Updates from Fall Term

Fall Term at Carleton officially ends at 8:30am CST on the day this posts, the due date for term grades. Fall Term officially ended yesterday afternoon for me, when I submitted my grades. I still need to do a few minor wrap-up things — finish my “notes to self” about things to change for the next time I teach the course, back up the course from Moodle, make sure all course materials are in one place — and once those are complete, I’ll be ready to move on to thinking about Winter Term, and about the various things on my plate during this long break between Fall Term and Winter Term (which starts in early January).

I have a longer post planned on my first year Ethics of Technology seminar — watch for that later this month. For now, here are some highlights from the term that was.

“Maintenance” proved to be an apt theme. I now think “maintenance” is my theme for the year, and not just for the fall. Thinking about my workload in terms of maintenance helped prevent me (most of the time, anyway) from overextending myself. From putting things into my course that might be flashy but would have a small payoff in the grand scheme of things. From saying “yes” to requests that weren’t in my core set of values. From burning myself out. Focusing on slow and steady forward progress also reminded me that change can happen in small increments consistently met over time, which (most of the time) headed off my frustration about how slow things can and do move in academia.

I quit Facebook. OK, technically I’ve deactivated my account, because I communicate with neighbors and a few other groups via Messenger and I wanted to continue to do so. But otherwise, I’m off, completely. The decision’s been a long time coming, frankly. Facebook became more of a source of stress than a fun way to keep up with family and friends. Facebook ceased to be fun for me a long time ago, I now realize, and I stayed on because of a weird fear of missing out. I also became increasingly uncomfortable with supporting a company with deplorable ethics that actively and daily harms the very fabric of society. (Not shockingly, Facebook was a frequent topic of conversations and readings in my first year seminar.) The first week off was tough (I probably did go through some sort of withdrawal), but after that it’s been…fine. I’m happier and calmer, and best of all have more free time. I wish I had done this years ago!

I’m dreaming about alternate models for the CS major. This term I’ve been working with various offices on campus to possibly bring a long-simmering idea of mine — a corps of students who work to maintain and grow software development civic engagement projects from previous courses, actively working with community organizations — to the pilot stage. (“Long-simmering” doesn’t quite do it justice — I’ve been actively working on this idea for 5 years now!) Making sure we do this ethically and sustainably is very important to me. Ethics has, not surprisingly, been top of mind all term since that’s the subject of my course. I’ve had conversations with some of our majors about the course, and about the possibility of offering this course to majors at some point. The conversations in both of these realms have me thinking about how we educate our CS majors, how we serve or fail to serve both our majors and others who just want to learn some CS on their way to another major, and what we prioritize. (Tangled up in here are also thoughts about assessment and how much of our assessment practices privilege the foundations students bring into a course, but that’s a topic for another time.) Mark Guzdial’s latest blog post about the history of computing education echoes (and much more clearly articulates) some of the complex thoughts that have been swirling in my mind around these questions. TL;DR: I’ve been mulling over what an ethically-focused and service-centered CS major, or program, might look like. Does such a program exist already? What would the key components be? How might such a program prepare students to be ethical software developers and technical leaders? This sort of dreaming actually overlaps quite a bit with the planning I’ve been doing for the next phase of my career, once my STEM Director stint ends — turns out, there may be common themes between the type of leadership role I think I’d like to seek out next, and the way I’m thinking about CS education at the collegiate level.

Winter Break’s looking fairly full right now, but I’m looking forward to more control over my schedule for a few weeks and to tackling some projects that require blocks of less-interrupted time — and to a complete break at the end of the month (hopefully!) before Winter Term starts.

How has fall term or semester been going for you?

What I’m reading: I just finished The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I’m still figuring out what I think about the ending, but the book was excellent, riveting, and complex.

What I’m listening to: After hearing an interview with the author on the Happier podcast, I raced through the audiobook version of Everything Happens for a Reason, by Kate Bowler (and have her more recent memoir, No Cure for Being Human, on my library holds list). It grapples with questions of mortality, sickness, and faith head on.

2 thoughts on “Updates from Fall Term

    • Thanks! I have an article coming out early next year on our community-centered Comps project and your article (and model) was foundational for that work. (Let me know if you’d like a copy of our current version of the article!) I will definitely check in with the Grinnell folks, too.


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