A Perfect Cement

Friday started with two certain plans: open the door for the plumber
scheduled to arrive at the house at eight and leaf through the thicker-than-usual
Atlantic Monthly
issue.  Thick with stuff I won’t read about “The State
of the Union;” I thinned it by pulling out all of the subscription
postcards.

The boss at the plumbing company called at eight to say they’d be 35 minutes late. An employee was out of gas, stuck on I29, waiting for a ride in the
light rain.  The blocked sink drain would still be there. No hurry.
It’d been there since Wednesday evening, a perfect kernel of gunk cementing the drain pipes. I’ll spare you the details, but I should defend my
resourcefulness. I tried to plumb the line; I pulled apart the pea
traps and drain extensions, splashed murky water everywhere, even sliced my
thumb twisting the hand auger a few stubborn feet into the netherworld of the
inner wall. Went to Kmart at 9:45 for an extra plunger and a jug of acid stuff
made for loosing gunk. No luck.

So when the plumbing boss called I had more time to wait, but not enough time (or interest, really) to undertake an engaged reading of the full-length features. I leafed through, turning pages, then this: “The
Other Gender Gap
.” A short article on the shortcomings of popular
education in America for boys. I had no idea.

I was almost at the end of the short article when I read this:

But boys’ educational stagnation has long-term
economic implications. Not even half the boys in the country are taking
advantage of the opportunity to go to college, which has become almost a
prerequisite for a middle-class lifestyle. And languishing academic attainment
among a large portion of our population spells trouble for the prospects of
continued economic growth. Unless more boys begin attending college, the
nation may face a shortage of highly skilled workers in the coming decades.

Continue reading →

noticehowhismouthnevermoves.almost

I passed a sizable chunk of the day jockeying with .htaccess setups. After class this morning, a 10:30 meeting, a thermos of coffee, I wracked my brain for quite some time over my own clunky setup of protected access directories. For what? It’s embarrassing that I wasted so much time puzzling through something untested, unproven as a boon to my teaching. But there comes a buzz (or, better put, a mesmerizing intrigue) with the problem-solving process in technical matters. And I’m hooked. 

I got it working. Finally set up the .htaccess and .htpassword files with a logout route to trick browsers into “forgetting” the user’s password. Never knew how that worked until today. And I’m still not sure I’ve got it cracked.
And I’m almost certain that its value to my students is slight. Which is why I needed to
re-center my teaching on questions about what I’m doing it for. For re-centering, I often return to this bit from Roxanne Mountford’s essay, “Let Them Experiment:
Accommodating Diverse Discourse Practices in Large-Scale Writing Assessment.” 

Shirley Brice Heath, citing the philosopher Michel Foucault, writes: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” That is, as teachers and evaluators we often act without considering how our actions affect those we evaluate.

I’ve taken this out of a rich context on the challenges of inherent biases in large-scale writing assessment; and, while I appreciate Mountford’s full essay, an essay I first read a few years ago in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project summer invitational workshop, I find myself returning to this bit because it refreshes me, returns me to trail of wondering what what I do does. Especially after a day of scratching my head over file
extensions, permissions, passwords and browser trickery.

Twixt Gunnite Walls

Location update: Our basement-of-the-science hall class has officially relocated to the Academic Underground (a real place!). Sliding swivel chairs, detached from workstations. Pop-up desk/monitors. Networked. Dry erase _only_. LED projection equipment. Granted, it is, essentially, a cave–classroom space carved out of mined limestone caves with gunnite-sprayed walls, painted white, dimpled with texture. No, there are no bats in there, none that I’ve ever seen anyway. The new room is just a short meander (first-timers get lost down there quite easily) from the mail room, library, computer labs, study rooms, bookstore. Oh, and coffee shop. Good news since that means all the work I did over break whipping together a mixed-mode curriculim won’t go like scraps to hungry dogs. I landed the zippiest tech-enabled place on campus, just by asking. Fancy that.

Now off to coach my kid’s basketball game. Got seventeen seventh graders playing on two teams. Nobody told me that March Madness starts in January for twelve and thirteen-year-olds (pre-pubescent stir renders the Roman calendar obsolete, I’d say). And that explains where the bats are. In my head.

Out of Water

SC05. Basement of the science hall. Yep. That’s where I met with 14 students enrolled in EN106HOC Writing Purposes and Research this morning. My single request when I (somewhat reluctantly) signed on to teach this class this semester is that it be scheduled in a tech-enabled classroom.

