Summer Edition

The dog days of summer are upon us in the ‘burg. Temperatures have been in the 90’s for days with the humidity rising, rising. I’m someone who actually enjoys climbing into a hot, stifling car after a hot, stifling day. The heat seems to have a cleansing effect on my mind — pushing any number of worries and nagging concerns out of my head while my brain cells simply absorb the hot, web heat and push on.

Working as a 12-month employee at a University results in a conflicting set of pressures and releases when the summer rolls around. On the one hand, the quietness of campus suggests a time for reflection and exploration. There is more space to breathe and turn my attention to both the nagging and the exciting projects that I haven’t gotten to during the year. On the other hand, late August looms like a thunderhead in the near distance; every day feels like a slippage closer to the edge, and, as a result, every day seems to never have enough hours in it.

For the last two years, I’ve been also working as a part-time employee at UMW. This changes the dynamic of summer for me in interesting ways. The contradiction of calmness and pressure is compressed into fewer hours and days per week. This is my second summer in this position, and I’m experiencing the same mid-summer anxiety that emerged last year at this time as a I realized that all the projects I had planned for the long, indulgent summer work days ahead of me will not reach completion.

The only solution I know to this dilemma is to try be more gentle with myself and my expectations for myself. I spend less and less time beating myself up about what I haven’t (or won’t) accomplish, and try to relish and enjoy the work that I am doing. I think this may be what they call mental health. Who knew it could feel so good!

I don’t talk about it much in this space, but the rest of my waking hours are, unfortunately, not filled with afternoons eating bon-bons and soaking my toes in a warm foot bath. For the last year, I’ve been embarking on another adventure, pursuing freelance Web development opportunities with a handful of small businesses. It’s work that I rarely mention in this space because it is, horrifyingly, commercial and doesn’t meet the rarefied and laudatory standard of public good that working in higher education seems to symbolize. (that last bit is supposed to be a bit snarky 🙂 )That said, I really love my Web development work, even as it pushes me outside of my comfort zone — often much further out of my comfort zone than the work I do in edtech. I’m a one-woman shop, so I do it all — site design and information architecture, graphic design, and search engine optimization. I do it all, but I’m definitely better at some of it than I am at others. This work has helped me tremendously in honestly identifying not only my strengths but the things that give me true pleasure. (A difficult life lesson for me has been to learn that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it.) I like being a one-woman shop, though. I like being my own boss. I like knowing that the only person I really have to answer to is me. And even though there are parts of what I do that I like more than others, I love how each of the different aspects of the freelance work I do forces me to activate different types of my intellect and creativity.

I’m also shocked on a regular basis by how my work in the heartless world of commercial Web presence and search engine optimization often informs and transforms my thinking about technology in higher education. While I don’t talk about my freelance work much in this space, I think that’ll change soon. I want to find a way to bridge these two worlds I live in and to try to make sense of the larger issues that confound and inspire both domains.

The biggest professional event by far, however, this summer is turning out to be a last minute course addition by the department of computer science here at UMW which they’ve asked me to teach. The course is a 100-level class on Digital Storytelling that Jim Groom debuted last semester. Jim, who is one of the most generous and supportive colleagues I’ve ever worked with has been pushing the department to add a section this fall and pushing them to consider me as the instructor. A few weeks ago, it looked like it was a no go. But this week, I received an email from the chair informing me that they had received permission to add the course and asking if I would be willing to teach it. Yikes.

I’ve never taught a course before. I didn’t TA as a graduate student. I have zippy experience or knowledge about where to start this process. Luckily, Jim has generously offered to work on this together. And I’m planning on using this space to beg, borrow, and steal any suggestions, resources, or information that I can.

I’m hoping that I’ll find the gumption and fearlessness in my own self to blog this experience regularly. I want to lay bear the anxieties of the first-time instructor, the challenges of someone new to the classroom in this role. I also want to use this space to reflect upon whatever successes or failures emerge.

I’ve spent my whole professional career working in some aspect of higher education. I’ve spent years of my life partnering with and counseling faculty on their own teaching. While that work has happened through the lens of technology, my work regularly jumps into the domain of general pedagogy and course development. I love this work. It isn’t easy, but it’s very rewarding. I’m a bit shocked by how daunting I find the proposition of teaching my own course. I’m a bit embarrassed by how new I feel to this, how inexperienced I feel. I’m going to try hard to put that embarrassment aside and embrace both the newness and the discomfort. I’m going to trust that my network, my friends, will offer a safe landing place for my ideas, my reflections, and my fears.