Curiosity killed the birds

Early one spring Sunday morning I was sipping a cup of tea and reading the Sunday NY Times when I heard Lola, our golden retriever, stumbling around outside on our deck. Lola suffers from a seizure disorder so I quickly jumped up and flew out the door to assist her. Instead, I found Lola checking out a basket that was located on a shelf outside on the deck. I moved Lola out of the way and saw a lovely nest with four perfect little eggs inside. Knowing we couldn’t move the basket or the nest,  Ron and I strategically and painstakingly moved and arranged our deck furniture and created a maze out of tables and chairs. Mother Bird could access her nest and yet there was enough of a barrier that Lola couldn’t nose around. We wanted to give Mother Bird and her eggs some privacy for the next few weeks. It worked. Lola came and went inside and outside and minded her own business. Mother Bird and her eggs were safe, she came and went as she pleased, and Lola was more interested in playing with her tennis balls and gnawing on her rawhide. All was well in the Bara backyard.

A few weeks later, after spending a couple of days with my Mom, Ron and I were in our living room and I was telling him about my recent trip to Ft. Smith. Our family made the painful decision to move my Mom to the care of hospice. She is out of medical and therapeutic options. Despite the physical and cognitive challenges of  Parkinson’s Disease, she has maintained dignity, grace, and kindness. I was teary and emotionally tired.  I was talking to Ron about the experience of meeting with the hospice nurse and I was reviewing everything: did I ask all the right questions, was there anything I missed, how will my mom respond with less medication. There were so many thoughts and emotions going on in my head.

Suddenly, we heard a large crash on the deck and ran outside to see what happened. Well, Lola happened. She must have smelled new life because she wiggled her way through the maze of deck furniture and had her nose in the basket. The nest was turned on it’s side. The birds were born that day–they were so very tiny and fragile. Two of them had crashed to the deck and I thought for sure they were dead. The other two were lying beside the nest with their little beaks open, looking for their Mom and waiting to be fed. Mother Bird was near and squawking away. I shot inside, grabbed some gloves and a spoon to scoop up the little babies. I also grabbed my little garden shovel to dig a hole to bury the two babies who had fallen to the deck. Ron was distraught–life is so precious! He went inside and lit the intention candle in our kitchen. (Lately, that candle is lit almost everyday–it’s always something!) I went to scoop up the two babies on the deck and they were both moving! I scooped them up and put them with the other two, hoping they’d stay warm until Mother Bird reappeared. I called the vet to find out what to do. I watched until I saw Mother Bird return. Ron googled how to care for baby birds. We did everything we could. Mother Bird came back three times. Sadly, all the baby birds died. Mother Bird scooted each of them under the nest…almost a protection and a little burial.

The next morning I went out to bury the birds and clean up the nest. Again, I was emotional. I just put my Mom in hospice, and then without warning, put four baby birds in hospice. The chatter in my head returned: did I do everything I could, should I have taken the birds to the vet, would they have even survived the car ride? I looked up and saw the most beautiful sunrise. A new day was beginning. I paused for a minute, took a deep breath, and realized that despite our best efforts, sometimes things just are–they just happen. Despite my best efforts for my Mom, hospice care IS the best place for her. Despite our best efforts to protect Mother Bird and her babies, we were not successful. Tears began running down my cheeks- but these were tears of release, not sadness. I was at peace that I did the best I could for this little bird family and also for my Mom and her care for the past several years. I buried the little birds under a beautiful Japanese maple tree in our front yard, said a little prayer for Mother Bird and for my Mom, and marinated on the richness of Rumi’s words that life is a balance between holding on and letting go.

 

 

7300: Methods (Weeks 13-14)

Coding Practice 101

I may be slow but it finally clicked. Doing some practice coding with raw data helped me solidify the research process. It helped me think about the different ways the data could be organized. I realized that looking at data and having no preconceived ideas or expectations is actually very liberating. Data have patterns and patterns have rhythms. After discovering what the data reveals (conclusion) it is then time to make connections and discover relationships to other theories and concepts. There are a few really rough steps to this process:

  • look, really look, at the raw data
  • look for patterns
  • code the data
  • look for more patterns
  • analyze
  • make connections to other research
  • draw conclusions

Through studying different approaches and methodologies and then to practice coding was beneficial. This helped me solidify the concepts and look at data from a variety of approaches. In a very nerdy way, this is really fun and lets me totally nerd out and then write about it. I know, I know, I know….there are other ways to have fun but I actually like this stuff.

