Random bullet points (more personal than usual).

8 04 2014

* I spent much of last week in New York City at the Roger Smith Food and Technology Conference. I shared my panel with a food scientist and the last artisan salami maker left in NYC. I can’t tell you how cool that experience was.

* I’ll be spending much of the rest of this week at the Organization of American Historians convention in Atlanta. I would never do two conferences in two weeks if it weren’t for 1) My willingness to spend my own resources on professional development and 2) My ability to offer online assignments via class blog posts in my absence. And you thought I was a Luddite.

* My next Chronicle Vitae piece is scheduled to appear about the time I get on my plane Wednesday. It’s called, “What the Heck Am I Supposed To Do With My LinkedIn Account?” Be sure to look for it on 4/9/14. [When I have the chance once it's out I'll link to it from here.]

* After I get back next week is when we here in Southern Colorado begin to mark the 100th anniversary of the infamous Ludlow Massacre. I’m actually Vice President of Governor Hickenlooper’s Ludlow Massacre Commission. If you’d like to learn more about the Ludlow Massacre, read some of the books mentioned here or buy a book offered here (which includes mine) or listen to this hourlong interview of me and Bob Butero of the United Mine Workers from a small Boulder radio station. Believe it or not, I’m actually the conservative in that discussion.

* As you might imagine, all of this has left me very busy. [And I'm only teaching three classes this semester! Imagine what happens when they make me teach four!] Therefore, posting here will likely be rather spotty for quite some time. So please Masters of the MOOC Universe, no important MOOC news when I’m otherwise engaged!

If I could just talk about ice and MOOCs at the same time…

1 04 2014

This story about the history of the ice industry on last night’s Marketplace (American Public Media, nationally broadcast on most NPR stations) is built around an interview with me.

“No Ice, No Las Vegas,” is a half-hour interview with me on Nevada Public Radio about ice, iceboxes and all the other good stuff you’ll find in Refrigeration Nation.

Of course, I haven’t seen any reviews yet, but the direct academic feedback I’ve gotten has been beyond my wildest expectations. I’m also getting the first hints that the book is actually selling (which is kind of amazing considering how expensive it is). While I would never ask anybody to drop $40 on it unless they were already so inclined, please consider asking your local library to order it.


Trying to sound reasonable.

3 03 2014

This is an interview with me from the MOOC Research Initiative conference in Arlington, TX last December for e-Literate TV:

Now if I can just get on “American Experience” my life will be complete.


9 01 2014

This morning I did a half hour interview with Linda Pelaccio about Refrigeration Nation on the Internet radio show “A Taste of the Past.” You can listen to it here if you’re so inclined. I’m not sure I’m entirely coherent as I wanted to talk about seventeen things at once, but I’m told it went well. Discussing MOOCs is much easier because outrage keeps me focused.

I’m also interviewed on the same subject in a sidebar to this article about refrigeration at Modern Farmer. It’s quite an honor that the author of the main article is the great Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography fame.

Now back to my syllabi. If anybody wants to talk about MOOCs or refrigeration, it’s gonna have to wait ’til next week.

“How should historians respond to MOOCs?”: The movie!

8 01 2014

Watch for the dramatic entrance by Jeremy Adelman about three quarters of the way through the picture:

My notes are here and additional thoughts here.

Two days at the Library of Congress, studying baking powder.

31 12 2013

Tomorrow I’m off to Washington, D.C. to spend two days at the Library of Congress, studying baking powder. This is for my biography of Harvey W. Wiley, the first head of what would eventually be called the FDA. I’ve been writing the chapters one food at a time, and while I thought studying alum would lead me to adulterated white flour it turns out Wiley spent most of his time on alum arguing with the baking powder interests. Perhaps I’ll even figure out what baking powder does without having to watch an old episode of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats.”

Oh yeah, in the middle of those two days I’ll be at a convention full of historians talking about MOOCs with my old friend Historiann and my new friend (and former frequenter of the comments of this blog), Jeremy Adelman. I would post my paper here, but they tell me we’re all going to be in the teaching section of AHA Perspectives in February so you’ll have to wait ’til then to read it (a month later if you’re not a subscriber). I did, however, just give my permission for HNN to tape my session. If all the paperwork went through, I’ll link there in a new post when I see it up.

If you’re around, I might also run into you at a couple of receptions. I think I might leave the Manuscripts Reading Room early on Thursday to go to this one, which strikes me as an excellent idea. And hopefully somebody will tell me where the Wisconsin reception is this time around. Maybe the chair could tweet it this year…hint, hint? Or did Scott Walker outlaw discretionary spending altogether?

For my fellow MOOC obsessives.

17 12 2013

Yesterday “To the Point,” a public affairs program out of KCRW radio in LA did a long segment on MOOCs. You can listen to it or download it here. The segment begins with Tamar Lewin of the NYT giving the lay of the land and ends with…me.

