TITLE: Making Something Tangible AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 21, 2007 4:54 PM DESC: ----- BODY: It occurred to me recently one thing that makes administrative work different from my previous kinds of work, something that accounts for an occasional dissatisfaction that I never used to feel as a matter of course. In my administrative role, I can often work long and hard without producing anything. It's not that I don't do anything as department head. It's just that the work doesn't always result in a product, something tangible, something complete that one can look to and say, "I made that." Much of a head's work is about relationships, interaction, and one-one interaction. These are all valuable outcomes, and they may result in something tangible down the road. Meeting with students, parents of prospective students, industry partners, or prospective donors all may result in something tangible -- eventually. And the payoff -- say, from a donor -- can be quite tangible, quite sizable! But in the meantime, I sometimes feel like, "What did I accomplish today?" This realization struck me a week or so back when I finished producing the inaugural issue of my department's new newsletter. I wrote nearly all of the content, arranged the rest, and did all of the image preparation and document layout. When I got done, I felt that sense one gets from making something. I get that feeling when I write software. I think that one of the big wins from small, frequent releases is the shot of adrenaline that it gives the developers. We rarely talk about this advantage, instead speaking of the value of the releases in terms of customer feedback and quality. But the buzz that we developers feel in producing a whole something, even if it's a small whole, probably contributes more than we realize to motivation and enjoyment. That's good for the developers, and for the customer, too. I get that feeling when I write code and a lesson for teaching a class, too. The face-to-face delivery creates its own buzz. This makes me wonder how students feel about frequent release dates, or small, frequent homework assignments. I often use this approach in my courses, but again more for "customer-side" and quality reasons. Maybe students feel good producing something, making tangible progress, every week or so? Or does the competing stress of several other courses, work, and life create an overload? Even if students prefer this style, it does create a new force to be addressed: small frequent failures must be horribly disheartening. I need to be sure that students feel challenge and success. Sheepishly, I must admit that I've never asked my students how they feel about this. I will next week. If you want to share your thoughts, please do. -----