 

7300: Methods (Weeks 10-12)

So, maybe I’m finally starting to get my head around the concepts of writing research?

In the tenth week of the course the focus was around digital and new media writing research. It was my turn to lead the discussion and after reading through the articles one main concept stood out so clearly: the concept of ethics in research.  The relationship between ethics and academic research was prominent in the readings so I made it a topic of our class discussion. Also of particular interest this week was the Gries article on “Iconographic Tracking: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetoric and Circulation Studies”. This article also had an underlying current of ethics as well as the questions of how and why the experience of writing, specifically writing for undergraduate students, is changing.  As leaders in the field it is important we’re aware of these changes and adapt teaching strategies to meet the needs of students not only so they are successful in academic writing but also well equipped to meet the demands of jobs in a global economy.

Week 11 was also my week to lead (along with another student) and the focus for this week was on research in the classroom. The central questions were: What is classroom research and why does it matter?  The idea of learning as a connected conversation was one of my key take-aways. I find this to be consistent with rhetorical themes–everything is connected. If we can teach students to look for connections and patterns in their thoughts and in the concepts they’re learning then the process of writing becomes easier and not so overwhelming. In making connections thoughts are organized and when thoughts are in order then communication, specifically writing, becomes a less daunting process to a “non-writer.” This idea of connections and looking for relationships is a key take-away and one I hope to bring to an undergraduate classroom.

There are so many students in this class who are involved or employed at the UALR Writing Center and they bring such a wealth of experience and a richness and depth to our class discussions. Week 12 was focused on Writing Program Research. One key take-away this week was in the Douglass Hesse article “Writing Program Research: Three Analytic Axes” where he looked at writing programs comprehensively and then looked at individual results of students.  I found this an interesting approach to the research because I probably wouldn’t have thought to combine these areas. By doing so the research presented was holistic and comprehensive.  One other interesting concept was found on page 145 of the text when Hesse states his motivation for the project, “The motivation for this study was instrumental. I had no particular desire to know the number and pattern of errors among Denver students, but I was interested in shifting campus conversations about writing to more productive terms.” This statement tells me that Hesse was considering his audience as he researched. He wanted to have a productive conversation with others on his campus and knew that to do so it would involve more than reporting numbers and/or patterns. He wanted to know the why behind the how so he could engage with his contemporaries in a meaningful dialog.  This made me think again about the rhetorical connections we must make if we are to engage in meaningful dialog, change, and teaching.

7300: Methods (Weeks 7-9)

Well, I’m a little behind on my blogging due to the intensity of my life….which has been even crazier than usual. We had our annual fall fundraising event, A Night of Hope, on Oct. 6th and then I’ve been wrapping up my time as Executive Director. It has been a busy couple of weeks. This morning, I reviewed my notes and I’m diving head-first into this interesting research class. Even though my work life has been all consuming, I have given some thought to my research project. I do my best thinking when I’m driving..which is probably scary since I should be thinking about driving, and have come up with a framework. Anyway, below are the highlights of my notes over the past few weeks and some thoughts about my research project.

Week 7- I missed class, which I really hated, because Dr. Barb was either there in person or skyped in. I discovered a systematic approach to researching and writing grant proposals through her class. I’ve been successful in securing several hundred thousand dollars in funding for SPSF and enjoy the whole process researching, organizing, and writing grant proposals.

Week 8- Sociolinguistics and the corpus method of research was a new concept to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the guest appearance from Dr. Laura Aull and her research on first year writing research. The corpus method is very cool and I’m going to incorporate this method into my research proposal. I’m also very interested in teaching first-year writing and literacy classes so the article was relevant and interesting. The corpus.byu.edu website is fascinating and it has been great to spend some time exploring. I like patterns because I like process. So, the corpus method has strong appeal.

Week 9- Usability, visual analysis, multimodality and research…because I have nerdy friends, I’ve spent some time on the “A List Apart” website and also on the “Using 5 E’s to Understand Users”. This is a fascinating area of research and it is always cool to make rhetorical connections. As I continue to learn, study, and research, I find it fascinating that much of my reading leads back to Kenneth Burke and his theories. Like Mr. Wonderful on the Shark Tank, where all roads lead back to him, it seems all rhetorical roads (at least the research I’ve done) lead back to Burke.

