The power of a little flower

The title of this blog post is a quote from a bizarre movie we watched many times when I was a kid, called The Producers, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. There was a particularly wacky scene about a theatrical production called “It’s Springtime for Hitler in Germany” in which a character sang an anti-war song about “the power of a little flower.” I recalled all of this as I looked again at a photo I took earlier this week of a beautiful but subtle tulip, shown below and as the featured image for this post.

The photo was taken while on campus at Northwestern University for a conference called TeachX. Colleagues in our central IT department offered to pay for registration and provide transportation, so a small group of us went from Wheaton. The best part of the conference was the keynote speech by Ruha Benjamin, a sociologist who studies the interface between STEM and ethics. Her session abstract is copied/pasted below to give a sense of what she talked about:

“Schools are a microcosm of society. They are places that can foster connection and participation or enforce rigid boundaries and inequity. Technology, in turn, can be designed and employed to support liberatory or oppressive projects. And without careful consideration of the social dimensions of innovation, we risk reinforcing long-standing forms of injustice, and even producing new forms of discrimination that are hidden behind a veneer of tech neutrality.” She “examine[d] a range of contemporary issues at the nexus of data and democracy so that we can think together about the social values embedded in these platforms and systems. The aim of this talk is to expand our collective imagination around what counts as relevant and meaningful to discussions about educational technology and to provide educators with tools to create learning environments that can transform our world, one classroom at a time.”

Her presentation gave us all a lot to think about. I was pleased to note her mention of Safiya Noble’s book, Algorithms of Oppression, which draws from her 2012 PhD thesis from the iSchool at Illinois where I teach part-time as an adjunct.

I was also able to meet up for lunch with Daniel, a friend who used to work with me when I was at The University of Chicago Library, but who has worked at Northwestern for many years. His husband was a mentor and friend to me and was my supervisor in my first professional job at Chicago after grad school. Unfortunately, he died a little over a year ago after a long battle with various health issues. He taught me so much and I will not soon forget the wisdom he imparted and the kindness he showed to me. It was the highlight of the day to be able to chat for a while, to catch up with what is going on in Daniel’s life, and I was glad to observe that he seems to be doing pretty well.

Thinking about the presentations I attended at TeachX and some other recent events, here are a few free bits of advice of my own to impart regarding teaching and presenting: 1.) Never, ever use a Prezi. If you do, you get an automatic F; 2.) If a presenter comes into the room wearing a super hero or super villain cape, do yourself a favor by getting up and getting out of there, fast; 3.) When you are presenting at a conference that purports to help attendees learn how to improve their teaching while making innovative use of technology, always, always use the microphone, otherwise it’s just too ironic for words.

An unforeseen benefit to attending TeachX was the opportunity to chat with other people from Wheaton whom I didn’t know that well. I learned a lot about their personal backgrounds and interests, and our time together driving to/from the event opened my eyes to different perspectives, which I appreciated very much.

White tulip

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