Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Survey Says: FERPA!

I got an email survey from the campus folks responsible for educating us about alcohol. I think my students are plenty aware of alcohol, but we have a whole office about that. We also have an office for parents. Not students as parents, but parents of students. We've cut faculty lines, but added people to manage the parents of students.

The survey is giving the "teaching members" of the "community" a chance to give input about the parents "presenting themselves" at various places on campus. (Note that "teaching members" bit? That's student services talk for either "everyone" or the people who stand in the way of customer service by insisting that some answers really ARE better than others.)

Call me old fashioned, but once a student is in college, then s/he's an adult, and his/her parents need to talk to the student and not to me. I'm okay with talking to visiting parents and potential students. I've met visiting parents on a variety of occasions, and it's fine to say hello and such. I'm very happy to congratulate parents when their kids graduate, especially when I can tell them what a wonderful daughter/son they've raised, and what a pleasure it's been to work with the student.

But talking to parents about whether the student attends class? Nope, not me. Not without signed permission. We call that FERPA, thanks very much. How about talking to parents about why their student got a C- on a test? Survey says, FERPA!

The questionnaire wants to know if I think a representative of the campus should contact parents if a student is: arrested, kicked out of the dorms, found with alcohol or drugs, doing poorly in class.

I'm guessing the office is getting pressure from parents about notifications of various sorts? Perhaps parents want to be notified? And they don't trust their adult children?

I'll tell you who notified my parents when I failed a class. Me. Because I was an adult (well, sort of), and that was the deal since my parents were funding my college education.

If parents are supporting the student, then they should lay out an agreement that fits their situation. Say, "you carry a B average, show us the report card for every term, and we'll cover tuition and books" or whatever. But that's between the adults involved, and not me.

I'm guessing things are more difficult on the dorm end, where parents are probably paying the dorm-organization directly, and things get sticky if the parent sends a check and the dorm-organization has kicked out the student?

One of the weirder questions has to do with students behaving in ways that are worrisome in terms of harm to themselves or others. I know what motivates that question, but I don't have many good answers. And I don't think that calling parents is one of the likely good answers.

I do have a feeling that we're moving in the direction of calling parents about a lot of stuff, though. I'm guessing there will be some standardized form that students will be pressured asked to sign giving the college some blanket permission.

What we should really do, I think, is give all students information about FERPA, and give any parents who come to campus (for student orientation, pre-enrollment tours) the same information.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Putting Things Together with Students

I've had two interesting student visits so far this week.

The other day, a student came in again after a year or so; he was in my writing classe several years ago, and has come by to get feedback on writing application letters and statements of purpose. I found out that the last application I helped him write was successful, which was happy news.

Now he's applying for grad school, so I read his statement of purpose and gave him some feedback, sending him off to revise and then come back with a new version.

If I were smart, I'd charge a couple hundred dollars an hour for such advice. Alas, I'm just a phud. I'm sure the powers that be would be happy that I've helped a student who's not "mine" in any way these days, but I wonder if I actually have a legal responsibility to do so? I mean, could I legally say, "no, sorry, I don't have time," and not hear badly if he decided to complain to someone way higher up?

(Not that I mind helping him, but if I got $100 for the half hour, that wouldn't hurt, either. Of course, I'd probably have to pay for my office usage, and the state would find a way to make that cost more than I'd make.)

Then today, one of my advisees dropped in unexpectedly (and not during office hours), looking a bit iffy. So in she came to talk about what classes she's going to take next semester.

Turns out, when she looks at the course offerings, she's not really interested in taking classes in either her major or minor. Well, that's a problem. So we talked, and now she's going to take a couple courses to explore potential majors and minors, more in line with what really interests her. And if things work out, she'll sign up for something else and be a whole lot happier.

The thing about both of these interactions was that I spent a lot longer than one might think trying to help each of the students understand something about how their education should matter to them, not only for taking the next professional or career step, but as an education.

When I was a student, I never really talked to an advisor much; I signed up for my major, and then 3 and a half years later, I learned that my advisor had gone somewhere else, and I had to get a different prof to sign off on my degree check. (Happily, that worked out well. And interestingly, that different prof had met with me for summer advising the summer before I entered college, so there was a sort of rounding out to my college education. And I'd taken several classes with him, and learned a lot. Thanks, Professor R.)

So in grad school, I never thought about trying to help students think about their whole education. And yet I've learned that helping students put together the disparate aspects of their education to make a whole is actually a really important part of my work.

One of these students is a graduating senior; he should be putting things together, with help from his advisor (or a random Bardiac), but mostly on his own. The other student is closer to the beginning of her academic career, and so it makes more sense that her advisor (me) needs to add perspective and an overview.

