Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Challenge: A Photo-A-Day

We are so close to wrapping up 2014, it's time to write this post.

My New Year's resolution for 2014 (well, the one I kept, anyway) was a challenge for myself that I had heard of other people pursuing, and I thought it was a fun idea. The challenge? Take a photo every day of the year.

And here we are, at the end of the year, and I haven't missed one yet! It's easy enough to do, really. I have my phone in my pocket almost all the time anyway, and it's just a matter of being mindful of snapping a few pictures throughout the day, which I often did anyway.

Day 36

The challenge becomes trying to encapsulate a day while not letting the photo-taking get in the way of enjoying the activities of the day! (Since the point--for me anyway--was to capture life...not replace it with photographs.)

You can set your own "rules" for the Photo-a-Day challenge, but here were the ones I decided upon for my own project:

1. I had to take the pictures on my phone. (Which was a pragmatic choice for me, since I generally always have my phone with me.) I was curious to see the quality of pictures I could take with a cellphone camera; overall, I am pretty pleased.

Day 358
2. I was to be the photographer for each photo. (Since it was my photo challenge!) I did break this rule three times during the course of the year, when I decided that a photo taken by someone else on my phone was a better way to capture the day. In all three cases, it was because I was in the photo, and a selfie just wouldn't do.

3. I had to take the photo between midnight and midnight of each day of the year. I generally tried to also post the photo the day I took it, but there were a few times I wasn't able to post the picture the day it was taken for various reasons.

That's it! And really, it isn't about the rules anyway...this was just my own challenge, the way I set it up for myself.

If you'd like to see my year in pictures, you can feel to check out my Project365:2014 album. (Also, the pictures illustrating this post are a few of my favorites from the year.)

Day 162

I found a few benefits to taking on the Photo-a-Day challenge:
  1. I was more mindful of trying to capture my year in pictures. As I mentioned earlier, there was a tension of still being present in the moment instead of just trying to capture a shot, especially when the photo was something involving family and friends. But overall, being thoughtful about what photos I would take to sum up a day caused me to be more mindful about the way I spend my time for the year.
  2. Related to the first item, I found myself literally numbering my days this year. As I posted the photo for each day, I found myself really reflecting on each day, and how I had spent it. This sort of meditation and reflection was a real blessing for me.
  3. I looked back at my album for this project regularly. (Actually, I looked at it daily as I posted new pictures!) This was a great way for me to recall the events of the year. Even now, as I look through the album, I recall very specific things I did on certain days, even though the photo of that day might not have captured every activity from that day.
  4. I decided to add a short caption for each photo, which made this project almost a photo essay of my year, or maybe a photo-based journal of sorts. Keeping the writing pithy and to the point and letting the photo (mostly) speak for itself was part of the challenge; I tried to just use the captions for context as much as possible.
  5. I used Flickr for posting my Photo-a-Day, which I liked very much. I use photos from Flickr regularly for illustrations on this blog, because it's very easy to share photos on Flickr with a Creative Commons license (which allows you to grant permission to others to use your photos without giving up your copyright to the images.) Since I have benefitted so much from people sharing images with Creative Commons licenses on Flickr, I found this a good way to begin to give back to this community that has provided me with so much!
Day 311

I encourage you to give the Photo-a-Day challenge a try! Here's a checklist for getting started:
  1. Decide on a platform for posting your photos online. There are lots of options.
    • You might just post them to Facebook--either to a "Photo-A-Day" album, or just sharing them on your timeline
    • You could create a Flickr album like I did for my project. Signing up for Flickr is free and pretty straightforward. Flickr has a nice app too, which makes it especially easy if you are using your phone anyway.
    • Speaking of apps, Instagram might be a natural choice for you, if you are already using Instagram...
    • Notice that all of these so far are "social" in nature. Perhaps you'd like to keep your photos private? No need to share them visible to the world. Flickr allows you to keep your photos private, if you like. You could also set up a blog on Blogger (like this one) or on Wordpress, which you could make public or private as you like.
    • You could also create a website dedicated to your project, if you're feeling really fancy. There are quite a few easy-to-use, free website creators out there. Google Sites is functional and straightforward, if a bit ugly. Wix and Weebly and Tackk are all a bit prettier, and all easy to use as well.
  2. Decide on your "rules." These can be as flexible or stringent as you want. The rules I set for myself were just to provide some structure to the project. You know yourself--how much structure do you need for a project like this?
  3. Get started snapping pics! And...posting them, of course! (Because that's the fun part!) Follow your rules, but don't be afraid to break them as needed.
  4. Don't beat yourself up if you miss a day. This is supposed to be fun, after all! If you miss posting pics for a few days, you can always get caught up later. If you miss taking a few pics, don't stress about it. You can post a few extras, or not at all. It's your project!
  5. Don't be afraid to post "mundane" photos. So you don't have amazingly exciting things happening every day? Don't stress about it. Take a picture of something in your house, in your yard, in your office, in your car. Take a picture of your kids/spouse/pet/significant other/roommate/creepy neighbor. Take a picture of an everyday object, but take it from an interesting angle. Or slap a filter on it and see it in a whole new light!
Day 244

I hope you'll consider taking the challenge! I had so much fun doing this last year, that I'll be starting a new challenge for 2015 on January 1. If you decide to get started on your own challenge, share the link to your album in the comments section--I'd love to see your photos too!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Doctoral Work

I am about halfway done with the coursework for my doctorate. This has easily been the most challenging thing I've ever done...but I'm probably not alone in that assessment. And, c'mon...no one ever said earning an advanced degree would be easy.

