Friday, January 30, 2004

Do Not Burn the Joes

Narrow window for a brief entry this evening, since sloppy joes are already started in the other room and, well, an unmonitored You see the dilemma. Plus, we've scored free tickets to tonight's KC Knights-Long Beach ABA game. It's a one-two matchup, but I admit to being basketballed out, and the kids have practice in the morning again. But Phillip's forever enthusiastic, so we'll wear smiles tonight and root for the home team. Of course, I was looking forward to seeing Rodman-in-full-madness play one last time, but my friend O. from Detroit (who went to high school with a player on the Long Beach team) told me today that the Worm didn't make the trip. Bummer!

Been thinking about two essay projects. Got an email about the upcoming publication for the Greater Kansas City Writing Project inquiring whether anyone on the listserv was currently publishing student writing on the Internet. I replied, saying, "Yes. We have a blog. It's rather like publishing on the Internet." Then came the invitation to write about it before next Wednesday. Should be no problem as long as we get walloped with snow on Sunday and Monday. I really like the carefree pace of snowbound days, and we don't get many around here. Usually grey skies and ice storms.

So that's one project: an essay explaining why weblogs in education. Not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but I want to articulate a model of use that dispels the free-for-all mythos of unmediated e-comm while acknowledging the great boon of audience engagement and frequent, visible writing. It's mainly for K-12 teachers who've not ventured far into the craggy terrain of weblogs in ed.

The other essay project (I will not burn the joes!) is for my students, mainly. I need to come up with a way of describing how we might read blogs rhetorically, how we might apply a close reading, seek answers to questions about how blogs connect with rhetorical terms of art. Right...the stove.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Velvet Funkbuster

Nothing like Lou Reed and Co. to chew through the icy dip of deep winter.

When I re-read yesterday's post--Creeping Thing--it left me with doubts, planted in me a faint sense of how I was depicting a radically political persona--the breath behind the screen, the blog's "I." It felt risky to pronounce such views and brought me back to the questions I had when I first hanged the Open sign on this writing space. Who will you be? Which you will you be there? On top of that--as if it wasn't enough to have a bad blogging day at EWM--I went ahead and typed some "hypothetical" drivel at I don't usually post there, just lurk. Thinking now that it's better that way. Lurking. And moods pass.

In class today, I talked about the comparative blog-reading essay coming up. It's not a neat exercise, since I can't corral the scope of weblogs and what their makers set out to do. I have students who say that weblogging seems "weird." Many of them never heard of it before this course. So I want them to have a look, peek in on a few blogs, surmise what's taking shape there and why it's relevant. Presuming that, indeed, it is. Sooner or later I'll link to the blog for our class. It's in its infancy--an awkward, foundling stage where the posted-stuff is a bit raw, unrefined and in need of greater care. describes this blog too. Soon enough.

We looked at Blue Ridge Blog as a model. Class ended at 9:55 a.m. Forty-five minutes later I received an email from Marie, the photojournalist whose interesting work populates Blue Ridge Blog. She'd noticed huge spikes in site traffic--rocket-launch, moon-bound spikes. Among other things, Marie says, "Wish I was a fly on the wall of your classroom." Flattering, I think. If she'd been a fly there, on the classroom's wall, Marie might have witnessed (en fragmentum--see her post on pixels) the first student ever to send me an email during class, about class discussion, while we were in the same room. A teachable moment. The embodiment of Postman's questions about the future of education: "Now comes the computer, carrying anew the banner of private learning and individual problem-solving. Will the widespread use of computers in the classroom defeat once and for all the claims of communal speech? Will the computer raise egocentrism to the status of a virtue?" In virtuosity, we were less present at times than the magnificent machines.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Creeping Thing

I started this as a comment to yesterday's entry at the Chutry Experiment. Then what before was dormant became a Creeping Thing. So I'll link and deposit it here at EWM, where I feel less duty-bound to apologize for leaping about without explaining all of the connections, evidence and so on.

I'm glad you didn't delete this entry, Chuck. I read it with interest, partly because I live smack-dab in the Heartland (with a Baptist church adjoining our back yard, a Greek Orthodox church two lots to the north, and the largest Catholic Diocese in Missouri less than a stone's pitch past that--not that anyone's casting stones). Your point about "how politically and socially homogeneous many of these campuses are" is incredibly important to this discussion because that is what leads to "the stereotypes of evangelical colleges as weak academically and ultraconservative socially." While academic credibility varies significantly among evangelical institutions, their projection of social ultraconservativism is hearty and regular, here in the Midwest. William Jewell College, an institution reputed for academic rigor, was in the local paper today for its student-body vote on adding "sexual orientation" to the institution's anti-discrimination code (link | subscription link | link). The measure didn't pass; "sexual orientation" is not a part of William Jewell's anti-discrimination policy. So you're right that anecdotal evidence can be misapplied to the whole range of institutions, but still there's enough anecdotal evidence to correlate evangelical institutions and patterns of social homogeneity.

