Monday, October 31, 2005

Advising basics

I generally love advising. I think it's one of the things I retrospectively realize I didn't have a good experience with in college (totally my own fault), and I want to do better.

My college advising went like this: as a freshman, I declared a major, and was sent to see an advisor as part of the process of declaring my major. I obediently went to see the advisor, didn't have much to say for myself, and probably bored the poor guy to near tears.

Then as a senior, I needed to have my advisor sign off on my major degree. I looked around for his office, and couldn't find it. Then, I wandered into the department office and asked where his office was, and was told that he had left to go to medical school. So I found a different faculty member to sign off for my degree, and that was that.

So I was smart enough to read the university catalog and bulletin and I lived a rich fantasy life about what classes I would take, and managed to fit many of those in along with the requirements for my major and general education. But I wasn't smart enough to realize that an advisor might actually be able to give me advice and guidance, might actually be able to help me see a bigger picture in my education. So I missed out on at least some of the things I think are most important about advising, and that's what I try to do differently.

The basic responsibility of advising is to know my department's programs, the college and university requirements, and to be able to communicate that information to my advisees. In some ways, though, most students really could do that part alone. The other basics include helping advisees negotiate the administrative stuff, helping advisees plan and think about planning, and helping advisees think about the big picture or arc of their education.

Advising is also a humbling experience. One of my advisees not long ago told me that she is an alcoholic, but has been in recovery, and so thinks she'll do better in classes this coming semester. I had no clue, none whatsoever. On some level, I probably failed her, and have failed other students with alcohol, drug, or other problems. Should I have noticed the smell of alcohol? What other clues have I missed that I should have caught? And if I'd caught them, what should I have done about them? Sent them to counseling? (I'm afraid I have little faith in our student counseling service. Does it really do any good?) I feel terribly unprepared to deal with these sorts of problems in my teaching or advising relationships.

On the other hand, I'm a Shakespearean. If I'd wanted to do social work or alcohol rehabilitation work, I'd have tried to study something like that at some point. So it's a balance between how much of my life I share with my advisees, and how much they share with me.

This week, I had meetings with several advisees, and emailed with a few others.

When I meet with first year and sophomore students, I tend to do more teaching, though I hope I do it without being too obvious. I spend a lot of time, it seems, asking about their fantasy classes (which they should take at least some of), trying to help them see how university requirements are actually meaningful learning experiences and not just hoops they need to jump through, and trying to get them to think ahead in planning, especially so they can study abroad if they want. Often, they're not really sure about an English major, so it's important to encourage them to explore other options. (Sure, I'd love it if they all really, REALLY wanted to study English, even more if they wanted to study lots of Shakespeare, but realistically, what's important is for them to study what they want to study, what they love. At least, I really want them to love what they study, even if it's not Shakespeare or even English!)

When I meet with juniors, we tend to work out the math to make sure that they know which requirements they still need to work on to graduate. By the time they're juniors, they've usually got a strong sense of their major, but are sometimes still figuring out their minor. Sometimes the junior year is a harsh reality check, and it's my job to make sure they understand that they're not going to earn a degree if they keep on the path they're on.

Seniors, especially when I've been advising them for a while and have developed a relationship with them, are the most fun. We double check the math for their degrees. And usually that gives me a chance to encourage them to think about taking that one last fantasy class they've always wanted to take. Beyond that, we spend time talking about their next steps. If they want to go to graduate or professional school, we'll talk about preparing for the GREs, work on their letters of application, statements of purpose, and CVs. And if they're heading into the business world, we'll work on their resumes and letters of application.

It's always fun to ask seniors if we've done a good job educating them, and how we could do a better job. I think most of my advisees think we've done a good job giving them educational opportunities, and they have a fair sense of the big picture of a liberal arts education. Most of them will probably have a better sense of the big picture ten years down the road, which is fine with me.

Next time: trying to be a better advisor!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A short tribute to teachers

Yesterday, my mentor for the first year writing class asked me how PhDs learn to teach. M (not his/her real name) is an English Education major, preparing to teach high school English, and thus in the throes of taking oh so many education courses aimed at teaching how to teach. Except that many of them are more aimed at teaching potential teachers about laws related to teaching on the state and federal level. M, it seems, has noted that I have a rather different teaching style. (I'm not quite sure what that means, but I hope it's good.)

