so, how?

The “Getting Real” text was fascinating. It was, indeed, a quick read. Many of the things he mentions are quite obvious, like the “just do it” constant meme invading his pages… others are not so obvious… you would think that wanting to do more, to install more, to be more specific would be better, but according to him and to software development more is not better.

I was thinking of academic careers and how more and less are intertwined. As scholars we are supposed to know more about less and less until we are so über specialized it could be almost impossible to find someone who actually understands what you do.

Obviously the book refers to not want to do too much, if you want to do so much you do it, as he says ‘half assedly’… but isn’t that what we do? what we are expected to do? We are PhD students, we are scholars, we are teachers too, many of us are writers, I am a translator…

I remember when i was about to graduate from my B.A. in Latin American Lit I suddenly realized I wasn’t going to get any jobs because who needs what I studied? so I did a course in translation and interpretation and moved forward. I have the sense that humanities are so little needed that unless you expand your expertise you will go unemployed…

the text is referring to apps, to projects, but I believe we ourselves are projects, aren’t we?

I am just venting a bit of my humanities based frustration out there…

There is also his recommendation of doing it QUICK. Really? when has anything academic been done quickly?

on the other hand, I really liked his advise and I am ready to do it, but… do what? we have thrown ideas out there and we kind of discussed them last class, but they are still ‘out there’. I loved how he says that ideas are worthless unless you actually DO them. So, shall we?

Lastly I loved the links, the tools… oftentimes I feel like in school we are taught things which are not so useful… sigh. Can anyone notice my disenchantment in the academic universe?

I also added to the list of tools on the Kitchen Sink wiki… can any of you add or comment on what you have used?

last but not least: PASSION! So important, but what do you do when you run out?


(as an aside or a P.S. it would be helpful if Maura or Mike broke the ‘readings’ links so that a new tab opens up when clicking on it so you can keep both windows open… look at me and my techie lingo!)

7 thoughts on “so, how?

  1. Kelly Aronowitz Post author

    Firstly, I apologize for not “authorizing” comments in time. I was out of the grid for a few days, literaly, no internet access of any kind.

    It is very interesting the two positions we have found in this discussion (pertaining to academic work). We have Ian and Pamela who feel that paper writing is doing, while Christina and I, especially I, feel like it is not.
    We do ‘generate’ knowledge, as Ian says, but, at least in my program, it remains between you and the professor in question. Perhaps the professor will suggest you do some changes to send off for publication… what are the chances that the paper will actually get published? so so so so slim.
    How many hours of your life did you put into the paper? what will happen to the said ‘generated knowledge’? absolutely nothing. It will remain as a file on your computer.
    Perhaps the frustration of feeling like we are not ‘making’ anything comes from this. So many hours of so many days and months to produce a paper that will end up nowhere.
    Does this make sense to anyone else?
    I guess this is why it is so very exciting for me to feel like we can ‘do’ something, ‘produce’ something that will leave the realm of a professor reading, and taking up a little bit of space in your hard drive.

    anyhow, see you all later today…

  2. Ian Phillips

    I agree with Pamela here—I definitely consider writing a paper as an act of creation. As grad students and academics our job is essentially to ‘create’ knowledge, right? Sometimes this creation looks more like a remix (as in the classic research paper with a critical component) and sometimes it looks more like an original product (creating and running a novel experiment, for example).

    I wonder, would writing a paper feel more like making something if we forced the writing process to look more like the making process? I’ve made a few concrete things and, in my experience, you never just sit down one day with a pot of coffee and make something. Making for me has a few critical components: there’s planning involved, it’s strategic, you do a bit at a time, and, perhaps most importantly, you tinker. The papers I’ve written while just focused on the product are mostly forgettable, while those I’ve written while focusing on the process are much more satisfying. In the way that building something concrete is satisfying.

    It seems like teaching and learning could benefit from implementing some of the practices suggested in Getting Real. If we treat the student as the app maker, the instructor as the app consumer, and a term paper as the app, maybe we can turn paper writing into more of a making process. Do the minimum to entice the consumer, get feedback, tinker, repeat… This seems like a more beneficial teaching/learning experience than, say, giving a topic, a 15-week deadline, and saying “go off and create”.

    Hamad, responding to your thoughts on the scalability of agile development, I don’t know if it depends so much on size as it does on culture. I worked as part of a small team for a very large organization whose executives preached lean processes and agile production day and night, but it never really materialized. The problem, we all recognized, was that the management refused to relinquish control of each group’s processes. I don’t see how you can have an agile organization without giving up some oversight. It seems very possible that a large organization can be lean/agile if the management trusts its employees and gives them the autonomy to work out their processes and interactions themselves.

