Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Things Fall Together

Last night, I was pretty overwhelmed, and this morning, when I came in, I didn't even bother to write a list because I felt like I had so much to do.

And now, somehow, miraculously, I'm ready for tomorrow.

There are still a few things I can take care of in the morning, but I'm pretty much ready for the semester, full steam ahead.

And I'm going to take some time tonight and put together the month in my planning book.

Sometimes, I think I have the best colleagues ever.  I asked four of them for reading suggestions for the Intro to Lit course, and ended up with so many cool readings that I could have taught the course twice over.

(And thanks to Brian's insightful comment on my last post, I've done some thinking and thinking, and it's been so helpful!)  (And why didn't I have a title on that post?)


I'm headed home to mow and decompress a bit, and then over to see some friends for dinner.

Tomorrow, the fun begins!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Adding Stress

I'm teaching my first year writing course in cooperation with a first year sciency course, but it's a science I know almost nothing about.  Let's call it the science of mineralogy, except that, you understand, it's not.  So, the idea is the first year students are all interested in mineralogy, and we'll write about mineralogy, so it should all be good.  But the mineralogy professor is pretty behind things, it seems.  I did a bunch of my calendar a while back, and asked for some promised readings so I could put them in, but I never got them.  The mineralogy professor promised to add me to the course management thingy for the class, so that I could see them.  But it didn't happen.

Finally, today it happened. 

I'm mostly done with my other two courses, so tomorrow I'll start back in on this one.  But it's frustrating to depend on someone and then have to wait.  It adds to my stress levels.

Meanwhile, I've been doing all the sorts of background work that a student assistant could do if we had one, but we don't, and won't until the semester is well under way, which is sort of too late for this background work.  The good thing about doing it myself is that it's done correctly.  (The students usually do it correctly, but all it takes is once to make me check and recheck.)

And, of course, doing this adds stress, especially since I have to share access to the background mechanisms with everyone else on the floor.

And there's one more thing I've been waiting to hear about for ten days, and I finally heard today that the person would get to it.  So even though the deadline was supposed to be today (and I did what I could and sent my part along), I've been stressed about that, too.

I think I need to go walk over to the library, and then go home and walk around behind the lawn mower for a bit.

My desk has been a sort of necessary mess, but I've cleaned much of it off today.  Messiness adds stress, too.  Alas.

At any rate, things are coming together to the extent that I should be fine with another three or four hours work tomorrow morning.  Maybe I'll get in touch with a friend and see if she wants to have lunch or something, so that I'll be sure to leave at a reasonable time!

Sunday, August 30, 2015


As I wrote about here and then here, I'm teaching an Intro to Lit course this semester using all writers who are people of color.  I've spent several days reading tons and tons of poetry and short stories, trying to find texts that will challenge us and give us lots of interesting stuff to talk about, and I think I'm pretty close now.

Here's what it's looking like on the most basic level, by week.  I'm pretty happy with it, though I may do a bit of rearranging yet.

I'm also working on thinking of good short writing assignments that will be painful to plagiarize.



Week 1
W -  First day of classes
F  - Chock, “The Bait”

Week 2
W - Cullen, “Yet Do I Marvel”
F - Dunbar-Nelson, “Violets”

Week 3
M - Wright, #559; Alexander, “Life”
W - Dunbar, “The Haunted Oak”
F - Gotera, “Dance of the Letters”

Week 4
M - Lee, “The Gift”
W -  Harjo, “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window”
F - Far, “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” 

Week 5
M - Far, “The Story of One White Woman who Married a Chinese”
W - Walker, “Everyday Use”
F - Silko, “Yellow Woman”

Week 6
M - Bambera, “The Lesson”
W -  Lahiri, “Hell-Heaven”
F - Review for Midterm

Week 7
M - Catch up/Flex day
W - Midterm
F - Alexie, “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”

Week 8
M - 10/19 - Film: Smoke Signals  (You should read all of Reservation Blues this week)
W - 10/21 - Film: Smoke Signals
F - 10/23 - Film: Smoke Signals

