Don’t Panic

Used to blog so hard and so often in my thirties. Hobby of that decade, 2004-2013. Like shooting baskets in my twenties, 1994-2003, fiddling around in my teens, 1987-1993, listening to cassette tapes on any Walkman in my preteens, 1984-1986, eating peanut butter Twix in my aughts, 1979-1983. I don’t think I had any Twix before I turned five to be clear. I sit with uncertainty about whether peanut butter should be Capitalized. Capitalize it Optional (proper noun and/or adjectival), but damn sure capitalize it Delicious, too.

Now it’s the end of the first full year of a new job at a new university in a new state and I was awake in the night the other night whatever day that was because sometimes now that I’m in my middle forties, 2017-present, I experience biphasic sleep and also polyphasic sleep and sometimes during the day I close the Shanks 315 office door and unfurl a nap roll I keep in the bottom drawer of a big black file cabinet with only just a few files in it and where on the floor the thin roll lays flat, that’s where I have a nap. A power nap, which means I keep it to what maybe twenty minutes. Biphasia or polyphasia, I’ve learned not to even be perturbed by these, not even at 3 a.m. or 4.

This was going to be a few lines about the decade that was this year, long-times feeling extra long for constant-inconstant spatiotemporal reorientation. Not even complaining. Just thinking about the difference between a time traveller’s dilemma and a regular traveller’s dilemma, orienting to When Am I?, and seeing that question continuously interrupted as if through a kaleidoscope. Nice to look at-through, though, because it’s constantly colorful and doesn’t ever disappoint like some things if you know what I mean.

Our contracts run from August 10 through May 9 every year. Nine months before the fata morgana of summertime clearings and oases and poolside sun-bathed splash panacea. A few bullets about what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been up to this year, AY 2018-2019.