I'm watching these issues especially as they pertain to international student-athletes (mainly because it's one of my current jobs). The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) serves as the governing organization for the athletic programs at many evangelical institutions, William Jewell and Azusa Pacific included. In recent years, there's been an astounding call (among the member institutions--some 300+ schools) for restrictions on the number of international student-athletes who would be allowed to participate in intercollegiate athletics in the NAIA. The tenor of these proposals (usually as by-law amendments to set limitations on age or to impose quotas) is alarming. I might even characterize it as a new spirit of Ashcroftian xenophobia--the subtle rumblings that international student-athletes have a competitive advantage, that they don't belong in the same sporting arena as domestic student-athletes. A quick look will confirm who has more lucrative resources--new uniforms, equipment, irrigated fields, paid coaches, sponsors, etc.--through well-funded development programs. And so we've forgotten Perry Wallace; and it's usual to hear raging clusters of fans (sometimes, but not always, from evangelical institutions) chant "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A." when an international student-athlete takes the field or when a domestic counterpart makes a fine play. Probably should make this a series since there's much, much more to say.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Sexing the Colosseum

During a 4.5 hour meeting today, I daydreamed for just a few minutes about this:

Dream-thought One | Phillip has teamed up with a friend for a social studies project: a two-page essay and a model of the Colosseum (then or now?). Due Wednesday. Rome wasn't built in a day. Fine. But can a replica of one bit of Rome (clay, tooth picks, styrofoam!) come together in 1.5 days? Working like fine modern architects, they've planned, plotted for two weeks, then forced the material "making" into the final 36 hours. I, for one, feel worn down by school projects. I vowed to take on a lesser role ever since our salt dough map of Missouri (delivered in a Papa Johns box, greenish-dough-hardened with flags and labels, Ozark Mountains and so on) scored a B.

Dream-thought Two | Finished reading Winterson's Sexing the Cherry on Saturday. Slow for me to start, but really picked up in the latter half. The notion of grafting in the book got me thinking about metaphors for mixed-mode or hybrid pedagogies, although it's not a book on teaching, per se. It's not explicitly on sexing either, although the beast-woman romps through at least one scene. Intercoursing space and time, perhaps.

Postlude | From STC: "A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true. And now, swarming over the earth with our tiny insect bodies and building houses, it seems that all the journeys are done. Not so. Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else had charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identify, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections obvious only to you. Round and flat, only very little has been discovered" (88).

I left the session--a bureaucratic upside down cake--with 3/4 of a page of notes on strategic planning. Lots of talking, so, accordingly, I feel I've used up my allocation of Monday words.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Digital Repo

Last night's evening news presented a segment on an ignition control device installed in cars sold on credit to "high-risk" consumers. The device was dubbed "digital repo man" in the news clip (which included lots of footage of one-handed fumbling with a phone line connection under the steering wheel). Basically, it works like this: Car-buyer-with-no-credit needs a set of wheels. Salesperson wants desperately to serve the consumer by closing the deal. Line of cars have Digi-repo pre-installed. Deal is settled. Now, each time the consumer starts the car, a keypad-entered code is required, which tells the car that the driver is paid up. With each on-time monthly payment, the car buyer gets a new code--good for the next 30 days. No late payments. While I haven't fully mulled over the consequences of such devices, my first impression is that it adds a layer of complication to common understandings of ownership for products bought on credit. The role of technology in this process interests me, too. The electronic gadget becomes a strict, unwavering control (not unlike in-dash breathalyzers), but the control is tied to economic status, like an ever-present credit report.

I went online looking for more information about the device, the company--Pastime--that makes it, and what other surveillance-like mechanisms, if any, they make. I still haven't found much, even when I search for the company rep cited in the article, Stan Schwarz. Our local news station's web site had a word-for-word copy of this brief piece from Car Not Working? Check To See If You Paid Your Bills. It's some kind of thinly attributed article in "Ask Asa," which, as fully as I can tell, is a team-written advice column on financial matters. The WNBC site posted the article in early December. Here, in the deep, deep recesses of the Midwest, our local news station aired it last night. Which gives me hope that Lord of the Rings: Return of the King will be in local theaters soon!

