Friday, December 31, 2010

The Deanling and I Disconnected

I didn't mean to sound totally unsympathetic to the deanling yesterday. S/he's a fine person, though a little rigid. But we're working from different assumptions.

English departments, at least mine, are a bit weird. I have friends in other departments, and they teach the same three courses over and over. Maybe they're the theory in underwater basketweaving person, so each semester they teach one of the intro underwater basketweaving GEs, an intro theory course, and an advanced theory course. And the next semester, they basically teach the same courses. Some folks may teach one of two courses at the upper level, so they switch off semester to semester.

In contrast, here's what my schedule was supposed to look like this year (before I got a partial reassignment):

Comp (5 cr)
Intro to Theory (3 cr)
Seminar in Early Brit Lit (Other) (3 cr)

Gateway to English major (5 cr)
Intro to Poetry (3)
Chaucer (3)

And last year:

Comp (5)
Intro to Drama (3)
Seminar in Early Brit Lit (Death) (3)

Comp (5)
Shakespeare (3)
Chaucer (3)

(The basic pattern is a 5 cr writing course, a lower level course, and an upper level course.)

We have four people who can (and like to) teach Shakespeare, 3-4 who can (and like to) teach poetry, 2 who can teach drama. (Not counting adjuncts, who sometimes fill in on the drama). Currently, I'm the only person who wants to teach Chaucer (which is just so sad.)

So, in most departments, that introductory level course (for me, poetry, drama, Shakespeare) is going to be taught over and over again by the same person, so if you attach some special thing to it for doing something, then the same person just does it again and again. Imagine, for example, that someone who taught the Shakespeare class always focused on gender and family. If there were a gender and family requirement, it might be reasonable to make the class carry special credit.

But, if we have four people who teach the class, and gender and family isn't always everyone's focus, then it doesn't make sense to try to get that on the books. It still makes sense that it should count for a literature GE, though.

I think that's part of the basic disconnect between the deanling and me. S/he's a smart, good person, but from a department where one person teaches basically the same set of courses from hiring to retirement, updating to keep up, of course, but the title is unlikely to change. No one else teaches those courses, except if there's a sabbatical or illness, so it's basically the same.

In contrast, we have three people who teach these lit of different culture courses, depending on who's doing what (one is a deanling, one has been on sabbatical, one is heading into a special position). They aren't all taught every term, but our major requirements are written so that one student might take a senior seminar in one area and a sophomore level course in another, and a different student might do the reverse.

This issue is also causing us problems with our new GE system, which is supposed to be built around themes. The idea is that a group of students will take a group of courses all about one theme (love and family, say) in different areas of study, and they'll be able to put together connections with unicorns and rainbows. (I sound cynical, but I don't actually hate the idea; I just think we're not implementing very well).

It's easy to say, if you're the theory of basketweaving person, that hey, the intro basketweaving theory fits the "complex patterns" theme! And I teach it all the time, so it always will. I'll add this one bit so it fits better, and voila! And it won't hurt the students who aren't in the theme group.

It's harder if you're one of four Shakespeare people, and trying to fit a year ahead into a theme when you may or may not be going to teach Shakespeare in a given semester anyway. And if you do, you won't be teaching it the next time because it's someone else's. And besides, who really wants to always teach Shakespeare "love and family"? Not I. (This is not to say that we don't discuss family issues in respect to specific plays, but that it's not the theme of the course.)

Here's an added issue. People who teach the same course over and over are eager to do something different. People who teach five preps a year, one of which is likely to be new or a second go (my seminar), might have less energy for creating a special new course. I think that's a problem.

And finally, we keep hearing that we English department folks should teach our comp course so that it fits whatever theme someone else wants. Seriously, teach a biology themed comp course! Teach a geology themed comp course! I would be quite happy to teach a lit themed comp course, but they seem to think that's what we do in comp all the time anyway. (And that's a different argument.) All of the themes so far are very "it's new, it's now!" based; so it's hard to think how those are going to work well for those of us who like really dead writers, artists, or peoples.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Thought We Covered That?

I'm doing some curricular work over break. It's leftover from the semester, from a committee I'm on. The idea is that my department thinks two of our courses should give different culture credit towards a university requirement. Now, most of our students have no problem getting their foreign culture credit (though introductory foreign language classes don't carry these credits, which seems totally stupid to me!). But some do.

Anyway, we have four courses:
a 100 level intro to lit from different cultures
a 200 survey of lit from different cultures
a 300 topics in lit from different cultures
and a 400 seminar in lit from different cultures

(except the names are slightly different)

Two of these courses already carry the credit designation. Two don't. Why not? No one seems to know, but in our department, we agree that it makes sense that the others should, too.

Last semester, I filled out some paperwork to get that to happen. And the deanling in charge of passing the paperwork before it goes to the college committee (which I'm on, too, alas) said, no, that's not enough.

Part of the problem is that we don't title our courses: Literature of the Indian sub-continent in the 20th century. Sometimes the course looks like that, but we use umbrella designations so that different colleagues can teach some of them. These courses, for example, can be taught by one of three people in our department, each of whom focuses primarily on a very different geographic area. That makes a lot of sense in our field. It doesn't make sense to folks over in the fort much, though. And doesn't fit easily with some of the stuff they come up with, stuff that often assumes the same person will teach the same course every semester or every year from hiring to retirement.

I came up with the brilliant idea of asking to see the paperwork from one of the courses that does carry the designation, so that I can see how this one should be filled out. And yes, what I put is almost exactly the same. So I chatted with the deanling a bit.

And the dean gave me this bit: "[A different culture] course addresses most, but not necessarily all, of the following aspects of one or more foreign countries or regions: cultural, social, linguistic, historical, political, religious, intellectual, philosophical."

Seriously, how many anthropology courses do you think cover all of those, and those are pretty much the epitome of a course on different cultures, right? How about the art history courses? Think they talk a lot about linguistic and political stuff?

But the dean insists that we have to guarantee that the course "covers" most of those aspects of one or more foreign cultures, and it has to do it for the recent past. (Apparently the pre-columbian arts of the Americas course fits somehow? So does World History to 1500?)

I think this is one of those changing goal post things. The deanling has in mind that certain things pertaining to his/her field make the most sense, but isn't going back to change stuff that made it in under the previous deanling. (Yet?)

The deanling insists that "coverage" is key.

Wait, yes, that's right, "coverage."

Back when I was just starting to train in a program that provided MA students with a certificate in composition teaching, we talked a bit about "coverage." In that program, at least, "coverage" was not seen in positive terms. The problem with coverage, I was taught, is that it's not enough to say you've "covered" something in class unless you're actually taking time to teach it. Instead, you need to focus in on what you want students to learn, and teach it; that means focusing on depth more than breadth for most things.

For example, one can cover 30+ Shakespeare texts in a semester. You simply lecture on them and have students read mostly excerpts (or pretend to yourself that they're reading all 30 texts). And students will have "covered" all 30 texts. Or, you can teach 8-12 texts and have students get something deeper and fuller out of them. They won't be able to say a single sentence, in all likelihood, about Troilus and Cressida, but they'll probably be able to say a couple paragraphs about one of the texts they've actually read.

Of course, as with most educational ideas, coverage becomes pretty silly when taken to extremes, but there's a point at which having students read broadly is really helpful, and there's a point at which studying a single text for a while is deeply rewarding.

The idea of "coverage" is more complicated in fields where one bit of knowledge or skill builds on another. You can't skip fractions and expect to understand algebra or calculus. Of course, you can't just "cover" fractions, either. Students have to understand them fairly well in order to succeed at the other math subjects.

My point is, though, that (in my experience) teachers of my generation rarely use "coverage" without a fair bit of verbal dancing. Thus, I was taken a bit aback when the deanling tossed it off so easily and uncomplicatedly. Just make sure that you cover "most, but not necessarily all, of the following aspects of one or more foreign countries or regions: cultural, social, linguistic, historical, political, religious, intellectual, philosophical." And that the course is contemporary.

I can do that, of course. And a course in literature will, so some level, address most of these issues, depending on the text, more or less explicitly. (Students might not realize they're getting philosophy reading Shakespeare, or might think that when we discuss masculinities we're discussing politics, but we are!)

Does anyone else feel like all those things above run together more or less? Isn't political stuff also historical, intellectual, and philosophical? And aren't social and cultural stuffs also religious and linguistic?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Composition Composites

You know what I'd find really handy, and I bet other folks would too?

A short monthly summary of one or two of the best articles in composition studies with a link to the original articles. I struggle with keeping up, not only in early modern stuff (and Shakespeare's an industry on its own), but keeping up with composition in addition is beyond me.

I'm not unwilling to learn. I recognize that my training in composition studies is some 20 years ago now, and that things are changing in the field, and that I should learn about the most important findings.

Are there newer, better techniques for brainstorming? I want to know.

Better ways to help students in responding to papers? I really want to know.

