Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ways to Protect Your Vision at the Computer

March is Save Your Vision Month, and, as someone with much less than perfect vision, I decided to investigate suggestions for improving vision health. The American Optometric Association has a nice informational piece that is probably relevant to all of us - "Healthy Vision at the Computer".

I had never heard of "computer vision syndrome" before, and did not realize all of the different types of tasks that we ask our eyes to perform simply by using the computer! In short, staring at the computer screen for hours on end can cause our eyes to almost continuously move and focus in a variety of differing ways. Further impacting this activity are things such as: 
  • screen settings such as resolution and contrast, and image refresh rates
  • screen glare problems
  • the distance from and angle of the screen
The article includes some good information on ergonomic settings for the work area, such as angles and distance measurements for keyboard and screen positioning. In addition, the article explains that repetitive and stressful tasks can be very challenging. I think this is something that we have become more conscious of with other parts of our bodies, since we know more about ergonomics today than we used to, but I know that this is something that I do not consider frequently enough in relation to my eyes.

Several tips are also included in the article about how to stay healthy and comfortable in front of the computer. Foremost was to have regular eye exams.  In addition, it was suggested to rest the eyes, blink them forcefully, and use a humidifier and artificial tears as needed to help keep them moist.

The article did state something that I recently found to be true for myself: often our regular eyeglass prescriptions are not enough when it comes to computer work. At my last checkup, I talked to my doctor about feeling tired after looking at the computer screen all day. He recommended a very minimal prescription for reading glasses - similar to what trifocals might help correct - and it has made all of the difference in my daily life! So, if you are experiencing problems with your eyes after looking at the computer for a long period of time, I highly recommend that you discuss this with your eye care provider. It's quite possible that they can provide you with assistance that will make your daily life more pleasant!

Do you have any tips for better eye health to share?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Guest Post: Tips for Designing and Planning Your Course

TWU’s Instructional Design Team has been posting Blackboard “how-to” guides on their PB Wiki Space pages for years. And, this information is open to anyone with the URL. Here it is: http://twuid.pbworks.com/w/page/22561375/Front%20Bb9.

Recently, our Online Program Director asked me to take a look at one section of the TWU ID wiki titled “Designing and Planning DE Courses” and to think about perhaps posting some information from it on our Milestones & Meditations blog. This particular section of the wiki is indexed into five (5) parts:
  • Planning Your DE Course on Paper
  • Preparing for Your DE Course
  • Individual Course Planning Template
  • Contingency Planning for Instructors
  • Designing your Course to Show Instructor Presence

The information it contains can be taken as a whole for instructors new to online teaching and learning or as a refresher for veteran instructors. One of my take-aways from reading the material is how to manage your course offline, so that updates to it can be recorded as soon as they come to mind, rather than waiting for the course shells to become available before changes, updates, or edits can be made.

In our department, course copy and/or exporting is how materials from a previous semester are moved into a course shell. This saves time and effort on the part of the instructor and just requires updates from the online support staff. Sounds simple enough, right? Except for the million and one things that can get in the way of a speedy update, like
  • Operator error – we don’t like it but we know that it happens.         
  • Blackboard goes down (or gets an update).
  • Natural disasters.
  • Power outages.
  • A new instructor who will be using someone else’s course.
  • A variety of updates and changes to things like dates and assignments.

The TWU ID section on “Designing and Planning DE Courses” offers some great suggestions for managing, editing, and updating your course offline.

One way to do this is to develop a Learning Guide for each module in your course. This Learning Guide should mirror the structure of your Learning Modules and might include the following sections: Module #/Topic/Summary, Objectives, Due Dates, Readings, Learning Activities, and Assessments and it should be kept, in a Microsoft Word document on your hard drive. You could format it in a table, like the graphic shown here. Or, if tables don’t suit your style, you could format it as an outline. Just make sure that your modules and Learning Guide have the same components. 

This Learning Guide is your site map for everything contained in the module. Details for each of the items listed can be found inside the module.

