I don't often write about writing, but there has been a lot of activity in 2022 that you don't necessarily see here, and a lot coming up in 2023 that I'm excited to share.
In 2022 I was posting regularly here until the spring. Then, I put this blog on hiatus to focus on writing the Grading for Growth book and blog (both co-authored with David Clark). The plan was to come in September and get back in the habit of twice-weekly posting here, and every-other-week posting at Grading For Growth. But real life intervened: One of my colleagues had to go on unexpected medical leave, and I stepped in to take over their upper-level class. It was a big addition to my workload, so something had to give. I kept up the posting at Grading For Growth but postponed everything else.
That semester is now, finally, over, and I can get back on the plan. So here's what's in store for 2023 (unless real life comes crashing in again).
Grading For Growth, the book
Grading For Growth is my next book, co-authored with my colleague David Clark. The book is about alternative grading systems, but at its heart it's about restructuring the way we build courses to make them more student-centered and better aligned with how human beings learn. In the book, we lay out the case for moving away from traditional grading structures, based on history, statistics, and ethics.
What makes our book different, in my view, is that we don't stop there: We give stories of real-life faculty who use alternative methods -- a large portion of the book consists of case studies -- and blueprints that give faculty the tools to build their own alternative systems. And most importantly, we give instructions how to do what we are arguing for. We believe that all successful revolutions succeed because the tools for change made it into the hands of everyday people.
The manuscript was completed and sent to the publisher in August. We'll be doing copy-editing in January, then further edits and final touches, and the book should be out around April. David and I have been working on this book for almost two years, and we are really happy with where it's going. We can't wait to get it into your hands.
Grading for Growth, the blog
The Grading For Growth blog was conceived as a tool for helping David and me write the book. I was inspired by Chris Rock's practice of showing up unannounced at small comedy venues to try out new jokes, to small audiences, with a notebook in hand to record what lands and what doesn't. David and I have used the blog to practice with ideas and workshop early versions of the manuscript. We've also used it to present some of the case studies that went in the book. Recently we've been posting parts of the manuscript that we ended up removing from the final copy.
Now that the book is coming out, we're still going to keep the blog running. We've populated the editorial calendar out through February 2023 with new posts. But what we really hope to use the blog for in the future, is to amplify other people's voices. So we are looking for guest authors, willing to contribute anything they are doing or thinking about, regarding grading. We have no real restrictions on this at this point, and we're not looking for any specific topic -- just articles in the 500-1000 word range, not too formal, but interesting to other readers. If you're interested in doing this, use the contact form on this website to let me know.
In 2023 at rtalbert.org, you can expect new content every Wednesday which will focus on what I am learning, what I am making, and what I am reading.
Right now, and into 2023, what I am learning/making/reading revolves around some of the usual topics of teaching, higher education, and technology. But it also includes leadership, a topic at the top of my mind as I complete my 2-year gig as a Presidential Fellow and participate in Cohort 9 of the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership. You might see other topics pop up occasionally.
You can also expect to see reposted content every Friday. Sometimes this will be posts I've writtten at Grading For Growth or a "throwback" post where I repost a "classic" article from blogging yesteryear with some updated thoughts for the present. I'll also use Fridays to post content I've written that appears elsewhere, or transcripts of talks.
Introducing: Intentional Academia
I have written about productivity in academia for a long time. A lot of you might have found me through the GTD for Academics series, for example. But as I recently wrote, I have not written much on this topic lately. My posts about GTD and productivity were intended to help higher ed faculty navigate struggles with burnout, a loss of purpose, and never having enough time to focus on what matters. A lot of people took those posts to heart; some people rejected what I had to say on the grounds that the system needs to change first before they can take any meaningful action themselves.
I've never stopped thinking that I can help higher education faculty with these struggles by sharing what I've experienced and learned since 2008, when I discovered GTD and my life and career were transformed by it. At the beginning of 2022, as we started to exit the "crisis" phase of the pandemic and higher ed faculty were left to navigate a changed world of higher ed, I started seriously thinking about a publication specifically to address the role of "productivity" in higher education, for people willing to learn how they might take control of their lives and careers to get the most out of each.
I'm happy today to announce the launch of that publication. It's called Intentional Academia, and you can find it on Substack at https://intentionalacademia.substack.com/. The first post is up now, and regular posting will start on January 9.
Intentional Academia is not a "productivity blog". Productivity blogs, while often helpful, often focus on how to get more done, which is neither desirable nor actually even possible for many in higher education right now. Cranking out more articles, grading more papers, sitting on more committees is not the cure for what is making people sick. What's needed is a clean break from mindless doing and yes-saying, to getting the right things done and claiming agency over our careers once again, insofar as it's possible. That takes disciplined, intentional practice, hence the name of the blog.
