Join Us in Ypsilanti on March 23

EMU’s First-year Writing Program invites you to join us in Ypsilanti on Friday, March 23, for the 2018 Winter Colloquium. Dr. Melanie Yergeau  will present  at 10:30 a.m., “Black Mirror Meets the Classroom: Neurodiversity and Social Robots.” After lunch, at 1 p.m., she will lead a writing pedagogy workshop, “Disability, Access, and Multimodal Pedagogies.” For more information, contact Derek Mueller, Dir. of the First-year Writing Program,  at, or Rachel Gramer, Associate Dir. of the First-year Writing Program, at

Promotional flier for Dr. Melanie Yergeau's presentation and workshop at EMU on March 23, 2018.
Promotional flier for Dr. Melanie Yergeau’s presentation and workshop at Eastern Michigan University’s Pray-Harrold Hall, Room 219, on Friday, March 23, 2018. Free and open to the public. The presentation, titled “Black Mirror Meets the Classroom” is at 10:30 a.m.; the teaching workshop, titled “Disability, Access, and Multimodal Pedagogies,” is set for 1 p.m.

Public Displays of Attendance

For the past year or so I have taken attendance in the face-to-face classes I teach by LED-projecting a Google Docs Spreadsheet into which I enter ‘x’ for present and ‘1’ for absent. The absences tabulate (i.e., it is a spreadsheet with wizardly formulas coursing through it: equations, maths of consequence, etc.), and everybody in the room can observe this act of record-keeping. Within the class, it is public: the record of who is present and who is absent is transparently kept, obvious. It’s rather like attendance crowd-sourcing in that the crowd is the source of the record; being in the room creates the account.

When we (me+ENGL328ers) were observed a week or so ago, the question came up again: What if somebody doesn’t want the record put on display? And the only answer I know relates to the option I offer on the first day of class. You can opt out. A student must let me know their wishes, and I will keep their attendance stealthily and in a secret ledger.

Among the positives, this practice helps me learn everyone’s names by the end of the third week of classes. It also reduces the number of conversations that start “but I was present that day”–conversations that leverage a teacher’s likely forgetting and that all the more likely when record keeping is hazy or erratic. With the projection method, students know attendance is logged during the first minute of class, so they show up on time, or, when they are late, they know they must check in with me at the end of the class session to make sure I have an ‘x’ rather than a ‘1’ next to their name.

The observation I took two weeks ago was exceedingly positive, so I don’t want to make this too much of a direct response to the question that arose in its follow-up conversation. It has come up in other moments: To what extent does this practice tread on student privacy? And are absences even private, really? Anyone in the class, after all, could keep track of who is there, who isn’t, and who arrives late, provided they knew names.

I suppose it is clear by my continuation of this practice that I understand attendance to be class-public. I wouldn’t put the record on display outside of the classroom (e.g., posting it as a web site or a public Google Doc), but I find the opt-out option to be a reasonable solution and a passable justification for continuing the practice. Without sounding too much like ProfHacker, I suppose I’m blogging all of this toward the invitation for input: What am I forgetting? Overlooking? And, How do you keep everyone up on a running attendance record?

Scoping Out Classrooms

After this noon’s union meeting, I walked with a colleague to check out classroom space in McKenny Hall, formerly EMU’s student union and a building that has undergone major renovations in recent months. I’ll be teaching ENGL326: Research Writing, in McKenny 100 (shown below). Just nine students were enrolled in the course until, oh, a week ago, and the current roster is up to 18. It caps at 25. McKenny 100 is at first glance a terrific space: great furniture, lighting, and projection equipment; however, if the class fills, some will be sitting snugly: I counted just 18 table spaces (extra chairs are stacked in a corner).

McKenny 100

After I picked up Is. from the Children’s Institute, we went upstairs to check out the classroom in Rackham where I will be teaching back-to-back sections of ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology. But the door was locked: no photo. I hear there’s a laptop cart inside. Between now and next Wednesday, the first day of classes, I also need to figure out who keeps the key.

Under Cover of Maymesster

Starting Monday I will be teaching a blended WRT307 course for Syracuse.
Blended, in this case, means that the course meets in person, on campus for the
second week of Maymester for two hours each evening, Monday through Friday,
before shifting to twelve weeks of online interchange and coordination via
Blackboard. The course is full. Twenty students are enrolled. Count
up the weeks and you get thirteen total (forgive me for flexing those
underutilized math skills, but this number is alarmingly relevant, as you will
see in a moment).

Syracuse offers this course in other formats: a six-week Summer I
course that meets on campus, a six-week Summer 2 course that meets on campus,
and a 12-week summer course that meets online. Sections following the
six-week on-campus format remain open. They have seats available, that is.

I wondered, "Why on earth would students so clearly prefer the thirteen-week
version, which includes a Friday evening session at the end of next week, when
these other options are available to them?" I floated this question in the WP
offices and heard about how great a preference many students have for actually
meeting a person. Might be exactly right. This falls into what I
think of as the "metaphysics of presence"-based critique of classes that meet
exclusively online: they’re too virtual, too dependent upon writing and only
writing, too far removed from the material commonplaces of fluorescently lit
bodies slumped over in badly designed deskchairs, classroom style. [I can’t make
up my mind about which emoticon to insert here.]

I accept that some students might be drawn to an online section where they
get to meet the instructor for a few face-to-face sessions. When I logged
onto MySlice this week to check the class roster, I found another reason that
could explain the attraction to this section, a section with a bonus week over
and above its 12-week online-only counterpart (other than the "metaphysics of
presence" shtick or the named instructor):

The class is listed as meeting only during Maymester. For half
of Maymester, actually: one week, instead of two. Ten hours total. I
won’t be able to confirm this suspicion until next week, but that crucial
qualification, Maymester Blended or Maymester +12, does not show
up in the online enrollment system. That’s…*gulp*. Worrisome, anyway.

So I went ahead and emailed everyone enrolled to explain that most of the
heavy lifting will get done in the 12-week online postlude to Maymester. A few
days since the email, the class is full. I welcome the full class (capped
at twenty, it’s a reasonably-sized group), but I can’t help but brace just a
little bit for Monday evening, for that moment when we take an earnest,
collective look at the schedule, when I’ll have no choice but to explain the
missing asterisk next to Maymester in the registration system.