Wednesday, August 18, 2004

I Herd You The First Time

I won't be able to post this until tomorrow morning. My net access tonight was restricted to a short sprint of email checking in the CCR lounge and mailroom just before walking back home from a full day of orientation sessions with the graduate school.

So that's it: orientation. We're toggling between large groups sessions and smaller, mini-groups, for things such as microteaching presentations. My dog and pony show danced to the beat of the five-minute version of aggregation and feedlines as the latest informatics of the WWW (as if from an introductory research writing course). The microteaching demos are taped; we'll watch and critique them tomorrow.

One of the large group sessions today was on "active learning." We were asked to--quick!-- think up a list of qualifiers that constitute active learning as something distinctly different from passive learning, I guess. I was thinking along the lines of, if it burns calories, it's active, when someone in the front piped up with "learning by doing." This was one among many on the list, of course. Then the session speaker took up the problem of learning something abstract or dead, something that cannot be done. Something about doing 5th c. B.C. Greece. You can't do that, right? [Rhetoric? Olympics?]

Another side of this session, in front of all the U.'s TAs called on us to think of ways we'll prefer active learning in our teaching this fall (rather than advocating couch potato essayism or worse). Working from a volunteered example course--WRT105, someone in the front again--lots of TAs started chiming in with their experiences in writing classes. In no time, it was abundantly clear that chaste, parochial conceptions of writing are widespread--no surprise. This was again clearer when someone asked how TAs in WRT105 will teach sentence diagramming. Lots of interchange. Talkity talk, and a clarification that WRT105 is a course concerned with argumentation. Argument=binaries, came next. Pick sides, debate, two camps, polarities, either-ors. But one of the points of emphasis in the WRT105 plan is that argument is most formidable when fashioned out of analysis. And I appreciate this distinction, not as much for the way analysis commonly connotes endless parsing and dissection (for the sake of dissection and parsing), but for the place of close reading and discourse analysis in argumentation. Within a few minutes, I started daydreaming about cue intricacy and intimacy as the indispensibles in effective argument. And then the session was over.

I hope I don't seem underhanded or whiny here. I'm still upacking, then unpacking more. And I only want to comment on one other session--an afternoon hour on "Academic Integrity." Lead question: How do people cheat? Responses: making stuff up, copying from sources, pay someone to write it for you, manipulate a professor, work collaboratively when it's not a collaborative assignment, cooking the evidence, and re-using one's own work. It was neither the place nor the time for wave-making, so I kept mostly quiet despite my sense that many of these sins might be IDed as twins of more common, desirable writing practices--the very sort we encourage: invention, collaboration, integration, reiteration, etc. And of course there are distinctions, but I continue to be one of the laggards when it comes to all the rushing around and alarm-sounding about crises in academic integrity. Last one out of the building. Why? Because it's part of our charge as teachers to teach it assertively rather than defensively. We really ought to want students to do well, yet much of the venom and mud the comes with the plagio-police neglects to see citation systems in their larger context or as something about which we could/should/must accept some responsibility. After that, gross abuses and dishonesty--like diss. fudging--should be treated seriously, as should some of the deliberate efforts to steal, lie, rob and connive. Another part of the session fell under the bullet, "Who's hurt by cheating?" and the more I thought about it, the more I thought that practically nobody is hurt.

Okay, so stealing ideas can impact the maker of the original. Fair enough. But the argument that the institution's reputation is soiled each time a case of student cheating goes unpunished strikes me as a broad, tough-to-support trajectory. What evidence? Does this mean the habitual cheater who, after graduation, is proven incompetent, mars the institution's glossy reputation? Maybe. If so, name the institutions falsely cited as degree-granting in any of the recent fraud cases. [Note that I'm assuming this contrarian position more as an exercise in tinkering with the unsettled than as an all-out dismissal of the U.'s concern for dishonesty. It's not that I condone cheating. In fact, when caught, egregious plagiarism gets a failing grade, a furrowed-brow of disgust, and so on. But I'm not sold on this idea of hurt...there's more.]

Cheating wastes teachers' time and dashes our (naive) sense of didactic sanctity (or whatever). It insults much of the work we do, undermines the high regard we have for genuine intellectual engagements with our courses, as designed. But "who's hurt"? How does that hurt manifest? What is an example of the hurt--brought about by a single case of cheating or a full-bore epidemic? What, specifically, was hurt and what does the injury look like? Beyond the victim of robbery hardship (which is no small thing), I'm wondering about the nature of the hurt that comes from academic dishonesty. Aside from frustration and sirening, I can't tell what that hurt looks like. Maybe we're doing such a great job busting the plagiarists that the whole plot is generously over-imagined.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at August 18, 2004 2:40 PM to Slouching Toward

When it comes to those kinds of orientation sessions (and sessions on teaching), my advice is to keep your head down and say as little as possible. But then I feel like I've been burned by letting myself get worked up by some pretty crappy ones.

Posted by: George at August 18, 2004 4:56 PM

I appreciate the good advice. The low-key approach does seem to work best, and the sessions are markedly imrpoved when we're in the company of the writing program folks. Those sessions started this afternoon and will resume at dawn, interspersed with the grad school's stuff through the end of the week. By and large it's been worthwhile, if for nothing more than the social connections with folks from other disciplines. I'm starting to get itchy for a regular, in-home Internet connection. Bumming from machine to machine or dashing through the library for wifi minutes is getting old, and it's bad for blogging.

Posted by: Derek at August 18, 2004 7:35 PM

D, I'll give you a dollar if you go to one of the academic computing sessions tomorrow (later today, technically) and tell them that you've heard good things about using blogs in the classroom, and then ask them (1) how to set them up, and (2) how best to use them.


Posted by: collin at August 18, 2004 11:56 PM

and by the way, you're UTC-5 now... ;-)

Posted by: collin at August 18, 2004 11:57 PM

I was glancing at the schedule of sessions this morning, and it looks like the WP has us double-booked, so I'll miss the academic computing bit in favor of the department's run-down on outcomes and buzzwords ("keywords" it says). No trouble-making for me this morning.

I'll redefine EWM's time zone just as soon as I have a few spare minutes online to fiddle with the settings. No time for time. We slid through the DMV last evening, picked up New York plates. Man, I'm gonna drive like crazy with those on the bumpers.

Posted by: Derek at August 19, 2004 7:07 AM