Saturday, March 30, 2013

Navigating the Tornado: CMS and Other Frustrations

This month has somehow taken wing and I stand here, on its exit threshold, not quite remembering how I got here. The first quarter of the year is past, my child's FAFSA updated, my CMS  (Classroom Management System) updated for next quarter that begins on Monday, and even my laundry is more or less done. So, of course, I worry about my work ethic, hopefully to re-examine the way I work, the hours I spend on it, and if I am doing too much or too little for the job that has defined my decade.

One can always argue that it is not possible to do too much: after all, this is the only job I have and the way I do it will define who I am in ways I cannot control. Do I love it? Yes, most days I honestly do. I don't love it so much on days like today, when I look back at my break week with frustration and defeat.

My patient reader would argue, of course, that all that frustration and defeat stem from within me, and that my job has little to do with it: after all, no one has mandated that I change the text book for the course no one asked me to create in the first place; no one has mandated that I construct individual, detailed rubrics for each assignment in each course; no one has suggested that my courses have insufficient assessment / evaluation tools, or that these tools need to be rephrased, re-constructed, or changed in any way. I also know that no one really likes change, and that these hours and days I have wasted on these updates are going to earn me dissatisfaction and frustration from the very people for whom I've made these changes, the students, who will not be able to use their friends' notes, books, and tests for this quarter.

I also know I am isolated in my struggle to manage and force my CMS into doing what I want it to; it resists! It seems that no one has the power to make it do my bidding, even though everyone wants it to. So I have spent most of this week constructing, breaking down, revising, adding, and subtracting the same elements repeatedly until my head is spinning and I've had to walk away to get a perspective. I have felt what the doomed Athenian youth must have felt as they blundered around the Minotaur's labyrinth, trying to get an idea about its structure and ending up lost, not knowing which way North lies.

Actually, most of this month has felt that way, like trying to navigate logically through a tornado. This week, I talked to a few people at work about our CMS and some other electronic resources available to faculty. I have been embarrassingly, foolishly enthusiastic about adding customized rubrics to my GradeMark, about the new databases our library is going to add later this year, about the new tools I am discovering, like the Prezi. I confess to waxing poetic about the wonderful free Google resources for educators.

I usually look for my compasses in the eyes of the people around me, to get  my bearings, to figure out if I am headed the right way or at least the way I want to go. But I have received mixed signals: half the people give me thumbs up and seem to cheer me on, promising to call me if they get lost; equal number of people have looked away, vowing to have little to do with me or my ways, shaking their heads over how lost I've allowed myself to become. A friend suggested that I should learn to curb my excitement a bit, for if I indulge it, I am likely to spend hours, days, weeks in learning about these resources, helping whoever wants my help and that to realise that I am not going to get paid for all those hours, days, and weeks. A respected, well-meaning colleague, only half in jest, showed me a pencil and asked me if I'd forgotten how to use it. I remain shell shocked and lost.

The form and idea of higher education are changing at Warp Speed. I realise that. I also understand that institutions like the one I am with presently might either not survive this change or might metamorphose into something completely different. So my enthusiasm and excitement do sound pointless and foolish, even to  myself. I stand here at the end of my break week, and I must confess to an undeniable strain of guilt and indulgence that run through my enjoyment in learning little things I didn't know before, things that are little more than clicks and links and a few taps on my keyboard, when everything is said and done.

A very good friend, one of the few people whose opinion I value highly, one of my Axis Mundi, wondered at my excitement at the saw that is cutting away the branch I perch upon. I feel unwarranted in pointing out that there would be no other way for me to fly, unless that comfortable branch were sawed off. Most probably, I will have to leave my body behind in this flight. So this post goes out as a hope and prayer that the skies are worth it, that the wings are strong enough, and that my eyes are keen and wise enough to absorb the views.



  1. Shefali, I would like for you to continue with your flight, with your full enthusiasm for academia and life.
    Happy Easter and besitos,

  2. You are the compass--that may be why you're not seeing the compass in the eyes of your colleagues.

    If it brings you joy, delight in the clicks!

  3. Thank you for your kind wishes, girls!

  4. So, your blog post is not about a CMS (Content Management System) based on the web framework Tornado, which is what I really want to find out about. However, Google sent me here, and now I read your post anyway. Soon, I will go back to work. But, before I go, allow me to recommend to you a book I recently read, "The Last Policeman".

    The premise is that everyone knows an asteroid will slam into Earth in 6 months, and there's no way to stop it, and we will all die. However, the title character, when called to the scene of an alleged suicide, comes to believe that it was a murder disguised as a suicide, and determines to prove it.

    You may not like murder mysteries, or science fiction, but the premise brings up a lot of interesting issues. Why do we do what we do, if we know it will all end soon? Not that higher ed is going to be hit by an asteroid and wiped off the planet, exactly, but you're right that things will change drastically. Yet, you do your thing. Bully for you. Now, go read that book.

    I, in turn, will go back to looking for a CMS based on Tornado. I bid you good day.

  5. So sorry for having misled! I shall certainly go and check out the book; mysteries and science fiction are ALWAYS a good idea.

    Nonetheless, I remain grateful to google for sending you to my blog. Thank you for visiting.