My searching wasn't without a fruitful discovery. I found this link for a visual thesaurus. I'm not a big thesaurus user, but the visual thesaurus, driven by Thinkmap, is kind of like a fish tank populated by words. The associational glide is oddly seductive, relaxing. Useful, perhaps, for visualizing the fray of connotations detached from contexts.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Sing Cucu Nu

Sumer is icumen in. Well, okay, I'm lying. But it is 56 with sunshine today in KC, and regreening is in the air.

Just received an invite to the 8th Annual Native Vision Sports and Life Skills Camp. It's in Bernalillo, N.M., hosted by the United Pueblo Tribes. The mailer says they expect more than 700 youth from 25 tribes. There's surprisingly little on the net about the camp--a three-day event in mid-June. I helped out at the last two sessions in 2001 and 2002, when it was at the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona. In 2002 everyone was hustled out of Whiteriver because of the Rodeo-Chadiski fire (in the news again, recently). We were shuttled back to Phoenix on a school bus--a long winding ride with the Emergency Broadcasting System signal blaring across the radio about evacuations--and the event was considerably disrupted. Last year, the camp didn't happen, but it looks like the NFL Players Association and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health have revitalized the program. Had a few interesting talks there about coordinating literacy ventures with the camp, expanding the life skills side with added dimension.

Normally, I wouldn't carry on about USPS mail, but I'm really happy to be invited back and to see that the program is once again viable. What's more, I'm waiting impatiently for acceptance-rejection letters from a medium-sized list of prospective PhD programs for next fall. The wait is much more enjoyable with the pseudo spring we're having. But it's still a wait.

And the tech-autobiographical sketches have been fun and interesting to read. They're particularly interesting because of the diverse mix of students, which is usual where I teach. Students from Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, Poland, N. Ireland, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri are in class this semester, and our work is off to an improved start with the zippy classroom.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Nick Carbone sent a note to techrhet subscribers last night that the news about Canadian student Jesse Rosenfeld's refusal to submit his work to surfaced in the mainstream via CNN and Court TV. I'd been following this issue with interest since I first read about it over at Jerz's Literacy Weblog and Kairosnews.

As I see it, is challenged by an image problem; its name (more importantly than its utility) implicates guilt among students mandated to use it. I guess that's the root objection felt by Rosenfeld. In a sense, the system is subjecting him to a damaging, a priori criminalization. Guilty until proven innocent. And plagiarism sifters generally work that way. But plagiarized essays don't merit serious consideration for the fulfillment of academic calls. Plagiarism is rather like a sucker punch to the integrity of higher education, and the Internet is enabling rapidly recurrent, heavy blows. We should be able to agree that cheats should be given the old heave-ho before any instructor pours carefully, but unwittingly, over the text. Right? But there's always more to it. could start by trying on a new name, such as

One-draft submissions have necessarily given way to processes with proposals, exploratory drafts, brief annotated bibliographies and so on. In other words, many of the essay mills don't market comprehensive process packages (such as we might find in an all-included, end-of-term portfolio with untidy pieces and so on). The market, however, is smartening to composition's deeper processes (, for example, advertises "research work" included with the order, but I haven't tried it, so I don't have any sense of how messy it is. Convincingly messy?). Devisers of assignments, then, must stay one step ahead of the services available for circumventing the rules of decorum (articulated wherever they may be!). And, yet, plagiarism will continue to leak into the academy, will linger as a vile, troubling matter.

At places with little or no WAC initiative, I'd wager that much of the proliferation of plagiarism comes about from oft-used, timeless prompts or single-submission assignments (oh, right, and the plagiarist-student is to blame, as well). I wasn't trying to parade a holier-than platitude, but I made the mistake of saying this aloud recently and got in return: "I agree with your point in principle. However, when one teaches a 300 level class, one just does not expect to deal with issues like draft and rewrite." More discussion followed, healthy discussion about new understandings of the information and services from which students can take unattributed work, greater urgency about making writing processes visible (which can be tough since our best habits are considerably varied), and institution-wide dissonance on how best to address the issue.

