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?

Verbal Sauce

I’m between classes: two sections of ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology. Today was our third meeting in the first section. The third meeting of the second section happens in 90 minutes. The only trouble with teaching two sections is that the session details collapse into one another. That is, I reconstruct an approximately full experience from bits of each, roughly as if the 150-minutes, divided in two, amount to a singular 75-minutes of layered memory. A memory so blended, so woven I cannot account for what happened in one section distinct from the other. No, I’m not complaining. Not that at all. I am taking the long way, the curving route to say that the 90-minute window between classes is the only time I can keep the sessions separate-in-mind. Confusion creeps in after.

I walked up from the third floor a few minutes ago thinking about the idea that a first class session is insufficient for grounding an initial impression. I mean, I left those first meetings last week with a reasonably strong, favorable impression of each group (perhaps I recalled them only after, in a “best of” blend). Seriously, the initial impression takes three sessions. After three meetings I can remember many names. We have a sense of the mood, the pace, the projects, and so on.

Verbal sauce? Well, preparing to teach this course has required for me quite a bit of reading on style. I’m learning a lot. And I’m really working to approach the course as an inquiry into the style-technology hyphen: their pedagogical-practical-experimental linkage(s). Style: from the fluff-stuff distinction, from perpetual literacy crisis alarmism, from its attachment to syntax or design. And technology: from the aging-unseen apparatuses, from technology as panacea, and from the onset of electrate logics. Create a collision, an encounter between style and technology, then understand it from the inside, by writing through it.

Most Polluted?

<snark>Every so often I go looking for examples of astonishingly astonishing
web design. With that said, I’m no standards-waving design puritan, and I admit
I am attracted to departures from conventionality (unusual CSS tricks, and so
on). This morning an email arrived with a link for PTA listserv subscribers to
the Syracuse City School District
web site
, a site so overstocked with informative tidbits that it can only be
described as belonging to the "dump it in, anywhere" school of design, a school
matching with the old industrial mindset that caused Lake Onondaga to be so
choked with mercury and other debris that it for many years won acclaim as the
U.S.’s most polluted. I get it that the school district is complex,
but…my oh my. Just try to find anything here (e.g., the media release

To be fair, I have done little in this entry other than pot-shot on the site (and remember a link for future returns). And, to be even fairer, I don’t even need anything from it today. But this craggy little hike through the cluttered SCSD corner of the web got me thinking that it
might be interesting in a class to look around for the most polluted school
district web site in the U.S. (or in a given state) and then to work on improving its usability.

Power Adjuncting

The Chronicle published a piece this week by Douglas W. Texter,
"No Tenure? No
Part-timers, it goes, can now make a pile of money (in the
neighborhood of $100k annually) by stacking teaching gigs at a couple of
different institutions. Texter offers ten principles useful for adjusting
one’s thinking while taking the plunge into the pot of gold that is
"entrepreneurial adjuncting." Among the guiding tenets: care, assume a
mercenary attitude, change what you read, change the company you keep, watch
Risky Business
, and so on.

Continue reading →

All My Lifio

Leading the way among my web platform crushes for 2008 is, simple private sharing. My fondness for this app grows deeper every day. I have an account set up for the section of WRT195 I’m teaching right now, and it couldn’t be much better for uploading and sharing PDFs, slide shows, documents, and audio clips. I simply password protected the account (one of the options when you set up an account), and presto. Students only need the URL and the password. Plus, when students log on to, they can easily glance the contents of any file by clicking on it. They don’t have to download the files to view the contents. I’m hooked.

Already I can tell that I will be using more slideshow stuff this semester than I have in years past. For one, I am in a cramped space. It wasn’t looking too bad when there were just twelve students enrolled, but within the past week eight more students have added, pushing us to the upper threshold of twenty. On Tuesday, there were a total of nineteen chairs in the room, counting the one my teacherly can was parked on (first come, first served, I say). Really there were only nineteen (counting me) in class that day, and no empty seats; two more have added since, and I had to put in an email request so we will be sure to have enough chairs tomorrow. My point: It’s a cramped space. And rather than shimmy pardon me, excuse me, sorry over to the marker board, I think I will use the projector as a temporary solution. Plus, I can refine my slideshow style with this practice.