  • Oh ffs taken to court over a condominium by-laws situation in Ypsilanti and then it was dismissed and then I was sued civilly, and that’s still working itself out very gradually.
  • I became a grandpa on February 23. It’s wonderful and humbling and now I wear rubber overshoes when it is rainy outside on my walk to and from campus and I give far fewer centimeters-height of shrug about what I wear. I like it, too, grandparenthood, as an equanimity refrain. Some ish is going down and I’m gonna just think for a while about this awe-inspiring granddaughter over there in Michigan.
  • In the Composition Program I direct, we revised the outcomes, adopted a new custom textbook, wrote substantially a couple of the chapters for the book, met and met again to negotiate the price to something just exactly right (well, reasonable), put together hokieswrite.com and filled the pages with all variety of in-progress resources, wrote an application for an $18,600 grant that then was awarded so as to assure more formidable uptake of program-wide assessment, funds enough to incentivize really a couple of workshops and to build forms digital and analog as simple collectors for competency ratings, above, below, and middling, an inherited design with several known limitations for writing. And then this afternoon generated 53 letters for disbursing the grant.
  • I’ve not said no! to any committee yet, which puts me on personnel, professional and technical writing ad hoc subcommittee, the rhetoric and writing committee, the composition committee (chair), the department executive committee, also the graduate admissions selection committee for the PhD program and the Carolyn Rude Award committee for graduate student article writing, though these last two met just once.
  • I also said yes! to eight doctoral committees so far, but I’m not chairing any of them. This work will accelerate next fall when six of them take exams and hold exam defenses in October. Last October I had just one exam defense.
  • I met new colleagues for eight social lunches in AY 2018-2019. Two were at a barbecue place whose name I forget but know has to do with under the stairs or downstairs or beneath the stairs, one at Gillie’s, two at The Cellar, one at Blacksburg Tavern, one at Green’s, and one at Blacksburg Taphouse. Twice I went by myself for a waffle lunch at Waffle House. I had Jimmie Johns delivered to my office three times.
  • I participated as a mock interviewer for two mock interviews, attended a book group meeting on Cathy Davidson’s The New Education, completed online IRB certification, gained online teaching certification by taking a class especially banal and platitude-filled, sat and talked for an hour with a delegation from Shadong University one day, and sat and talked for two hours as part of an invited Open Access Week panel focused on open access publishing.
  • I was nominated for the CWPA ExecBoard, accepted a place on the ballot, blurb and photo, and was elected to a post for the next three years.
  • I put on the two assessment workshops, each two hours long (mostly a re-run, the second iteration) and prepped and delivered four program-wide teaching talks. Sometimes 30 people attended and other times 55 people attended. The lunch was provided by the program at these talks and mostly everyone expressed gratitude for its being free and for there being two six foot long Sub Station II sandwiches, several feet as vegetable sub and several more feet as meat sub, plus a large bowl of pickles each time.
  • I put in a request for new office flooring because the low pile industrial grade carpet in my office was so very well trafficked that I thought my nap roll was being introduced to the who knows what it could even be from other people’s shoes having walked through Shanks 315 however long ago that happened. And so it was in April a tall stack of plastic bins from facilities arriving and everything was loaded and moved, glue down imitation wood laminate flooring set in place and everything moved back again, only about a week or so without an office around Easter Weekend and the best parts are that the new flooring makes the space a lot nicer to spend so many hours in and that I finally impressed a semi-dull boredom of order on the books and journals shelved about.
  • █ █████ ███ ████████ ██ ███ █████ ███████ █ ██ █ ███. ██████ █ ██ █████ ███ ██ ████████ ███ ████ █ ██ █ ███. █ █████ ███ ██ ██ ████ █████ ███ ████████ ██ ███ █████ ███████ █ ██ █ ███. ██████ ████████████ █ ███ █████ ███████ █ ██ █ ███!
  • I drove to Michigan and back, approximately 500 miles each way, seven times but never more than once in any month. I also drove to Louisville and Pittsburgh for conferences. This was the first AY year I did not fly for a conference nor for any other trip. In mid-June I’ll fly to Albuquerque for Native Vision.
  • I attended six presentations in the department, besides the department head finalists: S.C., C.G. A.V., Z.S., L.F., and A.K. And I had dinner with C.G., A.V., Z.S., and L.F., as these were guests from afar. Six talks, four meals.
  • Unsuccessful DH search this winter was another three talks, three meals, various meetings, too. Combined with the previous bullet, that adds up to nine talks and seven meals.
  • I lead the Composition Program orientation meeting in August, took lead on coordinating an in-progress CWPA evaluator-consultant visit, self-study, planning, and so on, won a research impact award for Network Sense, signed a textbook contract, taught an online section of technical writing in the three week winter term mostly to learn who takes the class and how it is designed, etc.
  • I hiked eight hikes: Pandapas Pond x5, Cascades x2, and Dragon’s Tooth x1.
  • I had what I would count as thirteen outreach-ish meetings: Pathways/Gen Ed x2, integrity office (about Turnitin.com; didn’t go well), library, bookstore x2, publisher x4, LCI x3.
  • I co-edited and also contributed to a DRC blog carnival in fall, wrote a chapter, “Silhouetto of DFWI,” for the Radiant Figures edited collection, and read and wrote review notes for thirteen chapters in that collection that will be in the hands of contributors by month’s end. I presented at Watson (Louisville, October) and Cs (Pittsburgh, March), will present at Computers & Writing (Lansing, June), and I have proposals sent off for Cs (Milwaukee next March), Corridors (Blacksburg, September), an acceptance to FemRhet (Harrisonburg, November), and a draft proposal for RSA (Portland next May).
  • I will participate in two graduation ceremonies next week: the first in plain clothes as an usher (“disability escort #2”) at the undergraduate commencement and the second in regalia at the English Department commencement. I inherited a robe, bought from Syracuse’s bookstore a hood of my own, bright orange blue-edged.
  • At last count, as of maybe two weeks ago, I sent 2,144 emails and received 4,387 emails at my vt.edu account. Sometimes I send one email that reaches more than 100 people. Sometimes there are flurries of short emails volleyed in succession with one person. I placed five phone calls using my office telephone. I received one real-time phone call in my office and five voice messages. Two of the voice messages were from bots who didn’t even know I hadn’t answered.