The goal for this instrument is twofold:
  •  For faculty, it is designed to hold all of the specific information that used to be inside the module. For example, chapter pages, specific dates of the module, or specific due dates for the components of the module are located in just one place, the Learning Guide. That means, when it is time to update your course, you will need to change dates, times, chapter and page numbers only in the Learning Guide. You will no longer have to search throughout countless modules and other Bb elements to catch all the instances of a dated test, assignment, or discussion board. Also, by sitemapping your modules this way, you will be able to, at a glance, determine if you have included all of the major elements necessary for your students to achieve the objectives outlined for the module.
  • For students, the Learning Guide serves as a sort of “Module-at-a-Glance.” It is their “heads-up” to what is expected of them once they click on the link for a particular module. At a glance they will know what they are expected to learn, when things are due, what chapters, papers, articles, websites must be read and by what date, and what assignments they will need to complete for this module and which ones will be graded. Again, the details for all assignments are inside the module.
How you use the Learning Guide is entirely up to you. The basic structure of the Learning Guide is the same as the module. You can keep it for your own use in updating your module when there is a change in textbooks, or when you run across a learning activity that you would like to add to your course. In this case you would make all changes to the Learning Guide, then, when your course shell for the upcoming semester becomes available, you would simply use this “cheat” sheet to make the changes, additions, edits, etc. to your individual modules in Blackboard. As long as the Learning Guide is clear, complete and current, you could just hand it over to your Graduate Assistant or Course Support person to update your course shell.

The Learning Guide is where the important work of keeping your course current is kept. And, that’s just one of the great ideas you’ll find at the TWU Instructional Design Wiki!

This post contributed by Margaret Cortez, the Course Support Specialist for the TWU Department of Health Studies.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Academic Leadership: Lunch, Literature, and Listening (AL3) - March 9th

The second Spring session of AL3 took place on Friday, March 9th. For this meeting Dr. Neely decided to break us up into small groups in order to facilitate more conversation, a technique which seemed to work very well and allowed each of our groups to discuss a couple of the ideas in Part 3 of The Innovative University in a little more depth.

Our group was assigned a discussion of what took place at Harvard during Derek Bok's presidency. Bok had a few major causes that he promoted. Specifically he was concerned with improving instruction, diversity issues on campus, and increasing social engagement. In addition, there were a variety of tensions running through the university culture, such as compensation issues and other faculty tensions, with which he had to contend. Upon completion of his tenur, Bok issued several warnings about higher education stating that more attention needed to be paid to improving instruction. He cautioned against the idea of "imposed political orthodoxy" that made individuals - faculty and student alike - reticent to bring up new ways of thinking for fear of recrimination. And, he was concerned about the public's perception of the university as becoming less engaged in social responsibility.

In addition, our group examined the idea of Harvard struggling to operate two completely different enterprises, meaning that they were attempting to run both an educational institution and a research institution. The inherent problems with this came to a head in 2008-2009 when the market problems experienced by the nation as a whole also drastically affected both the endowments/donations and the investment portfolios of Harvard. The most surprising thing that I learned on this topic was the shocking amount - $11 billion - that Harvard lost in a just a matter of months during this downturn. 

Topics discussed by the other groups included how the organizational structure of the University of California system originally somewhat mirrored that of the Carnegie system with different schools for different purposes, but how it was also reinterpreted (as the Carnegie "ladder" has been) as a system of ranking importance. This focus on climbing a ladder, with the perception of the research university (like Harvard) as being the top and most important rung, has important implications for universities, such as increased use of adjuncts, larger class sizes, and changed focus and emphasis on student recruitment.

Additionally, the topic of distance education's rise in the 1990's was discussed, along with particular areas that hindered it in the beginning, which consisted mainly of technological immaturity and accreditation problems. However, accreditation of for-profit universities along with the increased availability of the internet, as well as significant advances in computer and software design and availability, have allowed distance education to thrive and become a significant disruptive force within the academic world. This began a discussion of the impact that these changes may have on the roles of faculty and the traditional view of academic life, and we were all left to ponder the question of how these changes will affect TWU - will we be more or less vulnerable? If we need to, can we respond to the challenge?  

Additional Resources Provided in the Handout for This Session

The second meeting, like the first, had very good attendance, including attendance from the Houston and Dallas campuses. Upcoming meetings, which are all on Fridays at noon in Stoddard 308, will be on these dates:
  • April 20 – Part 4: A New Kind of University
  • May 4 – Part 5: Genetic Reengineering
Please feel free to post comments, ideas, and/or interesting links here! What did you think of the ideas that we talked about on Friday?