I wonder if there's a market out there? I mean, could I quit my job and spend my days reading journals, do summaries and a link, and somehow make a living at it without going crazy? (The last part would be as difficult as the making a living part, I bet, since there'd be minimal human contact, and I'm a fairly social person.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

House Tour

So, the not -ginger-bread houses.* Here's one end showing the chimney. The popular candies this year were M&Ms. I don't remember us using those when we were kids, but now they seem good. We couldn't find any candy canes when we went to look, though my brother found some cute peeps snowmen.

This is the other side. I really should have frosted the end of the roof and stuck some stuff on there to make it look less cardboardy, eh? I did like the twisty pathway. This is where I put the peep snowman, which hides one of the little green "plants." However, you can see the very authentic looking tree in the window :)

And here's a side view of the flower garden and bunting along the roof. As you can tell, I don't much go in for realism here.

And here's the final shot with the snowman in the front.

*Edited to add: My Nana used to make us cardboard gingerbread houses to decorate every Christmas. So, this isn't my idea at all. I don't know where she got the idea, but it worked really well for us kids!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Passive Something or Other

When I was a kid, we used to make little houses out of cardboard and decorate them as gingerbread houses. It's a LOT easier to build a cardboard house (trust me on this) and you get to spend more time decorating and less time trying to get gingerbread to stay where you want it.

So, I voiced the idea the other day.

We found some cardboard boxes and decided last night that we'd use them for the basic houses, adding roofs and bases from other cardboard.

This morning we got a start. And I use "we" in a generous sense, because while I instigated it all, my Mom either took over the heavy lifting of getting the houses made or took over the fun of getting the houses made. And I went off and checked email and stuff, because I've figured out in life that I get frustrated when my Mom takes over, and just move away. And I knew that would happen, and I'm okay with it in this case. So I'm passively hanging out, waiting for the houses to be built. And then I'll get to play at decorating.

And my fiendish plot to make a mess with frosting and candies will come to fruition!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stuff I Don't Talk to Family About

I'm prepping for next term by reading a book of poetry I ordered for the poetry class. I've also ordered an anthology, but I've never taught a book of poetry before all at once. Here goes.

Wouldn't you laugh if I said I were teaching A Priest to the Temple? That would go over well, no doubt. Not.

I'm actually teaching a colleague's book; I'd thought about teaching a friend's book, but I chose the other because my colleague will come talk to my students about his poetry. But I don't have any clue how to teach a book of poetry.

Were I to say this to my family, my Mom would make the all too familiar circly finger near the ear sign. Everyone else would want to run away. I don't come from a poetic sort of family. Maybe there are no poetic sorts of family? Do some families read poetry together? Even kids' rhymes? Or is that some fantasy I have of a never-really-happened Victorian childhood?

Anyway, I'm trying to figure out some pattern, some theme, something to hold my teaching of the text together. If anyone has suggestions about how they approach teaching a book of poetry as a book, I'd love to hear.

I'm thinking of assigning some Billy Collins early on, probably this as a starting point for the second day: "Introduction to Poetry"

The book will come later in the semester, pretty near the end.

Tell me what you do to help studnets "get" poetry, especially a book, please!

Reading Hunger Games

I borrowed my niece's copy and read it yesterday. It's a disturbing book, maybe more disturbing to an adult than to a kid? I hardly slept last night, partly because of the book.

Anyway, it's an amazingly quick read. Compared to what I usually read, wow, quick.

I'm intrigued by some of the plot points: the protagonist is a teen girl, and already thinking about how she doesn't want to have kids. But there's no sense of how one might have sex and not get pregnant. There's some sense of her not being ready for a sexual relationship, but being on the verge of being ready.

The book also plays a bit with compulsory heterosexuality as compulsory, but the protagonist sees it as compulsory and resists somewhat.

I can't decide if I want to read the next book in the series. I have to admit I was disappointed at where it ended, but I really want a sense that there's a beginning of change.

Going Crazy


X: I really like this cat toy.

Me: Yes, it's cool.

X: I really like it.

Hours later:

X: I really like this cat toy.

Me: Yes, it's cool.

X: I really like it.

Rinse and repeat with a small selection of other topics. It's like being in a rerun of Seinfeld, except the repetition isn't quick and witty.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


/auc wtb fbss

No, not really.

I'm heading out shortly; I've packed mostly, but I have a couple more presents to wrap.

And, of course, earlier today I got an email from a student in a panic because s/he had (according to the email) gotten an F in a course because s/he turned a final paper in on time but to the wrong faculty box. And now the student is in a panic because s/he has gotten an email response from the faculty member indicating that the faculty member is not checking emails regularly until the new term.

Basically, the student wants a do-over. S/he wants the faculty member to accept the paper, grade it, and change the course grade accordingly.

And that's not unreasonable if the story checks out. But, it's also not unreasonable for the faculty member to refuse to accept the paper and grade it after having done all the work for the semester already.

So why did I get the panicked email? I'm not quite sure. There's nothing I can do except email the student to say that it makes perfect sense to me that the faculty member isn't checking email and that the student should patiently wait until next term to contact the faculty member.

I'm guessing the student is mostly in a panic stage and wants to be reassured that it will be okay and s/he can have his do-over. But I can't do that, of course. Nor would I if I had the power. But I did send an email.

And then I set my auto-out-of-office response.

Have safe travels if you're traveling; keep warm if you're in cold country.

Hold pulls. AFK. BBS.

Monday, December 20, 2010


One of my friends is leaving for a new job. I'm happy for my friend because it will be a much better fit. But I'm unhappy for me because I'll miss my friend and my friend's partner.

We got together with some other folks the other day. My friend seemed sort of grumpy, as if everyone were supposed to ask how the job search is going. But, of course, being polite, we weren't about to ask, so my friend just announced it. Some, I think, knew ahead. Some didn't.

My friend and the partner were talking about how much better things are in the other state, especially in terms of higher education.

So I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself this morning. Many of my friends have gone to visit family, and the few of us who are around now are busy either with grading (which is what I should be finishing right now) or with family preparations. But I want to be entertained. (And not grade, though I should be doing that.)

The same thing seems to be happening with bloggers; lots of people are too busy to post much. (Guilty.)

Entertain me, people!

My car's in the shop for the morning getting rear brakes, a new battery, new tires, and getting the heater blower checked, and (I hope) getting the CD player put back sans the CD that was stuck in there. So I can't even run errands and pretend I'm doing something useful.

Gah, grading.

Edited to add: I finished my grading and turned in the grades. Now for some chores and wrapping presents! YAY!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I can understand the confusion some people have between Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart. First, they usually get called by nicknames, and second, their lives overlapped a fair bit.

I can also understand confusions people have between the Hundred Years War and the Thirty Years War. Both lasted a long time, and they're both a long time ago.

I can't get my head around my student's confusing the two World Wars of the past century. Now, I could probably understand if this were a sophisticated argument about how the wars and such of the 19th century provided impetus for the Great War, and that WWII was an inevitable result of the resolution of the Great War and so on. But no, this student just conflates them and puts them both in 1918 with Hitler at the head of SS troops and such.

The same student confuses Modernism (as an intellectual and social movement/practice) and modern (as in what's happening now), which I totally understand, but since I've tried to explain that Modernism is a pretty specific movement, and it just hasn't gotten through, I'm finding frustrating. No doubt my own deep sense of the difficulty of really understanding Modernism has gotten in the way.

What are your students' most confusing confusions?


I'm so buried in grading that it's dismal. (I wanted to give back all the research papers today, but I've given up, alas. I'll still have the weekend to finish them and the other stuff, but I'm frustrated at my procrastination so far.)

I took my car in for an oil change yesterday and learned that it also needs: new tires, a new battery, new rear brakes (and maybe rotors), and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay, I'm lying about the last thing. I like this shop, and I don't think they're trying to rip me off. I also have savings just for this sort of thing (and house issues, etc), so it's not that I'm hurting financially. But all of a sudden, I'm nervous about driving my car until things are fixed and I wasn't at all before. I have the fix it all appointment on Monday. Oh, and they had to pull the CD/radio thing because a CD from the library got stuck in there and they sent it out to the CD repair place to get fixed.

I haven't heard back from the doctor's clinic about the blood test. I'm uncertain when to call back. Is a day and a half later too early? Is it unreasonable to think that I should have heard already? My stupid test isn't an emergency or anything, and I'm sure they have way better things to think about. I'm really unknowledgable at how to manage this sort of thing.

In good news: we're up into the teens today, temperature-wise. Thank dog. I really want to do something other than grade or procrastinate like a goof.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Both Sides of Bureaucracy

I'm disappointed in myself today. I had a meeting with a student. It's part of my medium cheesiness that I meet with students, and this was part of that role.

Anyway, this student raised a question, and I answered it by suggesting he go to talk to the chair of another department because a specific requirement is associated with that department. And the student reraised the question, and I said the same.