Week 9
M - Encarnacion, “Bulosan Listens to a Recording of Robert Johnson”; Alexie, Reservation Blues
W - Alexie, Reservation Blues
F - Alexie, Reservation Blues

Week 10
M - Alexie, Reservation Blues
W - Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun  (Read all of Act 1)
F - Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (Read all of Act 2)

Week 11
M - Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (Read all of Act 3)
W - Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
F - Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun

Week 12
M - Hwang, M. Butterfly  (Read all of Act 1)
W - Hwang, M. Butterfly (Read all of Act 2) F - Hwang, M. Butterfly (Read all of Act 3)

Week 13
M - Hwang, M. Butterfly
W - Hwang, M. Butterfly

Week 14
M - Satrapi, Persepolis; read to page 70
W - Satrapi, Persepolis; finish the text
F - Satrapi, Persepolis

Week 15 -
M - Satrapi, Persepolis
W - Review for Final
F - Catch up/Flex day

Friday, August 28, 2015

Figuring Out the Readings

I'm working on my syllabi and calendars for my courses, all three of which are at least somewhat new this semester.

I'm teaching Intro to Lit, and doing all writers who are people of color, so that's a challenge.  Right now, I'm trying to figure out how much reading (of a modern novel) I can realistically expect first year students to do in a given week.  I'm guessing somewhere in the range of 150 pages (it's a three hour a week class, so that would be about 50 pages for each class hour, or 50 pages for each 2-3 hours outside of class that I expect them to work).  Does that sound right?

I looked at Karl Steel's reading calendar for "Small Things," a graduate seminar he's teaching.  Doesn't it look fun and interesting!

What strikes me is how much reading he assigns.  Of course, this is for a PhD grad program seminar, so one assumes the students are taking only one or two other courses (and teaching, themselves, probably) and have done some of the reading before (I'm sure they've read "The Prioress's Tale," mostly, for example.

But when I think of doing that reading myself and prepping to teach the readings (or a similar level of readings in my own field, well, it's pretty overwhelming.

I teach senior seminars for undergrads here, and sometimes MA seminars, and I assign maybe half as much reading in a week.  For one thing, I know none of my students will have read the texts I'm teaching, unless it's a Shakespeare play that they may have encountered in high school.

But equally, I have to create reading assignments that I can do myself.  And here's where teaching 11 credits a semester really hurts, I guess, because I'm reading and grading for three classes, and one of them is a first year writing class which requires loads of feedback on student writing.

So, I wonder if my teaching load leads me to assign lower reading loads for my senior/MA seminars, and if that means my students aren't getting the reading intensity they should for those courses?

I also have to plan on teaching readers who are less prepared as readers, if that makes sense.  I can't give my students something that assumes they know about the Romantic era in even the most basic way without taking time to catch them up on what the Romantic era was (that's on my mind now because I'm teaching a ecocritical Shakespeare course, and we're reading some introductory stuff that refers to Romanticism).  What I'm getting at is that I only assign readings that we'll be able to discuss in class.  My students, wonderful as they are, mostly won't read well enough to get a theoretical argument without help from class discussion.

So, the questions of the day are:

How much time do you expect students to work on your course stuff per hour of meeting time?

How much modern novel reading do you think a first year student can do in an hour or two?

How many of your students are working half time or more at a job?  How does that impact their school work?

How much reading do you assign for a senior seminar in your field?  How many hours?  How much of the reading do you need to discuss in class?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Whole New World

It feels like a strange new world here.  I was in three meetings today, all of which had to do with some aspect of self-governance.  In two of the three, we talked about their being no tenure any more. 

I know in the business world people can be fired for pretty much any reason.  And are.  But that doesn't seem good.  And it seems like people in business get compensated for that risk to some extent, at least at the management level.

The way it feels on the ground here is weird.  I have a sense that we're soldiering on for now, but that things feel shaky, more shaky to some than to others.