Guest Post: Active Living on a Student Budget

Being a student has its ups and downs, and one of the downs is the dreaded “student budget.” That doesn’t mean you’re limited to the TWU gym, however. Try some of the tips below to stay motivated and keep things interesting without breaking the bank.

  • Make an appointment with the TWU Exercise and Sports Nutrition Clinic. As a student, you’re eligible to receive multiple health and sports performance tests at no cost. This is a great way to learn about your current fitness level and set some new goals. Click here to learn more.
  • Peruse the library for new exercise books or DVDs. If you find a plan that suits you, make a photo copy of it or type up the exercises and save the document. Additionally, you can find many books, DVDs and wellness magazines at a reduced rate at Half Price Books, or on Amazon.com. Begin building a collection and rotate your workouts each week.
  • Check the Healthy Living section of the Dallas Morning News every Tuesday. Each week, you’ll find new healthy living events, many of which are free to the public.
  • Look for free or reduced price fitness opportunities online. DoYogaWithMe.com offers a growing library of free yoga videos. GaiamTV.com offers unlimited access to streaming videos, including yoga and fitness classes, for $9.95 per month.
  • Contact your health insurance provider and ask if they offer any extra benefits with your plan. Some companies have partnerships with local gyms and offer discounts to those particular locations. You may also find that your provider offers discounts on alternative wellness options not specifically covered by your plan, such as massages or yoga classes.
  • Don’t forget to take advantage of everything the Student Recreation Center has to offer. Sign up for an outdoor adventure or join an intramural sport. Students also receive a significant discount on personal training services.
How do you stay active on a budget? We would love to hear more tips and tricks from you!

This post contributed by Casey Conway.

Casey Conway is a TWU graduate student. She has a passion for health education and disease prevention, and enjoys every opportunity to incorporate healthy living strategies into her daily life. Casey holds a master’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations from the University of North Texas and a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Texas at Dallas. She currently assists national and international nonprofit associations with event planning, communications and membership administration. She also is a freelance writer and editor. Casey holds a personal trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, yoga and reading. 

Showcase on Health Studies Scholarships

Help Us Help You

No, it's no laughing matter (but maybe that clip above is). We really do want you to help us help you. Here in Health Studies we want to help "show you the money." But we can't do it unless you fill out the application and get the recommendations turned in. To find out more about the opportunity to help fund your studies read on below.

The Department of Health Studies offers the Jacinda Simone Kennedy Endowed Memorial Scholarship to undergraduate students majoring in Health Studies. This year the department has a $400 scholarship to award for the Fall 2012.

Graduate students in Health Studies are eligible to apply for the Mary Lynn Walker Drews Endowed Scholarship. This year the department has a $1200 scholarship to award for Fall 2012 and Spring 2013.

Be sure to use the application and recommendation forms located at the bottom of this web page: http://www.twu.edu/health-studies/handbook-worksheets.asp

The deadline to apply is April 1, 2012.

 For further information or for questions contact Dr. Roger Shipley at 940-898-2840 or via email rshipley@twu.edu.

Are you a TWU Health Studies alum who would like to give back? Check out our Giving page.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month

Over 6 million women and girls in North America are affected by endometriosis. This disease occurs when the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus (the endometrium) becomes located outside the uterus in growths and lesions, which can cause a variety of potentially debilitating symptoms including pain and extreme fatigue. For more on the disease and symptoms, the Endometriosis Assosication has a page with good information - http://www.endometriosisassn.org/endo.html.

At this point, the cause for endometriosis is still undetermined. However, this is a disease that can substantially affect women's lives and make even simple day-to-day activities painful and impossible. While surgery is an option for those with serious cases, it is not always a complete cure as the disease can sometimes return, as well as seriously impact a woman's decision to have children. More research is needed to understand how to prevent and cure this disease once and for all. So, how can you help? There are some excellent ideas here at www.thefightlikeagirlclub.com - http://www.thefightlikeagirlclub.com/2011/02/march-is-endometriosis-awareness-month/.

If you want to learn more about this disease, here is a list of resources:
This year I will be ordering my own Endometriosis Awareness Shirt and am planning to add a yellow ribbon to my email signature. What can you do this month to help spread the awareness of this disease? Please share your ideas!