I'm still learning where all of this fits into my teaching. I don't prefer to wear the plagairism-police badge, and I see a greater need to treat some instances of plagiarism as an opportunity for working toward an understanding of intellectual property. Lately, I've taken to using EveII for sifting offenders, usually after I read a suspicious essay, but sometimes before I read any essay in a set that has arrived in my inbox. Google's exact match search is also widely used and effective for cuing exact strings. It seems more and more to be an inevitable part of teaching writing, and, as such, seems like something we should continue conversations about (along with lots of other stuff), especially as long as the latest technologies reconfigure the scene.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Excuse me, I just storied myself

To make ready for class today, I went through a few invention exercises. I wanted to mix it up, vary the approaches to show a range of possibilities for essay one: A Tech Autobiographical Sketch. The assignment serves a few purposes, not the least of which are a writing sample and a portrait of students' tech backgrounds, which influence my aims and design for the next several weeks.

The assignment asks students to tell their technological becoming. It's a narrative essay about gadgetry and mechanisms, from old, block-style Legos to one-buttoned joysticks, from coin-op school supply dispensers to cordless phones with auto redial. And my favorite: hand-held football games with red, LED players on both teams, no matter whether it was the Patriots and Panthers or the Lions and Browns (my imagined, dream Superbowl). Red blips on both sides of the ball; a fresh 9-volt battery and a 45 minute school bus ride, one-way; those were the days.

My models for the class, for the essay, included a graphic organizer, a messy map of sorts that starts with a blank sheet of paper and a will to scribble without inhibition, loose clusters of ideas. The second model, even more spontaneous than the first because of its disregard of coherence, was a list of 50. A fit of associations with the perpetual present guided by impulse and only the faint beckoning of the writing prompt. My list (for the tech autobiographical sketch) looked like this:

Boeing 757 to Seattle, Supersonics shirt, Mount St. Helens, Pong with paddles, Frogger, black and white television, Galaga at Pizza Hut, camcorder, C64 programs in basic, [friends who] pirated software, welding and your eyes, Tetris, first broadcast warfare, statistical reports, digital photography, surveillance cameras, exercise equipment, rocket launches, stopwatch, camping with cords, Popular Science, helicopter bike, northern lights, fishing sonar, radar detectors, Sault locks, fax machines, Mouse Trap, Operation w/ glue, Walkman, audio books, Lance Haffner Final Four, Adam computer, tape drive soccer, Rambo knife w/ compass, Tecmo Bowl, breakaway rims, car stereo wiring, magnet games, batteries, race track motors, vibrating football board, UHF/VHF antennae, TV adjust with pliers

I stopped at 44. The inventive scope had me reeling. Could have gone longer, but I had to get on with the third model: a formal outline. Less stimulating, in my view, but important to show, to talk about what purpose it might serve, its relative structured-ness. So I dummied one up on the evolution of photography in my days: slide-projector shows, Polaroids, a costly/priceless Dimage7i, up to Kodak's abandonment of film camera's in Western markets last week.

This assignment, good or bad, was already concocted before I read Galen Strawson's review of Jerome Bruner's book, Making Stories, which I came upon over at Arts & Letters Daily. I haven't read the book, but the review sparked my interest, led me to believe Bruner's latest has parts that would help me think more fully about narrative and its place in composition studies.

This snippet of the review left me with a kind of Myers-Briggs itch, which I'll explain:

Is any of this true? Do we create ourselves? Is the narrativity view a profound and universal insight into the human condition? It's a partial truth at best, true enough for some, completely false for others. There is a deep divide in our species. On one side, the narrators: those who are indeed intensely narrative, self-storying, Homeric, in their sense of life and self, whether they look to the past or the future. On the other side, the non-narrators: those who live life in a fundamentally non-storytelling fashion, who may have little sense of, or interest in, their own history, nor any wish to give their life a certain narrative shape. In between lies the great continuum of mixed cases.

The "deep divide" between compulsive narrators and their counterparts left me wondering whether I've been obtuse in weaving narrative slants into solicitations for essays in undergraduate writing courses. Surely we aren't rigidly fixed along any continuum, are we? My itch comes from the resonant echo of this passage to other sorts of neat social stamping--the sort that rely on gross simplifications to exclude our moods, fluctuations, interanimations and ambiguity. I was told late last week that I'd be part of a committee of three who will meet for six hours next Monday to revise a departmental strategic planning statement. Important work, to be sure. But six hours? Why? Because we're all introverts was the explanation. Well, yeah, in this case, on this project, I'd rather work independently for two hours, quietly, to do the work we'll accomplish in six hours of circular exchanges about how to spend money on this and that. The administration buys into Myers-Briggs typecasting; it's that simple. Once you're an "I" there'll be no doubling back, darling.

But, for me, I rather tend to regard myself as INFP one day, ESTJ the next. Flexible and varied, more so than essential. But then again, maybe I'm just storying myself that way through contrived, never-ending narratives.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Hide it under a bushel, no!

