Time Study

At the beginning of the semester I proposed a project to promote OER at BSU (which was not approved). In the process I was asked how much time I thought it would take and not having any data I grabbed a number from thin air. This prompted me to keep track of my time this semester, to see exactly how long I spent on each of the things I do at work. In addition to wondering how much time I spend working on OER I was curious about the more traditional triad of teaching, research/writing, and service. BSU is a teaching-oriented university, so I suspected the majority of my time would be spent working on my courses, but I wanted to find out for sure.

I used an application called Tyme 2 which I installed on my desktop and notebook computers, iPad and phone. It allowed me to create twenty tasks in three categories: courses, OER, and Professional Development (PD) which included both service tasks like advising and attending committee meetings, and also my work preparing the edits of my book for publication. I tracked each of these tasks over seventeen weeks from the last week of August to the end of the third week of December. While there may have been some slight overlap between OER activities and course activities, I think the results are pretty accurate.

So what were the results? Turns out I spent two thirds of my time working on my courses, for a total of 29 hours per week. I didn’t count one week (Thanksgiving) when I was at an OER conference and only did an hour of course-related work. If that week counted, my weekly coursework average was about 27.3 hours. Similarly, if I don’t count the conference week when I devoted about 85 hours to OER, my average time spent working on OER was about 8 hours weekly. My weekly PD total was 7.3 hours, made up mostly of work proofreading the first print of my manuscript and writing an index. My average workweek, not counting the conference week, was 44.2 hours.

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The total time I devoted to courses over the semester was 485 hours (including some prep for courses I’ll offer in the spring). The largest block of time went to a new course, History of High Technology (HST 2600, 142 hours). The smallest block went to East Asia History (HST 3419, 81.5 hours), which was another new course but was online. The difference between the courses can be mostly accounted for by the 40 hours of meetings of the in-person class and the time it took me to produce PowerPoint lectures for that class. I made short videos for the online class which were much less time-consuming. Even so, the online course prep seemed to be slightly more efficient. Compared to the two in-person courses I’ve taught before (HST 1305, 103 hours and HST 2925, 102 hours), the online course still seems more efficient. Student evaluations of all these courses were similarly positive, and I felt about the same about my effectiveness in each of the new courses (a good start but there were some things I could improve); so although the sample set is low I think there may be some significance to these results. I’ll be more aware of this efficiency question in the future.

Looking forward, I plan to continue trying to streamline my courses using technology (more effective LMS tools, Hypothesis, online assessment, etc.) and to explore the effectiveness of online vs. in-person delivery. I had 30 students in my online East Asia course and 12 in my in-person High Tech, so at a very raw, numerical level the lesser time I spent on HST 3419 was more effective. Early in the semester our CPD ran a brief session about efficiency in course design at the Deans’ request. It was mostly oriented around surviving higher course caps and just scratched the surface. As we work to reverse decreasing enrollment at BSU and struggle with increasing class sizes, I think effectively and efficiently delivering online courses is going to be key.

 

Enthusiasts drive OER growth

I was reading through the Seaman & Seaman report on the Babson Survey, “Freeing the Textbook”. One chart jumped out at me. It showed that faculty knowledge of the existence of OER has been growing slowly over recent years. I thought it was pretty significant that the real growth in this graph is in the “Very Aware” category while the other two stayed about the same. I think it’s worth noting that the growth is in the enthusiast column rather than in the “meh” columns. That’s good news, and also probably a suggestion of where we should be allocating resources.

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From Seaman & Seaman, “Freeing the Textbook” p. 8, CC-BY-SA

Starting a Podcast

So I’m beginning a podcast called History in 5-or-so Minutes. It will be about short bits of history, or about teaching history, or about learning new stuff to teach history better. That’s what this first episode is about: Creative Commons. I’m taking a certificate course in CC, and this is some of what I learned in the first week.

Oh, and by the way, it’s licensed CC-BY:

Creative Commons License
What is CC? by Dan Allosso is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Spring Cleaning, Digital Style

Spring cleaning, digital style. I’m reducing my digital footprint a bit, but really consolidating it into a single site which I own and control. I was doing basic cleanup on Twitter this morning: removing people I’m following who have been completely inactive for more than three months. Then I decided to really prune the tree, and get rid of nearly all the people who don’t actually follow me back. Then I decided it made no sense to have tweets out there from years ago. So I removed everything from before 2016.

I tried to do the same thing with Facebook, removing old posts. But they make it much more difficult and slow. It would have taken hours to click, wait, click, wait…and I really don’t use FB for anything anymore. So I deleted my account.

I’ve had dozens of blogs over the years, under dozens of different domain names. In late 2014 I started using WordPress for my personal blog, and then I added an EnvHist blog. Each of them has a premium hosting plan and a special url. Between now and the renewal date of the plans (this summer), I’m going to transition the content back to my own site, danallosso.net.

I haven’t decided how I’m going to organize the info on my site. The blogs will all become part of a single megablog to start. You can find what you’re looking for using Categories and Tags, and there may even be some interesting cross-pollenization between different things that interest me. There’s also a cool rotating tag-cloud on my home page that you can spin to find what you’re looking for.

I’ll leave recent (2016) posts up on WordPress until the accounts expire. But if you’re following me here, consider visiting and rss-subscribing or bookmarking my website.

