Hold the Hold

Read and respond to project prospectuses from online introduction to humanities. | Lunch meeting over bad news about royalties and CMS contract bids.| Taxes. Taxes. Taxes. | Mini-pizza; ham and pimentoed green olives. | What are you playing with? What is that sound? | Many of the HU211 students are choosing option I: Invitation to document human actuality fueled by R. Coles. | Options II–Crazy Dance and III–Humanities (e)Notebook have been much more popular in past terms. Odd. | Puzzling over blogging standards. Not because I’m a grammar hound but because I want the writing there to be done with care. | Stampede Blue versus Lakers tonight at 7:00 p.m. with you know who as acting coach. [Extra: L, 20-17. Yes, it is basketball. Defense first!] | Dinner’s ready. Do you want anything to drink? Ice water, please. Ice water.

Blogging to a trickle this week. Deepdeepfloodload of stuff to do. A bobbing head in an ocean of information. You know?

Punxsutawney Dreaming

I know a bad day when I’m having one. But I won’t allow this space to
become cluttered with lamentations and day-to-day annoyances. Everyone’s
got plentyHappy Groundhog's Day
enough of that, and while sharing does lend some relief, EWM must not become dark and crabby. I’m trying not to be bothered by the echo and aftereffect of the Super Bowl halftime show. We watched the game with a few friends. One friend is the minister from our church. Don’t worry. It’s a hip, progressive,
contemporary church–multi-denominational with a strong message of peace, so we got to watch the rest of the game without too much hellfire and damnation about sins of the flesh: in case you missed it, Justin Timberlake tore Janet Jackson’s costume-brazier. We all looked at each other and asked, “What was
that?”. Phillip, with his twelve-year-old critical filters for
defining pop culture incidents, savored it more than the rest of us.

I should probably go to sleep instead of blogging into a stupor. Today
was not a snow day. No snowbound writing retreat. No quiet, peaceful
flakiness to put off usual Monday anxieties. I’ve been wondering–as I
paced through another workday–how bad a weather predictor must be to earn a
reprimand. I mean, I know it’s the Midwest. I know the weather isn’t
easy to predict. But they (name your forecaster, your channel, your fancy Doppler
radar system) have all of the technology foretelling the pressures and
humidities. On Friday, they promised 10-18 inches of snow. We got
two inches. Feels like fraud, since our first-Monday-of-the-new-month
staff meeting (a two hour drone about recruiting…ugh!) was not cancelled. Here I go again, whining about workaday life. Promised I wouldn’t. Beg pardon.

Compulsory Blogging

This semester is my first using a weblog for a composition course. The
course is EN106; its course description promises this: “The
course teaches students to write effectively for various purposes and audiences.
It also helps to develop further skills in critical thinking and reading.
Special emphasis is given to information retrieval and writing a research
paper.” I decided to make one group blog and to make blog-writing
compulsory. It’s a lot like what takes shape in the online courses I’ve
developed where course requirements call for a kind of double-entry journal from which dialogue unfolds. I like the asynchronous interaction. The
compulsory element calls for a total of four entries each week: one
250-word entry must relate to our course concerns (the questions we’re taking up from the reading and related discussions), one 250-word entry must trace a
selected theme throughout the semester–for thirteen or fourteen weeks.
The other two entries can be about anything, any length, etc., including
comments on other entries. This is in addition to six essays and a few other
options, all of which allow the students to make choices about what work they
will do.

I went with compulsory posts because I wanted to ensure that the blog caught on. I also wanted to enable students to pursue their own interests in fullness and with sustained attention. In other words, I find the nature of many blogs bring about nuggeted writing–truncated blurbs about whatever notion strikes, a kind of Short Attention Span Theatre of sound bytes. Calling for a sustained theme will induce, I hope, a sense of coherence and continuity and will lead us toward ways of talking about and understanding ongoing research
pursuits (research isn’t all coherence and continuity, FWIW. It’s plenty of digging, sifting, discovery, misadventure and curiosity, too, I’d say).

After our first week of writing in the course weblog, I have the impression that it’s too much writing (right…never mind…there’s
no such thing. Is there?). For now, I think I’ll stick to the pre-cut
path. The rest is wilderness. Good thing we’re not alone.

Do Not Burn the Joes

Narrow window for a brief entry this evening, since sloppy joes are
already started in the other room and, well, an unmonitored stove…blog…unmonitored stove…blog. You see the dilemma. Plus, we’ve scored free tickets to tonight’s KC Knights-Long Beach ABA game. It’s a one-two matchup, but I admit to being basketballed out, and the kids have practice in the morning again. But Phillip’s forever enthusiastic, so we’ll wear smiles tonight and root for the home team. Of course, I was looking forward to seeing Rodman-in-full-madness play one last time, but my friend O. from Detroit (who went to high school with a player on the Long Beach team) told me today that the Worm didn’t make the trip. Bummer!