    And, I’ve got a feature request here: Can we make it so you can comment directly on comments? I think this would feel more like a conversation if each contribution was directly addressable.

  3. Hamad Sindhi

    Like you, Kelly, and like Christina and Pamela, I was also trying to extrapolate the lessons in Get Real onto both academic and non-academic projects I have worked on (specially in the government sector). I wondered whether the agile development philosophy could have worked for the types of public health projects I was involved in while working on a grant for a state department of health. We were a bunch of academics charged with creating products for various public health programs, and we used many agile software including Basecamp. However, no matter how hard we tried to push for streamlined processes and tried to focus on one product at a time, we seemed to hit multiple barriers and constant manipulations from the bureaucrats. By the time we launched a product or service, it was unwieldy and most of the time was not even useful. After reading Get Real, I recognized the traps we were unable to avoid – not being able to say ‘No!’ was definitely a big one. Because we were under a grant, saying ‘No’ to requests for more features was not an option. Another reason we could not say ‘No’ was that we wanted to make a product that would give the bureaucrats, who were also the decision makers for the people of the state, enough tools to make the best decision possible. Even though we ascribed to many of the agile development principles, we also knew that serving the people of the state was our paramount goal. Adding features became a political act.

    So, I guess my point/question is: How scalable are the principles of agile development as outlined in Get Real? And, how do we handle the politics that come with adding features, and saying ‘No!’? I understand that the authors caution against using these principles in different contexts, and point taken. However, we are/will be working in specific contexts – academic institutions, with government partners, funded by outside grants, in public schools, etc., and so this question will come up in some form or another. The authors do acknowledge that saying ‘No’ is taking a stance, and it seems they are pretty honest in noting that many of the principles they outline are not ‘neutral’. I think, though, because we will be working in specific institutions, we should also be mindful of the (political) ramifications of taking these stances.

  4. Pamela Thielman (she/her)

    I want to respond to both to this and to what Christina posted (it isn’t showing up here yet, I but I read it on the Comments page.

    Reading Getting Real also made me think about my academic work. Obviously much of what we do as doctoral students is paper writing, but I am reticent to categorize that as somehow outside the realm of what the book is talking about. The section on “Process” really spoke to me. I don’t know about you but I’ve certainly gone down the research rabbit hole, tracking down one more example or gathering just a couple more sources rather than sitting down and writing and finding out if there is anything to my ideas. As the opening of the book suggests, the 37 Signals/Basecamp way of working has broad applications, but I would go further than that and say that paper writing is making something. If we spend too much time thinking of ourselves as paper writers, or researchers, or number crunchers, or whatever, we will have trouble making the shift to dealing with more hands on tasks. (I’m thinking here about what James Paul Gee talked about in relation to students developing fixed ideas of themselves that prevent them from learning things that fall outside of their self-defined areas of skill.) Thinking of ourselves as makers full-stop (sometimes making concrete things, sometimes not) seems to me to provide a way out of some of that grad student/humanities-based feeling that we don’t produce anything.

  5. Christina


    First, thank you for getting the ball rolling on many different topics covered in the readings this week. I agree with much of your post and have recently reflected upon the “academic goals” that the faculty in my program (and unfortunately, I) have set for my academic career.

    The first two years of my doctoral life have focused on research, research, research, with little product development that isn’t paper-based. This seems to be a consistent flaw within my particular program. As I’ve made it to my third year, I am now expected to produce, produce, and produce some more. After being indoctrinated into a very rigid, research-based mindset, I’m struggling to get back to my more creative roots. I’m interested in the Maker and DIY Movement, but I keep asking myself, how do I produce a product that isn’t a paper?

    And then, how long is this going to take me? Do I even have time? I’ve become an expert paper-writer, but have neglected other types of product development. Does anyone else struggle with this transition?

    The tools listed on each of the readings this week (Kitchen Sink, etc.) were WONDERFUL. I’ve only used a handful of them – Prezi, Google Translate, Flickr, etc. – but I’d love to learn more about how to effectively use these tools, especially in the classroom. Prezi has worked well for me in my class because it allows for a more interactive/exciting lecture. However, my students often struggle to use Prezi outside of the classroom. Has anyone else experienced this? If so, how do you teach students to use these new tools without using an entire lecture period to do so?

    Perhaps I missed it, but were any of the tools listed this week appropriate for tablet/cell phone app development? I know many of you were interested in developing apps for your IT project, but I’m not sure what type of tool to search for in respect to gaming apps. Thoughts?

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