Ready to take the plunge into online learning

As a college teacher, I am exposed to the constant discussion around online courses: what they are, what they aren’t, why they’re great, why they’re awful, and on and on. Everyone’s got an opinion about online courses in higher education circles. But I don’t know very many faculty who have made these opinions based on online courses that they’ve experienced as a student. I’m sure it’s probably just because we were all trained in the pre-online course era. Well, I think I want to take the leap and experience online learning first-hand.

I teach at the medical school level, so I’d like to experience online learning with that type of content and at that level. Any bloggers out there dabbled in this world and have recommendations of great online science courses or ideas of courses to stay away from for a first foray into the field? I also hope to convince a few colleagues to take the plunge with me so we can have a meta-level conversation over the course about what’s working and not. Seems like a tall order, but could be pretty cool. Wish me luck…

Running with Deer

Have you ever had one of those moments when you felt like everything was a part of you and you were a part of everything? I had one of those last week.

It was a Wednesday evening, maybe 6:30 or so. Cloudy, warm, but not hot. I decided to go for a short run through the timber at Whitetail Country Estates (a resort near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa that my boyfriend Brett manages). [[*UPDATE 6-2012* Brett no longer works for Whitetail, so I’ve removed the link above.]] I love running in the summer and we’ve been fortunate enough to have summer-like temperatures for the last few weeks in March so I’m jumping right on that. Anyway, I had been running for about a mile when I came up to an open field of tall grass and weeds. The trail that cut along the field was really more of an area of slightly shorter grass with pretty irregular ground underneath. So I was focused less on my environment and more on making sure I didn’t roll my ankle.

This photo of the trail and field were taken two days later at the same time of day.

As I huffed and puffed my way down this long stretch of field, I started looking around and I noticed a few white tails off in the distance bobbing in and out of the tall in a similar rhythm to my stride. Now, it’s nothing new to see deer in the timber at Whitetail. I mean really, it’s called Whitetail Country Estates. But I usually see them from my car or from the utility vehicle that we drive around the property. There was nothing between me and the deer that day but grass. So I kept running, and watching. My attention turned completely away from my level of fatigue and my strides per breath and instead on the growing crowd of tails bouncing around me. After about a minute of this, there were deer everywhere around me, running in front, on both sides and behind me. Some were as close as 10 feet away. We were all running together. Not towards anything, or away from anything – just running. Doing what our bodies are meant to do. And we weren’t afraid of each other. It was magic.

A photo of one of this year’s junior bucks in January.

Of course, whitetail deer run faster and longer than humans, and certainly me, so the moment didn’t last long, maybe only a few minutes. But in those few minutes, I felt myself let go of everything that had exhausted my mind all day long: the difficult students, the impossible responsibilities of work and life, the guilt and self-doubt that comes with a good Lutheran upbringing. After those minutes passed, I silently said thank you to God, to nature, to Brett, to this beautiful piece of Iowa landscape, to everything in this world, for allowing me to be a part of it and pulling me back to the amazing beauty of the real world. Because it’s when I’m trapped in my mind that I’m not a part of the world at all.

Anyway, I finished my run strong, took a really awesome shower and had a wonderful night with my honey. My life is beautiful, because I am more than just me. I am a part of something bigger and better than I can possibly describe, and it is a part of me.

A stretch of trail at Whitetail Country Estates in the full glory of fall.

Elis & Tom

I just got a great CD from a friend at work.  She’s from Brazil and so I’ve confessed to her my deep love for Brazilian music of the 60’s and 70’s.  She knows I consider Jobim to be a god of songwriting.  Well, she just came back from Brazil with a great album called Elis & Tom that is known by many to be one of the greatest bossa nova albums of all time.  This was not known by me or I would have surely already owned it.  Anyway, it’s really really good.  Elis Regina is the singer, one of the most popular brazilian singers ever and her voice is perfectly suited to the music of Tom Jobim.  Check out this youtube video of the most popular track from the album, Aguas de Marco.