It can become consuming. I'm working full time, studying part time, and still trying to be an active and present husband, parent, friend, church member, and everything else. Sometimes I feel like I'm just trying to keep on juggling...

...and sometimes I drop the ball.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Technology Does Not Replace the Teacher

This year I'm serving as an instructional technology coach for my fellow faculty members. It has been interesting getting started on this--it's a new position at our institution, and I'm sort of making my own way. I've been working with colleagues on an as-needed basis to support online teaching, to work with how to use our CMS to support instruction, and to brainstorm ideas for other tech tools they might use to support their teaching.

While I've been met with a mostly positive response so far, and quite a bit of gratitude for my willingness to help with their concerns about teaching with technology, I've had a few interactions this fall with colleagues who seem very skeptical about the value of technology to support teaching and learning. They seem to view technology as a stumbling block, or even a negative influence in the classroom.

I think I understand where they are coming from. Teaching with technology can be daunting, and particularly if one doesn't feel personally comfortable with the technologies at hand. And even being comfortable using a particular technology does not mean one is comfortable teaching with that technology.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stretching Minds and Stretching Hearts

This morning I came across a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes that I think is a fitting reminder for teachers:

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."

Any implicit gender-bias aside, I hope and pray that this is what is happening in the courses I teach.

Image (modified) by Gregory Marton [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SAMR: How are You Using Technology?

Teacher, do you use digital technology in your teaching practice? Perhaps a silly question for those teaching in the 21st Century. How about another question then: how are you using technology in your teaching practice?

You have a SMARTBoard? How do you use it? Is it basically the same as the chalkboard I remember from my childhood in school?

You have a document camera? How do you use it? Is it basically a fancy overhead projector?

You have a cart of iPads? How do you use them? Have you digitized the worksheets you used to assign?

I realize I sound a little snarky here. (I am a little snarky here.) I know that in my own teaching practice, there have been times when I was so enamored with a particular technology (like when I first got an LCD projector back in 2001) that I used it indiscriminately--just because I could. I replaced writing with a wet-erase marker on the overhead projector with displaying PowerPoint slides on the screen.


Look at him go, Mr. Technology-fancy-pants.

(Note: sarcasm here. ^^^)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Misfits: Be More Rudolph

My fellow educators, this one goes out to the misfits, the oddballs.

Have you ever had colleagues mutter under their breath about your "crazy ideas," though you were confident of the fact that you were acting in the best interest of your students?

(I've been there.)

My advice?

Own it.

Don't stop doing what you know is in the best interest of your students.

Change your teaching practices. Rethink your assessment practices. Adapt your classroom atmosphere. Challenge assumptions. Go against the flow.

If it's in your students' best interest, you must do it!

Yep, people will talk.

They always do.

Especially about the misfits, the oddballs.

Don't let it get to you.

You matter. You make a difference. You are making your school, your classroom, your students' lives a little bit brighter.

Don't let the nay-sayers and name-callers dim your light.


Be more Rudolph.

Image from MindfulWishes

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tech Tool: SafeShare.TV

Imagine the scene: you've found this excellent video on YouTube that is perfect for illustrating a concept for your students. You decide to show it in class...and it's a great lesson! Except...one of your students points out the slightly inappropriate (or wildly inappropriate!) video being suggested on the sidebar next to the main video window.

Ugh. How embarrassing!

Wouldn't it be great if you could turn off those recommended videos? Or even the recommended videos that pop up after your video plays? Or remove those annoying ads? Or select just the clip you would like to use from a longer video?

Check out SafeShare.TV, an online tool designed to do all of these things, for free!

Here's how it works:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Hate Christmas

I went through a really low period in my spiritual life about seven years ago, and I was tremendously cynical about almost everything faith related. I wasn't walking away from my faith or anything like that, but I was really wrestling.

The Christmas season was especially challenging for me. In fact, I know I went so far as to say I hated Christmas. I was disgusted by all of the commercialism, and sparklyness, and blaring Christmas carols in the mall, and cheesy decorations, and all the demands and expectations and outright busyness of the season. Taking note of the ridiculous mismatch between what our broader culture says the Christmas season is about (STUFF!) and what I know Christmas is really about (celebrating the birth of Christ--the fullness of God wrapped up in human flesh!) I was disgusted. I was disgusted with how much the church has bought into the cultural message about Christmas. And I was really disgusted with how much I had bought into it as well.

I was angry.

I was fed up.

I was sick of it.

Something had to happen.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Visualizing the Internet in Real-Time

The internet has changed almost everything about almost everything.

A bold claim? Perhaps. But think about the mission statements of some of the best-known entities on the web today:

  • Wikipedia, a massive (free!) online encyclopedia "dedicated to expanding access to the sum of human knowledge."
  • Amazon, the digital shopping mecca, exists "to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."
  • Facebook, that social media behemoth, has ambitions "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." 
  • Google, the king of search (in the Western world, at least) intends "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." 
And, (with the exception of Wikipedia), these are companies, looking to make a profit on the information--or access to information--that they provide, channel, control, and shape.

On the internet, facts are (generally) free. Information flows--channeled, perhaps--but flows in an unrelenting stream.

When I start to really reflect on this, I start to wonder. I wonder how much information travels the internet each day? And what kind of information?