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In my last post I talked about the importance of grouping material  into modules. It helps organize your class and students can more easily navigate where they are in the course. If  you go by weeks only, it can seem to a student that it's endless and they might not see the cohesion  you have planned.

After setting up the modules and goals for those units and the course as a whole, you need to think about different "presences." Today we will talk about Instructor presence.  How do you, yourself, connect  with students In an asynchronous course when you are not "live?" Since you will not be  requiring all of your students log onto their computers to gaze at you in a box, you have to find other means to engage with your students and to be present with them. The good news is that you can.

How can you still be present when you can't be in person?

Yesterday I was talking to a student who had one of my classes in the fall and  is in another one this coming spring. I told him I'd teach it the  same way, asynchronously. He tilted his head back and said, "Thank GOD! I wish other faculty would stop making us Zoom!" So take that for the anecdote that it is.

In any case, I plan to make my presence known in several ways. After deciding on the content of the module, I will figure out what is lacking or what ideas or images are particularly difficult, thorny, or if there just isn't enough information out there  to fully cover the artist. Unfortunately, I am finding that is the case with many African-American artists from the nineteenth century (like, no smarthistory.orgentry on Edmonia Lewis!? Come on, now!). Thus, I plan to make a narrated PowerPoint presentation on some artists for whom I have not found enough material to cover completely. But most of the content IS found on smarthistory.org and other educational sites. There  is a lot of  content out there, for free, if you take the time to search for it.

I will also record  videos of myself  introducing the course and each module. I also end each module with a  wrap up, but do not record those until I see what comments  students make as the class begins and rolls. These videos are a way to get your personality across and connect with your students.

But perhaps the best way to connect with your students  is through the learning journals. I find that this is one of the most important  elements  to an asynchronous class, especially at the undergraduate level. This is a  space where students reflect on their learning, ask  questions,  or just comment in general on how their experience in the class is going. Last semester I had many students on  my evaluations (yes, I know, I still read mine) talk about  this  feature as very important to feeling connected to the class and to me. I offer a few prompts, but usually I want students to set the tone and the topic. I want them to feel free to write anything - and I mean anything. It can be content; it can be personal. And I answer  every single entry. Every. Single. One. It's  a lot of work, but since my classes  are completely ready to go on Day  1, I don't have to "prepare" for each day the way I would for a more traditional face to face class. My time is taken up with responding to these learning journal entries. I learn so much about my students in this format; it's so important!  If you have not  tried this element of an online class, I urge you to do so, but you must make the commitment to write back to the students. Otherwise, your presence will not be felt.

Next time we  will talk about how to create a community presence among students through discussion boards and how to make them work and function well.

This is the first post about how I design my online classes for asynchronous delivery. This coming Spring semester of 2021, I will be teaching all three of my classes online and will deliver them asynchronously. I will be teaching a 1000-level History of Western Art II (from the Renaissance to Modern), as well as a 2000-level class in  Medieval Art and  a 3000-level class on African American  Art. This last is a new class for me; I have never taught it before at all so it may be the one that gets the most posts about the course design.

However, all three classes will begin with the establishment of learning goals. While that may sound like someone who has been dipped  too long into the waters of the River Styx (also  known as the Waters of Higher Education Assessment), they are key to establishing a sound online course. I learned about this when I took my first  online course - which was about best practices in online teaching - back in 2013. It had a profound influence on how I approached ALL of my courses, whether face-to-face, hybrid, or online. I started to think more about WHY we were covering the topics. For instance, it was time to teach the art of Emperor Augustus in Roman Art,  but what is the key to teaching him? What is the most important  element about his art that I want to get across? The answer to that question becomes a learning goal: students will understand the propaganda that Augustus was communicating through his sculptural and architectural works in the city of Rome.

Learning goals for a course come at different levels. There are overarching goals for the entire course, as well as for a class. We have a "Multicultural" requirement in our general education plan, and those courses must consider marginalized groups in the US, analyze the factors that led to that marginalization, and study the culture of these groups. My African American Art course will do all of that, but it's important to break all of that down into specific goals for each module.

