What I wish I could tell my students.

It's the last week of class, and many of my students are anxious about their grades. I wish I could tell them that I am anxious too, not because I think a grade is a perfect measure of learning, but because I know it causes them worry. I wish I could adequately convey the respect I feel for their efforts, and that I'm doing my best to keep the online gradebook accurate. It's not easy to keep up with student demands for timely and constantly updated grades. The website most of us use are poorly designed and mask how grades are stored in different parts of the website. And we have live, in-our-office students, with fear all over their faces that only a teaching ghoul would turn away. I wish students could see how half-hour chats with some of the most on-the-edge-of-passing-a-course students eat into my time. And then there's life. I haven't slept 3 hours straight in two weeks, mostly because one of my kids nursed a cough every night. I may still wear a suit and tie to class, but if you look closely, you'll see the tiredness. Students know this tiredness of work, family and school and I feel this bond most keenly at the end of the semester.
I wish I could tell them how it feels to hear that one of your colleagues was assaulted by her own student after class. What would my students think of the fear and love and complicated jumble of reactions I experienced as the faculty who intervened to stop the assault tells me the story an hour after it happens as he dabs his forehead from the cut he got from the assailant.  Students have shared so much of their lives with me, joy and pain, I wish I could share a bit of that back, in a joint contribution to our humanity.
There's no larger message to this post. I just wish I could tell my students more.

The Gloria: An Open Teaching and Learning Award

Every day, in every college, students, faculty, and staff struggle. Those struggles can be epic (how do we cure cancer) or limited (how do I factor this polynomial, how can I help this student right in front of me). Lots of folks struggle. When movie makers struggle and succeed, they get awards. Big thinkers get awards named after famous people (Noble, MaCarthur). Even people in college get awards- employee service awards, student scholarships, honor societies. Yet most awards focus more on the epic side of struggle: big events that are marked with degrees or money or wide acclaim. And those awards are given by big institutions. We need an award for the everyday struggles in teaching and learning, less epic, and more open to all. Not an award for participation, attendance, or mere competence, but for meaningful struggle to make college better. I give you "The Gloria." The Gloria is an open teaching and learning award. It can be awarded by anyone at the college to anyone at the college. The Gloria carries only the payment of a grateful giver. You can give as many or as few Glorias as you wish. You can alter The Gloria however you want (it's open, like open source programs: I created it, you can modify it). The Gloria can be given to students from faculty, to faculty from students, to staff from faculty, to staff from students. . . you get the idea. A few examples. The Award For
  • "Struggling with the registration system to get me the class I need to graduate" The Gloria goes to Alice, who works in the records. Presented by Joe Bear, student.
  • "Hauling my butt through a rough month of English composition to help me earn a C on my argument paper" The Gloria goes to Joan, who teaches in the English department. Presented by Fatima Hassan, student.
  • "Finding a way to care for your kids and still get this homework done the week your mom went in the hospital" The Gloria goes to Maria Alonso, student. Presented by Professor Fuddy Duddy.
  • "Helping me find a book that proved invaluable to my paper" The Gloria goes to, Lacey, that reference librarian. Presented by Chuck, student.
  • "Finally mastering a concept you've struggled with all semester" The Gloria goes to Pat, student. Presented by Professor Fuddy Duddy.
This is an award by you to anyone who has helped make college better for you. Click the link to file- fill in the "The Award For," "Goes To" and "Presented By" fields and print or email to the recipient. Be creative. The Gloria is named after Gloria Aronson, a forty-year professor of history (now emeritus) at Normandale Community College. She pioneered teaching world history, women's history, and study abroad at Normandale.
College is a struggle- Let's honor those hurly-burly teaching and learning struggles that end in a win with an award- The Gloria.

What I Use (Software Edition)

Inspired by a number of others (historians and coders mostly), I offer the following “what I use” post. I write less to advertise and more as an example for any other community college faculty who are working in digital humanities.



I do most of my short writing in nvALT. I use to keep almost all my notes, academic and personal. It stores all files in .txt files, which I can access anywhere with almost any software. It’s no longer updated and there are some other good substitutes that have emerged (see The Archive, but I work with what I know.