Watch this movie: The Sterile Cuckoo

I stumbled upon a great movie tonight on TCM called The Sterile Cuckoo.  It’s from 1969, a story about a straight-laced guy and a crazy bitch and their doomed romance. Think The Way We Were, but 4 years earlier and less mawkish.

Liza is the crazy bitch.  I don’t need to tell you her last name.  She’s extremely young and extremely awkward and a really interesting character.  I’m immune to the effect of Liza as a gay icon. For whatever reason she just doesn’t do it for me.  Her brand of crazy just seems a little too chaotic for me. I don’t think we could be friends in real life. Therefore I can tell you with all objectivity that she really is great in the role. Her character is this social reject who wills her way into a relationship with a quiet and kind of awkward guy. Their portrayal of being young and in love was so convincing, it actually made me feel things.  The writing is fast and smart, the music is great.  It has a sixties look to the color and texture of the film that may be a turn off to some, but it’s nostalgic to me so I like.

So if you’ve got the nuts to sit through a Liza movie, give this one a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s some clips courtesy of the youtube pirates in case I’ve piqued your curiosity.

Here’s a short clip from the beginning before she gets really nuts:

And another from later on:

Who died?

I’m not dead. Just took a couple weeks off of writing anything. I’ll spare you the litany of excuses. That’s not why you’re here. But I’ll let you know what I’ve been doing to get you up to speed before I return to celebrity bashing and book reports on science news.

A lot has been going on lately, professionally and personally. I’ve been struggling to get my lectures together for the spring semester. It’s all new stuff that I’ve never taught before so my self-doubt has turned into wicked procrastination. I’ve finally turned a corner on it though and I should be able to meet my printing deadline. It’s ridiculous that I have to have all of my lecture materials prepared months before I’m going to give them, just so they can make a billion copies for the students. Where’s the spontaneity and energy in something that overly prepared? tongue-deep-dissectionAnyway, what I’m teaching is the neuroanatomy component of the dental gross anatomy course (The image at right is from Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, 11th edition, Agur and Dalley editors, LWW* citation added 3-18-2011). I’m pretty psyched about the subject. The muscles and bones of the body are interesting, but the nervous system is how it all actually works so you can go a lot deeper into the meaning of the anatomy. I think it will be alright if I can just strap myself down to my desk and finish this shit.

I started piano lessons again. It’s been almost ten years since I last took lessons at Concordia. It’s fantastic to be in it again. I’ve been playing quite a bit in the last ten years thanks to a very productive collaboration with a friend who is a great singer. We spent a few years making music together – stuff from all genres of the musical world, except gangsta rap and bluegrass. When she moved last year, that marked the unofficial end of my standing accompanying gig, so I thought that whenever I got my shit together, maybe I’d take lessons again and try to take myself to another level with the instrument. I never did actually get my metaphorical shit together, but J and I got a house and a pretty nice rhythm to our lives, so there suddenly seemed to be room for something else – something just for me.

It just so happened that J was working with a gal who teaches piano professionally (she works at the blood gardens in the mornings for extra cash). She was taking new students, J mentioned that I played and had been thinking about taking lessons again, next thing you know, I’m talking Bach with her over a pair of grand pianos in her home.

A big part of why I wanted to give this a try again was that I feel like I’ve changed so much in the last 8 years and I wanted to find out if I could approach the piano with a different perspective and be more successful with it. I think I’ve always had talent and a good musical ear, but problems in the motivation department. Part of me wondered if my growth and maturity as a scholar and teacher would make me a better student and a harder worker. Also, could my extreme knowledge of the musculoskeletal anatomy of the hands and the neurological pathways behind learning somehow help me think about the instrument and learning new music in a entirely different way? So far, I think the answer to all of the questions is yes. I’ve had more fun practicing the last few weeks than I think I’ve ever had preparing for lessons in years past. I don’t think I’ve been at it long enough to know if I’m actually getting way better or not, but in terms of sheer enjoyment, it’s a great success.

So that’s what’s new with me. Expect some excellent social commentary soon. I’m kind of over the whole election thing, so forgive me if I don’t weigh in on that one. Thanks for reading. Below is a quiz for all you pianists and anatomists out there. Which images represent which thumb movements – Abduction, Adduction, Flexion, Extension, Opposition?  Which movements are used in the passing under of the thumb in scales and long passages?pop quiz hot shot

Chick Wins a Million Dollars on Wheel of Fortune – What?!

