Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Panic Mode

Summer is half over. EEP!

I've spent several weeks at workshops and such to learn how to do a project on how students learn (there's a whole language for this, but I don't want to alert G00gle.)

I think I've got the beginnings of a really good, useful and well-defined project. It's small, so small in fact that I was worried about its smallness, but the workshop leaders were happy about its smallness. It's smallness makes it a lot more do-able, and that's really important.

For the first time ever, I'm preparing to go before a review board with my stuff to get permission to use human subjects. Since the worst risks of my project seem to be paper cuts, and since it has potential to be really useful on a tiny scale, I'm not too worried. But it's a whole new thing to learn about review board stuff.

I'm basically doing a couple questions to a couple groups of people. Ah, yes, but it's the questions you ask and of whom you ask them. I've never done this sort of thing before. It's not like writing exam questions, though it sort of is. In each case, you want the question to be clear so the respondent can give the best answer possible. But for these questions, there's no "right" answer, only the answer the respondent gives. And that's very different.

Yesterday I drafted my questions and sent them to the other workshop folks for some feedback. (Helpfully, lots of people in the workshop who have done these sorts of questions before.) I also need to do some work on reading up about similar research projects, and see what I can learn from them. Then I'll need to test out the questions on some random but appropriate folks to get some feedback about timing (I don't want them to need more than 10-15 minutes to answer the two questions) and clarity. And then I'll put everything together to go before the review board. And then I'll actually do the project.

And yes, I'm as impatient as the worst student ever in waiting for this feedback. (And if you've done this sort of thing before, and would be willing to give me feedback, please let me know.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I've got six courses next year, and six different preps. I have a lot of work to do.

Last year, the folks that control our special program for incoming students asked those of us who teach in that program to apply again to teach in that program and to propose a new theme for our course in that program. In my world, I've taught first year writing in the program, a course which lends itself well to that sort of thing. The benefit is that we teach 20 students in the course rather than the standard 28 students in a regular first year writing course. (Yes, 28. Best practices have been tossed out long ago here.)

Anyway, I said I'd like to teach a theme of education and identity. It's mostly a modification of what I've been doing (which is why I'm reading Freire and Perry and such), but it still means putting together new readings and new essay assignments.

Aside: I was thinking the other day about how many of our adjuncts put in with enthusiasm to do new versions of the comp course and to do new stuff, and wondering where they find the energy. They have a bigger teaching load than I and are paid less. And then I realized that while their load is greater, they're usually teaching a lot of the same one or two courses. So designing a new version is a chance to be less bored. I'm constantly designing new versions of courses or teaching preps I haven't taught in five years or more, so I don't have a chance to be bored. (They're also trying desperately to be indespensible, of course.)

I'm also teaching theory for the first time in four or five years, and I need to rework the course so I'm happier with it. Out with Freud, in with ? The theory course is supposed to serve all our English majors, but it doesn't really seem to serve the needs of everyone as well as it might. So I'm reading some suggested linguistics theory to figure out if I can integrate some in there in a useful way. And I've asked our rhetorically minded folks to suggest a few readings. (Unfortunately, one of them is sort of crazy, and suggested something totally unconnected to my request. I wonder sometimes. I also try to stay well out of this person's way, because s/he sort of scares me. If you know me, you can guess what really scares me.)

My third course for fall is my senior seminar on the other in early modern plays and such. I really enjoyed the course last time, but I'm reading and prepping to do a better job. I've started a really interesting book on the history of the Ottoman Empire. Seriously, it's fascinating. But it's also a huge reminder of what a big hole I have in my education about eastern Europe and the Middle East. And it's made me realize that I really, really need to teach Tamburlaine in that class because he intersects historically with a character in Selimus (well, if memory serves, it's Bajazet in Selimus, but memory may not serve). But that means dropping a play. And which play to drop? (Or I could drop Oroonoko, which I used at the end of the course in order to give them something really different.)

So that's fall.

In spring, I'm not teaching first year writing, but am teaching our gateway to the major course. (Both are 5 credit courses, so my three course teaching load isn't quite as luxurious as it looks at first.)

And then I'm teaching Poetry, which is a great course, and not a hard one to prep.

And finally, I'll teach Chaucer again, which is lovely, always, but not exactly smack dab in my early modern field.

I feel a little better having laid everything out like that, a little less panicked.

And next time, maybe later today, I want to talk about the learning research stuff and how it connects to Community College Dean's post yesterday on changing credit hours and such. There's a thread in there about productivity and what that means in education that I need to think more about.


  1. Re: teaching theory, I'd be happy to pass along my syllabus/assignments from when I taught it a couple of years ago, if you think it would help. Just pop me an email. Also, totally check out the book *Beginning Theory* which I think is fantastic as an overarching guidebook to different theoretical approaches(and accessible for students to read, but not too dumbed down). Oh, and I also really like the book Modern Literary Theory: A Reader for an anthology, which I think is a LOT better than the ones that you see more commonly on syllabi for this sort of course (and cheaper, too!).

  2. Bardiac, any chance you can share your ideas for the Education and identity themed comp course? I have done parts of a course on education-related issues, but not yet an entire course on one theme (my fear: boredom, my own boredom with 26 essays on the same topic). I'm also on a committee/task force/whatever that is investigating adding a first year experience component next year, and your program sounds similar.

    Good luck with your pedagogy? assessment? project: that, too, sounds intriguing!

  3. I'd also like to see your course on education and identity! I have done education as a topic as well, teaching Freire, Rodriguez's "Achievement of Desire," and others. You know what might be good, considering the homeschooling and unschooling movements? John Taylor Gatto's piece on education that I think was originally printed in Harper's. Anyway, you may have it all figured out already. Certainly the recent NY Times article on liberal arts education for Bell Telephone employees might be interesting:

    Anyhoo, I'm going to email you about some other things in here. What a great year this stuff will make!

  4. Can I audit your early modern drama and the other? It's reading I need to do and it would be fun to follow your syllabus :)

  5. Dr. C, Thanks, much appreciated!

    Annie Em, You should have an email from me.

    Earnest English, Thanks for your suggestions; I'd be happy to share my stuff when it actually exists for real.

    Susan, I'm going to change it up, but I'd be happy to share the syllabus I have now.