Friday, May 29, 2020

New Car

Early last week, I had my car (a 2003) in for servicing.  It was due for 60K mile servicing, which I'd missed early on, and left to 100K, so this time, it was due for big stuff, and had 162K miles on it.  It's had a small oil leak for about a year.  It wasn't huge, and didn't worry me overly, but I kept an eye on it, and made sure to get the oil changed and checked and all.

So, they called me and said they'd changed the oil, but... in addition to the oil leak, there's a coolant leak, and also, it was going to need new brakes shortly, and to fix it and all was probably going to be a lot, and much more than the car is worth.

I brought it home to think, and texted with my incredible, wonderful brother.  I texted him a link to a newer used car (same model) at the dealer, and he said it was a bit pricey, and took a look at an on line car thing, and found a really good looking car, a newer model, with low mileage, and suggested that.  The on line place delivers to your house!  (The car is fairly local, so they say.)  So I went to the dealer and test drove one like it, and then started filling out the on line forms.  And I got to the place where I needed to submit my old car's title.  But that's in my safety deposit box.

Like a lot of people, I keep somewhat important but not safety deposit important stuff in my freezer (because someone told me it's the last place that burns when the house burns).  So I looked in my freezer for the little tiny envelop with the safety deposit keys.  Not there.  (All the other expected stuff is there.)  And then I looked everywhere else I could imagine.  Nothing.  I'm guessing when I had to get a new fridge, I missed taking out the tiny envelop, and it went with the fridge, back maybe six months ago, in mid winter.  (A good time for a fridge to die, since you can move things into coolers on the deck and fill them with snow.)

I called the bank.  They need to drill out the thing... and there's a charge and they have to make an appointment and such.  So, the charge is about $125, they said, so we arranged an appointment.  The earliest is June.  Uh oh.

I sighed, and the next day texted my brother my tale of woe.  And he sensibly texted back that they weren't going to give me much for my car, so why not get the on line one with low mileage, and then just take my old one to the junk yard when I get the title.  SMART! 

He looked at the on line place again, but the car he's suggested was gone, pending sale.  He looked some more, and I looked.  Then he suggested a different model, which I've never driven. 

I told him I'd go test drive one at the dealer, and then texted him the link to the dealer, and asked him which used car I should ask to drive, and also, if there were some of the other model I might look at.  And by the time I got to the dealer, he'd texted me four cars, and so I started test driving.  I really didn't like the second model as much.  But I drove one of the used cars he suggested, and really liked it.  It's not as fancy a version as my old car, but has all the things I really need in terms of extras: namely, heated seats.

Reader, I married it.  Or bought it, at any rate. 

It's very comfortable to drive.

My brother also helped me figure out to get the extended warranty (mostly for electronics stuffs), and also suggested that I go get a "bra" put on.  Basically, it's plastic sheeting that they adhere to the front parts of the car to protect the paint from dings and such from stuff that gets thrown up at the car. 

I had my appointment for that yesterday, and picked it up this morning.  So now it feels like it's really mine, and I've started adding stuff.  I put on things so the seat belts are more comfortable (they're always made to be comfortable for someone who's like 5'11" or something, and I'm not).  And I added a thing to hold some emergency money and a check, so they're not super visible, but are easy for me to get if I need them.  Finally, I added my park stickers for the state and county.  So now it's really feeling like we're ready to have some adventures.

My old car was really good, low worry for the most part, and good for camping and such.  If this car is as good, and lasts as long, then I'll be pretty darned happy.

Feeling My Way Forward

I've been the new chair since Tuesday, and I'm learning about all the things I need to start actually learning.

On Monday, I had an email conversation with the deanling Dan (not their real name).  Dan wanted to talk on Teams, which is fine, so I told him when I had stuff to do, and he sent me one of those outlook calendar thingies.