If there's no tenure under state law, then does a committee which has a membership of "tenured members of the department" have a mandate to exist or do work?

If we no longer control the curriculum, then do we have a mandate to make curricular decisions?

In practice, I think any headmaster out there would be crazy to do anything other than tell the faculty/staff at any university that they'll continue to act as they have on faculty recommendations for faculty renewals, tenures, promotions, and so forth, and that they'll continue to act as they have on faculty recommendations for curricular matters.  At least for now.

And as long as you have a reasonably sane administration, you can feel that reasonable decisions will be made.

The problem is, our bosses are really the legislature, and I don't think any of our faculty folks are feeling that they're especially sane these days.  It's not inconceivable to most of us that the legislature could say (or the Regents, as political appointees), we're going to consolidate and have only two schools in the system with English majors.  All the other English programs will be drastically reduced to teaching intro writing (if they do so already) and a few big lecture general education type courses (but only until they can eliminate general education).  So maybe this doesn't happen to English, but how about American Indian Studies?  Women's Studies?  Philosophy?  I think there are a lot of programs that the people in charge don't think are at all important, and in fact probably think are just irritating.

The problem seems so overwhelmingly huge, so dependent on the good will of the electorate, good will that feels completely absent, that I'm pretty despondent.

I went to campus at 7:45 this morning, and didn't leave until 8 this evening.  Hashtag lazy faculty.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Budget Stupidity

We've had a major cut to our budget this year; it's no secret, and we all saw it coming, though it's probably worse than most people thought it would be.  The headmaster did a thing where they offered early retirements, and the thing was, if an employee was a certain age with a certain number of years of service, they got invited to apply.  If they applied, then the managerial types looked at it, and supposedly only offered the buyout (which was modest) if the person wouldn't be replaced in their position.  If a person got an offer for the buyout, they could then accept it or not.  For non-teaching type positions (think maintenance folks, admin assistants, especially), the deadline was that they'd be done on August 31.  For teaching types and higher level administrators, the deadline was that they'd be one on December 31, so that they'd teach the courses that students had already signed up for.

There was big push with an emergency team in the spring to brainstorm ways to deal with the budget issues. 

The emergency team was split into work groups.  The student services work group put forward a proposal to put everything in student services basically in one place so that students can take care of everything they need with one visit to a "mall" sort of thing.  Administrative services, the HR folks and such, put forward a similar proposal so that employees should be able to go to one place to get all the things taken care of.  These proposals would, we were told, involve lots of cross training so that the people who've been career services specialists would now need to also be able to help with financial aid and so forth.

And each of these "malls" would need a new manager.  Yes, they're proposing to hire new upper-level administrators.  (Or maybe they'll move people around.  Who knows.)

***

The new non-emergency working group for student services now proposes that the student services mall will handle almost all student advising.  This, they say, will solve two problems.  First, it will help with faculty workload.  Second, it will help students avoid faculty who are lousy advisors (and there are some of those).  Faculty will still be responsible for advising students on career sorts of stuff, but not for advising students about their majors, minors, or general education sorts of choices.

Sounds good.  Okay.

Then they do the math.  Each advisor will be able to advise 300 students, so take the undergrad student population, divide by 300, and for each 3000 students, we need 10 advising people.  You can do the math in your imagination; we're a fairly small school compared to the big schools with TV football presences, but we would still need to hire, say, 25 new advising people.

That's right.  In a budget crisis where we're not rehiring instructors to teach students, they propose to hire 25 new advising people.  (I bet they'll be hiring people with BA/BS degrees and paying them almost as much as they do Phuds in the humanities.)

They probably need to hire a new manager, too, say the Assistant Headmaster for Advising Services in the Mall.

My mind boggles.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Notes on Research

I'm revising a paper this week in a sort of intensive way by going to a "faculty writing retreat" at our writing center.  It's great.  The director basically sets up a coffee machine, gets some pastryish snack foods, and welcomes faculty.  And we spread around that area of the library, and work for the morning until we're ready to be done. 