Ciao!  –Dan

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This year’s new chicks

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Later this month, I’m getting a new batch of chicks to begin a new sustainable flock of layers. We have a batch of four-year old layers now. We’ll keep many of them, but weed out a few. I’m adding New Hampshire Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Araucanas (Chilean Easter Eggers), and some Old English Game Birds. I’m trying out the Old English because they’re closer to the original ancestor of the chicken, and I thought that would add some interesting DNA to the flock. The objective this year is to keep a few boys, and start letting the birds reproduce. With luck, I won’t have to buy any more chicks after this, at least for the layer flock. I’m still going to get a batch of broilers at the end of April, this year. But if the breeding programs go well, maybe we’ll be able to make do without hybrid birds, going forward. I’m kind of interested to see what might result from crossing the Old English with my Jersey Giant hens…

Bam! American Environmental History Part One is Done!

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So I’ve gone ahead and pulled the trigger. Part One of my American Environmental History is now available on Amazon as a print book and a Kindle Ebook. I self-published this, which I think I ought to explain, since although plenty of novelists (myself included) have had success self-publishing, it isn’t something that has really caught on yet in nonfiction, and especially in not academic publishing. So what’s this all about?

I’ve been teaching American Environmental History for UMass/Amherst for several years. I actually TA-ed the class while I was doing my PhD coursework there, after taking the graduate version of the class with David Glassberg. Then I did a Global Environmental History teaching field with Ted Melillo down the road at Amherst College. Then I wrote my own syllabus and taught the class online in 2014 and 2015. I’ll be teaching it again in the Spring semester, 2016, beginning in a few weeks.

All of that, to be honest, is me establishing my platform. I had a chat with an editor many years ago at a writers’ conference. He said I could submit any fiction I wanted to him, but nonfiction would need to be accompanied by a convincing platform in order to be considered. That’s actually what convinced me to go back to UMass for the PhD. That PhD is nearly completed–all that’s left is the pesky detail of finishing the dissertation. But in any case, I think I have at least a plausible claim to a platform for this book.

I think so, but one of the reviewers the Oxford University Press sent my book proposal out to last year didn’t agree. Of the six reviews, three were negative and three positive. So I didn’t get a contract offer. One of the reviewers was simply not buying the project from an author without the PhD. The other two had constructive criticisms that I used to make the manuscript better. The outline was too New England-centric, one reviewer said. That was true.  It isn’t anymore. I hadn’t made a firm commitment to chronological or thematic presentation, said the other. That was true, too, but a little more complicated. I’ve split the project into a mostly-chronological Part One and a mostly-thematic Part Two as a result.

But then there were the other three reviewers, who all said they would use the book as proposed. That was very encouraging. One reviewer said “I have long wanted a straightforward account of environmental history to use with undergraduate classes.” Another agreed with me that there is currently no comprehensive survey available. Ted Steinberg’s and Carolyn Merchant’s textbooks, I had argued, are more oriented toward historiography, theory, and special topics. A reviewer agreed that “Neither Steinberg nor Merchant emphasize momentous events. This study will focus students’ attention on the most significant moments in American Environmental History.”

So all that gave me the confidence to revise my course and my manuscript. And then I decided not to resubmit the proposal to Oxford America. Why not?

It took nearly six months for my first proposal to go through the process. I didn’t want to do that again. And even after the book was accepted somewhere, I’d still be looking at another year before it hit the shelves. Life’s too short.

The suggested price-points mentioned in the reviews ranged from $45 to $75. I didn’t want my work to have that high a tag on it. I’d really like some general readers outside the academy to pick this up. That’s not going to happen if the book is priced like a college textbook. I don’t blame publishers for pricing books the way they do. They have a lot of overhead to pay for. But I don’t.

What if I could get the thing out for under $25? Okay, there would be some sacrifices. It would be printed on regular paper rather than glossy textbook stock. The illustrations would all have to be in black and white. More significantly, they’d all have to be public domain images, since I don’t have the administrative capability or the budget to license hundreds of maps, photos, and drawings. And I’d have to handle all the page layout and proofreading myself. I taught myself InDesign and learned the tricks to submitting a clean interior to Createspace and then a completely different format to Kindle Direct Publishing. The big nail-biter, frankly, was the proofreading. We’re all aware how easy it is to miss errors in your own writing. Luckily, I have talented friends and family to help with that.

So there are a lot of reasons to try the self-publishing route, I think. Some challenges I’ve tried to work through.  And one big, uncontrollable unknown. Will anybody buy it?

Because, let’s face it, in addition to the editing and production expertise a publisher like Oxford brings to the table, there’s the logo on the spine. It’s a lot safer to buy a history with a label authenticating it. Yes, we can all point to something that managed to sneak into a major publisher’s catalog that shouldn’t be there. But there’s still a sense of safety. I’m not an enemy of the publishing industry, I just think it should change with the times. A really good self-published history might help shake things up

I can’t change the power of branding. What I can do is make it easy to take the risk. Part One is on Amazon for $11.99 in print and $8.99 on Kindle; the Kindle is free when you buy the print book. And I’ll be happy to send a free (print) copy to anyone who’ll write a review.

So come on. Let’s shake things up a bit.