Of course, the light switches are technology, the fluorescent bulbs (who knows how those work?), the pencil sharpener, the roll-retracting maps used to teach Modern Geography (which follows stampedishly soon after my section of comp). There’s an old color TV and an overhead projector. Notably, the overhead projector requires wet erase markers, but the white board at the front of the classroom needs dry erase markers. The slate on the side of the room: chalk. Dizzying. I wanted to project the course web site, dazzle ’em with pixels on this, our first day together.

So I marched over to the registrar’s office after class. Surely we can do better than this. Hell, last time I taught EN106, I was slotted in the basement of the chapel, but that space has been upgraded, overhauled, remade into a clean, well-lighted space which smells of nothing. I’m sure they’re not hosting comp sections there any more. And now I fear that I’m sounding snide. The long, long line at the registrar’s office delayed my inquiry–my quest for an alternative, suitably wired space. So I called instead. Left a message. More anon.

About the technologies surrounding us: light, language, radiators, markers, chalk, and so on: I wrote my name on the dry eraser board with the wrong kind of marker. A wet-erase marker. As the modern geographers stormed the room, my name was fixed, immovable in the middle of the white board covering the south wall. And my first name was underlined. It’s the basement of the science hall. Shouldn’t they have beakers of solvent lying around just for such crises? Good Christ! what a morning.

My So-Called Teacherly Space

Emily Nussbaum’s story in today’s NYT magazine, “My
So-Called Blog,”
sizes up the social significance of blogs for
teenagers. Reactions have already posted here
and here; I agree with craniac
at Kariosnews that the article has a few good bits. One of those bits, in
my reading of the story, involves the allure of cheaply controlling an
extrabodily image of oneself, one’s space, even devising ideological signposts
to create a meaning-filled site.

At heart, an online journal is like a hyperflexible adolescent body — but better, because in real life, it takes money and physical effort to add a piercing, or to switch from zip-jacketed mod to Abercrombie prepster. A LiveJournal or Blurty offers a creative outlet with a hundred moving parts. And unlike a real journal, with a blog, your friends are all around, invisible voyeurs — at least until they chime in with a comment.

Since my teenage years have passed and I have no need for new piercings
(although a haircut would be nice, maybe later today), this aspect of Nussbaum’s feature has me thinking about the implications of inexpensive control and image management in teaching. I have been working on a blog for a class I’m teaching this semester, the second in our FY composition sequence, so notions of switching up, of designing an “outlet with a hundred moving parts”
resonate the utility of blogs in higher ed. This is especially true for
many institutions where room assignments change from semester to semester or where adjunct faculty share plain offices with one phone line, if they have any
office space at all. The class blog–with its dialogic nature, design and
content–extends the course beyond the sanitized, often neutral meeting place of
the classroom by enabling it with a sustainable, personalized ideological
decor. What’s more, the decor is, by and large, participatory–shaped by
all members of the class. Through design and use, the blog can affect the identity crises that encroach on our work-space and status in higher ed, esp. in cases where work-space and status are, at times, unfair, ill-conceived and subject to gross fluctuation. It doesn’t fully absolve these issues, but, as it did
for the subjects in Nussbaum’s story, blogging can provide relief. Cheaply.

Emergency Management | When Uneasiness Visits

While I was catching up on reading and responding to student introductions in
my online section of HU211 (Intro to Humanities) thisA sign: this guest has been frequenting our back porch since late December.
morning, our guest visited the back porch and set out with his ritual morning
mewl. Through the crying, which, without any change in pitch or volume,
seemed to escalate into a blaring feline yawp over time, I read about one
student who is mid-way through his USMC career and just two courses from a BA in
Emergency Management. His introduction (a brief, paragraph-or-so sketch)
was comparatively candid when read alongside those of peers. He mentioned
living in an inherited house in a sluggish Pennsylvania town, while waiting for
FEMA to start hiring again.

When teaching online courses, I find that early term interactions
significantly condition the level of engagement throughout the accelerated eight
week term. No surprising discovery here. I’ve been at it for two
years now, experimenting with my role in these courses, and when I jump in early
with frequent and substantive posts–as instructor–the course reflects the
stimulus and the threaded discussions are considerably more vibrant. In
comparable f2f courses, I have found the class benefits from a solid starts, but
it’s possible for the course take off even if I moderate my presence, my role as
“teacher,” into something less visible, less assertively
authoritative. This has me thinking about the relation of physicality and body
language to teaching presence in f2f courses and how those issues compare for
online courses (where the teaching is variously present through photos,
biographical blurbs, threaded interactions, and rigid curricular content).
In other words, where is the teacher’s “body” in online education; is
it an imagined corpus extending from the factors listed here? Stamped by
the discipline or the institution?

