I know it has been relatively quiet here the past few weeks. There is a simple explanation for that: I’m teaching again! This semester I’m visiting assistant professor of Anthropology at Haverford college where I am teaching a course on Anthropology and Photography. It is actually the third time I’ve taught Visual Anthropology at Haverford, but it is the first time I’ve done so with a focus on photography as opposed to ethnographic film. The nice thing about doing photography is that it makes it possible to have a production-oriented course that is only one semester long. Whereas ethnographic film required students to share video cameras and editing stations, all the students can now easily get access to a digital camera (if they don’t already own one, they can borrow one for the semester). The reason for using digital cameras is that students can then post their photo projects online as they work on them and students can share and comment on each other’s photos.
The Blackboard software package already used by the school doesn’t support installing your own open source software packages, but I was fortunate enough that the Haverford College academic computing center was willing to support a virtual hosting environment in which I could install Gallery. This is actually quite unusual. Most schools don’t like installing virtual hosting software because they prefer installing the same software for all users. It makes it easier to then both support faculty and students with problems, as well as to ensure security and even load on their networks, etc. However, they have had enough requests that they are experimenting hosting such a service on a trial basis, and I am their guinea pig. I’m a good guinea pig, because I understand the software, having run my own web site for several years now. One thing that strikes me is how awful Blackboard is when compared to open source alternatives. For instance, my students voted overwhelmingly to use the forum software that I host on my own server, as opposed to the Blackboard forums.
It is great to be teaching again, I haven’t taught a class since before I went off to do my fieldwork in 1998. I love teaching, but I forgot how much busy work there is. So many logistical, bureaucratic, and other time consuming tasks! In a way it is a nice change of pace. Writing my thesis gave me huge blocks of time to do with as I please — now I must rush each week to make sure that everything is in place as I laid it out in the syllabus. Everyone told me that life gets “worse” after graduate school — meaning busier, but I think it is a very different kind of pressure than writing a thesis. When you are a student you are struggling to constantly (and for years on end) to meet the vaguely defined expectations of your professors. (As teacher I try to be as explicit as possible about my expectations — but it is impossible to tell students exactly what is expected of them, especially in the social sciences.) Once you are out of school you are definitely busier, but with short-term well-defined tasks. While this leaves somewhat less time free for blogging, I am still greatly relieved that I can go to bed at night without worrying myself sick about what I have or haven’t done in my dissertation. And, even though I still have to think about publications, I can approach the task in a very different way, already having a body of work and experiential knowledge which I can draw upon as I move forward.