Archive for January, 2007

Major Decisions on a Major

I received an e-mail from academic advising today that went out to all the freshman, here is an excerpt:

“Have you checked out your Degree Plan yet? Do you know how to use the Banner Degree Evaluation “What-If” (tells you what you need for each major), UMW Catalog, the Registrar’s past course offerings, and the Degree Plan to plot out the courses you will take over the next 3 (you’re almost done with the first!) years?”

Technically I don’t need to declare a major until next year, but still the pressure is on to figure it out. So I am stuck with the fear I had going into college, being unable to decide what to major in. Now I know it is very common for people to change their major atleast once or twice before finally deciding on one, but for some reason I just want to be right the first time. This might be an unreasonable request, but it would make my life so much simpler and maybe provide me with some sort of focus. The other side of this is that I like taking random classes and learning about a wide variety of topics and in reality spending all my time focusing on one subject (at this point in my studies) does not appeal to me at all. How am I supposed to plan out what courses I want to take when I have no idea what direction I am going? The most frustrating thing about this is it really is a personal decision and I can’t have someone decide for me. I don’t need someone holding my hand every step of the way, but sometime I  just wish I had an omniscient life instructor that could make these hard decisions for me by digging in my brain and figure out what would be my perfect fit. To bad that kind of thing is out of the question and would probably render my decision making skills obsolete.

If someone were to judge me based on what grades I received in my first semester they would most likely assume math was my favorite subject/strongest suject, which is one thing I know I don’t want to major in. So grades don’t represent my aspirations or goals. I don’t believe I have poor judgement, but I often don’t trust myself with these big decisions because I always think someone always has a better view on the situation. My first semester I was excited about my history class and psych class and was considering going in that direction for a major. This semester I am enjoying my sociology and economics class much more than my history class. Am I enjoying them because there are something “new and shiny” for me to “play with”? It might be too early to tell, but this is where a lot of my frustration comes from and it might end up being one of those things that just takes time.

I think I am just going to put my head down on my desk and hope that my desk lamp will provide some insight.

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Reading Fanfic

Today I found some time to read a book I bought about a year ago. I normally don’t read mystery novels, but this one is in a series I had been reading and considering I had some free time I thought I should start it. As I was reading I thought to myself , “It is certainly nice to relax read, why don’t I do this more often?” A moment after I thought this I realized I actually do read a lot and not just for school. Ever heard of fanfiction?

I discovered fanfiction (fanfic for short) my sophomore year of high school right around the time I started to become really obsessed with CSI. If you are not familiar with fanfic it is a surprisingly large sub culture on the internet and it is hard not to notice when you become obsessed with or even remotely interested in a book, show, or movie. In a nut shell, people take characters from any book, tv show, or movie and write stories using those characters. People have probably been doing this for a long time, but with the invention of the internet fanfic has proliferated into something huge. I didn’t really realize it when I first started reading fanfic, but as I spent more time on the internet I began to understand how popular it was.

The biggest website that hosts fanfic is fanfiction.net, and it has an enormous list of books, tv shows, and movies that people have written stories about. The great thing about fanfiction is anyone can write it and the bad thing is anyone can write it. Some people call fanfic pseudo writing because the characters have been invented and established so half the work is already done. This may seem the case, but in my experience some of the best fanfic writers are the ones that can effectively take characters and put them in a new situation and manage to keep them true to the characters nature. All of that is up the the writers discretion and depending on the reader it could be effective or fail miserably. Probably the most written genre of fanfic would fall under romance. What could be better then having your two favorite characters fall in love (even though in the book they despise each other)? Fanfiction allows the writer to have an artistic license and people who like a particular pairing can read fanfic about their favorite couple (whether they are actually together or not in the “real world”). Harry Potter is probably by far the largest fanfiction writers, stories, and readers. On fanfic.net alone there are 282,789 stories written, just a few, right? Fanfiction is also a great way for a writer to improve their writing because not only are they getting the practice from writing anybody who reads it can leave a review of the story and point out the good and the bad in the writing. Of course there are plenty of bad writers out there that make you wish you could retrieve those 5 minutes of your life you just wasted reading their story, but if you find a good writer it is just about as enjoyable as finding a good fiction novel at a book store.

So maybe I don’t spend as much time reading leisure books, but why should I have to when I can access so many stories with just a click of the mouse? Isn’t it the same thing as people who read a book series because they are invested in the characters and the plot? Perhaps the level of writing isn’t always on par with books that are actually published, but being able to have the option of reading hundreds even thousands of stories for free is always a great deal and the odds are out of those thousands they are some really well written stories.

