Manic Monfri

Most notable about EWM’s sixth year (2009, plus a few days) is that never in a month did I write more than ten entries. I don’t know whether this is more a comment on the blog or a comment on the year or a comment on their irreconcilability, their mismatch. Whatever the causes, there was less, less than any year before considering every other annual cycle consisted of 10+ monthly entries. 2009: Tweets a-bunch, blogs abyss.

Indeed, today marks another blogday, and since I haven’t missed announcing any previous blogday, I feel an obligation to mention the historic occasion (everything, after all, is more impactful if “historic”). Cake? No. We will celebrate at home later with leftover cod chowder (simple, delicious, i.e., better than expected), cheddar biscuits, and if somebody else feels like baking them, brownies. Today also happens to be a Monfri to top all Monfries: the first day of the first week of the new semester at EMU and, for me, the last day of the first week of the new semester at EMU. Frenzied, manic. Monfri, the average of Monday and Friday, their median, or Wednesday, depending on how you mark it in your day planner. Monfri, the grue moon of academe. No telling whether today is also EWM’s Monfri, the critical moment mid-distant between its initiation and its termination. No telling.

I’m teaching ENGL328 this semester, again unpicking the triple squareknot at the intersection of writing, style, and technology. Introducing myself in the first class this morning, I mentioned that I’m looking forward to re-establishing a regular reading and writing schedule this winter (perhaps it sounded like “irregular” as I said it). It’s not that I neglected to read and write in the fall, exactly. But I wouldn’t describe those four months as acceptably disciplined or scheduled. Not up to my standards, anyway. And I gather, hints and clues, that it’s typical in first years of new appointments to experience an irregular stride, an arrhythmia attributable to figuring things out, getting bearings, settling.

New Faculty Orientation

I’ve been pleasantly surprised–impressed, even–by EMU’s new faculty orientation. Monday and Tuesday consisted of optional workshops: one- and two-hour sessions put on by everyone from librarians and IT folks to faculty and human resources staff. The required two-day orientation started today and runs through tomorrow. I would guess much of the program is similar at other universities. We (26 new faculty) met and talked with the president and provost, worked through a stack of HR materials (benefits, direct deposit, flex accounts, and so on), looked at couple of FERPA scenarios with assistant general counsel, mingled with various department chairs, board of regents members, and new colleagues during a mid-day social hour, snaked through the EMU information fair booths, and ended the day with a 40-minute co-created theater production called C2 Close Up Classroom in which faculty and students enacted various teaching scenarios. As I walked over to the auditorium, I have to admit that my expectations were somewhat medium-low, that I was beginning to feel tired (now carrying five+ pounds of paper collected throughout the day), and that it didn’t seem possible to top what for the entire day had been exceptionally well-done orientation programming. The thing is, I might even go so far as to report that I was stunned by the quality of the production. I mean, this thing was really, really smartly done. After the 40-minute performance, we talked about EMU, about its students, and about teaching for another hour. Ended the day unexpectedly energized, just after 4:30 p.m.

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.

Power Adjuncting

The Chronicle published a piece this week by Douglas W. Texter,
"No Tenure? No
Problem."
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 →

Sketchily

Bubble Trail

Is. inked this furry little creature yesterday. She’s terrific with the white board; a lefty who now erases with her index finger and redoes the facial features until they are precisely to her liking. I have a few other Is.ketches to post, but I’m again prone to thinking that a series of entries is the best way to share them–a sure improvement on the stalled-out Y. series I pursued with such great determination in September. I like this particular sketch because I think Is. is drawing a poofy series of thought balloon interegna: just how many empty cloud-like wisps should there be before the thought balloon itself?

Speaking of wispy thought-trails (empty twirls of air on the way to a full-on thought), I’ve ended up tying in with Blackboad for my spring class. Until today I had a viable concoction brewing: drop.io, Wet Paint, Vanilla (discussion forum), and a standalone web site, but I learned that the only way to put a login in front of Vanilla was to manage it on the server. Not a terrible option, ultimately, but it did mean an extra login (i.e., one login for accessing the URL, a second for posting to the forum), and I was at the same time running into a few hassles with compatibility re: the latest version of Vanilla and dead plugins managed by what appears to be a sluggish developer’s community. By this I mean that the plugins are all old and with no signs of updates on the horizon.

So, with a whimper and a frown, I’ve bowed to Blackboard, even though it makes me throw up a little bit every time I log on. I’m not in any position this semester to push back against its great, hulking inertia, no matter how much it makes my head ache. And the few emails I received in the past couple of days got me thinking that Blackboard is, for this semester, at least, the best option for everyone else with a stake in the course.

Comfort Inventory 6

In typical C.I. fashion, a list:

  • Is. asked to play this song over and over and over today.  And at
    lunch she kept saying, "Tee-ka-lee."
  • Grades. Check.
  • To cap the semester, a meeting tomorrow and a mock in-person interview
    on Friday. Mock: I am to sport a turtleneck and then all of my questioners
    heckle me about the answers when it’s over. Kidding aside, I’m grateful for
    the simulations.
  • In the spring I will be teaching an online section of WRT205 associated
    with University College.  I have some decisions to make.  Today
    I’ve been thinking about a focus on attitude: worldview, manner (a
    split of Burkean agency), and so on.  I saw something about Carol
    Dweck’s Mindset, but it also could tie in with a whole range of stuff:
    cool studies, believing/doubting, standpoint theory, perspective. 
    Due to my insufferable pre-course-configuring nomadism, tomorrow I will be thinking something else, no doubt. The semester begins
    January 12, which means I have until 11:30 p.m. on January 11th to make up
    my mind.
  • WRT195ers finished last week with Pecha Kucha presentations–re-makes of
    their six week sustained research projects.  The switch from the
    textually intensive "paper" to the visually intensive and improvised
    presentational-performance: a hit, and something I’d definitely like to do
    again. 
  • One of the presentations included the uncanny (and unintended)
    substitution of "digital naives" for "digital natives" (on a slide). I know
    Weinberger has mentioned "digital naives" before, but it was sort of a
    surprise fit here in that the point was made in the context of the adeptness
    of "digital natives."
  • My bags are packed and ready for MLA later this month.
  • No, no they’re not.  That’s a joke (a real side-splitter, I’m sure,
    for anyone both type A and on the market).  But I do have the itinerary
    for a trip embedded in another trip: first to Detroit by car, then to SF by
    plane, then back to Detroit by plane, and "home" to Syracuse by car.
  • Is. has been busy at the whiteboard sketching humanoids.