So there's sort of the feeling that I need to be responsible and go, because I said I would, and so I go and get a lot done.  And at the same time, it's not a real responsibility, and very relaxed, and no one's looking over your shoulder about when you leave and such. 

And, most important, no one is trying to talk at me.

So the other day, I realized that I hadn't cited a source that I'd found on line.  So over there, I signed into one of the campus computers and searched for the source.  (I needed volume 2 of the transcript of the Stationers' Register from before 1640.)  I found volume 1, and I found volumes from after 1640, but the volume I'd quoted in my essay, nope.  I must have spent half an hour trying various search strategies, until I finally gave up.

I had hope that I'd bookmarked it on my office computer browser.  Or that I'd bookmarked it on my own laptop.  And as a final thing, I could ask a librarian to help, but I wanted to check the others first.

So when I left the library that afternoon, I stopped at my office.

And I hadn't bookmarked it.

But in a sort of random gesture, I did a search using EXACTLY the same search terms I'd been using on the campus computer.  And voila, at the very top of the page was the source.

So now I've bookmarked it and also emailed myself the URL.

I think I use a different search engine in my office (DuckDuckGo) than the campus set ups do (Bing).  But you'd think that Bing would still find the source, even if it weren't on the top page, right?  But I was looking at listings on Bing that had nothing to do with the Stationers' Register, and I went through several pages.  And I tried to creatively limit my searching. 

I should go try the DuckDuckGo engine on one of the campus set ups, and see if it gets the same result.

I have to say, one of the frustrating things about using on line sources is that finding stuff feels way more hit or miss than with more traditional sources.  Maybe that's because I'm using different search engines, but back in grad school, when I'd use different libraries, I could still reliably find book listings at both (if they had the book).

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Faculty Development?

I purposefully didn't take my laptop to the second day of the faculty development thing last week because I knew I'd be rude, and I try not to be.

We spent the first hour "going over" the new version of the textbook.

First, the text book is mostly reprints of stuff by other authors.  And the reprints are only chosen from stuff the publishing company already owns the rights to.  And if you were to guess the publisher most likely to piss off humanities types, you'll know the publisher.  (Probably not the same publisher that pisses off sciency types.)  The reprinted stuff is at least acknowledged this time.  (Yeah, in the previous edition, the text didn't make it clear what was reprinted, or who'd written what.  Not great modeling for student writing.)

The reprinted stuff isn't great reading, either.

Color me unimpressed.

And the "going over" was basically a person flipping through and saying "well, there's this now" and "this isn't something we were happy with," and so on.  News flash: if you aren't happy with it, and it's being foisted on you by this publisher, why are you working with this publisher again?

There was one really useful part of the faculty development day.  They gave us an hour and a half to work on our syllabus or whatever.  So I mapped out the first 8 weeks of my course calendar for the course.  Half the semester done!

***

I have to ask, what faculty development stuff have folks actually found useful?

Orientations?
New software stuffs?
Teaching stuffs?

What do faculty feel like we need help with, and how can our schools provide that help well?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Road Trip Home, Part 6

We stopped in Butte, MT to take a tour of the town, including the now water-filled and abandoned open pit mine, practically in the center of town, called the Berkeley Pit.  It's a very wild-west feeling city in some ways, evidently with a much smaller population now than before.  It's not on my fantasy retirement for a year list.
 
Next time, on to Yellowstone!
 








Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Faculty Development Instructor Tries to Gain Points, and Fails

During a break today, one of the faculty development instructors decided to chat me up, and suggested that I must find Project Gutenberg really useful for teaching Shakespeare.

No, I said, explaining that the copyright free texts used in such editions are often 19th century Bowdlerized editions, and so not useful.  And a good modern edition has notes.  But if I want an earlier edition, I use EEBO.  Which she'd never heard of.  (No reason why she should, except that if you're going to try to make points with your cool technology stuffs, at least think first!)

