Kaddee’s Cairo Chronicles


September 30, 2008

Adventures in Stupidity – part 2

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 10:30 am

Transport-stupidity

After my nearly-aneurysm-inducing meeting with the Bb specialists, I decided it was time to go home. New Campus is in the middle-of-nowhere-Sahara-Desert. My commute is between 1 hour 15 minutes and 2 hours 30 minutes EACH WAY. It is Ramadan, so there are only 3 scheduled departures from NC to my neighborhood. However there are hourly shuttles to the old campus in downtown. I could bear no more, so I decided to take the shuttle.

I boarded a nearly full bus, which rapidly completed filling. Departure time was scheduled for 3:30pm. The bus was full by 3:10 or so. There were other buses also filling for the 3:30 run, so our driver departed once his bus was full. This has been standard practice for the last 3 weeks, as long as there are other buses to take passengers up until the scheduled departure time.

We had driven for about 15 to 20 minutes, the traffic was not too bad, and we were nearly at the Ring Road which leads to Cairo when the driver’s phone rang. He had to pull over to answer, as it is now a LE500 fine for talking on the phone while driving. After the call, he pulled a U-turn and started to drive BACK TO NEW CAMPUS!

Needless to say, much chaos ensued – all in Arabic. What was finally translated to me, by a student who was on the bus, was that the driver had left before the scheduled time and the dispatcher was going to reprimand him for it by making him return to NC!!! We tried calling the dispatcher from the bus to explain that if we returned to NC, the bus would ARRIVE there after the scheduled departure time – making the bus now LATE. We tried to explain that the bus was FULL, so in returning we could not take any other passengers. We tried to explain that people on the bus have other scheduled appointments in downtown that will be missed or severely delayed if we returned to NC. We tried to explain that this was an egregious waste of gasoline, time and resources. The dispatcher didn’t care – he must assert his authority and reprimand the driver.

So we returned to NC. When we arrived, I got off the bus to “have a few words” with the dispatcher. Of course, he spoke no English, or would not admit to speaking English. I asked for his supervisor’s mobile number, but, not surprisingly, it was turned off when I called. There were no English speakers available from the transport company to explain the rationale for why the bus had been turned around.

And the bus sat. Full of people with plans and destinations. The bus sat.

I eventually managed to get a seat on the 4:30pm bus to my neighborhood. The 3:30 shuttle bus, which had been brought back to NC was STILL SITTING THERE WHEN I LEFT AT 4:30pm.

I went to the transportation company’s website to lodge a complaint. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when I clicked on the “Comment/Complaint” button I got a “404″ error. I had to laugh out loud. That pretty much sums it up.

Adventures in Stupidity – part 1

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 9:57 am

Techno-stupidity

I am frequently amazed to find that my “technical expertise” is substantially beyond that of others in my field (although the empirical evidence is vast), however I usually assume that the IT/ACT/Tech people know more about the systems and software than myself. I have been proven wrong.

The university has changed its “Classroom Management System” from, the now defunct, WebCT® to Blackboard®. (While moving to a new campus, etc, etc, etc – just to make life that much more fun for faculty, staff and students) This has been a VERY STEEP learning curve for everyone, aided by the fact that none of us were given access to Bb or our courses until after the semester began. So here we are with new technology that we know nothing about, no FM to use even if we WANT to, and a heavy reliance by many of us on the technology for delivery of content and presentation within our courses. Sounds like a winning combo! LOL

Having used Bb prior to coming to Egypt, I have an ever-so-slight advantage. However the product has gone through many upgrades since I last used it.

I am managing a 20 section class (although not teaching in it) and asked the Bb specialist to make me a “designer” on the class site. This seemed like a reasonable request, it was eventually granted, and I busily removed much of the outdated information and simplified the exceedingly laborious pathways (4 or 5 “clicks”) to access files. I had been doing this for over a week, thinking that it was being seen by all parties in the course. I WAS WRONG. Only instructors could see the changes, and only in an “instructors only” course that no-one looks at.