Sublime Text 3

When I need to write longer pieces, such as grant applications or articles, Sublime is great. I like that I can make it do whatever I want, look however I want, and it never taxes my computer. I’ve worked with Atom as well, but it’s a memory hog on my office PC.


More than 90% of my writing I do with Markdown. It’s a format that saves in .txt files, so I’ll never lose any work to new software versions, and it lets me focus on writing, rather than formatting. For a great introduction see the Programming Historian. My words shouldn't be trapped by software, and I teach my students the same.

Marked 2

Brett Terpstra is a bit of god to me, and his work, free and paid, has made my work so much easier. Marked 2 lets you preview, live, Markdown from oodles of different apps, and then convert it to one of the standard formats (html, pdf, word, rtf. . .). I love the idea of Pandoc and it does far more than Marked 2 can. Still, I get cleaner conversions with Marked and I can see what’s I’m getting before I convert/save it.

### Software ###


It works, doesn’t suck memory, and respects privacy. I don’t trust google (Chrome), Safari bogs down with a privacy blocker extension, and Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave aren’t as robustly built for my needs. Firefox also works with Zotero which manages my research materials.


Twitter teems with terrible people writing vile nonsense. Yet it’s also how I’ve been able to claw my way into the digital humanities. Some folks vex themselves mightily finding the best Twitter interface: I don’t. This works well enough and helps avoid Twitter’s terrible website.


I’ve only been using Setapp for a couple weeks. That said, I already used 8 of the 100 or so apps included in this app subscription. If you work in OS X, you should check out Setapp. It includes sufficient apps that you could give a gift subscription to a high school grad and that grad would have most of the software they'd need for their college degree.


We all need checklists to keep us on task. In keeping with my .txt-focussed world, I use TaskPaper, which save files as .txt files, but let’s you organize tasks by projects, with due dates.

R Studio

R Studio lets me work in R, which is increasingly important for historians doing statistics and data visualization. It can be used simply, as I do, or with incredible sophistication.

Clipboard managers

I use two clipboard managers right now: Tyke is just a place to hold text until I can stick it somewhere permanent. The app strips formatting, which I love when working with the web.

Unclutter allows me to save text, notes, or files, though I only use the text function. It keeps a list of your clipboard history, which is the main feature I use.


For writing assignments for my students, I need to quickly put text and screen shots together and export for the web. Clarify does this faster and smoother than other apps I’ve tried. I particularly like that I can save the full document in markdown with associated images files, and then upload that to GitHub. Unfortunately, the app is only issuing maintenance updates and no new licenses, if anyone knows of a great alternative, please drop me a line.

As with all such lists, I’m leaving many applications and all of my hardware off. For those deep in the world of digital humanities, my list will seem mainstream and uninteresting, the Toyota Camry of software lists. Even so, if you’re an emerging digital humanities teacher, I hope you can find one recommendation that makes your work easier and your time freer for our students. In the end, it's not the softare, but the human running it that matters most.

Safe home.

On fetishes in technology and education.

I’m working through a grant application. There’s a fair amount of attention to detail needed for grants, but the parts that drive me nuts are the formatting issues. As a grant reviewer, I know well the desirability of uniformly drafted grants, so that reviewers can fairly weigh the ideas of a grant, and not its font choice.

That said, much of the grant and publishing world requires a fetishistic attention to formatting. I’ve been thinking about the line between defensible attention to detail and fetishistic obsession in education and technology lately. So much of what I read is fetishism, which is unfortunate, because obsessing over the specifics of a thing can often obfuscate larger needs.

Just a couple examples. Wade into the Apple universe and you’ll discover legions of websites devoted to every feature of iPhones, along with speculation about what future changes there might be. So what one feature would you like of your next cell phone? Yeah, a better battery. I don’t need my phone to summon Thai food with my preferred spice level to a location of my choosing, or make my laundry experience next-generation social, just make the phone battery last longer.

But that’s not the Apple fetish.