Yes, module. I know that many of us have designed syllabi by the week. That made sense, I guess. But it's not the only way to design a class. In online courses, it makes much more sense to group topics and unify them for students with a theme. Thus, while the overarching goals remain, I come up with learning goals for each module that I will create with content, discussions, and assignments. I will have about 6 or 7 modules for my 14 week class. Module 1 will consider the roots of African Americans. The learning goals for this are to: 1) consider of the time of enslavement and its impact on the making of art; 2) examine the art made by African Americans; 3) examine contemporary black artists reference themes from the time of slavery,  reconfiguring them to say new things.

For this module there will be links to a site called Smarthistory, which was started by a grant from the Mellon Foundation to create an  online free video art history "textbook." The videos and written  pieces are shared by art historians from all  over the world and always growing. Here is one of the videos I will use in this first module of  this course: a Face Jug from Edgefield county, South Carolina, c. 1860. We will consider more than this one piece in order to have students think about the realities of living as an enslaved person.

A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby' at the Domino Plant - The New York Times
From NYTimes, May 11, 2014: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/arts/design/a-subtlety-or-the-marvelous-sugar-baby-at-the-domino-plant.html

For the contemporary exploration of these themes, we will consider Kara  Walker's A Subtlety which you can read about here. The term "subtlety" refers to confections made in Europe and were, essentially, edible art. In the seventeenth century and the early American colonial period, the increased desire for sugar led to an increase in enslaved laborers in the sugar fields. The slave trade was fueled, in part, by the demand for sugar, which is discussed in this video which will also be a featured assignment in my class module.  Walker's piece explores all of these themes. It was constructed in the late spring 2014 in a defunct Domino Sugar warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. It was as big as a football field and five stories high. Our class will look at this piece, after looking at pottery, quilts, and other works of art uncovered in archaeological digs to achieve the goals of this module.

Now that we have established the learning goals for this module, I can start to think about what students will  do: what will they read? Watch? How will they engage  with me? With each other? What assignments will they create? These will  be discussed in future posts.

For now though, consider this. How could you rearrange your class into modules? What learning goals could you establish for them?

Please leave a comment if you'd like to have a conversation about these  ideas.

 

2

This was a tough semester. For students, for faculty, for staff. For everyone involved in higher education. However, I am convinced that learning happened. While many might not consider this the most rigorous of assessments,  many students in my classes noted in their own reflections, unsolicited, that they were amazed at how much they learned in courses they  took with me this fall semester 2020.

This learning happened despite a compressed semester comprised of two 6.5 week  sessions crammed back to back with one day in between. Students were encouraged to take no more than two four-credit classes each session, but some couldn't help but have more than that, especially seniors who had less choice in what courses they needed take. I heard more stories of stressed out students than ever before in my twenty-three year teaching career. COVID, lack of regular social  interaction, the presidential election, as well as the compressed semester itself all contributed to the angst.

And yet learning happened. I am more convinced than ever that the asynchronous approach to online teaching is the way  to go. Yes, students noted that they missed  in-person classes, but I also heard from many about how Zoom wasn't like in-class either. My students who told me how much they learned in my classes also recognized that the discussion boards allowed us to hear from everyone - unlike in a Zoom discussion or in a face to face classroom. Please do not get me wrong; I can't wait to be back in the classroom again. But rather than teach in a classroom with students physically distanced from each other and masked up, I will continue to design and offer asynchronous classes for the coming semester.

Many people have asked me what I do or how I approach course design, and I have decided to blog about the steps I take to create my classes over December and January. Our semester begins on Monday, February 1. If you or your colleagues are interested but also flummoxed about how to teach asynchronously, feel free to pass these posts on to them, or ask them to sign up on my blog to get my new posts.

I am not saying I have all the answers. But my students were very positive, some enthusiastically so, in sharing their thoughts even when they were not solicited. I think I am doing something right and want to share in case it could be helpful to others. I have benefited greatly from faculty development opportunities that my college has made available. I feel that posting my course design process may help others who were not afforded the chance to learn about online teaching until recently, or at all.

I will be blogging about how I build three classes for the Spring 2021 semester: History of Western Art II, The Art of the Medieval World, and a new class for me, African American Art. I'll be designing them all for asynchronous delivery.

You're most welcome to follow along!