Unlike high school teachers, college teachers, especially those from traditional PhD programs, are rarely taught much about actual teaching. My PhD program had a one term one hour a week "class" taught by one of the worst teachers I've ever seen/met, which was supposed to teach us how to teach (ahh, the irony of that poor instructor's life!). From that class, I took away one thing I use in the classroom. It's a useful thing, but worth the ten hours of torture it took to get it? After I'd graduated, my program moved away from that model and towards a mentoring model.

But by and large, PhD programs are research oriented. Students often TA, sometimes for many years (at least in the humanities), but most programs really try to get students to focus primarily on research and finishing their degree. Thus most of us learn primarily by watching other teachers, good and bad, and remembering the best/worst of our undergraduate teachers, and by just doing it. Sometimes, if we're lucky, we learn from colleagues, too.

M's question got me thinking about the best teachers I'd had, especially at the undergraduate level. It's been a goodly while since I did my undergraduate degree, with years off in other fields and a PhD program intervening, but some of my undergraduate professors still stand out sharply in my mind. I'm sure some of these folks are retired, but thinking about them makes me think about going back and thanking them. I'm sure I was a disappointing student in many ways, and I've certainly followed an unpredictable path.

Here are a few of the very best

Robert Rudd - Professor Rudd stands out in my mind for the clarity of his communication, even though I think that he found it difficult, and for his continued efforts to be a better teacher. When I was a student, he was at least mid-career, and yet he consistently taped his own lectures to listen back and try to improve them. He also gave pretty much the best office hours of any professor I remember because he always made me feel welcome. I was a fairly shy undergraduate (as in, I don't think I said a word in a class until I was a senior, and certainly didn't actually go visit a professor in his/her office hours until I was a junior!), and yet he put me at my ease, helped me ask better questions than I ever would have by myself, and helped me care about actually learning things rather than worrying about grades. He also told great stories.

Arthur Shapiro - Professor Shapiro was able to move from demonstrating complex math or genetics, to talking with a class about our lousy writing skills, to quoting Shakespeare with apparent effortlessness. He gave me an appreciation of and admiration for polymathy, and passed along a sense of the importance of the arts, something I was really missing at that point in my life. He taught me to think about the most basic assumptions made in the field; I think he taught me more about critical thinking in one course than I learned in my other undergraduate classes combined. I don't think any of the folks I'm listing here would look askance at my academic path, but I think more than any other, Professor Shapiro would appreciate the pleasure of it all.

Richard Cowen - The best lecturer I had as an undergraduate, I think, certainly the most memorable. I distinctly remember a specific class in which he did a coelomate worm impression, showing us how a hydrostatic skeleton works in worm movement. It was so good that for no other reason at all, I still remember what a coelomate worm is. Professor Cowen taught me to be fascinated by long dead things, things dead longer even than Shakespeare!

Milton Hildebrand - Another wonderful lecturer. Like Professor Rudd, Professor Hildebrand was probably mid-career plus when I took his classes, yet he gave the impression that he was committed to educating us, and he's still a role-model for me in that respect. Because there were so many of us in some classes, he said he felt he couldn't actually come around and teach us some of the skills we might want, so he invited us to come to his lab to watch as he did his work on several occasions. I took advantage of that once or twice (not nearly to the extent I should have; alas, the shyness thing). He was so precise without being prissy or obsessive, careful, respectful of his study and subject. Even though it's a world away, I try to approach texts with the respect he showed.

In my mind, these folks will always be Professor So-and-so. And I have a feeling I'd still be tongue-tied and in awe if I were to end up in the same room with any of them again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Students: what not to do

When the semester starts, I tell my undergraduate classes, especially my first year classes, that there are a couple things they should never do. I tell them that they're going to see other students do these things, and that when they do, they should know that even if the instructor is smiling, on the inside, s/he's not!smiling on the inside.

Here are the big two for my classrooms:

First, every student is going to miss a class at one time or another. But, if you miss a class, you should NEVER go up to the instructor afterwards and say anything remotely like, "I missed class the other day. Did you say anything important?"

You have to realize that college instructors tend to have pretty tremendous egos. Most of us believe that pretty much everything out of our mouths (or whatever other orifice) is golden (hence this very blog). You should pretend that you do, too.

When I tell students this little tidbit in the first class of the semester, I tell them that they need to get notes from another student BEFORE the following class, read them over, and then, if they need clarification, talk to their instructor for clarification. (Now, of course, I always get some really good student who's a bit of a smart aleck, who misses a class and then comes up to me with a HUGE grin and asks if I've said anything important. That HUGE grin is vital if you're going to do that, as is immediate waving of the notes you've borrowed and a hearty laugh.) Then I actually have my students exchange emails and phone numbers with each other so that they can get notes when they need them.