Been thinking about two essay projects. Got an email about the upcoming
publication for the Greater Kansas City Writing Project inquiring whether anyone
on the listserv was currently publishing student writing on the Internet.
I replied, saying, “Yes. We have a blog. It’s rather like publishing on the Internet.” Then came the invitation to write about it before next Wednesday. Should be no problem as long as we get walloped with snow on Sunday and Monday. I really like the carefree pace of snowbound days, and we don’t get many around here. Usually grey skies and ice storms.

So that’s one project: an essay explaining why weblogs in education. Not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but I want to articulate a model of use that dispels the free-for-all mythos of unmediated e-comm while acknowledging the great boon of audience engagement and frequent, visible writing. It’s mainly for K-12 teachers who’ve not ventured far into the craggy terrain of weblogs in ed.

The other essay project (I will not burn the joes!) is for my students, mainly. I need to come up with a way of describing how we might read blogs rhetorically, how we might apply a close reading, seek answers to questions about how blogs connect with rhetorical terms of art. Right…the stove.

Velvet Funkbuster

Nothing like Lou Reed and Co. to chew through the icy dip of deep winter.

When I re-read yesterday’s post–Creeping Thing–it left me with doubts, planted in me a faint sense of how I was depicting a radically political persona–the breath behind the screen, the blog’s “I.” It felt risky to pronounce such views and brought me back to the questions I had when I first hanged the Open sign on this writing space.
Who will you be? Which you will you be there? On top of that–as if it wasn’t enough to have a bad blogging day at EWM–I went ahead and typed some “hypothetical” drivel at
Kairosnews.org. I don’t usually post there, just lurk. Thinking now that it’s better that way. Lurking. And moods pass.

In class today, I talked about the comparative blog-reading essay coming up. It’s not a neat exercise, since I can’t corral the scope of weblogs and what their makers set out to do. I have students who say that weblogging seems “weird.” Many of them never heard of it before this course. So I want them to have a look, peek in on a few blogs, surmise what’s taking shape there and why it’s relevant. Presuming that, indeed, it is. Sooner or later I’ll link to the blog for our class. It’s in its infancy–an awkward, foundling stage where the posted-stuff is a bit raw, unrefined and in need of greater care. Wait…um…that describes this blog too. Soon enough.

We looked at Blue Ridge Blog as a model. Class ended at 9:55 a.m. Forty-five minutes later I received an email from Marie, the photojournalist whose interesting work populates Blue Ridge Blog. She’d noticed huge spikes in site traffic–rocket-launch,
moon-bound spikes. Among other things, Marie says, “Wish I was a fly on the wall of your classroom.”
Flattering, I think. If she’d been a fly there, on the classroom’s wall, Marie
might have witnessed (en fragmentum–see
her post on pixels
) the first student ever to send me an email during
class, about class discussion, while we were in the same room. A teachable moment. The embodiment of Postman’s questions about the future of education: “Now comes the computer, carrying anew the banner of private learning and individual problem-solving. Will the widespread use of computers in the classroom defeat once and for all the claims of communal speech? Will the computer raise egocentrism to the status of a virtue?”
In virtuosity, we were less present at times than the magnificent machines.

Sexing the Colosseum

During a 4.5 hour meeting today, I daydreamed for just a few minutes about this:

Dream-thought
One | Phillip has teamed up with a friend for a social studies project: a two-page essay and a model of the Colosseum (then or now?). Due Wednesday. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Fine. But can a replica of one bit of Rome (clay, tooth picks, styrofoam!) come together in 1.5 days? Working like
fine modern architects, they’ve planned, plotted for two weeks, then forced the material
“making” into the final 36 hours. I, for one, feel worn down by school projects. I vowed to take on a lesser role ever since
our salt dough map of Missouri (delivered in a Papa Johns box, greenish-dough-hardened with flags and labels, Ozark Mountains and so on) scored a
B.

Dream-thought Two | Finished reading Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry on Saturday. Slow for me to start, but really picked up in the
latter half. The notion of grafting in the book got me thinking about metaphors for mixed-mode or hybrid pedagogies, although it’s not a book
on teaching, per se. It’s not explicitly on sexing either, although the beast-woman romps through at least one scene. Intercoursing space and time,
perhaps.

Postlude | From STC: “A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true. And now, swarming over the earth with our tiny insect bodies and building houses, it seems that all the journeys are done. Not so. Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else had charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identify, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections obvious only to you. Round and flat, only very little has been discovered” (88).