Intentional Academia will be a mix of think-pieces and practical blueprints for how to apply the best ideas from productivity systems like GTD to the specific problems that we as higher education faculty face. I am writing as a faculty member who has had to, and still does, grapple with those problems on a daily basis. I've learned over the years how to find energy, purpose, balance, and satisfaction as a higher education professional, even through the worst of the pandemic and up to now. And I want to share what I've learned to help build a community of academics (whether you're faculty, staff, administration, or even a student) who travel the same road and can help each other along.
You can expect posts at Intentional Academia every other Monday, alternating with my posting schedule at Grading For Growth. Among the early posts you'll see is a reboot of the GTD for Academics series, updated for 2023. It's a Substack publication, so if you subscribe, new posts will go right to your inbox (which we'll talk about in January!).
Before reading any further, stop and watch this TED talk by Bailey Parnell, which has been criminally neglected in the recent upheaval over Twitter. (Or bookmark it and promise me you will come back to it later today.)
Social media is a hot mess, a distraction, and a menace to our mental health. The best practice with social media, in my view, is to use it as little as possible.
Many people have used Twitter for a long time as their primary outlet not just for creative work but for human connection. I think that's a mistake, and a lot of people are replicating that mistake by moving over to another social media platform only to engage in the same behaviors on a different server. It's like knowing that cigarettes cause cancer, but when a crazy guy takes over the company that makes your favorite cigarettes, you ask yourself What brand of cigarettes should I buy now? instead of I wonder if this is a good opportunity to stop smoking.
I have been arguing for years that social media in general and Twitter in particular have outsized negative effects on us, and especially those in academia would be well served to step away from it, to reinvest time and energy into other, better things and (especially!) relationships with other people in real life.
That said, it is also a lot of fun at times and can be a good way to connect with people. And, some argue that Twitter is a democratizing force that gives ordinary folk a voice. (Although I would say, so do blogs, and without the baggage.) Social media does have some value and it would be unwise (for me, at least, and I'm not alone) to cut ties with it completely. So, what are you supposed to do with it?
I recently came across an idea attributed to Chris Brogan (who writes about it here and here) of the "hub and outpost" approach to social media. This involves setting up a "hub" to be your home base, then establishing "outposts" in different social media platforms where you post links to content that you curate at the hub, while also contributing content at the outposts to test ideas, help people, and interact with readers.
This seems to me like a sane way to approach social media: Not by using social media as your sole repository of time and energy, and certainly not by spreading yourself paper-thin by engaging across multiple social media platforms, but as Bailey says in the talk, by using social media mindfully.
So here's my social media strategy coming into 2023:
- Rtalbert.org is my "hub". It's where you will find all of my long-form writing at some point, once I get around to reposting articles from Grading For Growth, Intentional Academia, and other outlets.
- Grading for Growth and Intentional Academia are secondary hubs -- long-form writing that has a special place.
- Twitter is going to become an outpost, and I plan on rolling back my involvement on Twitter to Lent-level activity: Crossposting links from my hubs, using a third-party service like Crowdfire, but otherwise checking in 2-3 times a week at preset times on my schedule, to respond to replies and DMs and engage a little. Otherwise I'll be drawing my activity down there, so I have more time and energy to spend on long-form writing.
- LinkedIn has been my preferred social media platform since the pandemic, because people there act like professionals and I learn something every time I log in. In fact I pay for LinkedIn Premium to have access to their huge library of excellent online courses. It's not addictive like Twitter is, and it's already at outpost levels, so I'll not be changing much.
What about Mastodon? Or Post.news? I have no interest in doing what the cool kids are doing. The only reason I will join one of these platforms is if it fits into my strategy of using social media as outposts for my content and to help other people with it. So I might test the waters on other social media platforms to see if they fit with what I am trying to accomplish. If they do, and it's not dangerous to my mental health to use them, then you might see roughly the same kind of activity there as on Twitter -- light to moderate with a focus on sharing links. Otherwise, I definitely do not need more social media in my life.
I am currently trying out post.news where you can find me at https://post.news/roberttalbert. It's an interesting platform there, not all bad but the quality of content and interaction is still TBD because so many are still on a waitlist. (There's way too many posts about Donald Trump there at the moment for my liking.)
Elsewhere, I'm currently doing a series on how I am learning data science over on Medium (because data science content really doesn't fit anywhere else), and I have an essay on ungrading in the STEM disciplines in an upcoming issue of the journal Zeal. I'll repost these eventually (if copyright allows) in a Friday post.
Every year, instead of setting New Years Resolutions, I come up with three areas of focus for the upcoming year. I've decided that 2023 is going to be the Year of Writing for me, where I lean into my hobby/habit of expressing myself in words, not only as a creative outlet but as a form of both scholarship and service. And leadership; if leadership is influence as John Maxwell said, then writing is leadership. I'm looking forward to the work, and to having you along.