The second thing is more irritating, and not surprisingly more common. Again, it's inevitable that at some point in a student's career in college, s/he is going to have some technical difficulty with an assignment. I can deal with technical difficulties.

But inevitably, I will have some student with technical difficulties come up to me at the beginning of a class session, or as I'm trying to get things together to start a new class activity, and that student will present his/her problem, while 20-30 or more students wait.

There are a couple problems with this. First, it's just rude to think that a whole class needs to wait on your problem.

Second, and worse, though, is that you'll make your college instructor nuts. You have to realize that college instructors are generally problem solvers. Few people make it through a PhD program and actually get a job in a tight academic job market without being very pro-active about finding, identifying, and solving problems. So, when you present your instructor with a problem, s/he wants to solve it. But, there's probably NO good solution an instructor can come up with to solve your technical difficulty while 20-30 people wait in your basic college classroom. After all, if the problem could be easily solved, you would have solved it, right?

Think about it: you had a printer problem. There's no printer in this room. I can't solve your problem. Pretty much any technical difficulty is going to be unsolvable in the classroom with 20-30 or more people waiting, watching. And not being able to solve your problem leaves us with few choices: we can simply fail you, we can yell at you, or we can smile while we cry inside. None of these are good options for you. What you want is for the instructor to pat you on the back and tell you that it's ok, and no one really expects you to be a responsible adult. Just so you know, I am never going to say those words to a student.

So, wait until after class (preferably) or a time when others won't be waiting on you or the instructor to start class or do an activity, and then explain your problem. Better yet, go see the professor well before your class starts and try to solve the problem. Or go see the tech people at your school!

Why rant about this today? Because today, in my first year writing class, I was trying to start an activity with the whole class, and not one, but two students presented me with stupid technical problems.

You know, I really wanted to tell them what idiots they were. Instead, I told them that I really couldn't begin to solve their problems while the class waited. But I wasn't smiling.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sonnet Day

This semester, I'm trying something a little different in my Shakespeare class. I generally start the semester one of two ways. Either I use a few sonnets to get students working with Shakespeare and verse right away, or I have students do a short acting project a former roommate of mine gave me. Both usually work pretty well.

The problem is that when I teach sonnets in the beginning, students don't seem to get so much out of them. There's a huge advantage to being able to read 14 lines of poetry on the first day and at least get them feeling the verse in their mouths, hearing the words, thinking about the imagery. I have them all read the words aloud, and then I start asking them how their mouth feels, and what they hear. At this point, I don't worry about whether they know what alliteration is, or why it matters if a line starts with a spondee or a trochee. What I want is for them to really think about how their mouth works when they say the words, and how that feels, or, as I like to say, tastes. (For me, good poetry is tasty and chewy; it affects my mouth.) If you can get them a little relaxed about it, and start noticing things with them, they do really well at noticing a lot of the things I want them to notice. A lot of it is repetition: rhyme, alliteration, word usage, and so forth.

Then I move to imagery, and often try to get them to draw out the imagery. (This is GREAT for thinking about imagery. And drawing helps people remember imagery.) Shakespeare's sonnets are pretty darned good. It's easy to spend an hour on one in a class. Do that for a couple days, and, when I'm lucky, my class starts to get a stronger sense of how to read and experience verse. But then we move on to plays, and students seem to forget the sonnets pretty much.

So, this semester I decided to come back to talk about a couple sonnets midway through the semester, and today was that day. They had their EEBO assignment (discussed in and we started there, talking about the differences they saw between the early modern versions and their modern texts. Happily, two students had used versions from The Passionate Pilgrim, so we had tons to talk about as far as sonnet titles, collections, and so forth, in addition to typographical conventions and issues (long s, u/v, i/j, spelling, capitalization).

Then we read one of the sonnets aloud, and I asked them pretty much what I'd asked the first day we'd read a sonnet aloud, "what do you notice?" And WOW, did they have LOTS to talk about. I was especially impressed when one of the students noticed how hard it was to say a couple of the words in a line, and how much he really paid attention to those words because of that. I think maybe they've learned something this semester!

At any rate, it was a real treat to work on a sonnet now that they're a bit more experienced at working through and thinking aloud about verse. I'm definitely going to find a way to get a day or two on sonnets into the middle of every semester.