Questions for the blogosphere:

for students (and past students): are you getting a sense of synthesis about the education you're earning? If so, how and where? Advising? Classes?

for grad students: are you getting mentoring about helping undergrads put things together? Did you get help yourself as an undergrad? Or did you pretty much do it yourself?

for instructors/faculty members: does your school emphasize putting things together for students? Do you have a sense that this is fairly new, or not, where you are? Does your school, department, or program formalize that synthesis?

Monday, November 26, 2007

For this I Wrote a Dissertation?

I spent way too much time today trying to schedule a meeting. Yep, I'd scheduled a room almost three weeks ago for this meeting, and got told today that a really important thing had to take place, requiring full departmental participation, in our meeting place. Would we mind rescheduling?

For some reason this semester, we've been rescheduling a lot. But this, too, is important, and we need to reschedule.

So I got out the committee master schedule. At the beginning of the semester, I asked one of our departmental admin assistants to make a schedule of when the (then) four members of our committee had unscheduled time in common. (We're required to turn in a schedule card with all our regular time commitments for just such a purpose.) There're two hours on Monday morning, two hours on Wednesday morning, and another at 11 am on Wednesday, or an hour late Wednesday afternoon. Three hours on Thursday morning, an hour on Friday morning, and late Friday afternoon.

Complicating things: we added a member after the master schedule was made up, and we've invited another departmental colleague to talk to us about an issue. (And the next Friday afternoon, another committee with two members in common with us, has that locked up.)

So, I checked both of their schedules with the admin assistant, open Monday and Wednesday mornings, and Wednesday at 11! So I emailed to change our meeting to Wednesday at 11. But then someone said s/he actually has a class then. So that's out.

So I suggested either Monday or Wednesday at 8am. And the new committee member emailed back to say she actually has something scheduled, but didn't put it on the schedule card for the admin assistant. I tried Thursday, and nope, someone else has a class then. And then there's a medical appointment, and a special activity for another, and this and that.

I suggest late Wednesday afternoon, and a few minutes later get a visit from a committee member to tell me that there's another departmental meeting that's going to be scheduled for then. Good to know, eh?

So, I'm down to three things: Late Friday afternoon (I can hear the "I have to pick up my kid" complaints already forming), or the Friday that's the last day of classes, OR (and this is my favorite), it can wait until next semester when I've run away to Asia!

I know what I'm voting for!

It took me two years to write my dissertation, which came in at 300+ pages, and supposedly made an original contribution to my field. And this is my reward.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Okay, no more whining!

In George Peele's Edward I, what's up with Elinor sinking into the earth? And then floating up again, to disrupt the peasants' garden? I have this strange feeling that really, really, Peele somehow got a preview of Monty Python or something.

It must have been spectacular on stage, though!

Saturday, November 24, 2007


As folks who read this blog know, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the Northwoods. I'm uncomfortable with the conservativism, the overwhelming whiteness, and the pervasive religiousity here. I miss museums of other than logging, a variety of familiar landscapes, a variety of foods and people. On the other hand, I'm grateful for a job, a home I can afford on my academic salary, and for mostly good, interesting students and colleagues.

For the past couple days, I've been listening to endless little digs about the Northwoods. Jokes about broken down barns and tiny airports. Comments about two-lane highways. Questions about how people in small towns bear to live there, and fingers pointed at people in blaze orange.

If I unabashedly loved the Northwoods, I'd comment back. But I don't.

If I hated everything about the Northwoods, I'd join in the bashing, I guess. But I don't.

I'm ambivalent, and it hurts to hear my home put down, especially by someone who doesn't live here. I mean, it's one thing for a local to comment on the pervasive deer yard art, but another thing when an outsider does.

To the locals, of course, I'll never belong here. I can never comment on the deer yard art as a Northwoodsian to a true Northwoodsian.


When I was a kid, I had a nickname I loathed. And when I say loathed, I mean loathed, detested, abhored. You get the point. When I was in college, I changed the name I used, both because I also hated my given name, and because I was trying to avert a lifetime of the loathed nickname.

The nickname hasn't really been used for 20 years now.

Except, it seems to have reappeared.

So what's the point of pointedly using a nickname you know someone loathes? I mean, why would you do it to a kid? And why would you do it to an adult after so many years?

Seriously, it's not that funny.

And why do I still loathe the nickname? (Other than that it's butt-ugly? I mean, really, it's hard to think of an uglier combination of sounds.) But I still have the same strong, gut-wrenching angry feelings when I hear it.

There is not enough bourbon. (And yet, compared to most Shakespearean families, mine's a gem.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Day After

I celebrated the day after by dropping in to give blood. I'm told they need donors especially during the holiday season. This is probably my last donation for a good long time, since I'll be away, and then maybe ineligible.

I have to say this for my Mom: she rocks at craft stuff, and is always willing to give things a try. We made potato block print Christmas card things with the kids. Way fun!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Please Explain?

Let's just say, if the continuation of the human species depended on me, a lot of wildlife would breathe a sigh of relief.