I left the session–a bureaucratic upside down cake–with 3/4 of a page of notes on strategic planning. Lots of talking, so, accordingly, I feel I’ve used up my allocation of Monday words.

Digital Repo

Last night’s evening news presented a segment on an ignition control device
installed in cars sold on credit to “high-risk” consumers. The
device was dubbed “digital repo man” in the news clip (which included
lots of footage of one-handed fumbling with a phone line connection under the
steering wheel). Basically, it works like this:
Car-buyer-with-no-credit needs a set of wheels. Salesperson wants
desperately to serve the consumer by closing the deal. Line of cars have
Digi-repo pre-installed. Deal is settled. Now, each time the
consumer starts the car, a keypad-entered code is required, which tells the car
that the driver is paid up. With each on-time monthly payment, the car
buyer gets a new code–good for the next 30 days. No late payments.
While I haven’t fully mulled over the consequences of such devices, my first
impression is that it adds a layer of complication to common understandings of
ownership for products bought on credit. The role of technology in this
process interests me, too. The electronic gadget becomes a strict,
unwavering control (not unlike in-dash breathalyzers), but the control is tied
to economic status, like an ever-present credit report.

I went online looking for more information about the device, the
company–Pastime–that makes it, and what other surveillance-like mechanisms, if any, they make. I still haven’t found much, even when I search for the company rep cited in the article, Stan Schwarz. Our local news station’s
web site had a word-for-word copy of this brief piece from wnbc.com: Car Not Working? Check To See If You Paid Your Bills.
It’s some kind of thinly attributed article in “Ask Asa,” which, as
fully as I can tell, is a team-written advice column on financial matters.
The WNBC site posted the article in early December. Here, in the deep,
deep recesses of the Midwest, our local news station aired it last night.
Which gives me hope that Lord of the Rings: Return of the King will be in local theaters soon!

My searching wasn’t without a fruitful discovery. I found this link for
a visual thesaurus. I’m not a big thesaurus user, but the visual thesaurus, driven by Thinkmap, is kind of like a fish tank populated by words. The associational glide is oddly seductive, relaxing. Useful, perhaps, for
visualizing the fray of connotations detached from contexts.

Sing Cucu Nu

Sumer
is icumen in
. Well, okay, I’m lying. But it is 56 with
sunshine today in KC, and regreening is in the air.

Just received an invite to the 8th Annual Native Vision Sports and Life
Skills Camp. It’s in Bernalillo, N.M., hosted by the United Pueblo Tribes. The
mailer says they expect more than 700 youth from 25 tribes. There’s surprisingly
little on the net about the camp–a three-day event in mid-June. I helped
out at the last two sessions in 2001 and 2002, when it was at the White Mountain
Apache Reservation in Arizona. In 2002 everyone was hustled out of
Whiteriver because of the Rodeo-Chadiski fire (in
the news again, recently
). We were shuttled back to Phoenix on a
school bus–a long winding ride with the Emergency Broadcasting System signal blaring across the radio about evacuations–and the event was considerably
disrupted. Last year, the camp didn’t happen, but it looks like the NFL Players Association and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health
have revitalized the program. Had a few interesting talks there about
coordinating literacy ventures with the camp, expanding the life skills side
with added dimension.

Normally, I wouldn’t carry on about USPS mail, but I’m really happy to be
invited back and to see that the program is once again viable. What’s
more, I’m waiting impatiently for acceptance-rejection letters from a
medium-sized list of prospective PhD programs for next fall. The wait is
much more enjoyable with the pseudo spring we’re having. But it’s
still a wait.

And the tech-autobiographical sketches have been fun and interesting to
read. They’re particularly interesting because of the diverse mix of
students, which is usual where I teach. Students from Tanzania, Somalia,
Kenya, Poland, N. Ireland, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri are in class this
semester, and our work is off to an improved start with the zippy
classroom.

Plagiarismo

Nick Carbone sent a note to
techrhet
subscribers last night that the news about Canadian student Jesse Rosenfeld’s
refusal to submit his work to turnitin.com surfaced in the mainstream via

CNN and Court TV
. I’d been following this issue with interest since I
first read about it over at
Jerz’s
Literacy Weblog
and
Kairosnews
.

As I see it, turnitin.org is challenged by an image problem; its name (more importantly than its utility) implicates guilt among students mandated to use it. I guess that’s the root objection felt by Rosenfeld. In a sense, the system is subjecting him to a damaging, a priori criminalization. Guilty until proven innocent. And plagiarism sifters generally work that way. But
plagiarized essays don’t merit serious consideration for the fulfillment of
academic calls. Plagiarism is rather like a sucker punch to the integrity
of higher education, and the Internet is enabling rapidly recurrent, heavy
blows. We should be able to agree that cheats should be given the old
heave-ho before any instructor pours carefully, but unwittingly, over the
text. Right? But there’s always more to it. Turnitin.com could start
by trying on a new name, such as surveillanceworks.net.