4

When you don't give up on a student, he or she can do great things. A student on the football team I met in 2016 was struggling in many ways, and I was fortunate that he trusted me enough to tell me about his issues. I refused to give up on him, despite what sometimes seemed even to me really big odds stacked against him ranging from the financial to the academic.

My advocacy helped him benefit from an anonymous donor who paid his outstanding bill so that he could register for classes the next term and stay on track to graduate, which he will this May. I do not know who did that, but I will always be grateful. Because this young man got another chance.

And a few weeks ago, he presented a paper at the The Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Academy of Religion and The Mid-Atlantic Region of Society of Biblical Literature. It was an undergraduate research panel and his paper dealt with evangelical views and how they led to mass incarceration policies.

I asked him, on the eve of traveling to New Jersey where the conference was held, if he ever thought he would be doing this. He laughingly replied something like "no way, Dr. McKay."

Yet this is what happens when you do not give up on a student. This is what happens when they love what they study. Doors open for them. When they believe that you believe in them, they try things they never would have done. I can't take all the credit for this, as my dedicated colleague in his major of Religious Studies is the one who truly inspired this student to go farther, do more, and write a paper worthy of a research panel at a conference in the field.

How do we put value on that? At a time when the humanities are bashed and programs cut because they do not have enough majors to justify their existences, one may ask: what's the value? Yes, numbers matter, and colleges with finite resources can't teach it all.

I sure would like those who make these financial decisions to talk to this student about the value of his experience. Because I am willing to bet that it is something he will never forget, and it's something that will lead to more opportunities. In fact, I would say this experience has further changed his life.

And isn't that what the humanities in their best iteration are meant to do?

There has been a lot written lately about "emotional labor," an idea that is discussed in this article in The Atlantic, which explores the term and how it has creeped into areas that were not intended by the originator of the term, Dr. Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist who taught at UC Berkeley. In this article from The Atlantic, she notes that teachers are among those who "[while] doing physical labor and mental labor, ...are crucially being hired and monitored for [the] capacity to manage and produce a feeling."

I'm thinking about that because I have come off a week that was very emotional for me. This past week students came to me for all sorts of reasons: serious illnesses (or tests needed to determine them), deaths in the family (in one case a shooting), and I even learned of the sad fate of a former student. It was exhausting. I am still exhausted.

So what is the solution? I know I am not monetarily paid for this emotional work, so what should I do about this? I suppose everyone, especially professors, must decide for themselves how  to respond to this reality. On the one hand, a professor could say, students have (for the most part) families, and that they should be supported by those families. That's true, but in reality, some are not. And it's also true that we have a counseling center, and I often walk students there to get counseling if they are in crisis. I am not trained to do counseling.

But there is a trust that I have built up with my students. That trust means that sometimes they come to me with personal issues if for no other reason than they are not sure where else to go for help. I help when I can, and direct when I can't.

I realize that this explanation is not exactly the definition of "emotional labor" in its original context as penned by Dr. Hochschild. But I am not willing to hold some kind of line in the sand to not be there for students in these ways to avoid the "cost" of this kind of work. If I'm going to have my students trust me, then they trust me. If they trust me enough to share personal stories, how can I turn them away?

This is the time of year when my Twitter feed is full of tweets from professors scoffing at the number of dead grandparents and generally not believing - or caring? - about these students and their stress. I dislike the tones of those tweets and comments. Our students are our students, with all of their problems, issues, and stresses.

My college is listed in the book Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope. In the chapter about McDaniel it opens with these lines: "If you’re looking for a college free from pretense and full of genuine care, put McDaniel at the top of your list." Rather than "emotional labor," I think I am practicing genuine care. I do genuinely care about each of my students. While I may not be paid directly for that, I think it's worth any sense of cost if I can make these students feel supported, encouraged, and yes, even cared for. It is my hope that they can then do their best in the classroom, which is, ultimately, our collective goal at the college. We want graduates who will make a difference in the world. If I can make a difference in their lives, my hope is that each of them will pay it forward.

What is your view, if you teach, of the role you play in the lives of students beyond your classroom?

Another season is in the record books for the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team. It was not the record that we were all hoping for, and I was not able to travel to the last game, which was away. But I watched it on the livestream, and once again I marveled at the grit, resilience, and indefatigable spirit of the players, the coaches, and the fans - parents - who I knew were in the stands. I've come to love all aspects of the culture of this game, but it's the people who make it the best.