Sketch

All My Lifio

Leading the way among my web platform crushes for 2008 is drop.io, 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 drop.io, 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 drop.io 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: drop.io 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.

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.

Feed Reader Live

Back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back consulting appointments in the Writing Center today. Nine of them; every time slot filled between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., although my third appointment (slotted for a half hour) was a no-show. Just now I had to check my “tutor utilization” report in Tutortrac to make sure I had the count right. By about 3 p.m., I was beginning to feel a little over-utilized. Simple fatigue more than disappointment or dissatisfaction. I singed up for this, and longish Fridays keep a couple of other days of the week free (free-ish) for pure, uninterrupted work on the blissertation.

The conversations went as follows:

  1. WRT205 inquiry essay on the constraints on graffiti as it is co-opted by corporations trying to appeal to a market niche while it also faces scorn as a vulgar form relative to more traditional and legitimized art forms.
  2. WRT205 cultural memory essay on the iconic force of MLK Jr.’s photograph in front of Lincoln Memorial. The claims and propositions have been a struggle in the essays about popular photos and American cultural memory; they risk tumbling into the abyss of grand sweeping declarations about what most Americans think.
  3. No show.
  4. First regular meeting with a student enrolled in WRT220: Writing Enrichment. This one-credit course pairs a student (who opts in) for weekly meetings with a consultant throughout the term. It is taken for pass-fail credit, and in the meetings we are concerned with writing across the student’s full set of courses (the focus is not exclusive to WRT courses, in other words).
  5. Break. But for the first half hour of it, I joined a conversation with an SU alum (recently finished undergrad) who set an appointment in the WC to talk with her former WRT instructor about how best to approach admissions to an MA in a comp-rhet program that would allow her to explore interests in creative nonfiction, TESOL, and professional/technical communication. I don’t know whether I helped matters any by carrying on about stuff to consider. Any thoughts?
  6. A SOC101 paper on the “sociological imagination.” Lots of references to “society”, which is, I take it, a major issue in today’s introductory sociology curriculum.
  7. A GEO paper on push-pull theories of migration.
  8. A follow-up (returner from last Friday) with an essay for WRT205 on food politics: the burst in organic goods.
  9. The rough half-draft of a 1000-word personal statement for a McNair Scholarship application.
  10. Another WRT205 inquiry essay: explain how specific examples of humor deepen and complicate a pressing social issue. Here the focus was on Moore’s Sicko and private health care.

I was warned that Fridays might be light and breezy, with few students checking in because it’s the spring semester and, well, it’s Friday. Need more reason than that to steer clear of the Writing Center? The packed Friday doesn’t leave any room at the end of my week for double-dipping (working while at work), but it definitely has its advantages. The conversations are focused and time-bound. Today someone suggested that my Friday hours were freakishly demanding, but I tend to think of it more along the lines of seven hours with an RSS reader, only the feeds are embodied differently; the writers of the works are sitting down with me and having a conversation: Writing Center work as a nine-scene Google Reader Live skit with a clearly defined “Mark all as read” at the end of the day.

Multiple, Sequential, Reciprocal



This one is from the same Nagi Noda who made
"Sentimental Journey,"

the other when I’m observed, I watch this.

I think these three–multiple, sequential, reciprocal–ought to apply to teaching observations. Were I a WPA, I would prefer an approach to classrooms observations that involved
multiple visits in a sequence of classes, if at all possible. I would also
prefer to see teaching observations arranged reciprocally, where each person
involved observes the other.
One-time teaching observations are good for verification, for affirming that
one’s work checks off as acceptable on a list of program, department, and
institutional expectations. But that is the end. Until next cycle. This is
the typical approach, right?, the automobile inspection version of teaching
observations.

A preferable (perhaps also idealistic) model is one where senior teachers (i.e., those with experience)
opt in and enter into a mentorship arrangement with new, inexperienced teachers.
This could work for new and returning TAs, too, depending on the nature of the
program. Each would observe the other three times in a semester.
They would also sit down to talk about their impressions, about in-class
happenings, about the shape of the course, its successes, its shortcomings, its
surprises, and maybe even student writing. Much of this interchange could
be handled via email, if schedules conflict. The culminating piece would
be a brief (few pages) record of the conversation representing both
participants, with some evidence of what materialized in their conversations.
It could even be formatted as a dialogue. This would go to the WPA would would,
in turn, sign off on a small stipend (oh, say, $50 or $100
bucks). These conversation pieces could also be circulated internally, turned
into a resource for future practicums, colloquia, and so on. There is not money
for this? Then it isn’t important enough to do. But this is a weak
defense when money (or release time, other forms of compensation) are already
offered for some form of observation and reporting. I’m sure I’m
oversimplifying. I’ve just been thinking about teaching observations over the
past couple of days.