Seriously, I was at lunch today with another woman, and about 5 young women, most carrying baby car seat things (you know, the ones for really little babies that come out of the car and then people carry around?), came in.

The other woman was totally fixated on the babies. She talked about how much she wished she were a new mom again. She stared at them yearningly. She talked about how cute they were. How irresistable.

Don't get me wrong. I'm careful when I need to lift or carry a baby. I've changed my share while babysitting. I try to be decent and respectful to people of all ages.

But, I have not one iota of fascination or interest in babies. Never have.

(If you're female in the US, you're really not supposed to say that.)

When the other woman talked about how she wished she were a new mom again, I thought to myself that if I found myself in day to day charge of a baby, I'd take it to the nearest hospital and then find a way to do myself in (without making a mess). Seriously, just thinking about spending even an afternoon in the company of a baby... well, I've done it plenty, and it didn't make me want to do it more.

I imagine maybe it's like color-blindness; color-blind people know that other people see green or whatever, but they don't see it. I know that some people find babies irresistable, but I don't see it.

I thank science every day for the development of effective birth control, and thank my luck for the luck part, too. I thank science and the legal system for the development of safe abortions, too.

Anyway, I asked the other woman why she'd want to be a new mom again, because I don't get it, but I'm curious.

She said, because they're cuddly and they're completely dependent.

Cuddly I can understand.

But the dependent thing? I don't get that, really. In fact, I find it sort of creepy in a power-mongering way.

So, if you're someone who likes babies, help me understand what it is you find irresistable or attractive or whatever, please!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Doubles on Campus

Every so often, I notice that someone on campus looks very much like someone quite famous.

For example, we have a famous sports lookalike (think Tommy Lasorda) during the managing years.

And we have a famous semi-intellectual lookalike (think a very young Dick Cavett).

We have a famous actor from the 20s lookalike (seriously, Oliver Hardy reborn!).

Weirdest: we have a faculty member who looks exactly like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Office Hours

Today, I had the opposite of the difficult discussion I last blogged about.

First, a student who's paper is sort of tangential to the class she's writing it for, but she's just going to town reading and learning great stuff! She came in to get some extra help finding sources, and we were able to find two great things on EEBO (YAY, I love EEBO!), and an edition of letters IN PRINT! that she want to look at. What fun! She borrowed two of my three office Bibles. (Because I'm that kind of a nerd.)

Another student came in having difficulty finding resources for a paper, but she really wants to do her question. I emailed a blogger, and a couple hours later, I was able to forward on some resource leads. The internet really does work sometimes!

I love when students get excited by their research. You can tell when they come to office hours. They may be having difficulty, but they can talk about what they've tried already, what they've learned so far, and what they're after. And a student with a good question is a student I can usually help, and I can usually count on to follow up on resources.

I love the part of my job that involves helping people find resources and think about what they've found and what they're reading. I love that generous people are willing to answer questions and help, too. (Thanks, M!)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Inevitable Question

My student looked away and hesitated, and I knew the question to come.

"What would I have to get on the final essay to pass the course?"

I actually appreciate when students ask the question because it's important that they get a realistic sense of what's possible and of what they should expect.

I pulled out the grades, and showed her that there's really no mathematically possibility that she can pass the course. (I hate that part.)

And then we talked about the difficult adjustment to college, the surprise at how much more work it requires than high school. And how to do better next semester.

I did some damage control, pointing out that I, too, had a difficult adjustment to college, that I'd failed a couple classes, and that people can "come back" from a rough start to do really well in school. It's one thing to tell a student this, and another to know that the student probably has to talk to her parents about it; and typically of our students, mine is the first course they've ever failed, so that's a difficult talk. I hope her parents are understanding and supportive, because most students DO get through an initial rough adjustment, and most do much better in their second semesters and thereafter.

I advised her to use the final assignment to learn what she could, but to put most of her energies for the rest of the term into doing better in all her other classes. I explained the math of being put on probation, and the importance of doing well when she repeats the course (because the grade will get wiped off the GPA).

I tried to be reassuring that I feel positive about students even when they fail, and that I recognize the difficulty of adjusting to college life. Failing a college class doesn't mean anything about a person's character or worthiness; it means she messed up. And most of us have messed up in life.

And in the end, did it do any good? Time will tell, but probably won't tell me. This student will go forward, retake the class with a different instructor, and we'll probably never cross paths again.

It's weird: at that moment, we're in my office chatting, and it's very important. But in the long run?

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I was in the lunchroom the other day, eating, while one of my colleagues decided to hold forth on how the world should be run, specifically, how a common writing class should be taught. He kept on and on about how we should all teach basically the same, and we should all do the same sort of assignments, and the same number of assignments, and on and on.

We have a common set of goals for our common writing class, and then we figure each of us is a well-trained professional and we will work towards those goals as we best can.

Finally, one of the other people in the lunchroom asked our orator if he used the common goals to direct what he does in his class.