And then he sent an email that said "your calendar is grey" and sort of chastized me for my calendar being grey.  It doesn't look grey to me.  In the past, I've never much used the outlook calendar because I carry a calendar book, and like being able to flip pages easily and see things, which honestly isn't the same.  Anyway, I remembered this incident, when a student was able to make an appointment in my calendar somehow.  (The magic of blogging is that I can find stuff that happened way back when if I can remember a searchable keyword.  "Calendar" in this case.  Deanling Dan is the "deanish" person whose incompetence in checking how things should be done resulted in this post.  Fortunately, Dan seems to have learned a LOT in about ten years.)  And I remembered someone helped me figure out how to make people not able to change my calendar or even see it.

In the past couple of weeks, preparing for chairness, I've reset the calendar so the admin assistants can see and add things if they need to (because I trust them both to take good care of the department).  So I went in and reset the whole thing so that anyone can see when I'm busy.  And then I emailed deanling Dan and that was that.  I seriously have to check that outlook thing way more than I have been.

We "met" virtually yesterday, and I learned a lot.  And holy cow, that's a whole lot more to learn!

I need to find a system of keeping track of pending stuff easily.  I'm thinking a board with post it notes would do (in addition to my bullet journal and calendar).  That way, I can quickly see and review them, make sure anything that needs to get done is done, and then remove the post it.  But that doesn't really work unless I'm more or less in one place, and there's an organized office sort of space.

We're going to play office dominoes.  The previous chair needs to move our of our chair's office (which is close to the department office, and on a corner with big windows and a gorgeous view).  But the chair will be moving into an office previously occupied by Adjunct A.  Adjunct A got hired by the communications department onto the tenure track (hurray!  nothing could be better!), and is probably waiting to get a real office over there to move into.  (We're hoping he'll have his stuff out of our office by mid June.)  Then the previous chair can move, then I can move.  And then one of our new hires will take my office.

The things that have happened so far have been sort of, "yes, these happen, some not too often, some pretty much every week, and you need to figure them out" things.  No disasters yet.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

I'm Out with the In Crowd

A couple times in the not so distant past, I've seen or heard someone in my field use terms I don't understand.  In one case, it was before the shelter at home orders; in the other, it was on the interwebs, in an academic effbee discussion group.

First, I'm older rather than hip and young.  Heck, even when I was young, I was never hip.  Now, it's even worse.  And yet, I'm absolutely sure I used terms such as "Other" or "other" in ways that indicated I was "in" on the cool critical studies stuff.  And I don't imagine I was terribly thoughtful about making sure that everyone in the conversation knew what I was talking about.

I remember, in the mid-nineties, using the term "queer" in a women's studies class in my small, midwestern, SLAC, and realizing from the shocked looks that I needed to stop and talk about reclaiming the term.  For me, I'd long felt it was reclaimed and owned by the LGBTQ communities.  But for my students, it surely wasn't.  And so we talked about it.

At this point, I tend to be at least moderately aware of my audience when using lit studies cant, the semi-secret language of humanities fields; I avoid it if I'm talking to people outside of academic contexts, just as I avoid talking about quirky bits of Shakespeare.  In classes, I'm going to define the term, write it on the board, and make sure that my students understand it, and what I'm after when I use it.  And in hallways with my colleagues, I'm sensitive to whether my colleague is more or less a lit crit type theory person, and might well avoid some terms if so.  (If they're a music theory person, that's a whole different world!)

This change is largely, I think, the result of a lot of teaching, and partly the result of feeling reasonably comfortable with myself.  I can't think of the last time I felt the need to "prove myself" in terms of theory, or pretty much anything except when I had my department interview as part of the chair decision.  And that was about trying to prove that I would be a decent and responsible chair.

In these cases I'm thinking of, my impression is that the users of the terms are both "young" in terms of the profession.  Maybe they were just totally comfortable using the term, the way I was with "queer."  Maybe they're trying to prove that they're in the know about things. 