I've been thinking about the blogging and the public sphere this weekend. Didn't find time to post yesterday, was at the gym with the boys in the morning, doing more course prep in the middle of the day before sulking back to work last night--fifth event in seven days. Another one tomorrow.

The idea that blogs enable a publicly-projected self, one controlled through discursive constructions (well, er, everything's rhetoric), intrigues me whilst filling me with caution. The traffic spikes over the last two days are contributing to my wonder. Casual readers are checking out this site; since I haven't neatly defined Earth Wide Moth, typecasting it into a particular blogging genre, I'm having trouble imagining what brings people here, whether it's interesting or disappointing, whether it's too personal to be of any value to somebody else, and so on.

The clogged drain entry provoked an email from my dad. And here the NYT magazine feature last week was concerned with teens and their blog-reading parents. Adult-children who blog have plenty to be concerned with, too, turns out. I had no idea my mishandling of the drainage had the power to shame my dad. He taught me well, and yet I couldn't clear the drain myself!

Here are a few bits of his advice (which was broadcast to other family members who would've had no inkling that this blog was planted here lately):

1. Only use the garbage disposal for small stuff.
2. Periodically use a bio-enzyme at all sink, tub and shower locations (small drain pipes).
3. Participating in family plumbing adventures helps socialize us all into becoming better plumbing people. For example, when children become old enough to clean out drains, allow them the fun and excitement of digging out the hair and gunk. When they grow up, they will thank you for having given them this experience.

There was more. No need to make this into a full blown plumbing guide. But item three brought me back; reminded me of my childhood--those Sunday afternoon plumbing projects that I never really understood, although I clearly remember standing at the sink with my brother, eyes agog at the size of the gunk-wad responsible for the slow seep of water, the lecture about not allowing stray, nonfluidstuff in the sink. We were being humanized.

So maybe the traffic spikes are from a wary and watchful clan dispersed far and wide who are (following my dad's email alert) bracing for unkind or uncareful depictions: about hairpieces and beer bellies, about indiscretions and excess, about you-know-who's bad habits, and so on. Never been much of a town crier. A critic, sure. But most often self-critical, since dad did such a fine job of proving to me that the unflowing blockages, impediments and hardships--in the sink and in life--are largely of our own doing.

Friday, January 16, 2004

A Perfect Cement

Friday started with two certain plans: open the door for the plumber scheduled to arrive at the house at eight and leaf through the thicker-than-usual Atlantic Monthly issue.  Thick with stuff I won't read about "The State of the Union;" I thinned it by pulling out all of the subscription postcards.

The boss at the plumbing company called at eight to say they'd be 35 minutes late. An employee was out of gas, stuck on I29, waiting for a ride in the light rain.  The blocked sink drain would still be there. No hurry. It'd been there since Wednesday evening, a perfect kernel of gunk cementing the drain pipes. I'll spare you the details, but I should defend my resourcefulness. I tried to plumb the line; I pulled apart the pea traps and drain extensions, splashed murky water everywhere, even sliced my thumb twisting the hand auger a few stubborn feet into the netherworld of the inner wall. Went to Kmart at 9:45 for an extra plunger and a jug of acid stuff made for loosing gunk. No luck.

So when the plumbing boss called I had more time to wait, but not enough time (or interest, really) to undertake an engaged reading of the full-length features. I leafed through, turning pages, then this: "The Other Gender Gap." A short article on the shortcomings of popular education in America for boys. I had no idea.

I was almost at the end of the short article when I read this:

But boys' educational stagnation has long-term economic implications. Not even half the boys in the country are taking advantage of the opportunity to go to college, which has become almost a prerequisite for a middle-class lifestyle. And languishing academic attainment among a large portion of our population spells trouble for the prospects of continued economic growth. Unless more boys begin attending college, the nation may face a shortage of highly skilled workers in the coming decades.

I think the plumber from the highway (the one stranded with an empty tank) was the person who came to the door. The boss picked him up, brought him to our house and parked in the driveway, then waited in the driveway with the engine idling. This job should be quick. The boss waited; the worker unfurled a tool much like the one I had, fed the wire into the pipe, twisted, twisted, and was done. Eighty-three bucks. Fifteen minutes. With the same kind of tools I'd already used. Eye-twitches.

Tidied up the mess before coming back to Poe's article on the other gender gap. I thought, yeah, maybe I'll write for a while about that, even though I'm not seeking formal references for my entries, and I don't think of EWM as a referrent-type blog working by redirection or regularly (necessarily) pointing at interesting matters, out there, over there.