First, appreciation must go to the coaches, chief among them Head Coach Michael Dailey, who said yes from the start when approached to have a female art history professor as the first faculty mentor to the team. We reminisce now often about how we were going to "figure it out," and we have. I'm grateful for his patience, his answering of my thousands of questions (I am an academic!), and his embrace of just about every one of my ideas. I have made it a point to get to know the other coaches a bit better this year, though I could have done more on that score. Yet, I know how busy they are.

Second, the parents have been fun to get to know, too. What a hardy bunch! And these people know how to party! I can't name names, but I have been gifted with more sausage, sweets, and alcoholic shots than I have ever in my life. At first, it was overwhelming and I did not know what to say or do, which makes professors as a rule uncomfortable. But as I try to tell my students: lean into what makes you uneasy and take a risk. I am glad that I did so because interacting with the parents has been a joy I did not anticipate when I took on this role.

And finally, but certainly not last, is my appreciation for the students. Among the graduating bunch this year are some of the first players who sought me out when I did not know what I was doing. I don't know why they trusted me, as I hardly think I gave off an attitude of confidence about my role. All I can think is that my desire to help and to support somehow came through. And I listened. By listening I learned so much. Because many people read this blog and because it's public, I will not name their names. However, they will always be among the most important students in my twenty-year teaching career in higher ed. They (hopefully) know who they are. They made me a better professor, by helping me see how they came alive in debates, games, and other active learning in the classroom. Several of them taught me about what it is like to be a black young man navigating today's society and some first-generation students shared with me the angst at the costs they were incurring. They taught me about grit and resilience, which I have blogged about here before. They taught me collectively about teamwork and why that is important.

In the end they have offered me a new way to express my creativity as a professor, a (sometimes) administrator, and a speaker on student athletes and teaching and learning. I've been given a new outlet for the next few years to help guide and shape higher education, specifically on how institutions can better support student athletes holistically at the (NCAA) Division III level. I've spoken at a few institutions, have a book proposal in about my experiences, and will be speaking at the NCAA's Annual Convention in January.

To the entire McDaniel College Football Team: a huge thank you from the faculty mentor. Thanks for making me a member of the team. And when is Spring Ball?!?!

The 2018 Team (photo: Katie Ogorzalek)

I have been thinking about the issue of helping students with issues and problems that are not always academic in nature. Students might come to faculty with issues about their personal lives regarding relationships, finances, identity; the list can go on. This type of listening is often referred to as "emotional labor" and is sometimes required to be done at colleges and universities. Often it is noted that this work is  disproportionately performed by women, and it is often not compensated financially. While harassment and other forms of discrimination also happen in the academic world that disproportionately hinder women, I am referring specifically to "the invisible labor of mentoring students [that] isn’t rewarded in the tenure-and-promotion process" that is discussed in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. I would argue that this invisible work is not academic advising. This work goes well beyond the role of academic advisor.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, for my work as the mentor to the football team has me often wading in waters for which my Ph.D. did not give me much training. And it is work for which I am not specifically financially compensated by my institution. It could, of course, be lumped into that catch-all of "service to the institution," which can mean anything from committee work, to participating in faculty or administrative searches, to advising, and to participating in any number of "ad hoc" groups.

For me, this diagram offers a different way of thinking about my mentor work:

Related image

While I still believe that it should be compensated financially in some way, I am finding that there is a reward - an intrinsic reward - in doing this work. The gratitude that is expressed to me by my students when I listen to them and help them form a plan to fix whatever problem they are having reminds me why I teach at a small school that says we genuinely care about students. We are part of the Colleges That Change Lives book and the website for CTCL has this quotation for our entry:

“This [McDaniel College] is a community of nice, earnest, unassuming, quietly self-assured teenagers who realize they are getting a first-rate education and who regard their teachers as their friends and mentors.
Colleges That Change Lives

I am proud to be a part of that. While I work to make sure that the mentoring work that I am doing will one day be financially compensated, I will continue to realize that I'm in the sweet spot with my role as faculty mentor to the football team. I am good at it, it's what the world needs right now (at least on my campus), I can be paid for it (though my pay is for my teaching primarily), and possibly most importantly, I love what I am doing. As the diagram above shows, it's my profession and vocation, but it's also my mission and passion. They all align to that sweet green star that reflects my purpose.