Attention all people who thought Wheel of Fortune was no longer on the air! Last night this chick won a million bucks on that show! Wheel used to be the lamest of TV game shows with contestants rarely winning more than 50K on an episode. All that changed this year with the addition of an extremely complicated million dollar space on the big wheel.

I imagine that I am one of the only people who still watches Wheel of Fortune, at least one of the only ones under 65 years of age. I understand that it is comically boring, the contestants are typically half-wits, and the Pat and Vanna shtick is definitely dated. But I am really good at solving their puzzles, and sometimes a little ego boost is just what I need in my 6:30 time slot.

So anyway, they added this new piece on the big wheel that is a normal size piece divided in thirds. The two outer thirds are bankrupts and the middle part is a million dollars. Okay, so if you happen to land on that middle part, you get to pick up the piece and put it on your little podium. You then have to not get bankrupted for the whole rest of the show. Then if you manage to get the highest money total, you get to go to the bonus round and spin the mini wheel (which has sealed envelopes containing prizes like a trip or a car or 30,000 dollars, there is one slot on the big wheel with 100,000 dollars). If you have the million piece, then they replace the 100,000 envelope with a million dollar envelope. If you happen to have picked that envelope (1 in 25 chance) and you solve the bonus round puzzle, then you win the million. When Pat first explained this a couple weeks ago, I assumed no one would ever win it because it’s so complicated, but sure enough last night some lady beat the odds and took home the million.

Way to go Michelle, it was awesome to see the explosions of confetti and her Vanna hug. But seriously, it would have been even more cool if she hadn’t been able to solve and then opened up the envelope. The whole world would have wept. At least the senior citizens of the world. And me.

Below I pasted the video of her bonus round from youtube. See if you can solve the puzzle and win a million. If you can’t, there’s something wrong with you.

Time Stands Still

I think the Hallidron Collider did in fact create some kind of distortion in the fabric of space time when they turned it on last month, it just only got to Iowa City last week. Last week was one of those weeks that I will forget before the following Monday is over. Seriously, almost nothing of significance happened. Granted I spent much of last week in a strange anxiety bubble which prevented me from making anything of significance happen, but usually things at least happen to me, or around me.

My suspicions were confirmed this morning when I checked the box office results from last weekend and there it was: Beverly Hills Chihuahua is number 1 at box office for the second week in a row. There’s no good explanation for that other than a rogue black hole. Industry analysts suggest that this is evidence of tough economic times leading to increased consumption of escapist entertainment. Possible, but I looked at the other films in the top 10 and I gotta tell you, it’s all looking pretty escapist. Nights in Rodanthe? Please, Diane Lane and Richard Gere could only be coupled in the most obscene of fantasies. Quarantine? A predictably jarring trailer, but hardly high art. Isn’t another good explanation that the intelligensia has all but abandoned movie theaters, leaving the multiplex to be little more than a playpen for minors and their least-common-denominator films? Aren’t the new status symbols of a film buff the length of his netflix queue or the number of downloads on her home computer?

Anyway, it’s not just the movie world that got sucked up by the black hole. There was no elimination on DWTS last week either, with olympic volleyballer Misty May-Trainor inexplicably rupturing her calcaneal tendon in a dance rehearsal. Project Runway aired the dreaded “part 1” of the season finale, a.k.a. all the crap leading up to the big fashion blowout finale without the fashion and without the blowout.

This weekend, I even raked the carpet of pine needles threatening to choke out the grass beneath our three stately pines. I then burned them into oblivion in our sweet fire pit. Hours were spent raking, burning, staring into the thick, white, mashed potato-ey smoke and wiping my inflamed eyes. This morning, the pine needle carpet was born anew.

Here’s hoping that this week something actually happens and the mini black hole that briefly descended upon me will find its way somewhere else. Somewhere harmless. Somewhere where they need for nothing to happen for a while. How about Wall Street?