I left some stuff out of this quantified self rundown. Nothing much about how much running or yoga or how many times I strained my right calf or how many times I felt straining in my right calf but didn’t completely wreck it. Nothing about Chicken Hill. Or about television. Nothing about fermentations, batches of kombucha, pickled eggs for lunch. Nothing about how many times I stopped for gasoline in West Virginia. Or how many times I used the fireplace. Or how much La Croix I drank. Or how many homemade pizzas I made and then ate. How many sporting events I watched at colleagues’ houses or at VT sporting facilities. Nothing about being more or less strictly off caffeine from November 1 until May 3. There are holes in this account and gaps. Aren’t there always.

Loom

We’re halfway through the Spring 2011 term, three weeks (a w a r p, really) from wrapping up the two classes I am teaching, an online ENGL328 and a F2F ENGL121. I’m trying something different in the 121. The units of composition are what I’m calling research memos and tracings. The research memos (inventories, anticipatory speculations, plans) prepare us for the tracings, which are, as I think of it, mini-enactments of various methods, ways of inquiring. Memos and tracings alternate, one each week, until they amount to about 30+ pages of writing from which students will assemble a 10+-page “researched argument.” And the five tracings, five ways of inquiring, are 1. memory work (experiential anecdotes), 2. word work (definitional drill-down), 3. site work (scenic noticing), 4. interview, and 5. source work (consulting published articles). I realize the last one is usually the star in much academic prose, but I am adapting these to fit a pre-existing curricular framework enough that this version of the class will be simpatico with some of what’s already in place at EMU. Had I to add one more way, it would be 6. survey work, a class-authored survey whose questions we would compose and then answer and whose results we would draw upon as a form of evidence to hitch some assertions to in the researched argument piece. This will have to wait for the 15-week version of the course, although I cannot right now foresee when I will be teaching this course at the more generous, more contemplative pace.

Midterm. Already said this, but yesterday was roughly half-way and so I circulated a mid-term teaching evaluation using Surveymonkey (nine questions). In class we did our usual blind peer review (another entry for another day), looked at and discussed various memos, and then hovered for a minute on our program’s learning outcomes. I usually dis-identify with outcomes. Assessment isn’t my bag. I recognize the function of outcomes to be best and most when tacit and least. That is, I want them to be a faint shadow, necessary because they lightly guide us on our way, but not the sort of thing we need to dwell on explicitly, focally. I asked students to articulate with a drawn line a relationship they could see between any Composing Process Outcome or any Learning Process Outcome. There are eleven total. Now, to do this: Draw lines from two CPOs and two LPOs to four artifacts. Assign a unique letter to each of the four lines. In a paragraph, articulate the linkage. Sixteen students, sixty-four lines, sixty-four paragraphs. This provides all of us with a glimpse of what we understand to be happening so far. I compiled the results into this.

ENGL121 LO Linkages

What can I learn from it? Well, some linkages are more densely set than others. That is, eleven lines were shared by three or more students. The accompanying paragraphs add subtlety to the more general impression, but this begins to suggest consensus, or maybe an outcome bias of some kind. Three lines were shared by two students. Twelve lines were singularly identified. Out of 64 links drawn among 66 possibilities, then, just seventeen fell to the low levels of one or two, whereas 11 possibilities (out of 66) drew 73 percent response. Why? And what does this mean for what we do next? Are some artifacts too neatly mapped against individual outcomes? Are other outcomes too hazily defined?

In sharing this stuff and in publicly fumbling around with these questions, I’m not interested in rushing to conclusions, nor do I want to fixate excessively on the outcomes. I am merely trying to take an interest in them, in part because they figure prominently into institutional and programmatic assessment discourse and in part because, as one who mentors graduate students from time to time, I am thinking about how to keep outcomes lightly enough fitted to the FYC classes without them getting too much in the way.