One-draft submissions have necessarily given way to processes with proposals, exploratory
drafts, brief annotated bibliographies and so on. In other words, many of
the essay mills don’t market comprehensive process packages (such as we might
find in an all-included, end-of-term portfolio with untidy pieces and so on). The market, however, is smartening to composition’s deeper processes (http://www.essayrelief.com/,
for example, advertises “research work” included with the order, but I haven’t
tried it, so I don’t have any sense of how messy it is. Convincingly
messy?). Devisers of assignments, then, must stay one step ahead of the
services available for circumventing the rules of decorum (articulated wherever
they may be!). And, yet, plagiarism will continue to leak into the
academy, will linger as a vile, troubling matter.

At places with little or no WAC initiative, I’d wager that much of the
proliferation of plagiarism comes about from oft-used, timeless prompts or
single-submission assignments (oh, right, and the plagiarist-student is to
blame, as well). I wasn’t trying to parade a holier-than platitude, but I
made the mistake of saying this aloud recently and got in return: “I
agree with your point in principle. However, when one teaches a 300 level class,
one just does not expect to deal with issues like draft and rewrite.” More
discussion followed, healthy discussion about new understandings of the
information and services from which students can take unattributed work, greater urgency about making writing processes visible (which can be tough since our best habits are considerably varied), and institution-wide dissonance on how best to address the issue.

I’m still learning where all of this fits into my teaching. I don’t
prefer to wear the plagairism-police badge, and I see a greater need to treat
some instances of plagiarism as an opportunity for working toward an understanding of intellectual
property. Lately, I’ve taken to using
EveII for sifting offenders,
usually after I read a suspicious essay, but sometimes before I read any essay
in a set that has arrived in my inbox. Google’s exact match search is also widely used and effective for cuing exact strings. It seems more and more to be an inevitable part of teaching writing, and, as such, seems like something we
should continue conversations about (along with lots of other stuff), especially
as long as the latest technologies reconfigure the scene.

Excuse me, I just storied myself

To make ready for class today, I went through a few invention exercises.
I wanted to mix it up, vary the approaches to show a range of possibilities for
essay one: A Tech Autobiographical Sketch. The assignment serves a few purposes,
not the least of which are a writing sample and a portrait of students’ tech
backgrounds, which influence my aims and design for the next several weeks.

The assignment asks students to tell their technological becoming.
It’s a narrative essay about gadgetry and mechanisms, from old, block-style
Legos to one-buttoned joysticks, from coin-op school supply dispensers to
cordless phones with auto redial. And my favorite: hand-held football
games with red, LED players on both teams, no matter whether it was the Patriots and Panthers or the Lions and Browns (my imagined, dream Superbowl). Red blips on both sides of the ball; a fresh 9-volt battery and a 45 minute school bus ride, one-way; those were the days.

My models for the class, for the essay, included a graphic organizer, a messy map of sorts that starts with a blank sheet of paper and a will to scribble
without inhibition, loose clusters of ideas. The second model, even more
spontaneous than the first because of its disregard of coherence, was a list of
50. A fit of associations with the perpetual present guided by impulse and
only the faint beckoning of the writing prompt. My list (for the tech
autobiographical sketch) looked like this:

Boeing 757 to Seattle, Supersonics shirt, Mount St. Helens, Pong with
paddles, Frogger, black and white television, Galaga at Pizza Hut, camcorder,
C64 programs in basic, [friends who] pirated software, welding and your eyes,
Tetris, first broadcast warfare, statistical reports, digital photography,
surveillance cameras, exercise equipment, rocket launches, stopwatch, camping
with cords, Popular Science, helicopter bike, northern lights, fishing
sonar, radar detectors, Sault locks, fax machines, Mouse Trap, Operation w/
glue, Walkman, audio books, Lance Haffner Final Four, Adam computer, tape drive soccer, Rambo knife w/ compass, Tecmo Bowl, breakaway rims, car stereo wiring, magnet games, batteries, race track motors, vibrating football board, UHF/VHF antennae, TV adjust with pliers

I stopped at 44. The inventive scope had me reeling. Could have
gone longer, but I had to get on with the third model: a formal outline.
Less stimulating, in my view, but important to show, to talk about what purpose
it might serve, its relative structured-ness. So I dummied one up on the
evolution of photography in my days: slide-projector shows, Polaroids, a
costly/priceless Dimage7i, up to Kodak’s abandonment of film camera’s in Western markets last week.

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