Reflection on a Reflection

It’s always nice to know that you are not alone in your thoughts and thanks to the Internet realizing this has become much easier. In fact I would probably say 98% of the reason I am obsessed with CSI is because of Internet fandom, but that is another point altogether (the dork in me just likes making CSI references). So while I was obsessively checking Bloglines I read a post by Steve.

He talked about the ways college education limits itself :

“One thing that seems clear to me about this revolution in digital tools is that it should help change the focus of higher education (and by that I mean the unit of measure, the way instructors and students view their roles) from courses to individual students. We’ve played lip service for quite a long time to the notion that universities educate students individually, that each student has their own set of courses they study (think transcript), but below the level of the course, it’s been all the same. Each student in a given course faces the same set of expectations and assignments. What they make of them can differ, of course.”

Speaking from a perspective of a student this is exactly what I realized about midway through my first semester. When I came to college I was excited about all the freedom and the possibility of navigating my future. It is true I can control these major details (such as my major) but the minor details (classes in terms of how they are presented and such) are really beyond my realm of control. The problem is the minor details are what I have to deal with on a daily basis and are what fills up the majority of my time. The majority of my classes are not mentally stifling and nauseatingly boring, but take away some of the “big words” the professors use and add some in-class worksheets and I could be back in high school. Of course college-level courses are more challenging and go more in depth than high school but sometimes I feel there is something missing. It is true the classes I am taking are intro-level courses with several of them having big class sizes so I may be a little biased in my perspective. Although just because I am dealing with intro level shouldn’t mean that I am not entitled to have an “exciting” or personal educational experience albeit it is a little more difficult to accomplish.

In his post he also stated:

“Increasingly I’ve tried to teach students as individuals where they are. What that means is that, to the extent I can, I expect different things of different students. I try to push all my students, but differentially based on their experience to date. In seminars I give stronger students more challenging readings, or I give students with certain backgrounds readings that draw on those areas. In my research methodology course, I push more experienced students to pursue more advanced research projects. Does this mean I expect less of weaker students? In a sense it does, though I try not to characterize students as stronger or weaker per se, but as having different strengths and weaknesses.”

I’ve felt this is the way education should be done for awhile now and maybe subconsciously for a long time. Of course as with any new idea their is opposition to it and with this style of teaching I could see a few coming up. One problem that came to mind was that students would/could assume the professor “plays favorites”. This is obviously not the goal of any professor (at least I hope not), but I could see people easily misconstruing this, especially if they received an unfavorable grade. Not that students haven’t ever complained of favoritism in the past, but it is just one possibility the almost immediately popped into my head. Although I would hope by the time students were juniors and seniors they would understand and be less concerned with what other people were doing and more focused on their own education. Then of course there is that age old problem of teaching those who don’t want to learn or be in charge of their own education, but I don’t really have much experience in that department, just experience being around those types of students.

There are many good things about it though and I don’t want to sound like the pessimistic nay-sayer because there are many more right things with this then there are problems. It helps promote a personalized education in a sea of verbatim regurgitation. Even the professors get something out of this by have the opportunity to learn from what a student has researched. This does require a great deal of responsibility on the students part to make something of it. I read in The Bullet that the curriculum was going under revision and that one of the possibilities would be to change the maximum allowed classes to 4 so that students could focus more. At first I didn’t really like this idea because I am indecisive and I have been trying out all sorts of classes to find something that works for me. If students only took 4 classes this could help promote students taking education into their own hands. It could also lead to too much free time and more partying, but I remain optimistic that not all students are in college to get their degree in partying with a concentration in drinking.

Of course all this is just a freshman perspective and I have no idea what goes on at those “secret” education conventions that teachers go to to plot against their students do whatever it is they do there.

A Possible Failed Experiment

As part of my grade for my English 101 class I am required to attend at least 2 campus events (approved by the prof.) and write up a reaction. Since this requirement fell under miscellaneous writing assignments I assumed that this was not to be some big research and reactionary paper that was multiple pages long. Of course it needed to be done seriously but considering it was just a reaction and a little summary I thought I could get away with a little bit more of a lax approach in the style of writing.

Since I blogged about the event a day or two after the speech I figured, ‘Hey, why not just turn that in!’. Perhaps I was being a little lazy but I printed it right off the Internet (with a little bit of formatting) and I thought it might be a creative way to present the information.

At the beginning of class we turned in our papers and much to my chagrin I saw several people handing in what appeared to be thick manuscripts. ‘How much writing did they do? Wow, mine is only about a page long’. Unsettled by the sight of people handing in these papers I thought I would mention to my professor after class why mine would be in a different format (and so he wouldn’t think I was just printing stuff off the Internet).