Finally, my thoughts on my project…I’d like to analyze writings in a specific area of nonprofit work. My thought is to take one specific area of nonprofit technical communication: meeting minutes, meeting agendas, or emails–specifically communication between board members and the ED and analyze them. Is there anything in common that stands out and makes communication and advancing the mission effective? What do they have in common? What conclusions can be made from the analysis?

7300: Methods (Week 6) Research Proposal

Working on research proposal this week. This is challenging for me because to this point I haven’t been interested in conducting research in the area of technical writing. The idea has grown on me as I’ve researched some possible topics and read through some academic sources. Also, in my topics class I’m doing some historical research on the role of libraries in America and their relationship to print culture. Thanks to my professor, I learned basic process and framework for developing focused academic research. I expanded his thought a bit and created some rough notes for a general template for beginning academic research. I’ve included it in my class notebook(s) and notes. Also, I received some great possible sources from Dr. Ray and I’ve spent the past few days researching. I’m especially interested in the work of Amy Devitt and Jeff Grabill.

Originally I thought about the very broad topic of writing in the workplace. I’ve narrowed that topic down to email–still very broad but common across every discipline, field, government, and NGO’s.

7300: Methods (Week 5)

Before looking at the articles for this week I wanted to jot a few key points down from the Skype interview with Annie Mendenhall. First, it was a very cool experience and so interesting to learn about her research. Archival research is learning about how institutions function through piecing together historical archives. Some random notes:

  • archival research–you’re always trying to piece data together
  • look for patterns–use coding
  • the process of research is messy- she used excel spreadsheets to track data

one of her tips was to stay organized throughout the research process–keep up with citation information, use files to keep articles, note page numbers, take meticulous notes, keep things organized on a daily basis

Another thing I have in my notes from class that night was from a question regarding the difference between method and methodology.

  • Methods- tools used to analyze data (archival, critical discourse analysis, etc)
  • Methodology- the broader reasons…the theories

7300: Research Methods, Blog Post #2, Week 4 (Historical/Archival)

Random musings from readings:

The Composition Specialist as Flexible Expert: Identity and Labor in the History of Composition by Annie S. Mendenhall

keywords: interdisciplinary, composition teaching, flexibility in instructional staffing, history of writing and composition

Excellent article that documents timeline and evolution of writing teachers and programs from post WWII to present. Concepts of comp being inclusive across disciplines is predominant theme.

P.13 she states the “…expertise of composition teaching is difficult to describe” and, “the solution rests on redefining our knowledge, and thus expertise, as a collaborative undertaking.” This makes me wonder if perhaps we as researchers begin to research different questions perhaps the answers will be more definitive?

What really impressed me with this article was her incredible research. Reading through her notes section was almost as rich as the article.

Locating the Archives: Finding Aids and Archival Scholarship in Composition and Rhetoric by Chris Warnick

keywords: composition archive, finding aid, archival resources, archival collections, student writing selections

“Any particular archive is at once a fragmentary and interested record of textual production, the consequence of innumerable local decisions and unforeseen contingencies about the production and preservation of a large array of texts.” I connected this instantly to the concept learned in rhetorical theory….I call it the rhetorical jigsaw puzzle.

I find it very interesting that the field of technical writing in particular doesn’t have a systematic process for examining writing, rhetoric, curricula and pedagogy. Further, I’m scratching my head a bit and wondering why we don’t have a comprehensive database or wiki or at the very least some sort of index. We are organizers of information and cousins to library science. It is what we do. Perhaps the answer will appear as I journey on.

Archival Research as a Social Process by Neal Lerner

keywords: archival research, archival sources

Interesting article…didn’t follow the first part well…was heady material. Two key concepts:

“Our filters as researchers work in parallel with additional filters, a veritable purification process of social forces: the choices made by those who donate institutional and personal records, the choices made by those who collect and grant access to those records, and the choices we make as researchers in terms of what to examine and what motivates us to do so.” (200)

“….MacLean established a college that was “to awaken in its students a social and civic consciousness, a sense of community responsibility, and a willingness to participate actively in the solution of common problems for the common good.” (201) Interesting that later on that same page Lerner writes that the UOM Board of Regents dissolved the college and the efforts stating changing demographics and changing needs of in increasingly diverse student population.