I love librarians!

My department has agreed, more or less, to have some kind of research component to our first year writing classes. There are lots of good ways to do this. I have my students write a final research paper about anything they like. We start by brainstorming about real questions they have. (The paper requires that they ask a real question they care about and don't already think they have the answer to.)

Then we go to the library and begin learning how to use the library catalog search engine and one or another periodical database search engines. I like to have a librarian teach the class. Today Professor X (that's a pseudonym, I bet!) taught my class in the library's computer classroom. There are just about enough computers for each student in the class to sit alone at one, with a few people sharing.

Professor X started off by giving a short introduction, including information on keywords and subject headings, then taught them how to use the library catalog database. Then she had them look for books on their individual questions (I'd asked them to bring two potential questions to class for today). She and I then went around answering questions, helping the students find good search keywords and so forth.

She then showed them how to reach the databases we can access through subscription through the library, especially Academic Search Elite. (These databases are incredibly powerful and useful, but you really have to have some ideas about how to use them well.) And again, we went around helping students with their searches.

I love the way she was able to move them from a little mini lecture to doing their own questions. She also liked my library practice worksheet, and that made me feel good.

If I could teach those students nothing else about research, I'd teach them to go talk to a reference librarian whenever they're starting any research. I love the way librarians are able to find all sorts of resources about just about anything. Did I mention, I love librarians?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Head Meet Wall

Some days! On Monday, my Shakespeare class has an assignment using an academic database called Early English Books Online (EEBO). Their assignment is to find two specific sonnets by Shakespeare, print them out, look at them and think about how they're different (or not) from the sonnets printed in their text book.

I had my first alert that something was wrong about the assignment last week, and since I'm giving them a midterm on Friday, thought today was the day to give them some last minute help. The problem is that one of the best students in the class couldn't find the sonnet. And I know if she can't find it, the others aren't likely to do a lot better. So, be frustrated in class Monday or give them the basic answer to the challenge today. I chose the latter.

EEBO is a subscription database service that basically updates the great bibliographic efforts of the early 20th century by making information about printed early modern texts available on line in a readily searchable database. Sometimes the information is basic publication information; but for most texts, the database provides full scanned images. That's right, you want to read a scanned image of Dalton's The Country Justice and you are in luck! It's on line! And so much easier to read than the old microfilm rolls! And even better than having to try to travel across the ocean to a library, especially on a limited budget!

Here's the kicker, though. My student had diligently searched using the keyword "Shakespeare" and the keyword "sonnet 116" and come up empty handed.

So I asked in class if anyone had tried to do the assignment, and one brave young woman said that yes, she had, but that "it wasn't there, Bardiac!"

Now, the electronics age has taught me to distrust technology, so I have a habit of always checking my assignments to make sure that they actually can be done, and I'd written up an assignment sheet with fairly detailed instructions. What I hadn't done was to explain what I just did about EEBO. You see, they were looking for a sonnet, and NOT for a book! Sometimes things seem so transparent to me, and I'm just stunned that they aren't transparent to students. I guess I thought the "Books" part in EEBO would give it away? I'm not sure.

At any rate, the assignment sheet had suggested that they use their own text to find out when the sonnets were printed and use a date limit in their search, since "Shakespeare" was sure to bring up more hits than they would have time to look at. I also hinted that they might want to look for the original title, but apparently my hint wasn't strong enough.

I'm irritated at myself for not explaining EEBO better on the assignment sheet.

But I also worry about my students. Faced with a limited searching problem, or almost any sort of limited problem, they seem to give up really easily. One keyword search and they're done. They don't seem to have much joy in the hunt. I'm not asking them to cure cancer, but to find a text, a famous one at that, in a searchable database with a darned easy search system. I assume they've done internet searches before, but their unwillingness to bang their heads against a wall for a while til things soften up worries me because the joys of research and learning for me isn't just about finding factoid A or quote B to use in a paper or in a class. The joy for me is in the pleasure of the hunt, in learning something, putting concepts, facts, ideas, images, whatever together for myself. Even though I'm always eager to figure out the argument I want to make and to actually finish something, I love getting waylaid in blind alleys, not realizing they lead "nowhere" until they've taken me into some interesting little corners of the imagination or world.