Nice about is that I can drop the slidshow into the quick-drop plugin in Firefox, and there it is: viewable online. It’s slick.

Another thing: is founded on the idea of limited shelf life: after a year of inactivity, the drop evaporates and with it all of the content uploaded to it. A good match for certain course materials in that it doesn’t flirt with all the niceties (and idealisms) of permanent archivization.

Ch. 71

Over the weekend I gave the blog a two-point tune-up. Point one: Rolled
all one-hundred and some entries from
Exam Sitting
(later renamed "Dissarray"…so clever!) into Earth Wide Moth.
I will delete the other site soon. Now my old reading notes have a home with a
hearth: the "yesterblog" will churn those entries back to the front page once
per year so that I can freshen up on all that I’ve forgotten over the last
eighteen months. Point two: Launched a TV station–EWM-71–by
making a page with a bunch of YouTube custom players. I know, I know: all
big media conglomerates started small. Naysayers might add: "Technically,
YouTube is not TV," and to them I would retort, "Why are you crapping on my stoop during this moment in the sun?"

I appreciate that all of the programming is easily controlled and readily
updated through YouTube. I will see a video I want to add, click on it,
bump it into a playlist, and there it is, live on EWM-71. I can also re-arrange
the order of the clips in any playlist. Why bother with this? Well, not only do
I like it, but I’ve been thinking about some sort of project that would tie into
this practice of tele-tubing; something for a class, maybe, where research
involves piling up a yarn of video snippets. Not necessarily a full
24-hour marathons of crappy 70’s TV, but a variety show arranged into a single
page–a wall of moving images. And then write some sort of account of it, a
review of the next person’s programming line-up, annotations, and so on.

Another programming note: Eventually, what I’d really like to see is a Web
2.0 application (developers?) that makes it possible to produce something like

at home. Voice- and video-enabled pairs could connect, pre-load
(or randomize) a list of discussable points, set an arbitrary timer, and then
get going with a pop-pop-pop conversation. And then post it to blog, of
course. Go!

1. John McCain’s plagiarized speech
2. Tayshaun Prince’s minutes against China
3. Spiced ketchup
4. How long of a job letter is too long of a job letter?
5. Peter, Paul, and Mary

I came up with these off the top of my head. But seriously, there would
be a lot to love in a DIY, web-based PTI module, no? If it doesn’t come
along soon, maybe somebody will go out on a limb with me and pitch a PTI-styled
conference panel, so I can get it out of my system.


A draft of my fall syllabus was due on Friday, so draft it I did. I’m slotted for a section of WRT195: Studio 2 for Transfer Students. It pitches itself as a “best of” blend, a rip-and-mix that puts the best of WRT105 and WRT205 into a single course for transfer students.

For several weeks, I mulled over using Pink’s Whole New Mind. I read Johnny Bunko, too, and thought about how I could fit that stuff into the course. But at the last minute, I went with another plan focused for now on the latest greatest literacy crisis and also on Googlization (while taking up some of Vaidhyanathan’s blogbook-in-progress). So we’ll read about and write around some of the stuff that happens when we ‘do a Google,’ size up some of the apps, and forage around for research projects concerned with Google’s construction of the web or the world, grand databases and privacy, Knol, directed and serendipitous search, and so on. So far, the course opens with a digital memoir of sorts (not quite a mystory, but maybe not too far off), some summary and critique work, a researched argument, and a translation (switching the argument into a 2.5 minute audio short or a Pecha Kucha slide-improv, I haven’t decided yet). Here’s the current plan, subject to minor revisions until I hear back from a coordinator later this week about whether it will fly.

I’m also slotted for ten hours per week in the Writing Center, or, I should say, doing Writing Center work online, as we continue stabilizing some of the consulting options piloted this summer. More on that when the batteries in this cordless keyboard are recharged.


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.