6. Playing the “you”
  7. Switching gears
  8. The Organizational Drift
  9. Can you ever go home?
  10. Dances with Data
  11. Churchill and tenure
  12. Freud for teachers, amended
  13. Weddings, rituals, and memories
  14. Curriculum and communication
  15. Shift Left
  16. The 90/10 rule
  17. The cost of fairness
  18. What is the most important
  19. Zeno, Buddha and Program Development
  20. What makes me angry
  21. Gospriyomka and NCATE
  22. Time density
  23. The clouds glide by
  24. The ethics of rumoring
  25. Time Management and Sorry
  26. The Lake Wobegon Effect
  27. The “B” Word, or How do you know what you say you ...
  28. Notes from AACTE, or American Absurdities
  29. On Scholarly Productivity
  30. Memories and time Symbolic violence
  31. Merit, Shmerit, or “Evaluate not and thou shall no...
  32. Why are we poor?
  33. Midwives, matchmakers, Napoleon, and Kutuzov
  34. On failings of humans
  35. On the Money
  36. What makes a problem hard to solve
  37. UNC’s Organizational Culture and Change
  38. Community and innovation: On the Academic Plannign...
  39. Neo-prog’s Educational Agenda
  40. Neo-progs wanted: Toward a new educational progres...
  41. The Academe and other Soviet states
  42. Teaching as research
  43. Justice is good bureaucracy
  44. Fall, foliage, and intrinsic motivation
  45. Notes from the Dark Side
  46. Accreditation and ambivalence
  47. Levine Report
  48. Cultural cycles
  49. On human errors
  50. The anatomy of human conflict
  51. How to stop turf wars
  52. Your director's list of task, abridged
  53. On the nature of human knowledge
  54. On authority
  55. Big ideas
  56. Complexity and catch-22
  57. On vision, geeks, and technology

Oct 12, 2007

How to alienate people and damage relationships: A comprehensive guide for college professors


Relationships with colleagues and with students are the least important asset you have, so why not take some time to diminish it? There is no easy way of ruining your relationships, because people tend to be forgiving, and generally avoid conflict. They will give you a long time and overlook your efforts. Besides, you probably have a great deal of likable traits which can outweigh your poor relationship skills, at least in the beginning. Be persistent; many small offenses will accumulate over the years, and eventually you will reach a point when almost everyone will hear your name, roll one’s eyes and say, “Oh, this person.” Poor reputations take years to build.

Dealing with Authority

When you talk to students or staff, always emphasize rank and assume the air of superiority. You can do it by ignoring their suggestions, by patronizing them, and by making it clear you are in charge. Do not allow them question your decisions, and perceive any doubt as a direct challenge to your authority and a personal affront.

Emphasize other forms of authority you may have over other people. For example, if you’re talking with people not from your field, make sure to mention that by definition, you know more than they do.

Flaunt your special expertise whenever you can. Bring it up in any conversation, even if not called for.

When talking to someone with a higher rank and more experience, make sure to ignore the rank. Send a message that you know it all already simply because you do. Always challenge the other person’s knowledge and judgment.

Dealing with mistakes

Whenever possible, point out people’s mistakes, just for the record. Find a way of reminding everyone around you about other people’s mistakes, especially to the offending individual. Imply incompetence s a reason for every mistake.

Whenever you make a mistake, make sure it is traceable to someone else’s mistakes. Remember, it is never your fault. Never acknowledge or remember your own mistakes, never refer to them.

When your mistake is made known to authorities, find out how the information got through, and make sure this does not happen again.

People skills

Nothing alienates people more than yelling at them. Do it often, with or without a reason. Let them know how frustrated you are at their lack of competence, of intelligence, and their ethical flaws.

See the intrigue everywhere. Any negative comment or unexplained action is but an element in a complex chain of intrigue. They are out there to get you.

Select someone as an object of intense dislike, and make everyone know about it. Give the most irrational reasons for dislike you can come up with. This not only will put an end to your relationship with the person in question, but will also damage your relationships with everyone. No one wants to be a partner in hate, so your friends will eventually turn away from you, too.

Write long, angry e-mails about any disagreement. Always CC the Dean, the entire department, and everyone’s brother.

The art of the argument

Never change your opinion. If you mentioned something, however briefly, it is now your position and you should stick to it. Whatever else other people say, no matter how reasonable, simply stick to your guns. Remember, you cannot ever agree if you previously disagreed. Compromise can save deteriorating relationships, so avoid it at all cost.

If you have certain experiences, or qualifications, use them as arguments sufficient on their own merit. The logic is like this: 1. I know more about A. 2. We are talking about A. 3. Therefore, all my opinions are more valid than yours.

Do not engage in substantive discussion; imply that your opponent wouldn’t understand.

Give non-replies. Just dismiss your opponent’s arguments with a quick come-back that has nothing to do with the essence of your conversation. Remember, replying is more important than figuring out a sensible position.

Always have the last word. One-upmanship is an excellent tool and works every time.

Interpret differences of opinions as a clear sign that other people are wrong.

Imply ill intentions: if people disagree with you, it is because they are either (a) stupid, or (b) evil.


Never reflect on your relationship skills. Don’t worry about it, don’t think about it, don’t discuss with anyone. You’ve got a doctoral degree, so you’re perfect already. There is nothing else to learn, especially about such silly things as getting along with other people. People get pissed at you only because they are really bad persons; it may never have anything to do with you. Only idiots actually worry about an impression they make on other people. Smart people are smart all around. The end.

Oct 5, 2007

The Nomadic conference

Most of us love to travel. Tourism, of course, is not the best way to do it; far from it. First, it is very expensive. Second, you do not get to interact with locals; waiters and hotel clerks are the extent of your local friendship circle. Third, you get to experience pre-packaged, touristy things, mainly because you don’t know where to find places with real-life flavor. And did I mention it is expensive and not tax-deductible?

What if our School made a deal with a teacher education college in another country? It goes like this: a group of us come to your institution for a few days, say, during Spring break. We stay in your homes, and hang out with you. We put together a conference on teacher education, so we exchange our thoughts and experiences. Next year, or in the Fall, we do the same in reverse: you come to us on the same terms, we do another conference. Not only this would be more meaningful, and more fun than tourism, but we also could claim professional development funds to cover some of the expenses. The rest we can legitimately claim to be professional expenses on out r tax returns. Then we hook up with another institution in another country, and do the same thing again; perhaps inviting the first one to join as well. So STE’s traveling circus snowballs in a global network for teacher education.

One rule: No elite institutions. It’s just hard for us to relate to, say, Tokyo University or Beijing University, or Moscow State. We are in a different business, so we need someone like us, who trains teachers, and does it well. So, let’s call it “ The Off-Center Nomadic Conference”

I figure, if we go to, say, Siberia, it would add to about $2000 per person, half of which can be paid for by professional development. Perhaps Office of International Education and other University bodies will pitch in some more (Eugene? Got cash?). After all, we’re building the best kind of international collaboration, based on personal contacts, which can and will result in greater opportunities for students. This will also let us build the sort of experience that makes us a community. Just imagine fun of having been left behind in the middle of trans-Siberian railroad, or playing a drinking game with some very determined Russians. On the other hand, I am sick and tired of Russians, of our railroads and our drinking games. Perhaps some other country would be more interesting.

Here is my wish list:

  • Morocco
  • Brazil
  • Israel
  • Norway
  • Czech Republic
  • UK
  • Chile
  • Singapore
  • Egypt
  • Ireland
  • Swaziland
  • Georgia
  • Japan
  • Germany

What is yours?