The student raised a question about something else, and I suggested that he go to talk to a student services office, because they handle that issue. And the student reraised the question, and I said the same.

The student was getting frustrated. On one level, yes, it's a pain to work through the bureaucracy of the university. But on another level, when you're dealing with a large institution, you should know that most folks on the ground really don't have much power over other areas of the institution.

I don't think I did a great job.

I was able to offer the student some help with two problems, but rather than having me do the petition there, he wanted to take it home to fill out. And I let him. But now I regret that, because I'm pretty sure he'll miss filling it out in a way that will get through the bureaucracy and someone else will have to redo it. And that will be frustrating.

The student had met earlier with some other people, and now I'm wondering why they didn't meet with the student about the problems I can't help with. Did the student not ask them? Or did the student not get the answer he wanted and want me to give a different answer?

I need to figure out how to handle this sort of problem more effectively. I really felt like a faceless bureaucrat, and I don't think I should. I really am trying to be helpful to the student, but it sure didn't feel like I actually was, or that the student felt I was.

And I have to agree with the student: we don't have that many courses open for next semester now. Most are full. It's late in the game to be signing up for courses and with budget cuts, we're running fewer courses since we've had faculty retirements with no replacements. We simply have no warm bodies who can teach Subject X right now.

We're also not super friendly for people who have strict work schedules. If you have to take a course in the late afternoon because of work, then that might be difficult, especially if it's a course that's offered in one section a semester. On the other hand, if you can take it late in the afternoon for your work, the student I talked to earlier who works afternoons can't take it. There's no way I can figure to serve every student schedule with our size program and in person classes. (I know some folks will suggest that we go on-line. I will so want to quit if we do. I don't know if I'll have the courage to quit, though.)

On the other side of the bureaucracy thing:

Last summer, I was supposed to get a fasting blood test to test for blood sugar level and lipids. And I actually did that.

The triglycerides were high, but other than that, everything was pretty good. I got a letter that told me as much. The letter went on to say that I should cut down on carbs, specifying "pop," a word I find ridiculous in the context of beverages. Seriously. "Pop." Gah. (It's a dialect thing; it just sounds wrong.) The letter also said I should try to exercise. (Yes, obviously a template letter. Certain results pop out a certain letter [there! That's how "pop" is supposed to be used!], and it doesn't matter if your record says that you say that you exercise, because it's assumed that I'm lying about that anyway. It's also automatically assumed that I'm lying about how much I drink and my risk of pregnancy.)

The letter also said that I should get another test in 3-6 months, and that I should call the lab to make an appointment. So it's a form letter. I don't know if it really matters if I get the test. I have a feeling that no matter what the results are, I'll get another letter saying that I have to get it retested in a couple more months, because once you're caught up in the testing thing, you're caught up and you HAVE TO HAVE THE TEST OR YOU'LL DIE, or get scary letters implying as much.

So, it's six months, almost. I've been thinking about calling. I fret a lot about medical stuffs. I called the lab, and while I was on hold waiting, I felt like I wanted to throw up. Ugh. But the lab said that no, I couldn't make an appointment. I needed to call the doctor and get her to do something by way of an order, and then I wouldn't need to make an appointment anyway.

So then I called the clinic office, and waited on hold, wanting to throw up again. I did finally get through, and talked to a person who promised to talk to a nurse who will do something else and check this or that and then call me to let me know I should go get the test. I didn't get the call this afternoon, but we'll see. Maybe tomorrow.

Yep, I feel pretty much bureaucratized.

Monday, December 13, 2010

That Was Quick

I talked to my Mom yesterday, and she mentioned that the memorial service for my Aunt who died recently isn't going to be until mid-January. Several of my cousins will be there, cousins I haven't seen for 20 or so years. So I thought, hey, I could fly out there between terms, spend a week, go to the service, see family, and defrost a bit.

Usually, I'm a slow planner. It can take me months to figure out the most basic trip. But I just thought, yes, go. So I just bought my plane tickets.

I get sort of anxious buying big stuff (such as plane tickets) online. I shouldn't, but I do. So far, though, so good.

We already have one day planned, a trip to see some trees. And probably another day planned to see a slough. It will probably be beautiful. I have to decide whether I should bring my big camera lens in case of birds. Maybe just a pair of binoculars, and the regular lens for family shots?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Love my Neighbors

The neighbors across the way lent me their snowblower this morning. Even with the snowblower, it took almost an hour to clear my drive.

Now: For the first time, I'm seriously thinking about buying a snowblower. It was AMAZING!

My back was tired from digging yesterday, and it would have been really unhappy with the amount of digging I'd have had to do to clear this. I'm so happy not to have to dig all of it.

I don't know how people who live where it snows several feet at a time all the time do it. I'm guessing a snowblower is even more important there?

Can I say how very happy I am not to be part of the Donner Party? And how happy I am to have plentiful food in the house!

No telling when the city plows will come here. I've heard that they've been over some of the city twice (the storm lasted pretty much all day yesterday, so they went through and went through to keep more important roads somewhat clear). Hopefully they'll get here today sometime.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kids These Days

It's that time of the semester when everyone's tempers are a little short. Students are turning in papers late, perhaps, and have spent less time than we might like doing their research and writing. Sometimes folks don't show up at all, and it can be hard to believe that they're really sick or that there's really an emergency in the family. And the demands of the administrators are relentless.

One of the administrative demands I'm handling in my role as medium sized cheese is nominating students for some special mention. The special mention thing starts with a minimum GPA, and then adds in stuff like community service, research, departmental activities, and so on.

We had 48 students who met the GPA part, and then I've had to do some searching around to figure out which few within that group we'd nominate. I started by asking my colleagues to look at the list and give me some feedback.

I got plenty, even at this busy time of the year.

And these students are impressive. We've got students who are being nominated for their research work, for leading this or that student group, for participating in some community activity.

Then I asked my colleagues for more information about the students who were specifically nominated, and that's when I heard the glowing reports about sparkling student intellect, hard working classroom mentors, collaborative projects.

I've been writing up a statement of support for each of the students we're nominating. It's hard to pack so much in without sounding utterly silly.

I tell ya, kids these days.

I wish I'd been half the student some of these students are!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Morning Radio

I was listening to NPR this morning, and they had a little thing on about how some (and I emphasize some) military chaplains are resisting the repeal of DADT. One of the chaplains complained that he shouldn't have to "choose between his religion and his job."

Well, yes, you do have to choose. Unlike the gay and lesbian military personnel you are currently supposed to serve, you get to choose. Having that choice is a privilege.

If you can't serve the people the military needs you to serve, then choose not to enlist or re-enlist.

Advice for Wannabe Majors

When students want to declare a major or minor in my field, they talk to me. That's part of my big cheesiness job these days. I see a couple students during a slow week, and more than that during a busy one. Some of them email me first, some just show up.

Here's some advice I'd like to offer to students coming to see me about the program. I think it's probably good advice for students going to see professors in general.

1. Shower.
2. Introduce yourself. Really. I don't know who you are just because you've emailed me and are standing in my doorway.
3. Don't loom. If I turn to do something at the computer and you stand up to look, okay. But don't stay standing over me. Sit down.
4. Answer questions. When I ask what you're taking this semester, I am not inspired to confidence by a blank look. It's the last week of classes, do you really not know what you're taking?
5. At least pretend that you're interested in the program you're declaring. Don't tell me that you don't really want to do it but that you can't do what you want to do.
6. If I suggest that you see a support office because you've told me you can't do what you want to do, nod politely. You don't have to go, but you might want to consider it. If you nod politely, I won't push. Making excuses about this or that doesn't really add anything. I'm suggesting something I think will help, but I'm not your mommy, and I'm not going to nag you. Nor am I going to worry much beyond the end of our conversation.

7. I'm adding one: don't call professors you haven't even met yet "Jones" instead of Professor or Dr. or Ms/Mr Jones. Not to me, anyway. (I refer to other faculty as Professor so and so to students because it matters to some of my colleagues.)

In conclusion, most of our students do shower enough, but the ones that don't really get my attention and not in a good way. Most of our students also have fine social skills and know which classes they're taking. Again, the ones that don't stand out.

Monday, December 06, 2010


I just spent the evening with five other people. Three of them had connections to a specific city, and to specific sports teams in that city. I was not one of those three.

I was bored stiff.

Is there anything more boring than people going on about specific sports events they went to that mean nothing to me? If there is, I don't want to sit through it.

I don't want to hear about the sports event you went to when you cheered such and so, or the other event you went to when you had good seats, or any of it.

I don't know if it's just that I'm totally out of step or if it's just one of those things where three of us pretty much didn't say anything.

Okay, and if there's anything that gets close to the boredom of sports I don't care about, it's TV I don't care about.

And the next step down in boredom level is someone extolling the wonders of their elite graduate institution.

