Sunday, June 21, 2015

Grading, Seminars, and Dentist Appointment

My cat loves his pet bed and the microwavable warmer. I heat it up in the morning before leaving for school and it is still warm when I get back in the evening. I found a New Zealand supplier ( so I didn't have to wait.

I really enjoyed Jurassic World and all of the science fiction implications. If we have time while in Sydney, I'd like to see it in 3-D IMAX! The ending is pure awesome.

Grading 30 essays was a huge pain and took me 3 days to complete. The good news is some students did a lot better than last time (not that anything in the class was about improving their writing) and there were fewer instances of plagiarism. However, some students did worse and evidently didn't feel like putting much time into their work. A lot of them clearly struggled with the essay questions, but only a couple sought my help.

Seminars & Conference

I won one of two travel scholarships to one of the Australia conferences I'm going to in a few weeks, so that was great news. They would like to present it to the awardees at the conference banquet as well.

I attended several of the Teaching Week seminars on-campus and learned a lot of good information on diversity, ineffectiveness of the lecture for student engagement and learning, and motivations and profiles of first-year law students. I feel like I'm being stuffed full of information which is all coming together with common themes.

The National Digital Forum held a one-day "barcamp" which is a kind of conference where the people attending decide on the topics they want to see covered, rather than the program being pre-determined. It was an interesting way of organizing. Attendees ranged from library staff, to academics and teachers, to students, to museum and gallery staff. We shared tools and resources, ideas on how to digitize content and why it is so important, ways of helping people learn coding and tech skills, and how to enable partnerships between libraries, museums, and students. I have quickly become a big proponent of Digital Humanities and the importance of turning the critical eye of the humanities to digital content and not letting the small percentage of programmers dominate the tech sector. I am looking forward to the international Digital Humanities conference in one week in Sydney!

Dentist Appointment

We had our first experience with dentistry in New Zealand. Apparently, it is uncommon to have dentists and hygienists work together in the same office. So when you go for a dental checkup and X-rays, this is performed by a dentist in a 15-minute window. To get an actual teeth cleaning, you have to go to a hygienist and pay anywhere from $80-$150 because dental things are not subsidized by the government healthcare system. The dentist said he would really like to have a hygienist in his office, but he has faced resistance from New Zealanders who think that it is a strange concept. 

He was a fairly young guy who has a lot of complaints about the abysmal state of healthcare, especially dentistry, here. He recommended American or British doctors because they will be more thorough and caring (threat of litigation still weighs on American doctors he said). He and his staff were telling me horror stories about their encounters with the healthcare system, like a family member getting metal in an eye that ended up rusting and causing permanent damage, all because the initial doctor said there was nothing in the eye (and the person can't sue in this system). I said they could probably be a millionaire in the U.S.! They also mentioned doctors giving wrong prescriptions and ignoring a woman on the floor in pain who clearly needed emergency medical attention. He was also upset that the government was trying to pretend there were no waiting lists for healthcare by pressuring healthcare providers into essentially hiding their waiting lists. It was all very disappointing to hear.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dinner Party, Cold Weather, and End of Semester


We had our first dinner party last weekend and it was a success. We made Mexican food since they don't have good Mexican food here: cheese enchiladas, refried beans, rice, and cheese dipping sauce for chips, then pumpkin bundt cake and chocolate-covered pretzels for dessert. Afterward, we played some board games and engaged in some movie debates about The Hobbit movies and upcoming sequels. One of our friends brought her friend who is back home in New Zealand for a brief visit -- he is in a doctoral program at a university on the East Coast so I asked him about how he is liking the U.S. He definitely likes having access to Amazon Prime and affordable shipping.

It is -1 C (30 F) in attic and 9 C (48 F) in house.
With temperatures plummeting, I invested in a thick winter comforter (duvet) that was on sale. It could be a half measure warmer, but it should work for the next couple years. It is a challenge to keep the house warmer than 40-50 F (8-10 C). I do not like being able to see my breath inside. I use the timers on the heat pumps to have both of them turn on an hour and a half before I wake up so the house is more bearable, around 60-64 F (16-18 C). Then it is an ice-box when we return home from school -- I miss having a programmable thermostat and central gas heating!! Power bill is hovering around $10-$12 a day, so easily $300+ a month for electricity, and that is with us not being here most of the time. It is hard to get used to this climate in these conditions.

My umbrella broke in a particularly fierce windy, rainy day, so I will have to get another one. The rain often comes in sideways though, so you still get soaked even with an umbrella or hoodie on. Our cat has been so cold he is sleeping under the bed covers, so I bought a microwavable pet warmer that a friend from the U.S. recommended. We are going to get him a pet bed to put it in. I know, he is quite spoiled.


The semester is now over, along with my tutorials. I have learned a lot in a short time about students and learning and having to deal with systems of education that don't always make sense. I accepted that students were not keeping up with the reading and prepared alternative sessions. For one session, we watched a half-hour movie called Flatland: The Movie (with Martin Sheen and Kristen Bell voicing the main characters) based off an early science fiction novel and discussed political systems and how open people really are to new ideas. It was surprisingly enjoyable. Knowing how things work now, I will hopefully be able to prepare better for future tutorials, although every group of students is different.

One of my fellow doctoral students and I gave an essay workshop one evening in the library based on the mistakes we saw on the first round of essays we graded. Since it is difficult to get students to come to anything, we considered it a success to have seven from both of our classes attend. It was partly for selfish reasons, to give us practice presenting and something to put on our resumes. But two of her students recently turned in an assignment and showed marked improvement in their structure and received the best grades out of dozens of their peers (assignment was graded by one of the "hard" grading lecturers). So that made us proud and like our time and energy was worth it.

I have agreed to help peer-review and edit articles for a new campus academic journal coming out online in a few months. Not that I have the time, but it will also help improve my resume...

I sat through over thirty oral presentations by Engineering students to give them a grade on their presentation skills. A lot of them needed work, but there were some really good presenters. I learned a lot about building materials, types of aggregates, lighter concrete with recycled PET plastic, insulation, and 3-D printers on Mars. I have to admit, these students have been showing up my arts students with the amount of eagerness, dedication, and willingness to work they bring to their education. I can't get my students to read a book, but several of these students were coming up to me for feedback and ways to improve. They really cared about how they were doing. My final conclusion is that making things for assessment/a grade is a powerful motivator for today's students.

Finally, I went to an interesting presentation by one of the History students on education reform in post-war Japan and Germany. I had no idea how much effort the U.S. went to in order to try to ensure these countries did not become militarized dictatorships again. It sent educators over there to rewrite textbooks and insert democracy and freedom ideas. And it seems that they were largely successful. It shows the power of education and its "indoctrination" aspects.
fall colors on the walk from our car to school
It's the Target dog! Made me miss Target stores...
This article was in a wellness magazine dropped off in our mailbox. 
They know the cold and damp are bad for our health!!