As a result, of course, I have all sorts of "useless" information. No doubt this would be useful if I went to cocktail parties much. But if you want to know what the price/earning ratio a property owner looked for in early modern English real property investing, well, I'm your Bardiac!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

First Year Student Programs - Part II - Classes and schedules

One of the things I do differently in my First Year Student Program writing course is to use Richard Light's Making the Most of College: Students Speak their Minds. The book isn't perfect, but it's a fairly quick read, sets out some issues I want students to think about, and is a good starter for conversations about the college experience. Ok, it's a quick read for me, but a moderate challenge to many of my students, especially when they know they have to take notes because I do actually quiz them on their readings.

Last week, we read a section on what makes good classes. One of Light's big arguments in this section is that one of the most important factors in student satisfaction is small class size. In my class, we listed out the various classes my students are taking by class size (I always make them exclude this specific class from consideration, for--I hope--obvious reasons). About 20, 20-40, 40-60, and 60+. It turns out that my students are taking almost no 60+ student classes.

Then I asked them which classes were their best, and put plus marks by them, and their worst, and put minus signs by those. And, unlike Light, we didn't find any correlation between class size and their satisfaction with their experience.

Then we talked about what DID make a difference for them; they didn't mind lectures, so long as they were well-organized, stayed on topic, and made good points, and weren't boring. (I don't know how to quantify boring, but I know it when I see it.) They liked professors who answer questions well and patiently, and mostly like discussion classes, but didn't like classes where group work was unfocused because they found themselves getting off-topic quickly. They liked when professors help them make up study groups. They didn't like classes where professors told off-topic stories. (OOPS!) They really liked when professors treated them like a person, especially when the professor actually knows their name.

I don't like to focus on negatives, which professor makes them unhappy or whatever, for any number of reasons. But I like them to start thinking about which classes they might want to take, and from whom, because spring registration is coming very fast, so I asked them about the instructors of their best classes. The idea was to share names so they'd know who to take next semester.

And there was the wonderful disconnect: ummmm, his/her name? Errrr... It's on the syllabus... I could look it up. (Of course, some of them did know their instructors' names, but a surprising number didn't.)

They could tell something was up because I had my big "freak out" face on. (Yeah, so I'd be Robin Williams if I could. Since I can't, I teach.) I said, "you realize, you only have four or five professors' names to learn, and your professor has 70 or more..." They got it and laughed.

Then we talked about how to make classes better themselves. They can actually make up their own study groups! And, happily, we'd read a section in our composition reader about discussion participation, and I had them write out what they thought they could use from that list to contribute to their class discussions. Who knows, maybe something will take?

(I swear I TRY to learn my students' names!)

First Year Student Programs - Part I - background

Like many colleges and universities these days, NorthWoods U has a First Year student program intended to help students adjust to college and get as much out of the experience as they're ready to.

Where I taught before, the program had every student in the college taking basically the same class during the fall semester, taught by a different faculty member in a different section. During the summer, the faculty teaching the course got together and chose common books, made suggestions about speakers, and even helped each other with assignment ideas. The result was that every student in a given year had a sort of canon of texts each had read and similar experiences going to see and listen to the same speakers. The program did a remarkable job getting the college's mostly first generation college students into college life and giving them a strong sense of being part of a learning community. It wasn't ideal, but it was one of the best things about the education for students there.

At NWU, a much larger school, our first year program offers students a special section of a regular class (usually a first year sort of class), through which they're supposed to get extra direction, information, and mentoring to help them adjust to college life. (Like my previous college, NWU educates a large number of first generation college students, for whom such programs seem especially valuable, at least potentially.)

We faculty folks often try to get a mentor for the class, a more experienced student who can facilitate discussion of student issues from dorm-living and alcohol use to study skills and scheduling questions.

There are pros and cons for faculty in teaching a first year program class. You have to somehow add extra content into your class to some extent. That's tough. Usually, I manage to keep my classes pretty darned full and busy. You also sometimes feel that the university is holding students' hands when we should be kicking them in the rear. And, of course, you end up spending some of that class time talking about things that feel like a waste of time: drinking, for example. It's not that I want my students to go out binge drinking, but that I don't think I can convincingly tell them to never drink, or teach them in a writing class how to drink responsibly.

The big pros for me are twofold. To be perfectly crass, NWU reduces class size for these classes, by about one third in the case of First Year Composition/Writing classes. That's HUGE when you start grading essays. The other pro is that I sometimes feel that I've really given one or a few students a good start to their college careers, with all that means.

The really big con is that we're supposed to start assessing the first year student program soon to try to figure out if it's having any positive impact after all. Assessment, there's it's own day's worth of ranting!

