The Story Thus Far: Grad School

So the last few months have been pretty tempestuous for my academic career, although not all bad.

First, some background. In 2004 I decided that since I was working in a university setting, and planned to do so for the foreseeable future, it was time for me to go back to school to finish my Bachelor’s, and then go on for graduate study. In addition, I’d long had the back burner idea of starting an online university, and realized that it would be completely impossible to move forward on something like that without academic credibility.

I had a little bit of credit from each of a pretty large number of places, as I had often taken a few courses here and there at whatever schools were convenient. I found out about a Connecticut state school called Charter Oak State College, which would allow me to transfer in all of my credit, as well as a Microsoft certification I’d picked up along the way, and would let me finish most of the rest through CLEP tests. By the middle of 2005 I had done this and had finally knocked that out of the way. I’d settled on a Master’s program by then, the Master’s in Educational Technology Leadership at George Washington University in D.C. GW is ranked in the top 25 nationwide for graduate schools of education, and the program was a steal at $12,000 total tuition.

I’d chosen early on to take an unusually fast clip, taking three courses at a time while still working full time. This was difficult, but meant I would finish in four semesters rather than six. Especially working in a university environment, I felt far behind my colleagues, and wanted to catch up as quickly as possible. I worked hard, and after three semesters I had a GPA of 3.77 and felt I was in the home stretch.

I was wrong.

In what was supposed to be my final semester, Fall 2006, I started off with a number of drawbacks I hadn’t faced before. Attrition on my team at the university where I was working meant I had a lot less time in the day to devote to studying. The demands of my family were as strong as ever. I switched to Marymount near the end of the semester when I was trying to catch up. And worst of all, when I did find time to study I was constantly enervated by a terrible feeling of burnout.

The result of all this was that I managed to flunk not just one, but two of the three courses. Worse again, one of them was a required course that is only offered annually. So much for completing the Master’s in December 2006, now I was looking at December 2007.

So that’s where I am now. There’s nothing I can take in the Spring, although I do plan to take my comprehensive exams and get those out of the way. I’ll take my last elective in the Summer, and retake that required course in the Fall. Then I’ll be done with it. Well, until doctoral work, but that’s for another post….

Happy New Year!

…and then some! I had meant to get an annual message of sorts up here, but the new job and all that hasn’t really lent itself to that. Soon, though. Soon!

Happy Newton Day!

I suppose I’m steeped in my own culture too much not to feel nothing strange at wishing others a Merry Christmas even though I am not a Christian. However, thanks to my friend Bob Klassen I also think of December 25 as a great holiday in celebration of reason and science. It is, after all, the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton, and while it’s said that he loved the Bible even more than science, it’s his work with the latter that caused Alexander Pope to write:

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.

Happy Newton Day everyone!

New Day Job!

As of December 4th, I’ll be the new Director of E-Learning at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. I didn’t dislike either student services or international student advising, but I have to say that I’m excited to be doing something that’s more commensurate with my abilities. I’ve also wanted to get back into technology a bit, and this is obviously in that direction.

Credit where it’s due: I hadn’t planned to look for a position like this until I finished my Master’s, but the day before leaving for Jamaica, good ol’ Mom emailed me asking whether I’d seen the vacancy for it. I hadn’t, but went ahead and threw together an application, thinking that I’d be one a hundred qualified applicants, and that I probably wouldn’t even get an interview.

I was wrong. Thanks, Mom.

Yes, Jamaica, and no, it wasn’t a vacation

Charles Evans and I presented our paper on the use of open content in curriculum with implications for the developing world at Pan-Commonwealth Forum 4 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica from October 30 to November 2. It was really neat to meet so many people who knew what we were talking about, and who had similar interests. No one believed that a trip to Jamaica could possibly not be a vacation, but since the only time I was on the beach I was wearing a tie I think I can safely declare that it wasn’t. Of course, the resort where the conference was held was all inclusive, meaning five days of open bar goodness, but what was I supposed to do? Not take advantage of it?

“I will not be silent”

Recently Raed Jarrar, an Arab-American architect, was prevented from boarding a plane at JFK because he was wearing a t-shirt with Arabic script on it. Was the message some anti-American screed or pro-terrorism propaganda? No, it was a simple message that even included a convenient English translation: “I will not be silent”. Here’s more on what happened.

Soon after, a thread was started on DegreeDiscussion, a forum for talking about distance learning, higher education, and accreditation, but which also often delves into a wide variety of off-topic subjects. I was surprised and dismayed that this collection of intelligent, educated people all responded either neutrally or against Mr. Jarrar. It seems that there is support for the idea that people have a right not to be offended and that their ignorant prejudices should be coddled.