Then I showed her EEBO.  And I showed her how some texts have a transcription, some digital images, and some both.  And then I had to explain how about transcriptions a bit.

And I explained that while EEBO is great, for some things it's more useful to bring in a facscimile text (assuming one has one, and I have a number of Shakespeare facsimiles) because having a printed text is easier for looking at in class.

And she asked if I could get Beowulf on EEBO.  So I explained that EEBO only does printed texts, but that she could look at the MS of Beowulf at the British Library site, and showed her that.

I get that she was trying to show how neato it would be if only we Shakespeare people would use technology! in our teaching, but I'm so tired of academic who haven't given a single thought to basic print technology, or manuscript technology (and both of those could be plural) and why it just might be useful to think at least a little about both of those.

***

I trust that these faculty development folks are basically good teachers, but I want to say: if you're going to talk at us for 20 minutes, take the time to think through the lecture so that those 20 minutes aren't just rambling around.

Bardiac in the Smart Classroom: Are Instructors Bad Students?

I'm taking part in some faculty development stuff today and tomorrow, and this morning we're meeting in a "smart classroom" that's supposed to promote "active learning."  I taught a couple of weeks in this room last spring, filling in for a sick colleague, and it was sort of like theater in the round.  Theater in the round is great stuff at times, and challenging in all sorts of cool ways, but it's not the be all and end all of all theater experience or performance.  Neither is this classroom.

At any rate, I never felt like I got the hang of teaching in the room, but I'm told that some people love teaching in here when they use specific techniques.  I'm ready to see that!

The room is a big rectangle with six seating areas around the edge, each a sort of rectangular table with a rounded side.  The unrounded side is against the wall, where there's a big computer screen.  And there's a wireless keyboard thingy under each screen that can be moved around so that different people can type.

Each seating area has a small white board.  There are two bigger screens, on opposite sides of the room, so that, I think, everyone's supposed to be able to see whatever's put up on the screen.

At each seating area, on the hard drive thingy, there seems to be a single electric outlet (one outlet, not a typical double wall outlet).  Other than that, the only outlets I see are under one of the big screens in an otherwise unoccupied area of the room.

***

20 minutes of traditional lecture sort of presentation.  There's a comment about how you could use technology to give students a map of the Canterbury pilgrimage route for Chaucer. 

I'm the only person in the room who ever teaches Chaucer, so far as I know, so that's directed at me.  (I think I make some people nervous, so they try to reach out.)  But the thing is, a little map of the Canterbury pilgrimage is fairly traditional on the syllabus of a CT course, but other than a 10 second comment, it's not really worth much for understanding the tales or their contexts, is it?

***

We spent 7 minutes on group work, and put up stuff on our little boards, but I can't read all the boards and couldn't hear some people.

***

And now we're sort of getting talked at about what we put on our boards.  It's really hard to hear in here. 

We just got the "oooh, here's a cool app thingy."  Why would you use it?  "Oooo, it's so cool!"

***

More lecture.  Still hard to hear.

One really good question that came up: an instructor talked about trying to get her students to use Diigo collaboratively, but found it difficult.  Students don't tend to go log into a special program just to log in, so if you require it, then how?  Students are busy in all sorts of ways, and unless they find something really useful, they won't use it because it takes too much time. 

But the lectures aren't really addressing that.

***

Now there's a disagreement about whether an instructor should take time to teach students to export files or should just send a link to a how to video.  We've now spent ten minutes on this.  All very polite on the surface, but sort of not so much.  The discussion is very much happening on/to the other side of the room.  Of the four people at my table.  I'm typing; someone else is checking a phone, another reading, and one sitting looking at the conversation.  Oops.  Probably not good.

The instructor seems completely unaware that some of us aren't engaged.

Now we're discussing different High Schools.  (The question is how much tech students know or not.)

***

I had originally turned off my computer after the presentations started.  Then I reopened it out of  boredom. 

My question is: is an audience of teachers easier or harder as an audience than an audience of students?

***

I'm going to try again to pay attention.  Dog help me.