Grading in the Sunporch

I was just thinking that academic types don’t mention grading often enough, especially in late April. A measly 50% of tweets and status updates from my network of peers mention grading–astonishingly low!

Right now I’m in the sunporch, grading. I would post about this to my Twitter account, but for this I need more than 140 characters. It’s a longer trip all the way around these ideas I’m having.

Here are a few of the grades FERPA will allow me to share:

  • B- to my deteriorated spelling skills. Here I thought “sun porch” was one word.
  • Make that a C+ because I had to look up “measly.”
  • F to the cooling fan on my five-year-old Vaio laptop because it sounds like a motorboat engine. All the time. The Family Finances Committee says my new home computer is on the list of “Things To Buy When In 2018 We Get These Student Loans Paid Off.” Fie!, fiscal conservatives!
  • C- to the rest of the laptop for getting me this far. I mean it: thanks!
  • C to the unsightly water-stained hole in the ceiling above my head. The exterior was repaired; the interior left like a monument to water damage, intact.
  • A to family, except, why is nobody home right now to nudge me through these fits of procrastination?
  • C- to Yoki, the dog so conflicted as to whine when inside because he wants out and to whine outside because he wants in. Any more whining and both of us will be crying. The C- also goes for that smell.
  • B+ to the bug carcasses in the shaded corner on the indoor/outdoor carpeting.
  • A to temperatures adequate to warrant grading in the sun porch on a Sunday afternoon.

Washback

D. asked me about this term yesterday, and I had never heard of it before,
perhaps because I haven’t taught many courses where tests were involved.
As I now understand it (freshly, sketchily), washback describes
pedagogical revision, the on-the-fly adjustments teachers make after they have
evaluated a set of exams. The test, depending largely upon how well it is
designed, should report general strengths and weaknesses among the group;
washback is how the future lessons and activities are adapted in light of the
patterns indicated by the test.

I don’t know whether I will get much use out of the term, but it did get me
thinking about similar phenomena in writing courses. There is a kind of
going back over things–something like washback–that sometimes happens
depending on how a sequence of assignments is envisioned. It reminded me of a
mild tension in my MA program between those who thought a complete course of
study–including all writing assignments, prompts, and activities–ought to be
laid out from the outset and those who thought a course of study should be
designed to allow for those inevitable contingencies. To the extremes: the
first type is top-down, water-tight and risks being inflexible; the second type
is like taking to the air without a flight plan: improvisatory and roomy.
The first regards the contextual peculiarities (and surprises!) very little; the
second sets out with the proposition, "How can I devise the second unit of the
course until I know what happened with the first?". One values teaching
everything as if it is channeling toward week fifteen; the other lives and
teaches for today and wants not to overdetermine the what’s-to-come.

I am, at times, drawn to each of these extreme positions; they appeal to me
for different reasons. What I have come to understand is that, in moderate
forms, both are simultaneously possible, and good teachers understand–and
perform–them–a balancing act of managed flexibility. By now I have
wandered away from washback as it relates directly to tests and measurements,
but I only wanted to generalize it to the scenes of teaching I know best.

Assescement

If you seek thorough notes on today’s Fall Teaching Conference, you might be
disappointed.  The four-hour conference covered several interesting and
important projects: Syracuse community-based writing courses, upcoming
service-learning initiatives, and the annual address from the chair of the
department.  The featured speaker–a professor from Vermont–gave a talk on
"Assessing Diversity," a topic which, you might agree, is both vast and
complicated–tangled politically and theoretically.  The talk worked
through asking the right questions, devising alternative models, mixing methods
and identifying subtle (if isolable) variables.  All of the presentations
were held in Hall of Languages 500, the top floor of the building I wrote about
earlier this
month
.  Here’s a photo I snapped about fifteen minutes before the
sessions started this morning; it’s a north-ward look from the place we
gathered.

Sidesidewalks

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