I put off this blog for most of the day, wondering about what else might end up here. Then the Atlantic Monthly listserv sent all of us subscribers a reminder that the JanFeb issue was out. Indeed it was. And all day, I've been wondering what this article means, what inspired it, what Poe thinks should happen. I'm not taking it so seriously, nor do I want to dismiss it, although that's my impulse in this case. I just can't get a grip on the idea that more boys need to attend college or the United States "may face a shortage of highly skilled workers in the coming decades." Guess I'm surprised to read about gender, the economy and the vocational service of educational institutions framed this way, since it challenges much of my own thinking on these issues.

I didn't put the hand auger back where I got it from. I left it on top of the cluttered workbench in the garage.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


I passed a sizable chunk of the day jockeying with .htaccess setups. After class this morning, a 10:30 meeting, a thermos of coffee, I wracked my brain for quite some time over my own clunky setup of protected access directories. For what? It's embarrassing that I wasted so much time puzzling through something untested, unproven as a boon to my teaching. But there comes a buzz (or, better put, a mesmerizing intrigue) with the problem-solving process in technical matters. And I'm hooked. 

I got it working. Finally set up the .htaccess and .htpassword files with a logout route to trick browsers into "forgetting" the user's password. Never knew how that worked until today. And I'm still not sure I've got it cracked. And I'm almost certain that its value to my students is slight. Which is why I needed to re-center my teaching on questions about what I'm doing it for. For re-centering, I often return to this bit from Roxanne Mountford's essay, "Let Them Experiment: Accommodating Diverse Discourse Practices in Large-Scale Writing Assessment." 

Shirley Brice Heath, citing the philosopher Michel Foucault, writes: "People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don't know is what what they do does." That is, as teachers and evaluators we often act without considering how our actions affect those we evaluate.

I've taken this out of a rich context on the challenges of inherent biases in large-scale writing assessment; and, while I appreciate Mountford's full essay, an essay I first read a few years ago in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project summer invitational workshop, I find myself returning to this bit because it refreshes me, returns me to trail of wondering what what I do does. Especially after a day of scratching my head over file extensions, permissions, passwords and browser trickery.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Twixt Gunnite Walls

Location update: Our basement-of-the-science hall class has officially relocated to the Academic Underground (a real place!). Sliding swivel chairs, detached from workstations. Pop-up desk/monitors. Networked. Dry erase _only_. LED projection equipment. Granted, it is, essentially, a cave--classroom space carved out of mined limestone caves with gunnite-sprayed walls, painted white, dimpled with texture. No, there are no bats in there, none that I've ever seen anyway. The new room is just a short meander (first-timers get lost down there quite easily) from the mail room, library, computer labs, study rooms, bookstore. Oh, and coffee shop. Good news since that means all the work I did over break whipping together a mixed-mode curriculim won't go like scraps to hungry dogs. I landed the zippiest tech-enabled place on campus, just by asking. Fancy that.

Now off to coach my kid's basketball game. Got seventeen seventh graders playing on two teams. Nobody told me that March Madness starts in January for twelve and thirteen-year-olds (pre-pubescent stir renders the Roman calendar obsolete, I'd say). And that explains where the bats are. In my head.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Out of Water

SC05. Basement of the science hall. Yep. That's where I met with 14 students enrolled in EN106HOC Writing Purposes and Research this morning. My single request when I (somewhat reluctantly) signed on to teach this class this semester is that it be scheduled in a tech-enabled classroom.

Of course, the light switches are technology, the fluorescent bulbs (who knows how those work?), the pencil sharpener, the roll-retracting maps used to teach Modern Geography (which follows stampedishly soon after my section of comp). There's an old color TV and an overhead projector. Notably, the overhead projector requires wet erase markers, but the white board at the front of the classroom needs dry erase markers. The slate on the side of the room: chalk. Dizzying. I wanted to project the course web site, dazzle 'em with pixels on this, our first day together.

So I marched over to the registrar's office after class. Surely we can do better than this. Hell, last time I taught EN106, I was slotted in the basement of the chapel, but that space has been upgraded, overhauled, remade into a clean, well-lighted space which smells of nothing. I'm sure they're not hosting comp sections there any more. And now I fear that I'm sounding snide. The long, long line at the registrar's office delayed my inquiry--my quest for an alternative, suitably wired space. So I called instead. Left a message. More anon.