The orator stopped, hesitated, and bragged that he doesn't look at the common goals, but he has his own goals, and blah blah blah. It was all I could do to not laugh out loud.

The humor was lost on the orator, however. Not on the rest of us.

I worry that someday, I'll be braying forth and won't see what an ass I am, even when someone holds up a big mirror and I'm chomping on a carrot, flicking my huge ears about.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Other Side of Student Emails

I read a lot of inane student emails, and a fair number of posts from profs talking about their students' emails. But today, today I got a student email that basically said,

Dear Professor Bardiac,

I'm back from [name of war zone] and I'm coming back to finish my degree. [other stuff.]

Best, Student


I hate the whole damned war, every aspect of it, but I'm teary-eyed with happiness that my student has come back alive and is coming back to school. I think it's probably the happiest email I've ever gotten, certainly in a LONG time.


And the Weekend Roundup you've been waiting for:

1 stack - reading responses
1 stack - reading responses (a different class)
1 partial stack - short close reading assignments
1 partial stack - revisions
1 stack - working bibliographies and annotations
1 partial stack - essays (Handed in Monday, I've done 2/3rds already!)

It's going to be a busy weekend, but the huge committee task is done, pretty much, with some mopping up after Thanksgiving.

The other big task for this weekend is to get my house ready for a Thanksgiving crowd. Eep!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ancient History

Reading a student paper about a movie set in the 1980s, and realizing that to the student, the clothing and everything else from the 80s really is old, as in OLD!

I despair.

I've become my parents and grandparents. When did that happen?

Another blogger is angry at the "old guard." Having been at this teaching thing for over 10 years now, I probably count as the "old guard" to some people.

I had a grad school dream last night, the first in a long time, probably 8 years or more.

In it, we grad students were carrying cardboard boxes with a big rock in each, bowling ball sized, and it was raining hard, a soaking, cold, nasty rain, and we were all trying to get one of the very limited plastic file folder boxes with a lid to put our rock in. The plastic boxes were on a big, grey, metal bookshelf thing, the scaffolding kind businesses use to hold BIG stuff. And it wasn't that we were beating each other up physically, but we were definitely competing for a very limited number of boxes for our rocks.

I woke up after the plastic boxes were gone and I didn't get one. I was standing in the rain with my cardboard box melting, trying to keep my rock as little wet as I could, and then I woke up. I was glad to wake up and know I'm not still in grad school.

(I don't know if other schools do this, but where I was, people had a habit of carrying their printed out dissertations to the filing office in cardboard boxes, usually boxes that had once held computer paper with the holes on the side or boxes that had held heavy cotton rag paper for CVs and stuffs.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I finished some committee work today. At least the part I need to have finished.

Now I need to grade. And grade. And grade some more. Then some more grading.

I planned this week out very poorly in very many ways.

I need a better anti-procrastination plan for tonight.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I've been conferencing with students from my various classes about research projects and papers of various sorts this week.

Mostly, the students have been really good; they've got good ideas and they've begun to figure out how to find answers to their questions. My job is to help them push a bit further, prompt deeper questioning, and teach them how to find resources. Sometimes, my job is also to cheerlead and send them on their way to continue the good work.

These are the students who teach me interesting stuff, and with whom I get to have engaging, challenging conversations. I love when students tell me that they're learning a lot about something, that they've "always" wanted to learn about what they're researching, and they're really getting into it.

Sometimes, though, things aren't that easy.

My student comes in and says, for example, "Lincoln was a good president." So I ask, what do you mean by that? Blank look. I try again. What makes him a good president?

See, it's not that I disagree or even have an opinion about the goodness of Lincoln as a president. It's that "goodness" isn't necesarily self-evident or something we'd all agree about. But it's my job to try to get students to question those easy middle-school statements that they haven't necessarily thought about further.

(Speaking of presidents: do you ever wonder if Bush senior doesn't sometimes just shake his head and wonder how he--a relatively intelligent guy--raised a son stupider than Quail?)

Another student comes in and tells me that "last night, I looked on the web for resources." Err, I ask, do you really think the web is going to help you find good resources? The student gives me that look of incredulity.

I explain that I could make up a web page that talked about unicorns and the history of unicorns. I could probably even provide a bibliography of texts that talk about unicorns. But, that still wouldn't mean there's really evidence that unicorns actually exist. Anyone can put up anything on the web (because, case in point: really, I'm not a prof! I'm a ... something way more sexy and exciting, yeah. Someone think of something. I'm coming up blank on what could be sexier or more exciting than what I do, especially the committee work and grading. Mmmmm.).

But I also give these students a heads up about my expectations; most of us faculty folks figure students need to spend 2-3 hours working outside of class for each class hour for college level work. So if it's a five hour a week class, and I've cancelled class meetings to hold individual conferences with all of them, then they have 15 hours minimum this week to work on their research for our class. And I expect them to put in that time. (The best students, of course, do more by this time because they've chosen a research question that really fascinates them.)