And now I have insomnia; I think it's because the food was heavy and is sitting on my stomach in bad ways.

I'm THAT Teacher :(

You know how when you were an undergrad, you maybe had a teacher who seemed to lose things? I'm that teacher. I found a pile of about 5 things to grade that I thought I'd already graded and handed back (but indeed, I hadn't). I'd even added up that part of the grade for each student (so that I have it handy and can just enter it in the ol' Excel gradebook).

Gah, how embarrasing. But good for the students!

I had two students in one class not hand in an assignment, so I wrote each a note to make sure that I hadn't missed recording it. I'm not sore that they didn't do it, but worried that I somehow missed it. Apparently, no, they didn't do it. So that's not my fault, at least!

Grading piles:

Peer editing
Final set of short papers

Abstracts and bibliographies
Some presentations
Peer editing
Final research papers
Short reflection papers.

Most of those haven't come in yet, but I have plenty to keep me busy. In an ideal world, I have everything else graded when the research papers come in on Wednesday, and then have made significant progress on them by Friday, when the final short papers come in. And then I hope to have those graded by the day of the final, when I'll get in the final short reflection papers.

It's time to get grading!

Not So Self-Evident?

I have a colleague who begins complaints by saying, "I'm not complaining, but..." and then goes on with the complaint.

I know someone who claims to be really good at keeping secrets, and then tries to deomonstrate this by telling me whatever private information someone has recently told him/her. This person wonders why I don't share my private information.

I wonder what I totally don't see myself contradicting myself about?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Winter Woman

I've become much better at winter in the past several years. Today was the first skiing day, and it was fun. I felt a bit better on the skis than I think I remember feeling the first day last year. And it was great to get outside and play!

Friday, December 03, 2010

End of the Semester Grading Count Down

I just finished grading the research papers I got last Wednesday. So nine days. Not a speed record, but reasonable for research papers.

This class has one more set of papers, a set of journals, and a set or responses.

Let the counting down begin!

(The other class I should catch up on nicely this weekend. And then it's final grading time!)

There's also much other busyness about campus and my department this next week or so. I was expecting the advising side I do to slow down, but I had a lot of students come in to change majors/minors yesterday.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Go Geek!

You may remember that a while back I complained that I had difficulty getting time with someone from our tech for teaching crew to help me with a Qualitrics thing.

Today was the day. My geek was splendid, and very, very patient. I did my little survey thing, and it is done, and I've sent it out. Yay!

The thing is, it's complicated enough that I'll need help again next time, but I'll be further along before I need the help.

Thank you, geek!

The Frustration Quiz

I don't teach much grammar type stuff in my writing courses because it's been shown not to actually contribute to helping students write better. But I do, when a group of students shows a pattern of a specific grammar or punctuation problem, do a short session on how to do that grammar or punctuation correctly. And so it was yesterday.

I made up a handout with an explanation and examples. We went over stuff, and then students wrote some sentences of their own. We read some of those aloud and talked about them.

Today, I gave an open notes quiz on the grammar and punctuation things, thinking that it would be a tiny boost for some students. The quiz asked them to write a couple sentences using the grammar/punctuation things. It was open notes.

About half the students did fine. One wrote down the sentence she'd written as her example yesterday (and read aloud), because it's an open note quiz and it was right there, and she knew it was right.

But about half the students just bombed.

I know this is a grammar thing that students didn't know before the class (because it's not generally taught in high school). So, the ones who did well learned (or copied from their notes from) yesterday. And the ones who didn't do well?

1) I wasted our time yesterday and didn't do a good job.
2) Couldn't copy from the examples on the handout, even.
3) ??

You know, when people worry about students being incredibly creative in their cheating attempts, I wonder who those students are. Because on an OPEN NOTE quiz where students could use what they'd written yesterday or the very handout, half my students bombed. They couldn't manage to use the notes or handouts they were allowed, nay, encouraged to use to do well on the quiz. How would they manage to write the answers on the inside of their ball caps or in super secret text messages?

Sometimes, my mind boggles.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is It Working?

How do you tell if students have learned what you want them to learn in a composition or writing class? Or, what do you have students do for a final?

The way a lot of people try to do it is by giving students some readings and then having them write an in-class final. That way they demonstrate that they can handle outside sources in creating an argument.

But it doesn't test if students are able to use pre-writing and process strategies. Indeed, the in-class writing part, especially if students haven't had the questions ahead of time, probably discourages students from doing the sorts of pre-writing stuff I want them to learn.

Also, if you're going to ask students to write an essay in response to some reading(s), you either have to take time in class to discuss the reading(s) or they'd better be simple enough that students with marginal reading skills can put something together in response. And that seems generally to mean it's something about pop culture or some irritating current events thing. And I don't much care to read 20-30 in-class essays about either.

So what do you do?

At one time, I had students writing short responses to questions such as:

1) Describe freewriting. When is it most useful?
2) Imagine you were asked to write an essay about freewriting. Make a bubble map for that essay.

And so forth. I think it sort of tested whether students had learned what freewriting is, but it was dreadfully awful to read. And by "dreadfully awful," I mean worse than pop culture and current events essays.

And the thing is, knowing what freewriting is is really the first step in what I really want students to learn, which is that they have several strategies for approaching writing situations, and that those strategies are useful, and they should use them. But how do you test that? Or, do you even need to test it?*

I tried something new this week. My writing students have one final short essay for the course; I handed out the assignment as usual. And then we looked at each of the options, and I asked them to make a list of pre-writing strategies they might use to approach each of the questions. We put the list on the board, and then did some of the pre-writing strategies for each of the questions as a warm up.

Today, I had the students pick the question they thought they'd want to write to, and then put them in groups. In their group, they needed to make a more complete list of the things they might do to work on their paper.

Next time, we'll put these lists on the board and they'll use the lists they and their peers have created to work on their essays, and then do some thinking about how the strategies work for them. Seeing the lists on the board will give me a good sense if the groups have learned the different strategies and appropriate ways to use them. (It won't test those in any way, nor will it tell me if a specific student has learned. But the boards are only so large and time is limited.) (It also isn't numerical, which means the gurus over in the fort who want to measure my teaching by numbers wouldn't like it.)

Here's a question: I teach freewriting, listing, bubble-mapping (which goes by other names, too, but you get the idea) as ways to start writing. I don't teach outlining per se, though as part of bubble-mapping, I number sections and draw arrows and such to get a sense of the flow.

What other pre-writing strategies do you teach in your comp/writing courses?

How do you know if students are learning what you want them to learn?

*This is sort of like the time management problem: most high school students can tell you what they "should" do for time management. But convincing them to actually do those things is more difficult. And convincing them to use those strategies independently when faced with a task or problem is a whole 'nother world. You can "know" what to do, but deeply knowing means you also practice those things.

(And alas, I don't always.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happiness is not...

reading a really irritating research paper, especially when it's almost 20 pages long. How could a student put so much energy into so much craptasticness?

Happiness is...

realizing you've already graded one more research paper than you thought you had!

So far this morning:

Some administrivia
A letter of recommendation

Monday, November 29, 2010

Biking Mojo

I've really lacked biking mojo this year. Put it this way, since I started keeping track, here's what my mileage has looked like:

2007: 2011 miles
2008: 1425 miles (I was in Japan and not biking for 5 months)
2009: 2380 miles
2010: 944 miles

That's quite a drop off, isn't it. :(

I've been biking inside more this fall since it got cold, so I may hit 1000 miles before the end of the year.

I think part, maybe a lot, of the drop off had to do with gaining weight last year. I gained about 15 pounds. (I know, that's a lot in a year.) And correspondingly, my average biking speed dropped about 1mph, from around 15 mph to about 14mph (outside, just from the bike journal logs). I think that's related. And it makes it less fun to ride when I ride more slowly, somehow (though logically, who cares?).

I also tended to ride shorter rides. I just didn't feel like riding for a couple hours instead of an hour. That may also have had to do with weight. I don't know.

Anyway, I just didn't have much biking mojo this year.

That's part of why I started running a bit, because going outside to play with a new toy is better than nothing. And I've had fun running, which is good.

And since the beginning of the school year, I've lost about 10 pounds (not impressive, I know). And I brought my bike inside and put it on the trainer (because I HATE being cold).

I haven't been religious about the trainer, because it's really not nearly as fun as riding outside. But I know if I'm going to run or ski when the time comes, then I need to get some exercise on most days, so I've tried at least several times a week. I have the trainer set on the lowest possible resistance, and then use the gears to get the right feel. (It's a cheap trainer, so at higher resistances it feels jerky and not comfortable.) My goal is to just ride with a good cadence and reasonable heart rate, for at least half an hour at a time.

And maybe I'll start to get my mojo back and have more fun skiing and so forth?

The thing about the trainer is that the weight doesn't work against you as much as it does riding for real. There are no hills. (Yes, I know, I could change gears to make things harder, but then it feels jerky.)