In person, I asked (the word was "Ace" but clearly not about cards or sports or flying), and the person said what it meant, someone who identifies as asexual.  (I would have just said, "asexual," but I guess that's not the preferred term??  No doubt there are subtleties.)  There may have been a slightly patronizing look, or maybe it's just me feeling stupid.  On the web, I looked it up (the word was "DisCrit," which I thought at first might be criticism of dystopian lit, but nope, it's Disabilities Studies using a Critical Race Theory approach, I think).  In the latter case, I don't know the person, but they were asking for help finding resources about DisCrit in a way that didn't seem like a more experienced person's approach.  (I may be wrong, of course.)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Student Communications and Canvas

We use Canvas as our course management system.  It lets me put up announcements for each course, comment on student documents, and other cool stuff.  It's actually a really workable system, I think.

If only students would read the announcements and such.  I know, it's the age old "students don't read the syllabus" and "students don't read my comments on their papers" thing.  I think Socrates makes the same comments somewhere, maybe in the Theaetetis?

Alas, there's no easy solution.  If there were, we'd all be using it.  (Like with the age old complaint, "I get cold at night," to which someone answered, "Hey, I could throw a hide or cloth over myself!  I shall call it 'blanket!'"  Only in some language more ancient than Socrates' upstart Greek.)

When we switched over to on line, about half way through the semester, I put up an announcement that I wasn't moving my grades over to Canvas, and only new grades would show up there.  I also sent every single student a mail merge email showing exactly where they stood with grades for the semester at that point. 

I give frequent short writing assignments (journals, let's say), at least 15 in each course, of which students need to turn in 10.  So, with 80 or so students this semester, and already about 7 of those done and recorded in my excel grade sheet, plus other assignments in all three courses, I'd have over 400 grades to transfer into Canvas.  So I told students I wasn't doing that.  I also don't know how to make Canvas count only 10 of those journals either.  (I have a similar problem with short papers, where students got to choose which one they wanted to do, out of three choices due at different times.)

So with that email, they should have known exactly how many journals they'd done, and very simple math would give them the answer to how many more they need to do.  (On the paper syllabus, I put spaces labeled to help them keep track.)

And yet, I got panicked student emails:  "Canvas says I've only done [some percentage close to 50%].  Could you tell me what I'm missing?]  So I told them.

After a number of these in one day (it was six, maybe seven), I put up a new announcement about the grades in Canvas.  That cut down the panicked emails slightly.

The other day, though, I got an angry sounding email from a student who'd turned in an 11th journal.  So in Canvas, I gave it a 0, and noted in the comment box that they'd already done ten, that they'd gotten xx/100 (a very good grade) on the journals, and didn't have to do more.  But apparently, the student had seen the 0 and hadn't bothered to read the comment (which, alas, shows up in small pixelation just below the grade: it needs to be BIG and BOLDFACE to catch their attention.)

So I made up a "testing one two three" file, and submitted it as a test student in one of the grades.  Then I graded it, and commented on it in the box and on the "paper" (which you can do in colors on Canvas).  And then I switched to "student view" and sure enough, there was the comment, right under the grade.

Finding the comments on the "paper" was more difficult (I had to ask the wisdom of the interwebs on effbee), but it's do-able.  And I had sent the students the exact same "how to look at grades and comments" page on Canvas at the beginning of this whole fiasco.

And then there's the student who panic emails about how their journal hasn't been graded yet, and why isn't there a grade, even though they turned it in a day ago, late (because I leave the "box" open an extra two days, just to help folks who are having difficulties, and don't grade them until a couple days later).

So, there's nothing new here.  It's just a bit of venting.  I can't vent with colleagues in an office behind a closed door.  When I email with students, I don't berate or belittle them, just try to be polite and answer their question.  Very few bother to even thank me for that. 