Most worrisome at this point is the student who emails after his appointment to tell me he's changed his topic. The late topic change is a red alert in a couple ways: first, it's late to change a topic, so the research is going to be rushed. OR, there's always the chance that the student's frat brother wrote a paper about topic X last year for some class, and suddenly, topic X is looking awfully appealing.

I enjoy conferencing. The fun students are just fun, engaging, interesting, and a pleasure. But even the less fun students give me a chance to do real teaching, to try to get them to think more deeply and start researching now rather than three weeks from now.

Technology for the Win

The support services side of campus does these programs that are supposed to help us learn to teach. They send us emails with hints; the hints, to me, feel like the services folks have this idea that we're all somehow bad stereotypes from the 50s. (And I don't think most of us are; at any rate, I've seen some pretty amazing teaching when I've observed a variety of colleagues.)

This week, on the main campus webpage, they're advertising a program on using technology to teach effectively.

The link to further information? Dead.

Monday, November 12, 2007

After a Long Day

I just got an email from a colleague in response to some work the committee I chair has done. Undercutting and wonderfully nasty, and perfectly polite. Admirably viscious, even. Ah, the skills we phuds bring to our work.

I could do without that.

I'm off to do my last library session. These things are tiring. I find that I have to bring a lot of energy to the group, and really try to keep folks focused. Sometimes my regular students make off the wall comments, and I just wonder what the heck they're thinking. These folks, though, some of them really bring things in from left field.

I try to make sense of things, but sometimes I really feel inadequate. And tired.

This is the last session, and so the last week of feeling like I'm teaching an extra class.

I haven't slept well before any of these classes. I should keep that in mind should I ever think about applying for this program again. It's really sort of not worth the hassle. On the other hand...

I got a whole new stack of essays today. And some extra late essays from a stack I graded over the weekend. I think some of my students have a touch of senioritis or something.

Of the new essays I graded so far, several were outstanding, really just solid A essays. I hope that means they've learned stuff this semester and doesn't just mean I've become delusional or something.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Procrastination Be Gone!

The weekend list:

1 Stack of writing stuff
1 Stack of essays (These were mostly good! It's so much less torturous to grade good essays! But really, shouldn't ALL students remember to cite their texts properly by this point in the semester????)
1 partial stack of essays (variable due dates)
1 stack of other stuff

5+ hours of committee work - 2+ hours done! First step DONE!!

Texts for next week: Play (started...), essay re play, essay

Prep the final week of my library presentation.

Biking: 18 miles (Saturday) plus 19 miles (Sunday), passing 2500 for the year. This is HUGE for me! HUGE!

All in all, not a half bad weekend.


I've been working on procrastinating less this semester. So here I am, blogging. Yes, I'm aware, thanks.

For one thing, thinking about going overseas for a semester has made me get a bit more on the ball about getting some things done.

In the past week, I've made appointments to get my car's oil changed (which I'm pretty good about, usually, but this semester is madness), and to get my teeth cleaned (which I'm not pretty good about, but genetics seems to have dealt me a good hand on reasonably healthy teeth once you get past the years of braces).

And, after more than fifteen years, yes, you've read that right, more than fifteen years, I finally took some chairs in to be rewoven or something. (Can it really have been fifteen years? It seems impossible, but the math works out.) I just finally face the fact that when there are people here for Thanksgiving, they'll need to sit, and since I own nice chairs, if I get them repaired, we could actually sit in those, instead of the plastic porch chairs.

So, why chairs, why today? The chairs come from a set of furniture I sort of inherited from friends of my parents. These friends (I blogged a little about them at the bottom of this post), H and T, were friends of my parents from an apartment my folks had for a couple years before I was born, and remained friends of my folks until they died.

T was probably the only veteran of WWI I knew, though H was a nurse during the war, so maybe she was a veteran as well?

Mostly, I procrastinate about grading, so I need to get back to work. I need better anti-procrastination strategies.

So far: 19 miles, rolling hills. (I passed 2500 miles total for the year today.)
Finished library presentation preparation.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Most Boring Blogger Ever!

It's almost 7pm on Saturday, and here's how the weekend roundup list is going so far:

1 Stack of writing stuff
1 Stack of essays
1 partial stack of essays (variable due dates)
1 stack of other stuff

5+ hours of committee work - 2+ hours done! First step DONE!!

Texts for next week: Play, essay re play, essay

Prep the final week of my library presentation.

Also: 18 miles, and the bike shop solved my difficulty getting my tires pumped; turns out the pump wasn't working! It wasn't my lousy technique after all! They exchanged the pump for me. I love my bike shop folks.

So far, it's been a hugely productive weekend, and there's still time to read a play or something! I'm so happy to be done with the big first stack that I'm practically dancing around my office.