So I went to the Bb specialist and asked why this was happening. I explained that I wanted to be able to post “Global” content that would go out to all sections. All I received in return was a blank stare, and the response, “That is not possible.”

After 30 minutes, 3 phone calls to higher and higher levels within the tech support office, and the incessant repetition of “That is not possible”, my head nearly exploded. The final result was that I was told that there is no technology to support what I want to do and given a look that said I must be smoking crack.

My final effort was to go to the Blackboard webpage to see what I could find. On the front page of their Higher Education section was a banner, “Streamline multiple sections for large courses”. HMMMMMMMM how interesting. When I clicked on that banner I got:

The Blackboard Content System streamlines managing multiple sections of a large course. For example, an instructor may create a learning object for use in 15 different sections of a large course. On most campuses today, that would mean creating 15 different files, one for each section. With the Blackboard Content System, the learning object is created and stored just once. The instructor then simply links to it from all 15 course sections. The result: more effective use of the instructor’s time. When the instructor wants to update the learning object, he or she does it in one place and only one time.

I don’t know if this is going to work – or if I can get the techies to believe it, but I’ve gotta try.

September 19, 2008

Small Victories?

Filed under: How it works — Kaddee @ 11:17 am

Picture, if you will, the following New Campus vignettes:

Two faculty members bump into each other on the way to their respective classes. They exchange the usual pleasantries,

  • Fac #1 – “So, do YOU have an office yet?”
  • Fac #2 – “No, I’m camping out in [insert other faculty/department name here]‘s office for now. They have internet and a phone!!!”
  • Fac #1 – “NO KIDDING?? I have a room that locks, but no furniture, A/C, phone, internet or electricity.”
  • Fac #2 – “Yup, I know how that goes. I’m hoping for a locking room by the Eid .”
    • October 6th is when we return to school after the festival – Eid. Classes began September 7th. Many of us are HOPING for an office, not necessarily having the same level of functionality that we LEFT on old campus, ONLY a MONTH after classes have begun.
  • Fac #1 – “Good luck with the office – maybe you can get a computer too, insha’allah.” [Manic laughter from both faculty members as they depart]

A faculty member walks into their lecture room as another faculty member is finishing their class. The faculty member in the lecture hall is erasing the white board,

  • entering faculty – “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT ERASER???”
  • finishing faculty – “I was in the Provost’s office yesterday and they had them. I asked if I could have one, and they GAVE me one!!!!”
  • entering faculty – “Really??!! Yesterday??? Do you think they have any more?”
  • finishing faculty – “There were only about 5 when I got mine.”
  • entering faculty – “I still have 5 minutes before class begins, I’m going to RUN to the Provost’s office to see if I can have my own whiteboard eraser [a faraway, misty expression crosses faculty's face]“

This is our current state on New Campus. Ahh how far the mighty have fallen.

September 12, 2008

Gem or Coprolite?

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 4:19 pm

UNCHARACTERISTICALLY PESSIMISTIC RANT TO FOLLOW – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

I am just past mid-week of the inaugural semester at AUC’s “Gem in the Desert” New Campus.  According to the university website, the New Campus is:

Built at a total cost of $400 million and spanning 260 acres, the new campus provides a world-class academic environment to the university community and offers state-of-the-art resources such as modern classrooms, lab and studios, and lecture halls to support the latest teaching methods, curricula and educational technologies.

I do not dispute the cost or size of the campus – however I must take umbrage at the rest of the description.  Especially as it indicates a fait accompli.

Upon arrival at the “world-class academic environment” on the first day of classes (7Sept08), I entered my “state-of-the-art” science department to find a construction zone.  Construction workers milled about ineffectually, wearing hardhats and safety vests.  The halls were filled with garbage, food left-overs from the workers and globs of plaster and dust.  Laboratories had no electricity or insufficient numbers of plugs or bare wires at junction boxes, no equipment in place, and were stacked waist-deep in boxes and construction materials.  The science departments have been asked to “postpone” teaching our laboratories until after the Eid – October 6th.

Is this how a “World-Class University” functions?