My first inside on the trainer day was September 24. My bike journal says I went half an hour at an average speed of 20mph. As I recall, I was spinning at about 84rpm mostly (my bike computer shows rpm, but doesn't average it over the ride, so I'm just working from memory).*

Today I did 32 minutes at an average speed of 22.5mph.

That's a fair improvement. I'm mostly spinning at about 90rpm through most of the ride, too. For most of the past month and a half, I've been spinning in the mid-80s, and then last week, I was spinning at almost 90 mostly, and then getting easily to 93 or so. (I'm not super steady; today I rode mostly between 187 and 195, depending on what was happening on the tv I was watching, until near the end when I realized that I was setting a new speed record, and pushed harder for the last 15 minutes and kept it at about 92 pretty well.)

The Fat Cyclist has a weight loss challenge for the month: lose 10 pounds by December 23rd. When I looked earlier, he had 400+ responses, with lots of people entering.

I'm not entering, because I don't think I can realistically lose 10 pounds in a month. But it's a good challenge.

And I did wear a pair of pants today that I haven't worn in a goodly while because they were uncomfortably tight. They're not loose now, but they're not uncomfortable, either, so that's good.

I'm hoping if I lose weight (ideally, I'd lose a lot) and keep working on the bike, then a couple things will happen:

I'll have an easier time learning how to skate ski, and have more fun skate and classic skiing this winter. I theorize that falling hurts less if I'm lighter, and it's easier to get up after. Falling is an important consideration in my skiing efforts.

I'll be able to run a 5K thing in spring (I ran 5K a week or two ago, but I'd like to run faster and more consistently). (I notice a fairly big difference already when I run a bit.)

I'll be able to bike more and better next summer, and get my biking mojo back. I missed my biking mojo this year, and I want it back.

*Bikers have various approaches to how fast to pedal and how hard to push. One approach is the Lance Armstrong approach, which is to pedal at a high rpm (cadence) against low pressure. Racing types who "spin" tend to ride at 90+rpms for mile after mile. The other approach--I think it's the Greg LeMonde approach--is to pedal at slower rpms at higher pressure.

Racing types, of course, spin a fast cadence against bigger gears than I use on much bigger hills. And racing mashers spin pretty darned fast, too. That train left the station a long time ago for me!

My sense is that I ride better using a lower pressure; in the past I've tended to ride with a cadence in the low to mid 80s outside. So I'm hoping that if I get my legs in the habit of riding a faster cadence, I'll be able to do so outside as well. And assuming I'm riding the same low pressure gear, I should then be faster. We'll see. (My real weakness is hills; losing weight should help more than anything. If I lost 50 pounds, I'd have a LOT easier time going up hills.)

Truly Grateful

I woke up yesterday, and just felt good, notably good. I usually feel fine, but yesterday, I felt good. I did some grading, got some chores done, and relaxed.

I think every so often, that third day of a weekend really, really makes a difference. For me, day four was a total bonus.

I feel refreshed. I'm mostly caught up on grading (the research papers that came in on Wednesday are more than half done, even) and have a good sense of where things are going for the next couple of weeks.

These will be busy weeks for us in all sorts of ways, but I'm looking forward to the business.

For a four day weekend with lots of rest and relaxation, I am truly grateful.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Question for Boy Wizard Fans

I went with my niece to see the latest film. It was okay. It's missing something that the earlier films had, some newness, perhaps. It's like the wizard world is too familiar now, or something.

Anyway, in the middle books, Rowling introduced elves; mostly in that film, they're house elves, basically slaves. Disgustingly, in the book, the house elves of "good" masters (as at Hogwarts) like being house elves. It's only when they have Malfoy type masters that they really hate their slavery.

But that aside, the elves seem very powerful in these texts. Really, really powerful. They're innately magical in ways that humans aren't, it seems.

So I have two questions: how did they get enslaved? And how come they don't take over?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Tally

I'm so far behind in my grading that it's shameful.

Today and tomorrow, I'm working on catching up:

Here's the list of what I've finished so far today:

Set of quizzes
Set of peer editing responses
Set of presentations
Set of presentation responses
A few short papers (in response to activities; they come in at different times)

It looks pretty minimal set out this way. Here's what's left to grade:

Set of short papers from seminar
11 more research papers from first year class (5 done!)
Several presentations from seminar
A few more short papers (in response to activities; they come in at different times) (all done!)
A set of journals Done!

Probably other stuff I haven't sorted through yet. :(

I found a set of revisions to grade.
I also have to write a letter of recommendation.

I also have to record the grades I've got.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Breaking the Law, Willfully and on Purpose

I'm breaking the law today. Right now, I'm taking a break from lawbreaking.

You see, my state has declared that all state workers have to take furloughs, and has mandated this day as a furlough day for most of us (except those who are necessary to keep the state going). That means we're not supposed to do anything related to work today. Nothing. Nada.

But, of course, I have a boatload of grading to get done. The grading either has to be done now or at a different time. If we faculty folks had good sense, then we'd figure out a way to require 3 point something percent less work from our students, so we'd have 3 point something percent less grading. But I'm not that smart.

The thing is, I create assignments that I think and hope will help my students learn; I don't make students do things just to torture them or because I like grading hell. So I don't know how to reduce what I require in a meaningful way.

I'm at my sibling's; as a family, on holiday times, we tend to make slow starts. And it's cold outside (but not snowy), so it's not inviting me out to play. And I haven't managed to convince anyone else to go out and play, either. So it's either nap, or watch TV, or read, and as long as I'm reading, I may as well be grading.

So far, the count for the four day break is:

4 research papers from the writing course
most of the prep for a thesis defense (for which I'm second reader)

I have so much to do that I can't bring myself to make a list, but if I can make progress today, maybe tomorrow I can bring myself to make a list.

Meanwhile, if anyone cares to come arrest me so that I don't willfully work, please do.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and wish you lovely leftovers today! (I love leftover turkey sandwiches even more than I love eating turkey on Thanksgiving.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Off Campus

So, I have these neighbor semi-friends. I don't know them really well, but on occasion, the male partner has helped break down the ice berm at the end of my drive in winter. And the female partner and I have chatted some.

Not so long ago, the female partner had bariatric surgery. She didn't tell most people, but she told me because she asked for some day time assistance when her partner wasn't around. It was a little thing, something she couldn't take care of while recovering, but that I easily could, so I did. We chatted some, because we were there. You know how it goes.

It's been about a month, maybe six weeks. (I don't keep close track.) In movie parlance, time passes.

She's recovered fine and is on this really strict diet; she says it's going well. She also says she's excited because she needed to buy some new clothes. I congratulated her.

But she's also disappointed because no one that she hasn't told has mentioned her weight loss or how good she looks (not at her work, not in the neighborhood, not her other friends).

I think there are two things in play here. First, she doesn't look that different to the casual observer. If I didn't know she'd had the surgery and was successfully losing weight because she told me, I wouldn't notice. (I tend not to notice clothes and weight in friends. I tend to notice voice and expression more.) So there's that. She's long worn the sort of loose clothes that are supposed to hide our weight, and still does, so maybe it's successfully hiding the weight. I don't have the nerve to tell her that the weight loss doesn't show, though, because she's pretty darned happy about it, and it's not the easiest thing to stay on the diet and all.

I have a colleague who had bariatric surgery a couple years ago now, at the beginning of summer. In the three months of summer, she lost a dramatic amount of weight; it was noticeable even to me. I think the noticeability depends a lot on how much people weigh and how they carry it before the surgery, probably.

Second, this is a "polite" part of the country. It's supposed to be, anyway. People will smile, but not really see you here, if that makes sense. And weight is one of those things that your adult friends won't generally mention; I don't tell people who are overweight that they look especially heavy today or anything. And so I wouldn't tend to say anything about looking less heavy. Mostly, that's because I don't pay much attention to other people's weight (I have my own to pay attention to), but there's also a fair bit of social conditioning: it's not appropriate for me to comment on another adult's body.

I especially can't imagine saying anything about weight to this neighbor pre-surgery, because I think she'd have told me off something awful.

We were doing the stand around in a driveway thing with another neighbor recently, chatting about the weather or whatever, and since our houses are further up, my neighbor who'd had surgery and I walked away from the conversation together. She commented about how disappointed she is that no one says anything about her weight loss. (I was sympathetic and said how people around here try to be polite.) She really wants to talk about the surgery and her weight loss, because she's proud and happy of how it's going, but she doesn't want to bring it up.

I never know how to handle diet/weight issues with folks. I tend to try to be supportive, and keep my nose in my own business. But bariatric surgery seems to change the rules somehow in ways I don't quite get.