I approach my professor and say, “For the MLK day speech reaction paper, I originally blogged about it so I just printed it off the internet. So if you are wondering why it is in a different format that is why…it’s mine”. His reaction was this:

::Raised eyebrow with a slightly confused look:: “Uh…ok…”

In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have added that last “…it’s mine” because I probably sounded like I was trying to get away with something, but I was nervous and couldn’t really control the things I was saying. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see what I get on this paper, but something tells me my alternative writing format (and possibly the brevity) was not what he was looking for.

Good thing it’s only the beginning of the semester!

Wikipedia Speed

I have been a fan of Wikipedia ever since I heard about it my junior year in high school. I’ve used it because it covers a wide array of topics and is usually fairly accurate on the information it presents.

Today as I was Wikipedia surfing I came across a page for John Coltrane and when I came to the end of the article it mentioned that his wife passed away in 2007. ‘Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t hear about her passing’, I thought to myself.

Later as I was on a music website I saw a news update “Alice Coltrane passes away”. Hold the phone, this is still recent news? Intrigued I took a look at the article and saw that she passed away Friday but it wasn’t even announced until Sunday. So it took someone 2 days (maybe not even) to go in and change Wikipedia to reflect current information. Obviously it was big enough news to be reported because she was a pianist in her own right but I was still astounded that within such a short period of time someone had gone in to change the page to reflect current events.

Of course I was aware that Wikipedia was constantly being edited and was current but this just reinforced that idea for me. Not that Wikipedia can be a complete replacement when doing research but this goes to show that compared to other resources Wikipedia is most likely to reflect current issues and be up to date.

Is this generational, the age, or something else all together?

I’ve been reflecting on some things since hearing Dr. Hikes speak…

I’ve personally never really been fond of chit-chatting with people and I have even been guilty of running around a Blockbuster for 20 minutes avoiding some people I knew just so I wouldn’t have the same old conversation (where are you going to college?, what are you going to major in?, etc). I think its more of my awkwardness than anything but just because I don’t like to talk about the weather doesn’t mean I don’t like to talk. During the speech Dr. Hikes prompted us to elevate our conversation and personally I feel a distinct lack of “elevated conversations” among people my age. I’m probably just as guilty for not having the conversation because I tend to wait for someone else to bring it up but, for the most part a lot of students my age don’t seem to care.

I recently had a conversation with my friend about education. She said that education was just something she had to get through and that she didn’t really enjoy learning (and she wants to be an elementary school teacher). Not that she doesn’t like knowing things but it is the whole learning process that she wished she could skip over.

Now if this isn’t a sign of growing up in the Internet and information age I don’t know what is. Just like we all can easily access information online instantly my friend wants her education now and hassle free. There was an opportunity there for me to step in and insert my views (beyond the, “well I like learning”) but in the interest of preserving the peace I passed up the chance.

This brings up another point that Dr. Hikes made, which is to have conversations with people we disagree with. I think people right away cringe when they see the word “disagree” because in general it has a negative connotation and who wants to start a fight (and be declared the drama queen)? A disagreement doesn’t have to be a battle to determine who is right or who has the best idea and I think that’s what so many people are forgetting, myself included. I think I need to bring this up with my friends because it is probably something easily forgotten in a culture where winning is the most important virtue. If you really think about it having the chance to disagree or question is a privilege because there are places in the world where it is hard to have an opinion of your own. Even in the United States and dare I say even on Campus there are places where disagreeing and questioning is looked down on.

These thoughts are courtesy of insomnia and two bowls of ez mac (which in no way should ever be considered real macaroni and cheese but only as a last resort for food when hungry). After re-reading this post I noticed there are some incomplete thoughts in there which I hope to get back to at a later date but for now I have that thing called school work to do, so until then.

Nothing Like It

There is nothing like the first snow of the year. It makes me feel like I am 8 years old again and my biggest worry is that the snow might melt before I get to go sledding.

This weekend I went on a prayer overnight at a Young Life camp called Rockbridge. Leaders from all over the VA area came together to spend about 24 hours together in worship and prayer. I had never been to anything like it before and it was a spiritually exhausting experience. Despite the exhaustion sometimes you need a good get away to reboot and start with a fresh perspective. When we were leaving a bunch of us decided to go on a little detour that basically led up this mountain. It was the kind of darkness that allows you to see every star in the night sky and it takes your breath away. Of course eventually you have to come off the mountain and deal with reality (which happened to be drunk hall mates and a guy staying the night with my roomate) but luckily I have good friends who let me stay at their place.

What amazes me is that despite mankinds ability to build grand buildings and paint works of art there is nothing like nature. Whether it is a serene landscape or a violent storm, nature is the most beautifully designed piece of architecture and the most delicately formed work of art.


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