The lecture halls, touted to “support the latest teaching methods”, range from having no computers, projectors, or chairs for the students or professors to being fully technology ready.  Of the 140 “technology equipped, SMART classrooms” that were planned, 48 of them are functional for the first week of classes.  This is one of the “success stories” of the move, however I must point out that such a success rate is not a “passing grade” in most university classes.

If I just focus on “me and my world” – I have no office space and no functional lab.  I have been assigned a room, but it is still under construction, there is no electricity, no computer, no wireless access, no phone, no air conditioning, and the door does not lock.  All of my teaching and personal items that would normally be in an office are in boxes.  Said boxes are stacked in one of the non-functional labs, however I cannot access any of my belongings.

So – I am squatting in a friend’s office.  She has a door that locks, a computer and furniture.  Still no A/C, but I no longer have to carry my laptop with me everywhere I go.

In the long run (read 1 to 2 years from now), this campus will be gorgeous.  It usually takes the better part of a year to work out the “kinks” of any new construction.  The biggest problem for this campus is that we are on a site that IS NOT READY FOR USE YET.  The university is trying to function on a campus whose basic academic facilities and infrastructure are only partially completed.

Insisting on beginning this academic year with the new campus in it’s current state was ill-conceived and ill-advised.  The construction/moving schedule had already slipped by 2 YEARS, another semester would have been a wiser move than insisting that students and faculty “make it work” on a new campus that is only partially done.  But alas – we are there.  Administration is telling us to “do the best we can under the circumstances”.  I have to ask, “How do I teach university-level science classes without laboratories and basic facilities?”

September 6, 2008

New Campus and Meeting Impotence

Filed under: Chaos — Kaddee @ 7:03 pm

AUC is moving to a brand new campus in the middle of the desert, about 45 minutes outside of Cairo. I have read their descriptions, AND I have been out to New Campus, and I think my description is more accurate.

The campus is being built from scratch. It began as a vast expanse of the Sahara, and is being turned into a self-contained 260 acre university campus (a la Large, Private, American-style University). They have been working on this construction project for five years and on Sunday, September 7th, 2008 the university operations will begin at the New Campus.

There is only one problem – the campus is not done. Many buildings are still active construction sites. Classrooms do not have projectors, computers, basic teaching facilities. Offices are not completed, although our stuff has already been boxed up and taken away from the old campus. Internet is not working reliably, if at all, on many areas of the campus. Buildings are not marked from the outside as to what they are, and rooms inside do not have numbers.

As you can probably guess, I am a little freaked out by this. I have said in the past, I AM TYPE A. (And anal-retentive is ALWAYS hyphenated :) ) I need to be able to organize myself and my immediate surroundings in order to feel that I can work productively and efficiently. This is not currently happening.  I don’t have a warm-fuzzy about the situation.

AND it is going beyond simply my “sphere of influence” – or just me and my classes.  This is also my first semester as the coordinator of a multi-section CORE curriculum course called “Scientific Thinking”.  I am arranging and managing 20 sections of the course, each with 30-35 students.  I have 15 professors teaching in this course.

I had an  organizational meeting to discuss our “challenges” and what we can and cannot expect when we arrive at the New Campus.  I have NEVER felt so impotent in leading a meeting.  Professors asking, what should be, simple questions.  To which I could only answer, “I don’t know”, or “From what I have been told…”, or (the worst) “We will have to wait and see.”  Informing professors that all of the technology that they have so diligently built in to their courses over the last few years will be useless for AT LEAST the first 2 to 4 weeks of the semester.  All the while trying to “put on a happy face” and discuss these disasters as “challenges” even though I could not give ANY hard information to the faculty on which to build strategies.

I am well-versed in presenting “challenges” to faculty to attempt to get buy-in (Gozi calls it manipulation – I think that is unnecessarily harsh).  In this case, the challenges are not within our ability to “overcome” for a “beneficial outcome”.  These are logistical nightmares, and all I could do in the meeting was smile and reiterate that we will have to be flexible and resourceful.  I don’t think anyone really believed me.

Gozi and AJ have a running joke – they call me D.I.T. (dean in training).  They “foresee” my successful rise to academic administration as a foregone conclusion.  My impotence in today’s meeting calls that conclusion into SERIOUS question.