May we all find a way to the green star of our purpose. And be paid for doing it. While this post doesn't advocate that this work should not be paid for, I would also say that it has its own rewards. If you're good at this work, and you're at a place that values it, I hope you'll continue to do it. And if you are a tenured faculty member, I hope you'll think about doing it. There are so many faculty on the tenure track - and many more off it - that expectations for this sort of work would be nearly abusing their roles. However, if you, like me, find yourself in the privileged position of tenured full or associate professor, think about this type of mentoring work. Because this world, and the young people trying to make their way in it, need people to guide them, friend them, and mentor them.

* After I published this post, this related article popped up on Twitter:, and my college, McDaniel is mentioned: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/showing-that-they-care-college-faculty-called-on-to-aid-floundering-students/2018/10/07/6b67d098-c6a4-11e8-b1ed-1d2d65b86d0c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b2771064700a

I have been teaching for over twenty years and higher education is under tremendous pressure and my college is experiencing this as well. I just started reading Jeffrey Selingo's book There is Life After College. I am doing this to try to understand the role of higher education in America now. It's very different than it was even a decade ago, and Selingo offers some context for that.

I have done a lot of reading because I want to provide the best education and experience for any student who comes across my doorway, either the doorway of my office or my classroom. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed at the different issues I must focus on. When I have a student  in my office, or when they come to my class, I am thinking of any number of things, like:

  • "It is my responsibility to teach this student and to be sure my course helps her on her way to graduation."
  • "I need to make sure this student understands and can communicate the skills he has learned in my class in any interview situation so that he can get the job."
  • "I need to retain this student because her continued attendance at my institution is important."
  • "I want to be sure that I engage these students so that they continue to want to learn and finish their degree."
  • "I want to be sure that this student doesn't end up a statistic of the millions who have some college, but no degree and student debt."

At times all of these thoughts can overwhelm and paralyze. And nearly all of those sentences should have an exclamation point after them, because each one seems pressing and necessary and URGENT. Sometimes I think I should just teach and NOT think about all of this. But is that really the extent of my job? Just teaching art history? I don't think so. I do think that my role at a small, liberal arts college is not just to teach. It's to help guide.

And yet, the more I read about our changing economy the more stressed I become for our students. The stakes are high. More and more it seems that the value that we place on individuals is really all about money. We do not hear about movies over the weekend that were good in a creative sense, just which ones made the most money at the box office. Everything is a value exchange.

I teach art history. How do I translate that so that my students can benefit from the skills that my discipline offers, while still helping them be successful in their eventual careers? How do I do that when art history is usually the degree that is maligned, as in a 2014 speech by then-President Obama (which you can read here). Or when it's mentioned in a podcast as a major that even students police among themselves: "Why are you majoring in Art History?!" according to William Deresiewicz in a recent episode of the Unmistakable Creative podcast (you can read about/listen to it here).

My institution is wrestling with the big question of the role of our college in society, what we teach and our mission. We are a private, liberal arts college and I know we help students. I know we're important. Yet, so much is changing around us. I believe strongly in the core of the liberal arts and want my students to be successful. Ultimately that is why I am mentoring students that happen to be on the football team, because I see such potential in them, and yet also a reticence among some of them to be disciplined enough in academics to have it help them launch a career.

I'd love to hear from my former students about how their experiences launched them - or did not. What would you do differently? What do you wish your alma mater did differently?

And today, I'll decide how best to teach tomorrow, and I'll also be planning mentoring meetings this week with students. That work must carry on.

This Saturday the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team had their home opener. In the rain. In the pouring rain. As in I don't think it stopped raining for one play. I admit that I took shelter, thanks to my colleagues, in our Skybox. One of my colleagues was kind enough to give me a guest pass; I think she felt sorry for me, seeing me shivering in my wet clothes.