I can’t help but wonder, if Western society accepts condemnation of those who are different, isn’t its difference from a society based on Sharia no longer one of kind but only of degree? It is precisely to the extent that we do not act that way that gives us the moral high ground. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that people with minority opinions in the West have a great deal more freedom of expression than people in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and many other places. But when it comes to liberty, it’s not about outrunning the other guy — it’s about outrunning the bear.

As for me, I have ordered a similar t-shirt for myself and will wear it next month when I travel to attend the Pan-Commonwealth Forum in Jamaica. I expect that as a native speaker of English my experience will differ from Mr. Jarrar’s, but at least it means that I too will not be silent.

Holiday in Chincoteague

“I wish I was born here. Chincoteague is the home of all pony lovers, and I am one!” — Fiona, age 7

So yesterday Adella, my Mom, all four bunnies, and I drove to
Chincoteague, a small town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore known for its
family friendly atmosphere, wild ponies, and annual oyster festival.
The kids like the simple beachy things to do — swim in the sea, play
mini golf, go for pony rides (nice and safe on supertame ponies in a
circle), and maybe even drive some go-karts.

Chinco is a lot less built up than many other east coast beaches. The
barrier island where there’s the beach is a national park, so all the
places to stay are on the island between that and the mainland. The
places to stay are still mostly little motels rather than big resorts,
and the places to have fun are still family owned and operated. Adella
said it reminds her of Anguilla in a strange way.

I say still because this is the first time I’ve been here in several
years (since my honeymoon with the older kids’ mother, yikes) and I can see how it’s changed a little. There are many more realty places, they’re building big, modern looking (i.e. hideous) condominium buildings, and there are just generally more people milling about. Still, it has a lot of that “well kept secret” feeling, and we’ll enjoy that while it lasts.

Dominica: Where the Freedom Is

Note: Recently I was offered a preliminary look at a new index of which countries are the most free, both in terms of civil liberties and in terms of free markets. Here was my response.

I thought your index was interesting, but it had the same problem as all of the indices from which you draw information — small island states are not listed.

For several years I lived in Dominica, the small English-speaking island in the Eastern Caribbean, not the larger Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic on the Northern Caribbean island of Hispaniola. It is on par with anywhere in the world when it comes to liberty.

There is simply no meaningful restriction on civil liberties there. People say what they want, when they want. There’s a guy who literally drives around in a car with megaphones on the roof declaring his opinions on every subject. News media are critical of the government almost to excess, and freedom of religion is respected as well. There are laws against drug use, but few seem to care about them and there are people who smoke marijuana openly. I found more people cared more about the public health effects of drug use than in the use itself.

There is no military, and those in the police service are part of the communities in which they live and work, rather than being militarized and separate as here in the U.S. I found they mostly served to settle individual disputes rather than harass people. (I’ve heard this wasn’t always the case back in the day, especially against Rastafarians, but that things have changed and that the bad apples were dismissed.)

There are controls on immigration, but they are not strictly enforced. Even so, it’s not difficult for foreigners to get a work permit. Their biggest problem with illegal immigration are “Spanish girls” (i.e., prostitutes from Santo Domingo). There are Haitians working there illegally, mostly in agriculture, the island’s dominant industry, but they’re appreciated for working hard, and no one seems to bother them otherwise.

Economics are not quite as good, but still excellent. Taxation is not excessive, and a foreigner coming in to start an international business easily can have a work permit and a ten year tax holiday. There are competitive telecommunications for phone service and broadband Internet, although rates for international phone calls are very high, and it’s well worth using VoIP. There are monopolies for power and water, but thanks to the rainy climate the latter is easily evaded through use of cisterns, and the former is annoying, but nowhere near as bad as in many other developing countries.

So if it’s so great, why doesn’t it show prominently on the indices of free countries? It’s not the only missing entry, as many other Caribbean small islands states are missing as well. I think it’s because their populations are too small. At 70,000 people, Dominica is just 1/3 of 1% the size of the U.S., and some islands are even smaller than that. While that’s bad for the accuracy of freedom indices, I have to admit it’s probably a good thing for those of us who know where the freedom is.

Dead Man’s Chest

I’m not sure why the critics didn’t like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It had a complex plot, but not a convoluted one. It was long, but engaging throughout. Now I may be a little biased, since they filmed all the scenes with lush beautiful rainforest in Dominica, and it was cool to see one or two familiar faces on screen (like our boat guide on Indian River). But still, I thought it was great.

And this movie also goes to show that you can do whatever you want to Naomie Harris and she’s still hot.