About the technologies surrounding us: light, language, radiators, markers, chalk, and so on: I wrote my name on the dry eraser board with the wrong kind of marker. A wet-erase marker. As the modern geographers stormed the room, my name was fixed, immovable in the middle of the white board covering the south wall. And my first name was underlined. It's the basement of the science hall. Shouldn't they have beakers of solvent lying around just for such crises? Good Christ! what a morning.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

My So-Called Teacherly Space

Emily Nussbaum's story in today's NYT magazine, "My So-Called Blog," sizes up the social significance of blogs for teenagers. Reactions have already posted here and here; I agree with craniac at Kariosnews that the article has a few good bits. One of those bits, in my reading of the story, involves the allure of cheaply controlling an extrabodily image of oneself, one's space, even devising ideological signposts to create a meaning-filled site.

At heart, an online journal is like a hyperflexible adolescent body -- but better, because in real life, it takes money and physical effort to add a piercing, or to switch from zip-jacketed mod to Abercrombie prepster. A LiveJournal or Blurty offers a creative outlet with a hundred moving parts. And unlike a real journal, with a blog, your friends are all around, invisible voyeurs -- at least until they chime in with a comment.

Since my teenage years have passed and I have no need for new piercings (although a haircut would be nice, maybe later today), this aspect of Nussbaum's feature has me thinking about the implications of inexpensive control and image management in teaching. I have been working on a blog for a class I'm teaching this semester, the second in our FY composition sequence, so notions of switching up, of designing an "outlet with a hundred moving parts" resonate the utility of blogs in higher ed. This is especially true for many institutions where room assignments change from semester to semester or where adjunct faculty share plain offices with one phone line, if they have any office space at all. The class blog--with its dialogic nature, design and content--extends the course beyond the sanitized, often neutral meeting place of the classroom by enabling it with a sustainable, personalized ideological decor. What's more, the decor is, by and large, participatory--shaped by all members of the class. Through design and use, the blog can affect the identity crises that encroach on our work-space and status in higher ed, esp. in cases where work-space and status are, at times, unfair, ill-conceived and subject to gross fluctuation. It doesn't fully absolve these issues, but, as it did for the subjects in Nussbaum's story, blogging can provide relief. Cheaply.

Friday, January 9, 2004

Emergency Management | When Uneasiness Visits

While I was catching up on reading and responding to student introductions in my online section of HU211 (Intro to Humanities) thisA sign: this guest has been frequenting our back porch since late December.  morning, our guest visited the back porch and set out with his ritual morning mewl. Through the crying, which, without any change in pitch or volume, seemed to escalate into a blaring feline yawp over time, I read about one student who is mid-way through his USMC career and just two courses from a BA in Emergency Management. His introduction (a brief, paragraph-or-so sketch) was comparatively candid when read alongside those of peers. He mentioned living in an inherited house in a sluggish Pennsylvania town, while waiting for FEMA to start hiring again.

When teaching online courses, I find that early term interactions significantly condition the level of engagement throughout the accelerated eight week term. No surprising discovery here. I've been at it for two years now, experimenting with my role in these courses, and when I jump in early with frequent and substantive posts--as instructor--the course reflects the stimulus and the threaded discussions are considerably more vibrant. In comparable f2f courses, I have found the class benefits from a solid starts, but it's possible for the course take off even if I moderate my presence, my role as "teacher," into something less visible, less assertively authoritative. This has me thinking about the relation of physicality and body language to teaching presence in f2f courses and how those issues compare for online courses (where the teaching is variously present through photos, biographical blurbs, threaded interactions, and rigid curricular content). In other words, where is the teacher's "body" in online education; is it an imagined corpus extending from the factors listed here? Stamped by the discipline or the institution?

I responded to the student with a few details about my pre-academic professional life, brief as it was. (Hell, my work isn't neatly academic now, either.) I told him about intervening with crises as an independent claims handler in Saginaw and Detroit, about the need to hire security to protect burnt property in Detroit until the site could be evaluated, damage assessed, splash digs concluded to rule out arson. No security could mean a second wave of damage: copper pipes, siding, plumbing fixtures all gone. What good are they in a burnt building, after all?