The conversation sounds a bit like a techno-utopian lovefest before it gets to me, but the host, Warren Olney, does a great job of asking the representatives of the commercial MOOC providers to respond to my points once I appear in the conversation. While I was a bit annoyed that he kept bringing up the fact that I describe myself on my Twitter bio as “the self-appointed scourge of MOOCs everywhere,” [I wanted to respond, "It's a joke, Warren. That's what Twitter's all about," but thought better of it.] he called me afterwards to thank me for participating, which he certainly didn’t have to do.

If you’ve got some time to kill, tell me what you think in the comments.

“The MOOC is dead, long live the MOOC.”

11 12 2013

So I got quoted in the New York Times again this morning. Much to my joy, the ever present Phil Hill didn’t (accidentally) kneecap me in print this time.

For added value, Scott Newstok, who has much more patience than I do (and really should start showing up in the comments at this blog right here), picked this out of the comments to that story:

“As an MBA from a top school, the value I got out of my $100k and 2 years has NOTHING to do with the course content, all of which I could have and can look up on line and self educate myself, if I wanted to about game theory, or how to read a financial statement, or what a bottleneck is, etc, etc.

The entire value, which I can now appreciate, came from being for 2 years in a highly challenging, highly competitive environment surrounded by super smart people, being pushed to think and consider things in different ways and learning how to deconstruct complex challenges into bite size pieces, then reconstruct the situation to find solutions.

It completely changed the way I think, and for the better: I now know what questions to ask, in any situation, and how to recognize what it is I don’t know. My analytical skills have more than doubled.

None of that value could be obtained by a MOOC.”

The now obligatory post about writing for free.

31 10 2013

Last summer, I got an e-mail from Jeff Selingo of the Chronicle. They had started organizing this new project called Chronicle Vitae and they wanted to know if I would be one of the contributors. While I was pleasantly surprised that the Chronicle was interested in featuring the writing of somebody with my politics, I didn’t exactly jump at the chance. You see, I know some people of my political persuasion who’ve had bad experiences writing regularly for the Chronicle. Besides that, I wanted to know exactly what I was committing to and what exactly I’d be getting in return.

Yes, I was rude enough to ask the Chronicle about money. I did this well before getting paid for writing became all the rage because I don’t really want to write for free anymore. Yet I do anyway. Does this make me a bad person? Am I putting professional journalists out of work? Am I contributing to a system of naked exploitation?

I agree with what Derek Thompson wrote at the Atlantic: “It’s complicated.” While I’m not sure this is at all original, here’s my explanation of how I sort it out in my own mind:

Perhaps the greatest thing about having tenure is that I can write what I want for whomever I want to now. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to spend seven years on a dissertation, five years on revision and have the final product sell a whopping total of 400 copies worldwide. This is not writing for a living or even the pittance of a living. It’s writing for tenure, and there are plenty of worthy presses out there who are more than willing to help you achieve that end – even if you have to buy 25% of those 400 copies yourself so that the press can at least break even.

Honestly, I’m beginning to feel the same way about academic journals. I’ve done my fair share of articles in my time, but I’ve never gotten even one ounce of feedback or encouragement from anybody who has ever read them after publication. Perhaps that’s because none of my articles have been any good, but I can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that it’s actually because almost nobody has ever read them. I spent five years [FIVE YEARS!!!] going back and forth with Technology and Culture to get this article published. While I love the result dearly, I have no idea why I bothered anymore. And, of course, I never made a dime off of it. But then again I didn’t expect to either.

Blogging has the decided advantage of being a lot more fun than writing for purely academic audiences. When nobody read this blog, I told myself that I was doing it for therapy. Now that people do read this blog, I tell myself that I’m doing it for my twin causes: faculty rights and faculty prerogatives for faculty at all levels of employment. To turn down the chance to bring those causes to an audience of professors and graduate students of all kinds would have been idiocy on my part.

Besides, as Jeff explained it to me, I actually like the idea. Chronicle Vitae is kind of like the academic LinkedIn, except academics won’t be all confused about why they joined up in the first place. It’s free to access and there’s even a place where grad students and young scholars can sign up for mentoring. What’s not to like? Besides, since I’ll eventually get around to plugging my book there it’s not exactly “free” labor in the Gary Becker sense of that word.

My first post for Chronicle Vitae is up now. You can find links to my future contributions in this space or just join up yourself and follow me once you’ve registered. Either way, I hope to see you there.

Fear and loathing in Arlington, TX.

14 10 2013

The rumors are true. I will, in fact, be attending the greatest MOOC conference in the history of MOOCs. If this sounds a little bit like inviting Hunter S. Thompson to cover a sheriff’s convention (w/o the drugs, of course), then you’re not alone. All credit goes to George Siemens, who actually thinks that my warped, humanities-infused, professor-centered perspective will be helpful, and is therefore responsible both for my invite and the financial assistance that will make my trip possible.

Here’s my plan for the December event:

1. Listen [All my MOOC knowledge is self-taught, you know. I have a lot left to learn.]
2. Ask questions.
3. Try to coax as many people as possible into the post-MOOC future as possible.
4. Describe the event for my readers.

Now if I can just convince Ralph Steadman to do the illustrations.


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