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Tag: UF

A blog post to keep me in the habit of blogging

It's April! Let's go!

While the main text isn't in Comic Sans, it does appear on every page. =[
Reuben's Fall by Sheri Leafgren. 
This weekend I finished reading Sheri Leafgren's Reuben's Fall: A Rhizomatic Analysis of Disobedience in Kindergarten for the introductory qualitative methods course I'm taking this semester. This is certainly not the sort of book I would have picked up without some coaxing, but I'm glad I did. It attempts to illustrate the focus on obedience in the American school system (particularly in kindergarten) while illustrating that disobedient children are not necessarily "bad" and obedient children are not necessarily "good". The book began as a dissertation (for which I heard it won some sort of award), and that is the version I actually read. I found the dissertation online through the Kent State University website and, because the content is nearly identical to the printed book, I used it as an ebook proxy on my tablet. An added bonus is that the dissertation doesn't use Comic Sans anywhere. [Edit: The typeface used on the cover is Chalkboard, a font that ships on Apple computers.  It isn't Comic Sans, but is close (for key differences notice the 'F' and the 'u'). I begrudgingly accept that it is an appropriate choice, though I still don't like particularly like casual, graphic typefaces. The dissertation is typeset entirely in Times New Roman. This seems like a decent resource for more information about classifying typefaces.] All in all, it was a well-written book that unsettled my understanding of obedience in schools, and I'm glad to have read it.

Other recent developments include the election of new officers for the Statistics Club at UF (I didn't run for any positions and need to update my CV) and my return to active tweeting (@TheDougW). Nothing too exciting. I'm just keeping my head down, working on school and side-projects, trying to not stay still for too long. I've got a few ideas for blog posts with content (mostly about software that I use), so those are in the pipeline.

Also, apparently yesterday was World Backup Day (in addition to being Easter Sunday), so go back up your data if you haven't done so recently! Advice from the website:

"DON'T BE AN APRIL FOOL. Backup your files. Check your restores."

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A productive (in an abstract sense) week

This has been a pretty productive week, all in all. Not a lot to show in terms of work completed/produced, but that isn't everything. Most of the time, but not always. (Also, there's no pun on "abstract" anywhere in here. Sorry to disappoint you.)

On Tuesday I attended a seminar on Backward Design offered by Sarah Miller of Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence Program (University of Wisconsin-Madison) through the CALS Teaching Resource Center, an organization I was unaware of before this event. The focus was on how students learn, practical ways of incorporating active learning into the classroom (e.g. we worked in little teams to turn lecture points into prompts for small discussions), and finally discussed Backward Design. In a nutshell, Backward Design is a three-step process:

  1. Identify the goals for students (i.e. what they should know or be able to do after the course).
  2. Make assessments that actually assess these goals (because students value what you assess, but also build in some gradation into exams).
  3. Fill in the rest of the learning activities for the class.

All in all, this was a helpful seminar and a good use of two hours.

On Friday (today), the GSAC met with the Provost (and the Dean and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, among other big shots). (Recall that GSAC is the Graduate Student Advisory Council for UF's I-Cubed program, and that I am a new member this semester.) While I attended the pre-meeting planning session last week, I have taken a very passive role with regard to the agenda and content (mostly because I lack the perspective gained from attending the previous meeting with the provost). While I wasn't thrilled with the way the presentation ended up developing, it was still a worthwhile presentation to attend, at least from my perspective. The main thing that GSAC was trying to address was the lack of faculty support in some areas for interdisciplinary projects and events, and they were looking for possible solutions from the institutional/administrative side. The response was mild, and with seemingly good reason. The provost offered many good points that GSAC could do to address the issues we perceive, and also noted that 'the faculty' is a very diverse group of individuals that spans the university, and there isn't some magic tool that the administration has to control and inform the entire faculty. The main takeaways from where I was sitting were:

  • Get your message out to as many groups as possible as often as possible. This is the only way to become visible and get the faculty to respect the work GSAC does.
  • Creating space, either physical or virtual, won't be enough to change anything. There must be a clear plan for how such space would be used to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Some faculty have no interest in interdisciplinary collaboration. If a student is interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, then why choose such a faculty member as an advisor?
  • Rather than waiting for an institutional stamp of approval, we should approach the people of power in our departments and colleges directly for things. Go to the source.
  • Similar to the above, if we aren't sure what a group of people (e.g. the faculty) are thinking, we should just go ask them.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration takes a lot of time and effort, and faculty (that are universally very busy) are unlikely to participate in overly broad programs that have the hope of some real result in the end. When doing a project, identify a specific expert need that you have and approach an expert. Explain exactly what you need and how they can directly help.
  • Faculty (and possibly academics more broadly are motivated by three key things):
    1. Money (e.g. grant money) - you can't 'buy' faculty with money to elicit sustained change: when the money dries up, they go elsewhere
    2. Recognition (e.g. authorship or awards) - this is related to money and can be used for promotions, tenure, etc
    3. Intrinsic academic interest (e.g. their love of the field) - they do what they do for a reason: appeal to this reason directly (e.g. "We need your expert knowledge to do X and Y.")
  • Lastly, graduate students should focus on keeping their advisor happy. Advisors control the education of graduate students, and while some negotiation over work and projects can work, in the end what the advisor says goes.