But, I did get a couple of very lovely emails from students thanking me for what I'm doing to try to make things good.  And that's been so very nice.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Not Quite Bald

The hair on the back of my head is darker, less gray, than nearer the front.  So it looks like there's more here than on the frontal picture.

I'm quite liking it now.  I haven't shown a lot of people, but the ones who've seen it have been nice about it.

It's nice to touch, like velvet, with a strong direction, so it's super smooth in one direction, and sort of prickly in another (but still not super much).

Friday, May 01, 2020


Not quite.  But yesterday, I shaved my head.  I have what might be a two or three day stubble, so it wasn't all gone, but pretty much gone.

If you've seen Unorthodox on Netflix, you'll remember the scene where the other married women are shaving the head of Esty and she's crying.  That's not how it went down here.

I borrowed a shaver thing, put on the lowest plastic shaving guard, went out onto my deck, and went at it.  As I was shaving, I had a moment of doubt.  I'd just taken a huge swath from one side of my head, and I suddenly was filled with doubt.  But at that point, I was pretty committed.  I'd thought about shaving my head on and off for years, pretty much every summer.  But I never did, because it seemed like... well, it would be weird going into a new class with a barely fuzzy head.  Or something.

I was committed, but had a doubtful twist in my gut.  And then I caught my reflection in the window and burst out laughing.  The doubt didn't totally disappear, but it wasn't twisting in my gut.  And I kept laughing.  I cut what I thought was everything, and went inside to shower, and saw myself much better in the mirror, and realized I'd missed parts.  So I went back and did more.  Even so, at the end, I couldn't get all the little hairs behind my ears, so a friend helped.  (We'd planned to go trash walking in a big park, so I took scissors and we violated social distancing for a few minutes.  When I went to the park, I wore a hat, and when I took it off, she and I both laughed a lot.  It was fun!)

So now my head's shaved, pretty much.  It's a CoronaCut!

We're preparing for the possibility of teaching on line in fall, and it's not pretty.  The students mostly don't like it, and neither do most professors.  I think we all enjoy the human contact.  And, whenever we get back to face to face, I imagine there will be a couple of weeks of really appreciating being there.  (And then it will be back to normal, and we won't think about it quite that way.)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Evening Reflection

It's Sunday evening.  I had a good day of grading and reworking some things for the on line classes, using students suggestions (which I'd asked for) to try to make things clearer.

I feel better prepared for this week than I have since going on line, and that's good, but I'm frazzled and feeling a bit anxious this evening.

I've posted a weekly summary of things to do for each class, and a little keeping in touch thing that I'm trying to do each week.

I'm caught up on on-time grading, though there are many late things that I need to find in email and grade.  That's the hard part about late things, that they get buried in email...

I made a "late box" for turning in late assignments for each class, so I'm hoping that will help me find them more easily.

One of my students emailed me asking when I would be posting all the grades from before we were on line into our course management system.  Let's see, 80 students, and if each student has done 5 small assignments with grades, that's... yes, 400 grades to move over.  It's not happening any time soon.

I have three biggish committee meetings this week. 

I'm mostly prepared for the one on Monday afternoon, but will need to do a couple hours of work for it this week.  (But not for tomorrow's meeting, for the next meeting.)

I have a meeting Wednesday afternoon, late, that I have a couple of hours of work to do for.  It's generally a once a semester committee meeting, so that's good at least.

On Thursday I have an ad hoc committee meeting that I've done maybe three hours of work for already, and need to do at least another four hours of work for.  The work's at least interesting and not too onerous at this point.  It will get more demanding in the coming weeks.

There's a standing meeting on Thursday morning, but it doesn't take a lot of prep on my part right now.

I have a set of papers coming in tomorrow.  Students can turn in either this short paper or another (later in the semester), and it's looking like there's one in for now, which means that later, there will be a ton.  Okay then.

What I really need to start doing for my courses is looking at all the discussion posts, and seeing more fully how they're going.  And responding some.  I gather I should set aside time each week to do that, and that's the goal for this week, probably Tuesday morning.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

It Had to Happen. . .