Overheard on Campus

I was walking on campus yesterday afternoon, making a quick trip to manage my caffeine levels before my last meeting, and overheard this from a young man on a cell phone:

"So you have to kill Bambi's mom?"


It weirds me out that I'm pretty sure I know what the conversation was about.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Weekend Roundup

1 Stack of writing stuff
1 Stack of essays
1 partial stack of essays (variable due dates)
1 stack of other stuff

5+ hours of committee work

Oh, yeah, and those texts I'll teach next week need to be reread.

I get a new stack of essays early next week, and another stack late in the week, so having things cleared as far as possible this weekend will make next week a LOT more do-able. Big committee week next week, at least 5-6 hours of meetings (plus prep!).

I had a really productive committee meeting this afternoon; it left me with some little tasks (all done for now), but we did good work. It makes a good ending to the week.

OOPS! I almost forgot I have to finish prepping the final week of my library presentation! EEP!


One of my colleagues showed me a web forum where people complain about companies that sell essays and such.

The complaints? The papers are plagiarized.

Well, yes, that would be exactly what a work you represent as your own when it's not is.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Every day, I learn something new

I got an email from a student in one of my classes where I've given students an assignment to write a couple annotated bibliography entries. It's a minimally useful skill, but one student should know, right?

The student confessed to having had a similar assignment in a previous class, and to having done badly on the assignment. Without being blameful at all, the student asked for guidance on my assignment so s/he'd do better.

DOH! I think back, and realize that I only ran into such assignments in grad school, and there I was able to talk to more experienced grad students, look in annotated bibliographies, and so learn the basics. But I've never really done a good job articulating the basics for my students. Stupidly, I just assumed they'd learned that along the way. And, of course, most other instructors seem to assume the same.

Now I'm looking for a really good articulation of how to write an annotated bibliography entry. I looked in some of the composition texts I have sitting around, and nothing. Then I looked in some of the research guide texts I have around. One of them mentions writing an annotated bibliography, but doesn't articulate how or why.

And then, like a desperate scholar of the internet age, I hit google, and lo, found this guide from Tidewater Community College's Writing Center.

Nice and clear! I especially like the way it gives a list of things an annotation should include, and then gives two examples (MLA and APA).

Do you teach the basics of writing an annotation? If so, how do you explain what you're after?

Do you have better guides for helping students learn the basics?

Addendum: I asked my students today how many of them had been assigned to write some sort of annotated bibliography thing before, and all hands went up.

Then I asked them how many had been taught how to write an annotated bibliography when they'd been asked to write it. One hand stayed up.

I'm thinking I'm not the only instructor making poor connections around here!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More Bits of Goodness

I had one of those remarkably productive, if fragmented, days today. Can I just say, my students really make my job meaningful and pleasureable, former students, too.

I got my flu shot today. I'm always indecisive about getting a flu shot, but usually get one if I remember, because students always bring back nasty bugs after Thanksgiving. (Random observation: Is it just me, or have vaccines gotten less painful in recent years? Giving blood still feels the same level of poking and stinging, but vaccines seem to hurt WAY less than when I was a young adult, even.) I don't think I've ever had the flu, but one of my colleagues got it a couple years ago and was laid up for three weeks feeling lousy and then slowly recovering.

I wrote up my course outline for next semester, and I'm thinking it's pretty good already. And it's got me thinking about what handouts I'll need to have made up for copying way before I leave and such. I have a TON of work for this whole trip thing to do, but I made good progress today, and I beat the description deadline by a couple days!

One of my students sent me a brilliant email suggesting something for our next class meeting.

I got cheese. This isn't just any old cheese, but cheese that takes goodness and comfort food to entirely new levels. This is cheese that makes bread WANT to be under a broiler. My mouth is watering right now.

I met with a student about a paper, and was able to help him focus further and get a start with some historical background work. I checked through an advisee's file for our meeting tomorrow, and have ideas to help her with her scheduling and planning.

I wrote my monthly advising letter and sent it off to my advisees.

I got a lovely call from a former student that made me feel like I actually do make a difference.

I graded a stack and a half stack. One of the revisions I read was just outstanding; now if the writer can do that well again! Fingers crossed!

I did several hours of committee work, very productively, until my brain couldn't concentrate well. I'm about one third done with the part of this project I need to do before next week.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Little, Little Thing...

I was writing the agenda for the committee I chair's meeting this week (could I get more convoluted if I tried?), which involved emailing an admin assistant across campus to make sure this and that had been handled over there so that I could make sure that it got into our agenda appropriately as finished business (because our notes and such are public documents. Really, you could look at them if you knew what to look for; heck, you could come to our meetings. Fun times.). (In other words, we can note that so and such big committee passed our proposal for X, and then we've taken care of our end. Yes, this is on some level administrative BS, but if we do our job right, then it's done. And we've used it as well as we can on our committee, which may be useful in some real way, I hope.)