It's good news that FEMA's not hiring, I told the student, noting that it is bittersweet that national crises are well in hand. Ahem. Or maybe it's just that current national crises can't be helped by kind of assistance FEMA provides. In my own back yard, literally, the crisis is the regular screeching visitor. Feed it? Invite it inside? Dot has already given the collar-less, claw-wielding cat a name: Pepe. Cute. And she's fed it tuna fish. Phillip, our son, helped. But they're both allergic to cat dander, and our aging Yorky can't bear the stress, and I'm superstitious about keeping it, feeding it, looking at it, heck, even knowing it's around. But is it worse to get rid of a black cat? I don't even want to tamper with it. Throwing cold water at it crossed my mind; that's what my folks always did to send strays on the way. But it's below freezing; we don't want a frozen cat on our porch. Tried calling Wayside Waifs and the vet to learn about alternatives. The whole thing has me feeling uneasy. Should return to course prep--bury myself in work--to avoid the issue altogether, except for its chilling dirge.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

You Provide The Mortar

[R.E.M. Green in the headphones.]

Yesterday, at lunch, Andy said this about my new blog (without having read it): "You probably want to avoid building a general blog. The day of the all-knowing pundit who trails off on this and that is passing. Themed blogs are probably more successful at attracting and keeping an audience." Okay, so I didn't keep notes, but he said something close to this.

And this: "You should add a subtitle explaining Earth Wide Moth."

To wit, I've been thinking about genre and audience. I know, I know, others have thought about it more than me and many good folks at CCCC and C&W will complicate matters with their presentations on this subject. But it's with me now because I'm devising this new blog--without an explicit plan.

The other blog, the one for EN106 this spring, is more clearly in-line with a purpose I can articulate: pedagogical utility. I understand its aims and ambitions. I know how it will be used to fray the boundaries of the course, to disarm the usual restrictions on space and time in f2f courses, and to get students to write. Audience? Initially, that's easy. Initially, it will be the students in the course and me, followed by something more, maybe.

I took time out this morning to read the rant of a blog-hating student at Indiana State. Mike posted the link at It's not easy to understand why the ISU student is so angry about blogging. I've visited blogs that I didn't find inviting or interesting, but it didn't make me mad. It's kind of like being invited to dinner in a house with brown shag carpeting...on the walls. As a guest, it's not decorous to spout off about the host's poor taste. Could be that the medium convolutes manners, as in shared senses of decency.

Gotta get to work. Course-prepping and other admin stuff. Ack!

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

One Blog, Two Blog

[Thinking about the trackback feature.]

Got the second blog working. It was, as the interface told me, a permissions error. Once I reset the permissions to the second blog's folder, it all came together swimmingly. The other blog will be used this spring for a freshman course on technology and writing centered on Neil Postman's Technopoly. His doomsday-ish tome will send us on our ever-digitized way.

The course is described as a research writing course. I've taught it a time or two; even developed an online format for accelerated delivery in just eight weeks. So I'm comfortable with the pace and workload. Just eleven students have enrolled so far, and the new semester starts happening Monday.

I'm having lunch today with my friend and colleague Andy who does a fine job keeping in masterful form. He promised (well, er, suggested) a brief MT tutorial. Maybe he knows how I can craft a new CSS for this blog. After all, this design is dreadful. We're jetting along on content, kid.

Oh, and about content. I still don't have a deliberate schema. The category feature imposes a kind of coherence to this space, and I already feel a deep, quiet wariness that I'm chasing abstraction and glossing conceptual at the expense of attracting any passing readers.

I'm still working out the features, scratching my head about how to do this and that. The time stamp on yesterday's post was off, for example. Like this witchy-cold weather we're having in the heartland, it'll get better.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004


I've racked my brain for two hours now on the finer points of creating a second blog. This whole mess all started with an impulse to supplement the comp course I'm teaching this spring with a blog. Not this blog, but the other one I can't seem to create. This whole project wasn't die cast to be a simple, hosted-with-ease blog, but rather a full-fashioned blog of the earth, the sort that is the richest embodiment of the media.

Still, no second blog. Permissions error.

So maybe I need to get up to speed first. Blog for a while. Drive it around the block before tying on the speedometer, kickstand, extra soft banana seat...what's that? Air in the tires? Oh, yes, I'll need air on this tour.

I know blogging habits can survive in unimaginatively named spaces. I've been scratching, sifting, chewing around the Internet for a few months, perusing blogs, wondering what they're all about, what compels people to attempt them, abandon them and so on.

Earth wide moth. -GS

So I'm puzzling over challenges of building a second MT-powered blog for a class I start teaching next Tuesday: EN106HOC Writing Purposes and Research. I'm puzzling over the aims and ambitions of this non-teaching blog (autodidactic experiment?). Puzzling over a new web host with funky permissions. Over my son who is puzzling over adding fractions and not asking for help. Challenges.

The dinner bell on the oven says the scalloped potatoes are done.