One of my NWU colleagues has died.  It seems like it was sudden, but unrelated to the Covid-19 epidemic.  I don't know.  It's not someone I was really close to, but someone I kept in touch with on facebook and was happy to see on campus on those rare occasions when we did. 

Facebook is how I found out.  Her daughter first, and then some other people posted on her page announcing that she'd died. 

It's the sort of thing that leaves me wondering, though I really shouldn't put any energy there.  And she was younger than I am by a few years, so it's one of those times when my own mortality seems a bit fragile again.

I'd love to know what sorts of things people are doing to try to make their classes feel like there's at least a little community.

I'm trying to post a little video thing once a week, wearing a different hat each time, mostly saying hello and wishing them well.

I really need help making discussions more effective.  If we go on line in fall, I'm going to do them more like I did on D2L.

So much grading. . .  so overwhelming and not easy.

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Weekend of Grading

We started back to classes last week, all on-line.  We were told we needed to have students doing something by April 2nd, and really dig in starting April 6th.  We'd left off just before I would have given midterm exams, and I'm sure a lot of my colleagues were in the same boat.  So, late last week, I had students turn in short essays for their midterms. 

Mostly, given the constraints, they did well.  Some were really excellent.

Today, we were supposed to turn in midterm grades for our lower division (first and second year level) courses, which meant I spent the weekend and much of today grading their midterms so I could give them a real midterm grade and turn it in.  I got them all done, but it wasn't easy.

Grading on line is hard.  We use a system called "Canvas" for doing on line course stuff, and it works pretty well, though it's not super intuitive.  The grading thing is good, but I'm really slow at reading and responding on line, MUCH slower than I am with paper.  So my responses on the midterms were minimal.  I'm hoping I get a bit more efficient with longer essays!

I have students do a fair bit of writing in short one or two paragraph assignments; they do ten of these over the semester, which ends up being about the equivalent of a 5-8 page paper.  Except it's less stressful, and they get a lot more frequent feedback, so more developmental.  Because these are short, it takes about half an hour to 40 minutes to grade a full stack (there are 15 for each course, and students do 10 of those).  That means I often have smallish grading tasks two or three times a week (for the three courses I teach).  So I'm constantly grading, but not huge tasks, if that makes sense.  It means I can keep up well with those, and pretty much turn them back at the next class session, which is as good as it gets in terms of low stakes feedback for developing writing skills.  Most college students can write a decent paragraph in well less than an hour, so it's not a massive burden on them, and certainly not as stressful as a 5-8 page paper would be.

If the semester had gone to plan, I would have had spring break to grade midterms, and never really fallen much behind.  But as it went, I'm buried in midterms now (I still have my upper level course midterm to grade), and another biggish developmental assignment for the upper level course (which scaffolds into their semester project), and I haven't even looked at those small writing assignments this week.

I think most of us, instructors and students alike, are feeling pretty ragged now.

I've gotten good feedback from my students on the material I put on line.  With the Canvas system, you can give students short quizzes, which aren't graded, but do the prompting memory thing; you can make short videos where you show what's on your screen and talk over it, or where they look at your face.  You can put up discussions (I really need to figure those out better), and you can put up writing.  So I've tried to do combinations of those so that it's familiar, but not exactly the same for each text.  (My classes are organized by text, mostly, so students can work at their own pace.)

Students say they like the quizzes (low pressure, ungraded, and mostly 3-4 questions), and the videos I've done (mostly with text showing, or pictures that I drew or something).  They also tell me that the course is organized so that they can find what they need to do pretty easily, and follow along.

All that is good news.  The organizational strategy seemed obvious to me, but I have no idea how other people are organizing their courses.