Continue reading →

You Provide The Mortar

[R.E.M. Green in the headphones.]

Yesterday, at lunch, Andy said this about my new blog (without having read
it): "You probably want to avoid building a general blog. The day of the
all-knowing pundit who trails off on this and that is passing. Themed blogs
are probably more successful at attracting and keeping an audience." Okay,
so I didn’t keep notes, but he said something close to this.

And this: "You should add a subtitle explaining Earth Wide Moth."

To wit, I’ve been thinking about genre and audience. I know, I know, others
have thought about it more than me and many good folks at CCCC and C&W will
complicate matters with their presentations on this subject. But it’s with me
now because I’m devising this new blog–without an explicit plan.

The other blog, the one for EN106 this spring, is more clearly in-line with
a purpose I can articulate: pedagogical utility. I understand its aims and ambitions.
I know how it will be used to fray the boundaries of the course, to disarm the
usual restrictions on space and time in f2f courses, and to get students to
write. Audience? Initially, that’s easy. Initially, it will be the students
in the course and me, followed by something more, maybe.

I took time out this morning to read the rant of a
blog-hating student at Indiana State
. Mike posted the link at vitia.org.
It’s not easy to understand why the ISU student is so angry about blogging.
I’ve visited blogs that I didn’t find inviting or interesting, but it didn’t
make me mad. It’s kind of like being invited to dinner in a house with brown
shag carpeting…on the walls. As a guest, it’s not decorous to spout off about
the host’s poor taste. Could be that the medium convolutes manners, as in shared
senses of decency.

Gotta get to work. Course-prepping and other admin stuff. Ack!

One Blog, Two Blog

[Thinking about the trackback feature.]

Got the second blog working. It was, as the interface told me, a permissions error. Once I reset the permissions to the second blog’s folder, it all came together swimmingly. The other blog will be used this spring for a freshman course on technology and writing centered on Neil Postman’s Technopoly. His doomsday-ish tome will send us on our ever-digitized way.

The course is described as a research writing course. I’ve taught it a time or two; even developed an online format for accelerated delivery in just eight weeks. So I’m comfortable with the pace and workload. Just eleven students have enrolled so far, and the new semester starts happening Monday.

I’m having lunch today with my friend and colleague Andy who does a fine job keeping rhetorica.net in masterful form. He promised (well, er, suggested) a brief MT tutorial. Maybe he knows how I can craft a new CSS for this blog. After all, this design is dreadful. We’re jetting along on content, kid.

Oh, and about content. I still don’t have a deliberate schema. The category feature imposes a kind of coherence to this space, and I already feel a deep, quiet wariness that I’m chasing abstraction and glossing conceptual at the expense of attracting any passing readers.

I’m still working out the features, scratching my head about how to do this and that. The time stamp on yesterday’s post was off, for example. Like this witchy-cold weather we’re having in the heartland, it’ll get better.

Flummoxed

I’ve racked my brain for two hours now on the finer points of creating a second blog. This whole mess all started with an impulse to supplement the comp course I’m teaching this spring with a blog. Not this blog, but the other one I can’t seem to create. This whole project wasn’t die cast to be a simple, hosted-with-ease blog, but rather a full-fashioned blog of the earth, the sort that is the richest embodiment of the media.

Still, no second blog. Permissions error.

So maybe I need to get up to speed first. Blog for a while. Drive it around the block before tying on the speedometer, kickstand, extra soft banana seat…what’s that? Air in the tires? Oh, yes, I’ll need air on this tour.

I know blogging habits can survive in unimaginatively named spaces. I’ve been scratching, sifting, chewing around the Internet for a few months, perusing blogs, wondering what they’re all about, what compels people to attempt them, abandon them and so on.

Earth wide moth. -GS

So I’m puzzling over challenges of building a second MT-powered blog for a class I start teaching next Tuesday: EN106HOC Writing Purposes and Research. I’m puzzling over the aims and ambitions of this non-teaching blog (autodidactic experiment?). Puzzling over a new web host with funky permissions. Over my son who is puzzling over adding fractions and not asking for help. Challenges.

The dinner bell on the oven says the scalloped potatoes are done.