Speaking of my business: So, I've been trying to lose weight, but it's slow. I've lost maybe 7 pounds. And yesterday, I mostly ran 5K, which is more than before, and I feel good about it (that is, I'm not sore). My feet were cold in the happy toes things, though, so I either need to go with regular shoes or get these wool toe socks that are designed to be worn with the happy toes things.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

When Good Chairs Make Bad Decisions

Our chair is basically a good chair. But, there's a decision that's basically gotten made, by the chair, that really shouldn't be made by the chair. It should be made by the committee of tenured folks. It's not that it's in itself a bad decision, but the decision to make the decision without consulting the CTF is a bad decision, if that makes sense.

To second guess myself, why is it I'm worried about the process rather than the decision?

Have I become one of "those" faculty members?

I think it's actually because I want my colleagues to weigh in and consider this decision, and I want to hear their reasons for favoring it or not.

As often is the case, it's a matter of resources. Our resources are very limited.

On the one hand, if X happens over then next several years, then this will prove to be a very good use of resources.

But, if X doesn't happen, then this will prove a poor use of resources, but one we can't really change. Now, it's likely that X will happen, but there's no sure thing.

But then, if we put our resources into the chair's choice, then the chair has the option to do something he very much wants to do, Y, ESPECIALLY if X doesn't happen. But Y isn't in the interests of our department, though very much in the chair's personal interests. So, if the chair puts our resources into his choice, and X doesn't happen, then his Y will be seen as sort of a favor to the department.

And so we're all wound around.

The same sort of thing happened a couple of years ago; the decision was made by the chair to use resources for one thing, and then, by golly, the thing that was supposed to guard us against didn't happen, but it freed up the chair to do his thing.

Meanwhile, those of us who really think we could use resources in another area might as well be whistling in the wind.

Friday, November 19, 2010

From this Side of Campus

When I was at the conference, I had some helpful conversations with some smart people about using a survey program (Qualtrics) to get some more responses to my research questionnaires. It sounds good. I played a bit with the program there, and ran into a couple of problems, so when I came back on Monday, I called the Technology for Learning Team, TLT. TLT does lots of stuff to encourage people to use "technology" for teaching (by which, alas, they don't mean books or even pencils and paper, but electronics; but let's not forget that pencils on paper is a most excellent technology! And I love book technology!).

I called so that I could speak to a human being. And I did. And that human being offered to help me make an appointment. So she filled out a computer appointment request. She said they'd email me with an appointment time, so I asked, what if I'm teaching at that time. And she hesitated, as if that had never come up before, and said I could just ask for a different appointment.

What I was really hoping was that the person would say, sure, come by! Our drop in hours are X and Y this week. I didn't think that was unrealistic, because their website advertises that they have drop in hours, though it doesn't say what they are.

I got an email the next day, offering me an appointment during my class time. So I emailed back, asking for another time.

The next day, I got an email offering a time that worked for me on Thursday, so I said, yes, thanks!

But within two hours, I got another email cancelling that because the person who was supposed to teach me was doing a CPR class.

Then I got an offer for a Friday time, but all my Friday is taken up with meetings from 9-3 today (I'll be late to one meeting because I'm teaching, but my colleagues know that). (I know. It sucks to be me.)

Then there was an email about well, gosh, next week is difficult.

And so, we settled on a meeting for the Thursday after Thanksgiving.

It seems to me that the technology and procedures that should make scheduling meetings for technology office staff isn't working as well as they should. I'm sure there's a human being in there somewhere who's talking to the TLT folks, but I wasn't talking to them, but to an intermediary. Now, I understand if I'm trying to make an appointment with a dean that their staff person handles making appointments. But that person can actually make the appointment, so I can just call and work it out. I don't have to email back and forth for the better part of a week.

I have a sinking feeling that in the time I've spent emailing, I could have read the directions for Qualtrics and figured out how to do the three things I want to do:

1) Make several question answers go to specific next questions (so that the person who answers "yes" to question three goes to one version of question four, and the person who answers "no" goes to another).

2) Doing that also seems likely to require that the questions won't all appear at once on the screen, but will need the respondent to "flip" or "page" through. So I need to learn how to do that.

3) I need to learn how to make it so when I email to a person or list, each person receiving the link to the survey can get on there, and only those people can get on there.

Maybe by the week after Thanksgiving I'll have read the directions and figured it out. (Heck, I should have spent my time just now doing that instead of blogging my frustration!)

Here's the point. From my side of campus, it's a pain in the rear to get help with a technology thing that our TLT folks really want us to use. I'm not a super early adopter or a computer whiz, but I'm not anti-technology right off the bat. My love for technology corresponds very closely to how user friendly or learnable the technology is, how useful it is, and how fun it is (and, if I'm purchasing it myself, how it fits into my budget). I think a week and a half is too long to wait to get help with three or four smallish questions.

How does it look from the TLT side of campus?

I'm guessing there's a certain sense that we instructional folks are privileged and that we only work 12 hours a week. From that side, it probably looks like since we only have 12 hours a week in class, we should be a lot more flexible about when we can meet tech folks for help. The tech folks don't see that I'm scheduled by the advising/transfer folks to meet with students, don't see that I've got standing committee meetings, office hours, and lots of advising meetings to help students change majors or minors.

I'm guessing we seem recalcitrant and slow to pick up new things. (I can't see the point of clickies in my classes, for example. I just can't. I can't think of a single useful multiple choice question to ask about Othello. Can you?) I ask my share of really stupid questions, I assure you.

I'm guessing that they're frustrated when they offer a "learn this program" class and we instructional folks don't show up. (Because we don't know that we might someday want to use the program, or we don't have time in the midst of grading madness, or whatever.)

How do we bridge the gap? How do we get the LTL folks to help us more efficiently? How do we get the help with the things we want help with? (I don't know what the LTL folks desires are.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Committee Meeting Minutes

I'm on the Approval Committee for Happenings. We get proposals to make X or Y happen, and we either approve them (usuall) or send them back for clarification, explanation, or reworking, or, almost never, reject them.

So, I'm in a meeting, and we've been asked to approve a happening. We got information about the happening last week, and generally are asked to look at that, and forward any questions, so if there are things the requestor can respond to in the meeting, s/he'll come to respond or explain. And if not, these happenings being mostly small and routine, we'll do our business without them.

And we're in this meeting, and we approve several happenings. We come to the last happening, which requires its own approval, and someone motions to approve, and someone else seconds. Now is discussion time. So, Harry from a department not unrelated to this happening says, "I think it's a problem with this and that aspect of the happening." This is appropriate. Harry explains the problem he has for several minutes, so that we all have a basic understanding of the problem. And then he stops.

So I ask, "Do you want to send the proposal back to the requestors so they can respond, and perhaps reconsider what you're seeing as a problem?"

And Harry says, "No, I don't care. I just wanted to make sure that everyone realized..." and goes on for several minutes reiterating at the same level as before (that is, without adding new information or summarizing what he'd already said) the problem he had.

So here's the thing, you've told us once. If it's important to you, then we should send it back for rethinking. If not, then you don't have to retell us the same thing again. And again, because he did.

We approved the happening, and then miscellaneously agreed not to meet next week, and adjourned. At which time another member said that we should send a note to the requestors asking for an explanation of why they wanted this particular thing in the happening we approved.

And again, Harry started in with how it wasn't important but... at which point, I left (because the meeting had been adjourned). As I was leaving, I overheard Harry say that he was going to go ask the requestors why they'd done the request as they had.

I really, really wish Harry would have done that before we met, or asked the chair to ask (as we usually do), rather than waiting to bring up and drop and bring up and drop the issue in the meeting.

I won't get those minutes back.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Smile on a Rough Day

I got the news today that a family member who was aged and ill died last night. I feel very far from home at these times, and especially far from the people I'd like to comfort, the family member's sibling, especially.

But one of my friends linked this through facebook: Jon Carroll: A Communique from the Unitarian Jihad.

The local Unitarians put together a team to play some sport in a league a couple years ago, and called themselves "The Tolerators."

I'd like to join, if just I can think of a good name for myself. I promise to bring a hot dish.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Odds Are...

when I write an especially half-assed post, IHE picks it up to link.

I used to think it was cool when IHE linked. But then I realized that almost no one who comes from there responds or comes back, so it's more sort of like having strangers come into the house, and you know you're both wondering why they're there.

I check the sitemeter sometimes. I used to be pretty obsessive, but I got a bit more over myself. But I still check, and that's how I realized the IHE link (because it's not like there are more comments or anything). And then I realized there's also a repeated source link that I didn't recognize. It's from what looks like a discussion board that puns on "crucial." From what I gather from my quick net exploration, it's a discussion board either for or about hipsters.

Okay, so I'm about as far from hip in any formulation you can think of.

The discussion link talks about what a whiny blogger I am. Which is a fair epithet sometimes, for sure.

But here's what I want to know: don't you lose all possibility of any association of being cool (yes, you can tell I grew up in the 60s) if you acknowledge that you've read an academic blog by a middle aged woman?