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Teachable Moment

The other day, I had one of those days. If you're a teacher, you know what I mean, a class moment of imminent disaster. Teaching is life without a net. You can plan and plan, study, read, and think you're totally prepared. And then a bright student asks a really great question, and it makes you think and react. If you're good, and I am on only very rare occasions, you can make that question into what we in the ed biz call, "a teachable moment." Usually a teachable moment comes when a student asks a question that leads you to a discussion of the big issues in your field, in learning, education, whatever. (I'm not entirely comfortable with the whole ed biz lingo. "A teachable moment" is a useful phrase, but all too often overused or misused, empty, and blah.)

There I was blathering something about early modern religious practices and Shakespeare in my Shakespeare class (trying to explain something my students had read in Russ McDonald's excellent Companion), and one of my students raised his hand (I'm disguising student info: don't assume I leave even gender unmeddled with!) and said something along the lines of "But wasn't Shakespeare educated by Catholics?"

GULP! Now, a good teacher would have done better, but I looked at the student (think deer in the headlights) and asked, "You have records about Shakespearian education?!??!!!" Ok, I got a bit in the student's face, even. BAD professor.

The student asked, well, don't we? and then revealed the kicker: "I read Stephen Greenblatt's book this summer, and I thought he said Shakespeare was educated by Catholics."

Another student who apparently had the gumption to READ during the summer (YAY) concurred.

Frustrated, I told the class that, in fact, we have no records of anything to do with Shakespearian education. We like to assume from his parents' social position that he was probably educated in a local grammar school, where he learned Latin, read Ovid, and so on. But we don't have any actual records to back this up. I ranted for a moment about Greenblatt's loose and careless logic in the book, and the students sheepishly said they felt "taken."

In other words, I blew it. It drove me crazy all night, but I made a plan for the next class session. I got out my copy of Greenblatt's Will in the World and found a good sample set of facing pages. I made some penciled notes on the page, stuck on some sticky notes pointing out paragraph issues, and then stuck it on the copy machine. (Fair use!) On the other side of the handout, I put some commentary, starting with how really impressed I am that my students read outside of class, and how disappointed I am that someone of Greenblatt's ability and status wrote such a careless, misleading book. And then added a few pointers about the way we use historical artifacts as metonymy for historical culture, and how misleading and necessary that is.

The next day, armed with my handouts, I headed to class. (Just so you know, this class is a sophomore level class, with general education credit available, which also meets English major requirements and the NorthWoods State Shakespeare requirement for Secondary English Education majors, ie future high school teachers.)

And together, we worked through the copy of the Greenblatt text, so that we could all see how brilliantly he moves from doubt and potential problems, to grammatical certainty within a few lines. It's brilliant in the way that misleading texts sometimes are. And Greenblatt's a GREAT storyteller, so he's all the more convincing, and all the more disappointing.

I think it worked. The students who'd read Greenblatt understood how and why they'd been "taken" and felt good about the good parts of Greenblatt's book, and, I think, good that they'd read the book. (And yes, even if you have tenure, getting in a student's face and making him feel lousy is going to hit your evaluations badly.) And we actually exercised some critical thinking skills/strategies that may have something to do with general education and such. AND, they learned something more about what records we have relating to Shakespeare and how we read and make arguments about historical artifacts.

All in all, I was pretty satisfied that I'd taken my really rotten response and recouped it a bit.


Lately, I've been reading blogs, mostly medical blogs. I got there accidentally, but once I got started, I got fascinated and read and read. The best of these blogs (from my limited point of view) try to give non-medical folks a sense of the practice of medicine, the frustrations and joys of practicioners, and even a little education by the way.

Medicine, of course, is one of those things that pretty much concerns most people to some extent at some point or another, and it's opaque to most of us. Who KNOWS what our doctor is thinking, as we sit there terrified hearing some words we have no clue about. But the way the doctor or nurse handles that situation makes a huge difference in our lives.

Teaching and academic research has fewer life and death decisions, especially when the research involves Shakespeare, who, after all, has been dead lo these many years. But I thought it might be interesting to challenge myself to try to write a blog as good in its own way as some of the medical blogs I've been reading. So, here goes. I'm going to try to de-mystify the practice of teaching and research in my own little world and field, and in the process, I'll probably learn something. If not, this little experiment will quickly disappear into the white noise of the internet.

Note: I teach at a mid-sized public teaching university in the midwest. I'll call it NorthWoods U. I'm going to disguise my students names and details, of course.