In education, we see a fetishism of analytics and “data.” To be sure, as teachers we can better use formative, diagnostic, and summative assessments. That said, most software solutions incorporated into learning management systems are not based on sound educational research, at least as far I can see. Rather, there’s a data fetish that “personalized learning” will be facilitated by real-time tracking of student activity. There’s actually been a logarithmic increase in student data collection in the last 10 years. Have we seen a noticeable uptick in student learning? Nope.

There’s a fetish that more data will yield better results. I think about that as I train for a marathon. I recently purchased a new GPS watch that gives me oodles more data, including heart rate, leg cadence, and recommendations for how long to rest after a workout. And that information tells me something, but it doesn’t help me do the thing itself, which is run. There is no substitute for thing itself. Data can’t help when my kids get sick and I can’t run or tell me why certain muscles are sore. The data page that comes up on the web page associated with the watch looks like a NORAD command center. It’s a fetishistic display of what the watch company thinks will help sell more watches. But it doesn’t make me faster. In the end, I will run, and a simple timer will tell me how fast I covered a distance. Distance over time is not sexy, but it tells me far more than any fetishized data visualization.

All of this is to say, I think we need to ask for less detail in many parts of education and technology, and ask instead what really matters for meaningful learning.

What we don’t see. Or why is long distance running so white? @NPRCodeSwitch

I promise to bring this back to history and education, but I’m going to start this post with a long digression about running.

Gene Demby is reporter for NPR’s podcast Code Switch. Code Switch talks about race in America, and Demby was [featured](https://www.runnersworld.com/im-a-runner/gene-demby) in a fall Runner’s World (September?) magazine section called “I'm a runner.” In the podacst, Demby displays a powerful intellect while explaining the hidden codes of race. I like to think of him as a combination of Cornell West and Samantha Bee, crazy smart but very approachable.

So, here was Demby in a magazine I’ve read on and off for 25 years, and, until very recently, the magazine has been a paean to whiteness. Page after page of smiling white people.

After reading the article, I went to my local YMCA to run on the treadmill, where I saw this [image](http://exerciseunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Photo-Aug-11-12-21-00-PM.jpg) . My Y is a community gym with a wonderful diversity of members. I’m as likely to have a Somali grandmother on the treadmill next to me as I am a 19 year college white male. Old, young, black, brown, white, it’s all good. But almost no one looks like this woman in the picture. She’s tan (I live in MN, home of the not-tan people), thin, and running alone in nice clothes. Oh, and very, very white, so white she makes me feel vaguely not white.

And I started thinking, in more than 25 years of running, how many people of color do I see, and why?

In short, long distance running has a race problem. Look at the finishing videos of most races: predominantly white folks. [Running socks](https://feetures.com) show white people. Google “running” or “marathon” and most of the images will be white people (and most pictures with people of color are ads or winners of major marathons- not everyday runners). Instagram and twitter searches all show the same thing: white people running.

Why does this matter?

-One: representation matters, especially for kids and new runners.

-Two: I see more people of color on the roads than I see in popular representations of running on the web.

-Three: Running provides overwhelming benefits that seem to accrue to a smaller group of people than could be the case.

Which brings me back to education. I’m struck by what I’m doing and not doing to help me students of color see the benefits of studying history, and getting their college degrees. And while I’m conscientious of this issue, I also suspect I’m missing things. Because I went 23 years without thinking about how white my sport is, both in image and in reality.

Safe home

More ed tech internet of $h%@$t

I got  an email from Top Hat, an ed tech company that has packaged a content management stystem with slick graphics. I looked at it a year ago and thought, "why would I have my student pay for another LMS?." Top Hat uses a bunch of fancy buzzwords like "interactive content" and "active learning," but I haven't seen anything that one can't do in a standard LMS or with existing software for which my college already pays.

It costs nothing for instructors to use, but students pay for four months or $38 for a year. That's on top of the technology fees students already pay to access a college's LMS.

Today I received an email inviting me to Top Hat seminar on "Strategies for Succeeding as Adjunct Faculty," hosted by three adjunct faculty. This might appear a noble gesture on the part of Top Hat. In reality, the push by ed tech companies with duplicative technologies into higher ed contributes to the problems of colleges exploiting adjuncts.