I'm getting on my bike now. There can be little less cool than riding your bike in the sunroom while watching Frontline. I have to accept that.

Choosing Another Major

I had a student come in today for advising. This is a student I "inherited" from the colleague I'm replacing for the year, so I don't know the student from before or anything.

The student was doing education, but doesn't want to do education, and actually doesn't want to do English. So we talked about some other possibilities.

I think sometimes, students really need someone to give them permission not to pursue an education degree (and I'm sure some need permission not to pursue other pre-professional type degrees, too, but education's the one I see). He'd set up his schedule to fill education requirements, but they really make no sense for the other major he's thinking he wants to study. So, we talked and he's planning now to sign up for courses that will help him explore the other major and a possible minor.

This is one of those interactions that would seem negative on paper. Bardiac's lost a major! Oh nozors! The bean counters who care about how many majors we serve would tsk tsk. They'd look carefully at our bottom line, and think about how they can cut our funding, maybe.

But from the student's point of view, it was a helpful meeting. He said, at least, that he was feeling much better about school from our meeting. He went from seeming stressed and unsure/unhappy to looking enthusiastic and engaged. He's excited about the courses he'll be taking next semester.

I think the bean counters forget sometimes that we're educating human beings and not beans. A bean can't choose to be a different sort of bean, but a human being can change majors and learn different things. My student wants to learn different things. I'm okay with that. I'm okay with the bean counters tsk tsking, too, I guess.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Wall

I'm feeling like I've hit the wall for the semester.

I'm behind enough in my grading that I can't decide if I should just grade whatever's on top and work down, or if I should try to organize it.

I have revisions to grade. And I have conferences about the next set of revisions.

I have presentations to grade, and responses to presentations. And a few more presentations to come.

I have other presentations to grade, and written work in my senior seminar, and more conferences to help students work on their seminar papers.

Wednesday, I'll also get a stack of peer editing responses. I hate grading peer editing responses, but I have to say, it's one place where students dramatically improve their work when they realize it's graded and that it's not just a "turn it in and get an A" sort of thing. But damn, they're just boring and blah to grade.

Every so often, I'm taken totally aback by a student question. The other day, in my senior seminar, a student asked what the little circles in the text meant. (They look like degree marks.) It's a fairly common typographical symbol that there's a note or a glossary bit somewhere else in the text, either at the bottom or side of the page or in the back. But this student, a senior English major or minor, had never encountered them before. AND, s/he also didn't read the book in the sort of way that I expect English students to read.

I guess I really do expect that a student will glance through the table of contents, at least scan the introduction, and look at the back for an index or gloss or notes. Any of those things would have helped this student figure out what the little circles were about, I think.

I'm tired of students complaining, and most tired when I feel like I haven't done a really good job of some aspect of the class, so the complaint is pretty reasonable. Every semester, I try to do some things, especially in my writing class, but also this semester in my senior seminar, that just don't work. This semester, it's mostly around reading and discussing race theory and racism. I feel awfully clumsy about the ways I try to lead discussions. And yet, I still think it's important to try.

I'm thinking about using a qualtrics survey to see how students are finding the advising sessions I've put together, and how I might improve them. I refuse to use the "a word" about this, because I want to do this not for some accrediting task, but to actually be more efficient and effective about the advising work.

When is the weekend again?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Library Advice for Students

I'm reading a play I haven't read since the last time I taught this course. I have two copies of this text, and it looks like I had lent this copy out to a student at some point. How do I know? I know because it's got all these bits of text circled in pencil. I suppose I should be grateful it's penciled, but who the hell writes in someone else's book? If I remembered who I'd lent it to, I'd write them a nasty email even now.

A couple years ago I ordered a book for the library, and a student in my grad course was the first person to take it out (for a review assignment). The student lent me the book during the dicussion of the review, and it was written in in ink. So I asked the student, and she said, all shocked that I would dare to question, yes, of course she'd written in the book. Then I ranted at her for a good long time.

Now, I write in my own books. I expect people to write in their books. I write in pencil these days, but I've written in pen. But that's my OWN book.

I just erased the circlings. Bleargh. What a useless marking a circle is, anyway. At least if you're going to write in a book, write useful notes!

But mostly, don't write in books that aren't your own personal property, especially if they're MY books! And don't write in library books.

And oh, yeah, if you borrowed my copy of Hendricks and Parker, please, for the love of dog, return it!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Conference Hotel

I'm at a conference. The hotel has this huge bed in a huge room, and I can't help thinking, I've lived in apartments that weren't much bigger than that bed.

I tend to be a fairly still sleeper, and I tend to pull my arms in fairly tight rather than splaying out, and I like to be within reach of my glasses on the bedside table. So, when I get up, I've disturbed about one quarter of the bed, and the rest looks like no one's been there.

I've figured out why administrators hate paying for academics to go to conferences (because there are also administrative types at this conference hotel doing their own thing). First, administrative type conferences are totally unlike scholarly ones. Administrators sit around and listen to "experts" tell them what to do and what's hot and not in their job field. In contrast, scholarly conferences tend to be where we talk about our work with other scholars. We don't sit around and just take notes and listen. But administrators seem to think we do.

Second, most administrative conferences seem to be mostly just BS excuses to hang out in the bar drinking. Scholarly conferences often also involve bars and drinking (or other things, if you live in a Lodge novel), but we're actually doing stuff that matters during the day. But administrators think we're just sitting and listening to the same BS they do.

That's my theory of conferences. And why is it that our administration pays for endless conferences for administrators, and then severely limits funding for faculty? A question for the ages.

But now, signing off to go learn stuff!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Online Calendar Woes

I had my usual office hours this morning; I'd just finished talking with a student, and moved the computer mouse to change from the screensaver to open email thing, where I saw an appointment pop up. Usually, the only way the computer email appointment thing pops up is when I make arrangements for a class to go to the library for library instruction, and the librarian sends a request, and I accept it, and then it goes on my system calendar. Other than that I don't use the calendar.

Instead, I have this amazing little paper thing that I carry with me and write in. I can flip back and see when I had an appointment; I can flip forward and see when I'm able to give blood again, when birthdays are, all sorts of stuff. (Yes, I have to write that in every year, but it takes about fifteen minutes all told, and it's not that hard. And I get to use different colors for different things, which is fun.)

The people who use the system calendar thing tend to be administrators whose secretaries control their appointment calendar. Everything goes on there, and then the administrator opens their iphone or whatever during meetings and flips through instead of paying attention. (Not that I'd notice, except, yes, it happens way more often than students disrupting things with texting.) But, since I don't synch my life with the computer nor do I have a secretary to control my appointments, I don't use the calendar.

Anyway, there's this appointment that's been made, by someone whose name I don't recognize, and I'm just starting to process that I don't know what the heck this is about, when a person walks into my office and says she has an appointment, that she just made it on the computer.

Um, no. The computer doesn't run my life like that, sorry. But, it is office hours, so I take care of her advising needs (and alas, I'm guessing she thought I was a little brusque).

She said that the office of [administrators] told her to make appointments this way and that she could see my free time, so she made an appointment.

I seriously don't have any clue how she did it. I can't figure out that same information by looking at my calendar, nor could the department admin assistant who usually knows how to do stuff.

I don't know if the office of [administrators] is able to check schedules, including office hours, or if she just chanced to make an appointment during what are my regular office hours.

But I sure wish I could figure it out, because I hope no one else creates an appointment and then thinks I should be bound by it. (There's a lot of time that might show on a computer schedule as "free" that's really totally scheduled into meetings or conferencing or something. Or if it's really free, I might even step out of the office and grade at home in my PJs.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

We have some programs on campus that are pretty competitive and some that require some state mandated tests before you can enter, even.

I saw a student today who's been told several times to take the state mandated test before he can take the entry level courses in this program, but he doesn't quite seem to have gotten around to it. And that means he can't take the entry level courses, and that means he can't take the mid-level courses, and that means he'll be delayed in actually applying to get into the program.

But then, this same student also has a GPA that's close to minimal for the program. The student talked about what a mistake he'd made in transferring a grade of B from another institution. And I said, trust me when I say, that B you got in X class is NOT what dropped your GPA into the C range. Seriously.

We talked a little about the GPA being dangerously low for a competitive problem. To me, it seems like the student is shooting himself in the foot, and maybe that means that student really doesn't want to do that program? Or just isn't as focused on it as the people who get in and succeed are?

An additional aspect of this problem is that the program is in another college, but if the student doesn't get accepted into the program, he'll have to choose a major in a second college, and that college has some additional requirements that the student won't have. (Most students who are on top of things listen when we advise them to fill the harder requirement early on, so that they can opt out of the program if they want to, and that's a very good thing.)

And can I just say, it always worries me when a student comes in and doesn't know what he's taking this term or whose teaching those classes. It's not like I'm asking who your third grade teacher was. Don't you know who's standing in front of your face 3 or more hours a week blabbing? Really? You have, what, five, six instructors, and you can't remember their names or what classes you're taking?