Last Monday, and today (also Monday), I sent each class a group email telling them what was happening as far as grading and such, and what they need to work on this week, and whatever due dates are happening this week (for those short writing assignments, mostly).  I'm planning to do that every week, and also put up a short video of me talking, just saying hi, how are you sort of thing, every week.  My plan is to wear a different hat or something every time.

That's the week that was.  Now that the courses are up and I've turned in midterm grades, I have more committee work to turn to, and more grading.  Of course.

Monday, April 06, 2020

The Not So Obvious Agenda in Assessment

I was at a meeting today about some assessment stuffs.  It was one of those meetings where people look at assessment info and decide if the course gets to keep its qualification for GE.

One course was flagged because every student in the course met the goals.  That's a problem, a colleague said.  They should tell us how and why they're doing that.

It's a small upper-level course, I said (well, not in these words, since it was on line and all, and it seems like it would be a problem if the instructor weren't reaching most students with this rather modest goal.

And the other person wanted more information about the meeting the goal thing, because they suspected it couldn't be so.  It might be that the faculty member wasn't doing more than clicking a number.  Which could be, of course.

So, I understand, but what I want to know is, what's the secret number that will or won't provoke Professor A's suspicion?

There's really no answer.  But 100% for sure, unless there's a good explanation.  Though the form didn't ask for any explanation like that.

It's one of those things where, ideally, everyone would be aiming for 100%, but if you get there, suddenly you're suspect.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  Frustrating!

Back in Session

After suspending our semester (which starts later than most), we're back in session today.

I spent a bunch of time sending emails to all my students yesterday detailing exactly where they are in terms of their course grade as of the suspension, having graded all the things handed in then.

We've been advised to go totally asynchronous, given how many of our students live in rural areas with uncertain internet or live in households with uncertain computer access at a given time.  If another sibling has a class meeting that has to take place, then better not to put that pressure on our students, and hope they can get things done at other times. 

So, I've tried to imagine what I'd want to communicate about a work to students, and tried to think of how to best do that on line, and that's what I've done.  It means I've basically done all the reading and prep for six weeks of work in three weeks, along with some grading. 

In a face to face class, I do short bits of information, and then tend to have longer times when I'm asking students to read and think, draw, write, discuss, and then share out, so that they learn to read and discover for themselves what's important in the reading.  In those cases, I'm trying to be more like a guide who focuses folks on where to look and helps them see something for themselves.  My goal is to help students learn skills in reading, in learning to identify what's important, and in learning to tease out how metaphors and  such work.

I'll give students passages to look at in groups, say four passages, 8 groups, 2 groups on each passage.  They'll get time, I'll wander around, try to guide them, and then we come back together and they tell each other what they've come up with, and I try to reinforce it.  My difficulty figuring this out on line stems from not knowing how to divide students into groups looking at different passages, and not knowing how to have students report out from groups, and not knowing how to get everyone else to read the reporting out part.

I've got two of my three courses totally up for the rest of the semester, and the third up through May 7.  I'm trying to finish that up by tomorrow, and start grading midterms that they're starting to turn in. 

My guess is that I'll feel less stressed and anxious as students show that they can get through the on line stuffs.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Virtual Meetings

As proto-chair, I've started participating in meetings, and now those are going virtual.  We've got a meeting program embedded in our course management system and it works pretty well.  But none of the deans or deanlings I interact with wants to use that.  So each has their preferred program, for whatever reason, and everyone needs to get on board with that. 

So upload I do, and then...  for a meeting tomorrow, the deanling's assistant thought I needed to practice on the program, and so called me on it, and then it took close to an hour because there was another dean's assistant on the line and both wanted to make sure I knew how to show documents and such, except they couldn't get it to work on her thing (though I got it to work on mine).

And now back to trying to put my courses on line.  I'm putting up the stuff for Hwang's M Butterfly now, and it's been really hard to figure out how much background to give on Orientalism, history, and the opera, in order to help them read and enjoy the play and make something of it.

I did a bad drawing of a set:

Super sophisticated, for sure.