Monday, September 16, 2019

Unusual Summer: More Travel and Online Prep

The family trip to Stonehenge...we don't have a lot of selfie practice.

Most summers I devote the majority of my time to studio work. This summer was unusual. I spent about a day in the studio. I glazed some mugs, but never fired them. I don't think I touched wet clay once.

The sum total of my home studio work this summer.

It wasn't a surprise that I didn't get studio time. I knew, going into the summer, that my time would be spent in a different direction. In spring I took on the the role of AFT union president and the volunteer position brings with it a number of activities that continue over the summer. This coming year is contract negotiations, so I anticipate that my academic year will include a disproportionate amount of on-campus work that is not related to my classes.

Shiver Ball (in orange) suggested he could be president of the cat union. His sister disagrees.

In an effort to save myself time during the year, I promised myself that I would do much of the preparation work for my online classes during the summer. I teach an online art history series of three classes, one each quarter. Last year I made significant changes to the structure of the classes and added lots of "training quests" or interactive lessons designed to give students practice using class terms and content.

Planning calendars for all three online classes.

Adding these interactive lessons, mostly created in SoftChalk, took an absolutely astonishing amount of time, as did adjusting the structure of the classes. In fact, I only managed to make the changes and additions in about half of my fall class, at which point it reverted to the previous year's organization. In winter I taught the same class again (instead of moving on to the next in the series) so that I could finish the revisions. 

Checklist of writing assignments and prep for all three online classes (green and orange still need to be done for fall). 

By the end of spring, I had created about half the interactive lessons I wanted and I had completed structural edits on 1.5 out of 3 classes. I spent the rest of my summer days at home finishing the structural changes and adding SoftChalk lessons. 

We visited both King's Cross Station and the Warner Bros Studio Tour (and loved them!)

Of course I didn't spend my entire summer editing online courses. Breaks are important and I would have had a really difficult time getting geared up for teaching if I had worked all summer. I traveled with my family more this summer than any previous summer since my husband and I have been married. 

Though it may not look like it, this family is actively trolling our fellow hikers.

My daughter and I went to New Hampshire to visit my brother and sister-in-law and nephew. We got to hang out with the kiddo and play lots of games and watch fireworks and have ice cream in Maine. But we just missed meeting my new nephew by about a month. 

We got to see the Tardis! (near Earl's Court station)

At the end of July all three of us traveled to London. It was my husband' and daughter's first trip overseas. I had been to London nearly 20 years ago for a college class. This trip was very different; in 2000 I was there in January. This time it got up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (and London doesn't do A/C apparently).

It was hot and that made me sad.

After we got back from London, we took a very quick trip to Camano Island to see my other sister-in-law and her family as well as her in-laws (and our daughter's pseudo-cousins). We did some speed hiking and stinky beach combing and the kids and my husband went to a country fair while I snuck in a trip to the Seattle Art Fair.

The cousins and pseudo-cousin on a break during an incredibly fast (and noisy) hike on Camano Island

You'd think we'd take it easy after all this excitement, but the next week I drove over to the Evergreen State University for a  3-day union training conference while my husband took our daughter to a concert at the Gorge. The training was useful, but bizarrely cold in the dorms. I wasn't ready for the switch from the heat in London and Yakima to the cold weather in Olympia.

The Evergreen State University was pretty, but here's a picture of my bag instead.

After the training, we had a little over a week until middle school orientation, so we hopped in the car and started driving south. We wanted to see the redwoods in California since none of us have ever been to northern California. We drove along the coast, played on the windy beaches, saw some amazing recycled ocean debris art, and took an accidental 9 mile hike in the redwoods. And then, since we were reasonably close to San Francisco, we decided to go there, too. We spent a day in the city, saw the Golden Gate bridge, some sea lions, and some hills. We tried (and failed) to find some parrots.

It was incredibly windy in the Presidio overlooking the bridge.

It was a very different type of trip compared to our London trip. For London we planned far ahead, pre-purchased tickets with specific dates and times, and had lots of guided tours. For our California trip, we had a rough idea of when we could travel. So once we felt ready, we simply got in the car and started driving south. We booked hotel rooms from the car based on how far we thought we wanted to drive that day. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages. It was nice to be flexible, but I was sick of booking hotels by the end of the trip.

Sean was surprised by a hot air balloon festival in Colorado Springs on his way home (doesn't this deflating scarecrow balloon look fake?)

We got back to Yakima in time for middle school orientation, but there was a week between her orientation and the start of classes. Sean decided to fly out to Pennsylvania to see his sister and retrieve the family heirloom Saturn and drive it home to Washington (with no a/c). Around the time he left, my folks came to visit and the four of us went to Ape Cave, a lava tube formed 1900 years ago during an unusual eruption of Mt. St. Helen's.

Examining the lava lines in the wall of Ape Cave (where it was really cold).

Unsurprisingly we were done with cars and planes by the time school started for the public schools. With the kid in school (and Sean not yet back from PA), I had the days to myself to prep my classes and work on union stuff. By the start of September, I had pretty much finished all the work of adjusting the structure for my three online classes. The dates for all the major assignments for all three quarters have also been updated.

My checklist of quizzes for all three online courses (there are lots of quizzes, but they're all pretty short).

I had put off much of the SoftChalk work until the end of summer and the first day after our trips when I sat down to work on the lessons one lesson everything went haywire. The SoftChalk program kept freezing. I finally ended up deleting the software, re-downloading it, restarting the computer, and running some errands before coming back to it. Progress has been fairly quick since then, at least when I'm not interrupted with other tasks and requests.

I was bribing myself (with chocolate rocks and breadsticks) to get through my SoftChalk revisions checklist.

I can't tell if I'm behind where I wanted to be at this point in the summer or if I'm right on track. I feel fairly confident that all the work I did do for the online classes will result in freeing up time during the quarter to spend on union stuff (or revising the SoftChalk lessons I didn't get to. The online revisions are a strange combination of tedious and repetitive and fun and engaging, with technical frustrations and conceptually challenges thrown in. The stuff I have left to do leans a bit more towards the engaging than the tedious and I've got an outline for what needs to be added (and when), so I don't need to invent that during the year.

the major advantage of working from home

I don't expect to be back in my home studio in a meaningful way summer, but I'm promising myself that once contract negotiations are over, I get to take a solid break followed by a solid chunk of studio time. Since the work I'm doing this quarter doesn't lend itself to images and explanation, I don't know if I'll continue to post here regularly. However, in the last two weeks I've made some significant changes to my Intro to Clay class for Fall, so I may write about those results (if they are either positive or interesting). 

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