There is not enough bourbon, is there?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Could I Pass Junior High?

I'm the go to person for some sorts of questions for different kids I know.

Tonight, I got a call from a junior high student wanting help figuring out the "theme" of a book.

I'm lousy at this sort of thing. You think I'd be good at it, eh? But I'm not quite sure what the junior high teacher means by "theme."

What do they mean by "theme"? Any ideas?

The kid didn't seem to know what the teacher meant by "theme." That may be because the teacher didn't really explain (because it's obvious, right?) or the kid may have zoned out during that part of class. (It's a kid, after all. Surely they zone out as often as college students?)

I talked to the kid a bit. There must be some special skill I've never developed to understanding kids with braces. (I know, I was a kid with braces, and no one could understand me.)

To me as an adult, it sounded like one of those books that's supposed to be all "even girls can be main characters" but at the end the prince has taken a liking to the main girl character. But I didn't think that the teacher would really go for a half-baked feminist critique, and I sure can't explain the whole of feminism to a junior high student before bedtime.

It also sounded like one of those books where the kids are sent away for their own good, to be raised elsewhere, but the kid I was talking to really didn't know why, or seem to think it was important. But if someone's sending a kid away to be raised, I figure there must be a good reason, right?

More High End Shoe Blogging

Some of you may remember the last time I made a foray into shoe blogging. (More on that purchase a bit later.)

Well, once again, I'm there. I totally blew my shoe budget for a bit.

One of the sports shops in the next town north has a rather famous swap sale every fall for winter ski stuff. I bought basic classic style cross country skis at the shop a couple of winters ago now, and have been enjoying them a lot when there's snow on the ground. I'm not at all good, but I get out and get some fresh air, often in the company of one or another friend, and I get some exercise. These are things much to be desired, especially in the midst of winter.

Since I'm now in their customer database, I got a postcard about the swap last week. The swap started on Saturday, so one of my friends (let's call her S) went with me to see what we could find.

And here's what I found!!!!

You may be thinking, but B, you already have skis and boots, don't you? Why would you get another pair of boots?

Ahh, well, I do already have classic skis and boots, but these are boots for skate skis! Yes, I'm going to try skate skiing some this winter. I tried it once with a friend's skis (and some rental boots), and it was HARD. But if I try some more, maybe I will enjoy that as a change up or in places that are groomed for skate skiing but not for classic skiing?

And, you see, they're yellow. That means I'll be WAY faster than my friend whose boots are orange. Because yellow boots are faster, right?

Now before you scroll down to see the skis, well, I didn't get skis. The swap had only a few pairs of skate skis, and none were right for me. (What counts as right for a given skier, on the most basic level, involes the person's weight and height. One of my biking friends is one of the ski club folks who contributes time to the swap to help people, and she helped me look at the skis and suggested I not get any that were there. We also consulted with one of the shop workers, and he agreed that I wouldn't have nearly as much fun on those as I would on skis that were a good fit for me. So I'll either have to go look for other used skis or buy new ones. But the bindings on these shoes are very much in line with standard skate ski bindings, so that shouldn't be a problem.)

You can, however, scroll down to see my other new shoes!

Lookee! I found a pair of used snow shoes. I've learned that it's way fun to have a friend go snow shoeing with me, but not everyone has snow shoes. But they're not the sort of thing that requires a precise fit for a basic walk, and they're not so expensive that having an extra pair around would cause my precipitous bankruptcy, so I got this extra pair.

Then S had an idea about going for a run. S runs. And she uses the R word. But I figure, S knows how slowly I run, and how whussy I am, so if S suggests going for a run together, it means she's happy to have my company knowing my limitations. I figure it's like when I invite one of my friends to go biking who doesn't bike as fast as I do; I'm inviting them because I enjoy their company and I'm happy to bike with them.

There's a new park being worked on in our city area; the city is in the process of taking out some trees for ski and snowshoe and bike trails, and S wanted to explore it a bit. So off we went. Remember my fivefingers happy toes? Well, the cleared parts of this trail were pretty lovely soft dirt, and it was GREAT playing! It's not like I burned up the trail, but I mostly ran for 40 minutes and was happy (we walked on the uphill parts) and felt good.

And this is going to be one glorious park. We went up one hill, and found ourselves on an area above a river, and it was beautiful to see through the fall trees out over the area.

And now I'm excited at the thought of snowshoing up there, too!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Presentations: the good vs the miserable

We started presentations on research projects today in my writing course.

I emphasize that students should do their presentation in whatever way seems most effective to them. We do a brainstorming activity where we talk about the worst presentations they've seen, and the best. We talk about what not to do, and what has worked for them in the past.

Before the presentations start, I have the students trade pre-prepared questions they'd like asked after their presentation. That way, each student gets a little practice with a very softball question or two. And other students get a moment to think of "real" questions. It works pretty well.

And then the presentations start.

The first went well. The presentor used an open form, starting with a question, then explained why some people argue X, introducing his sources as he went, and then why some people argue Y, again introducing his sources appropriately. He finished by saying that he argues Y, and gave us a final point, that maybe Y could be reconsidered if something specific changed.

It wasn't the most exhilarating presentation ever, but it was quite good. His first two questions (the prepared ones) went well, and then some other people had questions, which he answered well.

The second was a disaster.

When we do the brainstorming, you can tell that some people get it. Even if they haven't thought about presentations as a type of teaching, and even if they hadn't thought about the fact that their teachers do different things, sometimes more, sometimes less effectively, these students begin to understand that the focus isn't really about some song and dance, but about communicating what they care about to the audience so that the audience understands and maybe even remembers next week.

Organization isn't just about the beauty of order; it's about helping people understand the connections between points, helping people understand the background they need to understand a deeper issue.

A picture or powerpoint isn't about the gee whiz I can do this technology! It's about helping people visualize information so they can understand and maybe remember it. (I don't think most people in class pay close enough attention to the presentations to remember them easily, but the good ones, people do remember for a bit at least.)

So this second presentation was a disaster. For some reason, the student has a habit of starting a sentence, pausing after the verb but not at a real stopping point, and then starting another sentence. He does it as a speech habit in office hours, too, but it was way worse in the presentation.

I don't quite know how to reach this student, but I'd like to be able to get him to slow down a bit and focus on getting the most important part of the message across rather than trying to get so much information out of his mouth.

But the starting sentences and then changing works on a bigger level, too. The student will say that there's are two aspects, and then forget to talk about the second aspect and go on to something minimally related. It's like there's this frantic rush, a sort of collage of everything all together, but in a presentation, the audience doesn't have time to think and make the connections as we might with a piece of art in a real collage. We need guidance to make the connections, and this student isn't helping us.

And I don't know how to help the student do better next time. Telling him to slow down and focus only on the most important information didn't help (because we discussed that in conference last week).

Sometimes, I feel like an especially inept and inapt teacher.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Double Majors and Graduation Rates

We have a fair number of students doing a double major rather than a more traditional major and minor. We have some doing a double major and a minor. Some doing a major and two minors.

I was talking to a student the other day who's thinking of doing a double major, changing his current English minor to a major. It would take him at least an extra semester (he's well along in the minor, so he's not starting from scratch).

Why, I asked, after making clear that I'll do the paper work if he really wants me to.

He answered that he thought having two majors would make it easier to get a job.

So we talked. It's not my impression that having two majors makes it easier to get a job, unless one of those majors is in a really specific job field (such as nursing). But having two liberal arts majors isn't a huge advantage over having a major and a minor, so far as I can tell.

And it costs a lot. With books and food and a place to live, a semester here can cost more than $8K. (I realize you're laughing at that if you're somewhere that costs 40K a year, but we're not.)

There are good reasons to spend that 8K. If you think your happiness depends on a couple of courses, then that's money well spent. If you absolutely can't live without this major, then again, money well spent. But if your aim is to get a job, and the job title isn't "English major" then my sense is that it really doesn't matter.

We have a less than stellar four year graduation rate, though that's something the state and our own administration would like to change. And there's good reason to wish that more students could graduate in 4 years.

We have a pretty good five year rate, and a better 6 year rate, but the four year rate is low. I'm guessing there's a certain percentage of students who think that the opportunity cost of going for an extra semester or two is worth it if they can get an extra major on their transcript, because if one is good, then two must be better!

I sent the student off to talk to his other major advisor and to think about the costs before we did the paperwork (which, again, I am happy to do if he really does want to stay an extra semester).

The important question is about whether there really is an advantage to students in doing a second major rather than a major and a minor? What say you, wisdom of the internet? Do they learn a full year's worth of additional skills towards employment, or would they be better off graduating and getting on with their lives? (Yes, I know the economy sucks right now, but we still have a pretty darned impressive employment after graduation rate.)

If Department Meetings Were Like Revenge Tragedy #2