It was also the first loss of the season. As the mentor to the team, I talk with the students, get to know them, help them craft dreams and goals, teach them in classes. I love doing all of that. But it also makes it much harder when they lose. And even worse to see them get hurt. There were at least three injuries that I saw this past Saturday and each was like a gut punch. I don't know how parents do it.

But once again I was reminded as I sat in the luxury of the dry warmth of the box seat (I feel like such a wuss) and watched them: they love the game so much. They play with SUCH heart. They simply never give up. Even in the relentless rain and a sputtering offense, the defense came up big, again and again. One of the players I have gotten to know very well over two years in my role on the team had a huge sack and made the highlight real of "Play of the Day," which you can see in a link here.  Look at that speed!

They make me a bigger fan every time I watch them. And not that I want them to do it, but I think it is when they lose that I gain even more respect for them. One of my thoughts as I watch them all standing on the sidelines is that they are so devoted to each other. When I think about the strife and conflict in our society right now, a lot of it over race, and then see a team that is very diverse link arms together at the start of every game, work together to achieve a goal, and not give up on each other ever, well, it just makes me think that maybe there is hope for the world after all.

I'll be back at out there next Saturday, win or lose, sun or rain. They've got one fan in their corner always.

At my institution, we moved the second semester writing class, which is usually about literature, out of the English department. Thus, each major decides what writing in their discipline looks like and what students need to know. The idea from research in the field is that students learn more about writing when they care about or are interested in the subjects about which they are writing.

In my department, Art and Art History, our disciplinary writing course introduces students to different forms of art writing: catalog entries for art history, exhibitions review from galleries for both studio and art history majors, and visual analysis pieces. We also have them spend some time on writing their resumes and cover letters, and if they are visual artists, an artist statement. Since part of the expectation of this course is the completion of a catalog of works that the students choose, I decided to add a piece on digital writing and included some pieces of the assignment that were web-based. While students were required to keep a digital portfolio for their work, they were also asked to take part in a Wikipedia editing session on the work of art that they were working on for our class catalog. [I also created an online exhibition of the works of art that they wrote about, but that is another post you can read here.]

The Wikipedia edit session was co-taught with the director of our Writing Center. He spent some time taking them through an exercise about what they knew and thought about Wikipedia going into the exercise. After that discussion, students were asked to start to edit their entry. To facilitate this session that was held in one of our computer labs, students were required to come with an account already established. The people at WikiEdu are great about support and help, and they helped all my students get registered for this edit session. https://wikiedu.org/teach-with-wikipedia/

Once the session began, one student began to fret. She realized she was writing for the public and that “people will be reading this!” This made me think about how we teach writing, and how the students are trained to think about how they are writing only for the instructor. Suddenly in this exercise they realized that they were writing for people that they did not know!

This was a great teaching moment. Not only did this student step up her game, but it initiated a conversation about audience, and how writing for people who would actually read the work made the students take it more seriously. They started thinking more about word choices, comma placement. It was eye-opening for me, as a professor, to see the shift that was taking place. It made me think that papers read only by me and written by them was a waste of time for teaching about audience.

A friend of mine was talking to me the other day about one of the things he loves about my classes is that I have them “doing things.” I totally agree. This was one of those watershed moments that made me realize that active learning in the classroom is very important.

But it can’t just be an engaging technique for the sake of engagement. There needs to be a reason for that engaging activity. In this case, the reason was teaching about audience and having the students realize that people outside of the institution would be reading their work.

In one case, a student had a very creative and evocative description of her work of art which is a panel painting of the Virgin and Child by the late medieval Italian artist Berlinghieri. The student felt her depiction of the painting was too flowery, and we spent time talking about ekphrasis, the art of description that is traced back to Greek aesthetics. She felt that her description was based too much in ekphrastic writing, and not based in more fact-centered prose of Wikipedia. As a lark, we have checked back, now over a year since she wrote her entry, and her eloquent description of one of his painting remains: “Her soulful eyes are large and intensely focused, lending her visage a particular elegance.”

When I teach this course again, which is coming up this fall, I will use this Wikipedia editing project again. I may even use it in a future art history class because the difference in audience – and for students to think about creating content for the web – is so important as they leave and enter the work force.

Writing on the web make students better writers and connects them with the outside world, providing them with an opportunity to impact the world, one Wikipedia entry at a time.

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