And then, lo and behold, I got an email from this admin assistant thanking me for doing a great job, and saying that she hoped I'd be the chair of this committee for a long time because I was so good at taking care of things.

We get little recognition for our service around here. Yes, maybe other places give more recognition, but here, competently chairing a committee goes by pretty much unnoticed.

In some ways, I think chairing a committee well involves a lot of behind the scenes work that gets things done, communicates, and then puts the real issues before the committee for real decisions. I try to do that, try to take care of things so I can give a full background if needed, can set the committee up to make NOT the decision I want, but the informed decision we want to make. I can live with informed decisions I disagree with. I do so all the time.

It's nice to get this note from the admin assistant. No one else knows (well, except you folks), but I know, that she knows, that I am doing a really good job at being well-organized and making sure this committee's work gets done well, and gets communicated well over to the big buildings. And I know that she has a pretty good sense, after reading stuff from a lot of folks across campus, that I'm a person who does a good job, even at this little thing.

The two of us, we have little enough power in the world, but I respect her, and cherish her willingness to answer my questions patiently and helpfully. And she, apparently, also respects me and my work.

That's a very little thing, but some days, it's what I hold onto very hard to make things bearable. A tiny bit of mutual respect, willingness to try to communicate.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why I Hate Computers: Guy Fawkes Day Edition

I finished just about everything for my presentation this evening except making final copies and tweaks for the handout. (Lest you should think making these copies at work is somehow stealing from the great Northwoods State fund, be assured that the presentation series is sponsored by my department through a special fund, so it's all good. Heck, I even had to apply to give the series!)

After office hours this afternoon, I popped one of the DVDs into the computer to check one last scene one last time. I needed to make sure the scene is indeed something I want to put on the handout, and if so, enter it into the handout. Being just a tad obsessive, I make sure to have complete notes so that I don't have to futz around with the DVD menu, but know exactly what scene cues up where. Mostly, that just means knowing which DVD and which numbered "scene" on the DVD (which, of course, has no relationship whatsoever to the play's scene divisions).

I popped one of the DVDs in. It opened up the media player I usually use, but with this tremendous lag so that the screen blipped along unevenly, the music with it, just as blippy. It wasn't pretty. But, the thing had worked here last week, and at home last night. So I tried the other DVD. Same problem. Oh, nozors, I thought, something's wrong with my computer.

I called the User Help Over Here line on campus. The UH OH line is great; they have these students who are amazingly patient to talk us through things, and can even take over our computer to make things work.

The UHOH student helper suggests that I turn off all the other programs running in the background and restart my computer, just in case the memory was too full or something. And we hang up.

Stupid me! I should KNOW to turn things off and restart, right? I mean, isn't that always what you try first?

I hit the restart button, and then put in the DVD with nothing else started, hoping for the best. And guess what? Yep, same problem. UHOH! I called, and left a message for the student, who called me back within a few minutes. He took over control of my computer, figured out what the offending program was, and uninstalled it. That should work, he assured me. I popped the DVD back in, and up came a dialog box saying that the computer doesn't know how to play DVDs.

UHOH, we said. But he said it was okay, and (again in control of the computer) told me he was going to download a codec, and that should fix it. Download we did. Fix it, it did not. So he tried another download, and that didn't work either.

Then he decided to check his computer to see if the program he'd uninstalled was something common on the system (that is, whether it was something I'd accidentally intalled, or something the UHOH folks had installed everywhere, and which therefore shouldn't be installed). Turns out, it's something the UHOH people had installed earlier in the year. Why it's suddenly trying to take over my computer, I don't know. And neither did my student helper.

But, he promised me, he'd get the guru over there to reinstall it remotely on my computer, and that would "fix everything."

I wandered off to get one of the student workers to help me look up what I needed to on the video, and then finished cutting and pasting for the handout. (12 years of college and I still get to do arts and crafts!)

By the time I got back to my desk, I'd gotten an email from the guru, saying that he'd reinstalled the program, and asking me to check the DVD thing to make sure it would work. I popped the DVD in, and nothing; it still said it didn't know how to play a DVD.

But then, in a rare moment of computer literacy, I remembered that I probably needed to restart the computer to get the new program going and such, and I did that.

And lo and behold, the same program that tried to take over (I think I'll call it "Brain") is back, and once again took over.

So now, two hours later: I have a completed handout, and a computer which has the same problem playing DVDs (with a program trying to take over), AND at least three new programs installed (the codecs, remember) which are only waiting for the ideal opportunity to BLOW THINGS UP!

You have to know, if you know computers, that they aren't going to harmlessly sit there for long. Nope, they're going to get all uppity and get in touch with some witches or something, and KABOOM! Up goes parliament, and down goes the monarch (or me, in this case).

I hate computers sometimes.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I've been trimming some of those monthly expenses around here, getting things to where they can stay when I'm gone for a bit.