By my analysis, there are two issues at play. One, instructors adopt texts and technology and students pay for those adopted resources. Based on different measures (2012 and 2015) textbook prices have gone up over 1000% in the last 40 years. Housing, pharmaceuticals, medical care, even the general consumer price index comes even close to that rise. [As a side note, the costs may be stabilizing given the adoption of Open Education Resources, some of which are free. See the Bureau of Labor Statistics [tracking](https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CUUR0000SSEA011?output_view=pct_3mths) Now, Top Hat claims that they want to help hold down the cost of text resources, which is admirable. But duplicating existing resources doesn't hold down costs, it explodes them. If three different instructors chose three different add-on CMS's for their courses, plus a text book, a student could easily be out another $100 every semester. To pay for this extra $100 the student either takes on more debt or works more, and both correlate to lower student success in college.

So, duplicative ed tech that costs students additional money balloons the cost of higher education, which makes fewer students capable of taking as many courses. Downward pressure on enrollment stresses college finances which are increasingly reliant on tuition as state legislatures of all political persuasions have dis-invested in higher education over the last 30 years. As colleges are squeezed in their finances, they attempt to higher cheaper labor, like adjuncts. So, ed tech is contributing to an existing financial problem.

That is just the money. The second issue at play is the idea that technology can solve the problems of money, graduation rates, "student engagement" or the adjunctification of the professoriat. The idea that tech is the answer is being driven by venture capitalists who see the same windfalls they accrued with pharmaceuticals before the FDA cracked down. Pharma as un-scrutinized panacea gave us the opioid crises. What will tech as panacea give us? Certainly not a more just system for adjuncts or better prepared students.

For the record, the arguments against duplicative ed tech are both right (it costs too much) and left (it doesn't reflect progressive values that empower students).

Safe home.

A short note on the technology of running and teaching.

I saw a fat, middle-age man running yesterday, gut bouncing up and down as he strode past me. He was wearing a button-up-the-front dress shirt that looked like a cheap blouse and some type of khaki pants. I had on the usual panoply of high-tech plastic and wool that is the rich runner's sartorial norm today. As the fat man ran past, going the other direction, I thought "damn, that guy is awesome."

No, he wasn't running fast. No, he wasn't noble or stoic or anything hidden (that I know of). He was just fat, and dressed for casual Friday, and running. That is, he was doing the exact same activity I was doing.

There are some who might read this story as a "see, triumph of the will" paeon to grit in the face of resource scarcity. I find arguments that anyone can accomplish great things if they put their mind to it to be ahistorical, and blind to issues of structural access and empowerment.

Individuals do succeed in the face of scarcity, but as a teacher, I do not want to design to my courses around superlative dedication in the face of lack of resources. Poor kids with average motivation to access resources should be able to succeed at the same rates as rich kids with average motivation to access resources.

That said, I saw this guy, twice, on each side of the lake and it got me thinking about what is necessary and what is sufficient when teaching with digital history. There's a conference going on right now called HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) and I'm following it on Twitter. A number of the presenters attend to issues of poverty, a number of them don't. But this guy got me thinking, what do my students need to learn history and what is nice, both in terms of historical thinking and in terms of technology. You need athletic shoes to run on asphalt. The tights, jacket, special gloves, hat, undershirt, those are great and help me feel better. But I need my shoes.

So, tonight I'm thinking about (again) about minimal computing, and wondering if I need to beta test all my digital lesson plans with an underpowered, 11" Chromebook. Because that guy is awesome.



I hereby claim:

* I am an admin of http://jacknorton.org
* I am djacknorton (https://keybase.io/djacknorton) on keybase.
* I have a public key ASBEU-3BLYscio2OYHimAy5GMOd_Jmn4qCzST4jfsRgXLQo

To do so, I am signing this object:

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which yields the signature:


And finally, I am proving ownership of this host by posting or
appending to this document.

View my publicly-auditable identity here: https://keybase.io/djacknorton