Speaking of keeping my advisor happy... right now I'm still working on some side projects, but I'm trying to only engage in new work that relates to statistics education. I just want to wrap up these holdovers from my previous life and then... onward and upward!

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Grad Life at UF

Being a seventh-year Gator affords me a unique perspective at times. While it is true that many students continue their studies at UF seamlessly from being undergraduates, I find that most are working on masters degrees and, as such, leave relatively quickly. Also, the sheer number of students that did not attend UF for undergraduate (with many, many being international students) makes my perspective stand in greater relief with their perspective and background.

My perspective can be characterized by appreciating what changes UF has made since 2006, and recognizing the different attitude that the university holds toward graduate students. While getting scores of emails can at times be annoying, the number of important, relevant opportunities that are presented to graduate students seems to be greater. Moreover, the support systems seem to be institutionalized. Of course, some of this may be because I have had the time to find these resources and come, but I do seem to remember that receiving better emails happened almost overnight, and other double-Gator colleagues have made similar comments about the increase in respect we feel from the university. (Not everything is roses, but improvement is improvement. And tautologies are tautologies.)

The best example of this respect that I can give is that the administration really seems to listen to graduate students. The three ways I've seen it manifested recently are:

GSC logoGraduate Student Council: At UF, the GSC is an organization affiliated with the Graduate School and Student Government (SG) that is designed to meet the needs of graduate students. The key ways in which their presence has been felt recently are in the awarding of travel grants for students to present at conferences and in the changes made to the support systems for international students post-admission but pre-first day of classes. The administration seems to have been supportive of efforts to help students not be stranded at the local airport (more bus routes), not find themselves homeless the first few nights in Gainesville (specific, affordable temporary housing), and other orientation programs that are appreciated. While their seems to be some confusion about the role played by GSC in the overall university among graduate students (e.g. many people don't understand the need to vote in SG elections despite GSC being funded by SG), the faculty and administration seem to respect the aims of GSC.

I-Cubed logoGraduate Student Advisory Council: While GSAC has an unfortunate name (leading many to confuse it with GSC), it is one component of a coordinated effort by the Graduate School to improve the lives of graduate students. In 2009, several key members of the administration (including the Provost and Dean of the Graduate School) were awarded an NSF grant that has become the Innovation the Institutional Integration (I-Cubed) project. The goal is to improve the lives of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and SBE (social-behavioral sciences) graduate students. One component of this is GSAC, which is a committee comprised of graduate students that work with the administration to identify areas that could be improvement and work to change things. I'm serving on GSAC (a new member as of Spring 2013), and the project really seems to both have an impact on graduate students and have the actual (not just nominal) support of the movers and shakers. Because the grant ends in 2014, the goal now is to institutionalize the changes so that UF continues to have in place the mechanisms for helping graduate students.

"Dine with the Dean": Last but not least, the Dean of Students (apparently) likes to have monthly meetings with different groups of students to figure out what is working and what needs improvement. A few days ago, a group of graduate students (including myself) had a quick lunch with the Dean and were able to share our thoughts. I was able to pitch my idea about allowing students to keep their email address after graduation, and it seemed to be well-received. It remains to be seen if anything will come from this, but the free food and face time with the Dean were both appreciated.

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Delivering large files to students at UF securely

In a previous semester I wished to get a large file (about 500MB) to about 500 students. UF's Sakai system doesn't support files that large, I had my reservations about using DropBox with that many students (e.g. keeping the file limited to only UF students), and using USB sticks was out of the question. It is a little late now, but it seems UF offers a secure file transfer service that can require a GatorLink login. Pretty neat. The service is called File-Express, and I will certainly be trying it in the future.

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Statistics Club First Meeting

The key takeaways from Thursday night's meeting are these:

  1. The goal for the club is to become a resource for all students interested in statistics.
  2. The club will pursue several avenues to get offer our members substantive real-world experience (resulting in things you could feasibly put on your CV).
  3. In addition to larger projects, the club will have guest speakers, workshops on statistical methods, and other things of interest specifically to our members.

In the grand scheme of things, this club is relatively new. There are many, many opportunities to get involved with leading the club and getting experience. Some things we need people for are;

  • webmaster (create and maintain website)
  • club internals (managing intra- and inter-club projects)
  • coordinators for Industry and Academia related activities
  • people to give talks (on internship/job experiences, statistical methods, etc.)

If you don't see something above that fits your skills but you still want to contribute: let me know! If you want to help, we'll figure out the best place for you.

If you have ANY questions or comments, please don't hesitate to email me. If you want to get involved, please email me.

Sometime before our next big meeting, we'll have a steering meeting for members interested in leading some of the projects/activities. Keep your eyes and ears posted for that.

Lastly, I would like for this to be a data-driven club, so here is a link to a survey. Feel free to answer it anonymously or to include your contact info at the end.

The slides used at the last meeting are here: Statistics Club Meeting Slides 2012-09-27 (.pptx).

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