The last of the trims before I leave is probably going to be cable. Lately, though, I've been thinking I should at least just get the very basic stuff and not the expanded selection. I know, I sound like everyone's grandparent: there's nothing decent on TV. I just looked. Do you know 60 Minutes is doing a spot on a guy who has "an enormous sailboat"? Yes, that's hard-hitting, interesting journalism, for sure!

On the expanded selection, there's Miami Ink, a show I'm sometimes weirdly fascinated by, in the same way I'm amazed that this small city can support something like 10 tattoo parlors. Seriously. It's amazing. We can't keep two decent ethnic restaurants open in this city, but we have endless tattoo parlor choices.

I do like having reasonably fast computer access, but is there a different way to get it when I come back? (I have a cable package.)

And then there's the whole move to HDTV thing. My TV's something like 20 years old, and works GREAT. But the TV industry has convinced the FCC that I should get a new TV (or some transformer box) to see HDTV. On my 13" screen. Somehow, that just seems stupid.

I'm a child of the television age. I grew up on TV. My Mom will tell you that I barely watched TV as a kid, but somehow I can pretty much tell you the plot of every I Love Lucy episode, every Star Trek episode, most M*A*S*H* episodes, etcetera, etcetera. I didn't miss TV when I was in the Peace Corps, right, though, so maybe I'd just put on the radio and read more?

I could put the extra $100 a month to something more fun, more biking stuff! books! bourbon!

Problem of the Day

I remembered why I was prepping the wrong week for my library presentation thing. This week is on the parts of Henry V that didn't make it to one or both films.

The thing is, the part that didn't make it to film? It's hard to show clips of that part, you know? Yeah. So I'd figued that out. The next problem is figuring out how to get a good discussion of the missingness of the parts.

Happily, one of the films shows considerably more of these parts than the other.

So, the Harfleur speech (where Olivier doesn't talk about all the raping and baby killing he and his soldiers would do if only they could take the city). Branagh's version is a bit fuller.

Then the treason scene and hanging Bardolph scene, which Branagh shows, but Olivier doesn't (and who could blame him in 1944!).

Then we'll look at the killing the prisoner's speeches, and Pistol capturing his prisoner. And if we have time, we'll look at the final chorus bit, where Olivier cuts the bit about Henry VI being a baby and France being lost and England getting into a nasty civil war.

So, that's done (well, except for making up the hand out and knowing exactly which scenes are which and where).

Why is it I feel guilty for only working 4 hours yesterday, and a few hours today. You know, on the weekend? I'd better watch out or they're going to start counting it as sick leave when I don't get up at 6am on a Sunday...

Meanwhile: 17 miles today, 1 campus festival event attended, 1 campus concert attended. (Which don't really count as work, but I saw students! And other faculty folks!)

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Accomplished: 29 miles. Household chores.

Finished prepping for Monday night, until I realized that I'd gotten the order wrong, so now I'm prepped for a week from Monday. It's weird to plan how to explain the English lesson scene obscenities in Henry V to people my Mom's age. I've never made a handout with the words "fuck" and "cunt" before. This is going to be the last time I get THIS gig!

Graded a few revisions.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The To Do List

Here's the weekend to do list:

Writing class: revisions, one response exercise

Upper level class: reading summary exercise stack (reread essay), reading response exercise stack (reread essay)(both I got this week), presentations

Grad class: half a stack of reading analysis responses (review essay; graded the other half earlier in the week, between students) [Done Friday night!]

Library presentation: preparation for Monday's presentation (number 3 of 4)

One letter of recommendation

Two letters for colleagues

Prep classes for Monday, Tuesday

[Edited to add: Dang, I have one other committee task I'd almost forgotten about, and another committee meeting to organize for later in the week. /cry]

Already done: 1 stack of writing journals, 15 miles (rolly hill ride)

This is actually a pretty manageable weekend. I don't have an essay set for my writing class because I finished them in a wild grading frenzy during the week and handed them back.


When I left my office on Wednesday night, I was in pretty good shape grading-wise. I had graded everything for one class, and had one small stack for another class, and two small stacks for the third. I'd prepared to give midterm grade information for my first year students, as required. (It doesn't sound as good as it felt.)

Now, as Friday afternoon hits, I'm once again overwhelmed. I had more students come for revision conferences on Thursday than I expected, and so didn't get much grading done through the day. And I got more stuff from the one "finished" class yesterday and today, so I'm buried for the weekend.

I'm trying to finish one stack of grading now, and I'm about half-way through. Actually, I know exactly how far through I am, to the precise number. It's that bad.

There comes a time in a stack (well, maybe not in fast stacks), when I start counting: how many have I done? How many do I still have?

Once I start counting in a given stack, my concentration level goes down a bit, so my productivity goes down. And then I have to decide to either power through or take a break. Guess which won today?

Enough break. Back to the grind so I can leave this one stack on my desk, graded and recorded!