September 4, 2008

You may call me…MASTER!!

Filed under: Learning Curve — Kaddee @ 3:20 pm

I had my brief, stream-of-consciousness post about finishing my divemaster certification, but many people have asked, “What does that REALLY mean?”

So here goes:

The certification is through PADI (officially: Professional Association of Diving Instructors; unofficially: Put Another Dollar In), the largest SCUBA certification organization on the planet. I have been diving since 1987 (yes, there are readers of this blog that weren’t even BORN when I got certified!). My original Open Water certification was not through PADI, but all my subsequent certifications (Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver) have been.

The certifications through Rescue are aimed at recreational divers. People who want to put a tank on their back and look at pretty stuff underwater. Frequently these dives are led by other people (“diving professionals”), allowing the recreational diver to concentrate on only one thing: RECREATION. Even Rescue Diver certification is merely a First Aid/CPR class designed for people in or under the water. Just like First Aid/CPR, there are problem solving sessions (What do I do when I come upon an incident?), they are just more involved because you are in a non-natural environment for Homo sapiens. Even so, it is still all about recreation.

After Rescue Diver (unless you like to collect pretty cards and pay PADI or whomever a LOT of money to dive) there are no other higher recreational certifications*. The upper levels in the PADI hierarchy are geared toward “diving professionals” or those who will work in the business of diving (read: business not recreation). Dive master is the “ground floor”, “entry level” professional certification.

What is required to become a dive master?

  • all the previous certifications
    • I finished all the recreational certifications in 2004, thanks to HCC and the MaST center
  • experience diving (60 dives must be logged prior to completion of the certification – these are ANY dives that you have done in your lifetime, if properly logged)
    • I had over 200 dives prior to beginning the month-long dive master experience, mostly from my graduate work, and managed to log around 35 more!
  • Reading and testing in eight (8) different areas of theory that relate to diving (Physics, Physiology, Equipment, Decompression Theory and Use of Dive Tables, Diving Skills and the Environment, Supervising Activities for Certified Divers, Supervising Student Divers in Training, and Divemaster Conducted Programs)
    • Funniest part is, as a university professor in the sciences, my WORST exams were those within my discipline. PADI aims their teaching materials towards the LCD (lowest common denominator) and frequently simplifies physics and physiology to the point of being patently incorrect! I had some issues with their “approach to learning”!
  • Mapping and preparing an emergency plan for a particular dive site
    • This exercise made me reconsider requiring group work for my students!
  • Stamina testing
    • Basic swimming, floating and towing within proscribed time limits. I am a life-long swimmer, so this was not a problem.
  • Rescue scenario refresher
  • In-water skills demonstration
    • This made me a bit nervous because, although I am not performance-impaired, I am rather type A.
  • Internship
  • Professionalism
  • Supervised Instructional and Guiding Experience

WHY would I want to do this??

THAT is a very good question. Most people who do this are in their 20′s and trying to get working credentials so that they can get a “job” in some tropical resort area for some (frequently undefined) amount of time. For me, it was all about my own edification, challenge and control. The training made me more confident in my own abilities, helped me learn how to manage other divers to allow them to enjoy the dive and put me in control of how I dive from now on.

Did I get what I wanted out of this training?

Yes and no. From an educational standpoint – I, personally. learned a lot – including that PADI does not understand the principles of learning and assessment. HMMM – maybe they need an educational consultant to revise their curriculum????? LOL

From an intellectual standpoint – I got a chance to stretch my brain in new ways, and feed the part of my personality that enjoys making other people happy.

From a physical standpoint – I am in better shape than I have been in a LONG time. And I did it by doing what I love to do – diving every day. Life doesn’t suck.

So at the end of the day, I am divemaster, hear me roar!

*You may choose to argue this point with me, especially if you are a PADI zealot, in that there are specialties in which you can continue your certifications. However these certifications are not NECESSARY to continue diving, nor to gain further skills – they merely extend your experience. Experience, IMHO, does not require paying PADI.*