Archive for August, 2013

Feedback and making connections

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

First off, I do think it is important that we, as teachers, develop connections in the classroom with our students, though I think the older we get, the more we may find this difficult. For example, once you have been out of school for a while and find yourself less and less understanding what is “popular culture” to these students, the more you may find it difficult to foster those connections.

Of course, you can also do this through love of the subject matter, which we all as teachers should always have, and sharing that appreciation with our students, some of whom feel the same way we do about that subject or maybe parts of what we teach. Or maybe they just cling to our enthusiasm and reciprocate that. I mean, as a student myself, I’ve always appreciated the more passionate teachers and even if I didn’t particularly like the subject matter, I usually was able to connect on some level with a teacher who showed passion for the subject. I respected that. I compared it to my own feelings about writing and literature and in that way I was able to at least feel all right in the classroom, even when I struggled with the subject matter, though I still always hated being called on since it was something I struggled with (I am thinking math here).

One of the things that, for me as a teacher, has always helped foster these connections is encouraging feedback from students and encouraging their questions. For new classes, I usually ask for feedback a few times during the semester, I usually try to time it out in 3-4 week intervals, and that works pretty well in terms of being able to change things and improve them based on that feedback. Students also seem to appreciate the openness as well since the more you do it, and are consistent with it, the more helpful the feedback becomes. I’ve found that the more open I am for questions, and the more I make myself available for these questions, the better the class progresses. When teaching a new class, I think this becomes even more important since it is not only new material for the students, but also for you as the teacher.

Sometimes this feeling of newness causes an appropriate level of panic, even in us teachers. We think this like oh no, what if I am going to be exposed as a fraud? We also think things like oh my, I have to make myself even more available for questions now since this material is as new for me as it is for them. And this kind of thinking sometimes leads to what I call crazy ideas, such as giving way too much personal information to students or allowing students to seriously contact you any time of the day, such as giving your phone number, even if you have a policy that states it can only be used during X amount of hours.Those ideas are all bad. For one, you are not teaching 24/7. Everyone needs time off. Everyone needs some level of privacy. For example, do we really want to hear about what our students did last Friday night? Not really. I am sure they wouldn’t want to know what we were doing either, though they may make up some funny or sad stories about it, if they wanted to. Giving too much information could lead to that information being abused, probably not by all students, but maybe one or two.

When I teach online, for example, there is the assumption with some students that because I teach online, I was always online and so if I didn’t answer their email within the hour they sent it, there was sometimes another email to follow, sometimes with all caps in the subject line. I mean, I could see this as amusing, and on some level it is now that it is in the past, but at the time all I could think was really? I am not online 24/7, much less do I typically check work email after 5 or 6 in the evening.

Because of this I’ve developed email policies that state a student should expect about 24 hours for an email reply during the weekday, but if a student emails Friday afternoon, that student may not get a response until Monday morning. I also never give my phone number out in my syllabus or elsewhere, even though I don’t have an office phone, though this has never been a problem since students typically email or talk to me after class or during office hours anyway. Though, I have given my number out to students who have had emergency or personal situations (a death of a parent and being 9 months pregnant, for example). In these instances, I thought it was OK and it wouldn’t be abused and it wasn’t abused.

But this isn’t to say that I don’t try to make it easier for students to contact me, as I am very concerned about my availability since I don’t have an office phone and because I am teaching a new class this semester, and so I have started to welcome students to use Twitter and given my course a hashtag so it is easier to ask me questions or communicate with me online. In my syllabus, I share my Twitter username @adventuresinphd and the course hashtag #engl459 so they can contact me with questions, share resources for the grant writing class, or just share any information they find relevant to the course. I encourage students to engage with the class using this as well. I also have them do a semester-long (or unit long, if they wish. I’m flexible to a fault) Twitter assignment that I have shared here.  I also had a similar assignment for my online summer class as well. Along with this, I also open a forum discussion thread in Blackboard for questions and encourage students to ask questions there as well as encourage students to answer, if they know the answer.

What I have noticed in doing this is that students will use whatever they are most comfortable with in terms of communicating with a professor and so far that has been email. I’ve had probably more students use the Blackboard discussion forum than Twitter, so far. But I also blame this on the Twitter assignment not being semester-long, only as long as an assignment. I think maybe a longer Twitter assignment will spark more engagement, or that is my theory, at least, though I also realize some students will be highly resistant, as is typical with social media assignments.

And so I guess I will just be updating you with how this all turns out. I feel teaching this grant writing class will in some ways be similar to getting thrown into the fire, but I always a like a challenge, so I guess I am OK with that. I know that, as a colleague has stated to me, it is probably the hardest class to teach in the upper division writing curriculum, and after writing the first unit, the agendas for the first two weeks, and the syllabus and schedule, I totally believe that.  I’ll keep you updated, as always.

On Bullies and why you try to be better, but aren’t.

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

I read this Jezebel article today and would like to tell you I had some feelings about it, and I don’t often like to have feelings, though I have to admit I have them from time to time. I just want you to know I don’t particularly like having feelings, though that isn’t the point. The point is that I know exactly, like to a T, how this girl feels, or I am pretty sure that I do. I was bullied in junior high as well, and that was probably where bullying happened the worst. Just to set the stage for that, one instance of bullying had a boy from my class write in ink on my favorite denim jacket a sarcastic “I’m cool.” I didn’t know about it until I got home and saw it on the back and was mortified. I remember going down to the basement laundry room to wash it off and hoping to goodness that my mom never found out about it.

There also were the “cool girls” or whatever (I doubt they had a name like “The Pink Ladies” of Grease) who I remember looking at me at school daily like I had something gross stuck to my face or caught in my hair. While I could recount awful, awful things these girls did, I’ll share a less traumatizing experience. When my friends decided to try out for cheerleading, after the “cool girls” responded negatively toward cheerleading, I remember one of the cool girls coming up to me and asking “are you trying out for cheerleading, too” in that tone that told me if I was about to try out for cheerleading, I just made her question every view of reality she had. No, I remember saying,  but didn’t bother explaining to her that I had no desire to wave a pom pom around.

Then I moved to a new school, so I have no idea what happened to any of these people, though I assume many of them just live in the town we lived in then, with families and kids and boring almost-upper-middle-class lives. The only thing I do know is that the girl who asked me if I was also trying out for cheerleading ended up being diagnosed with MS later in her life, along with her mom, and she does a lot with MS Walks for Life and other MS-related organizations in our community. Even though she is doing good works, I still wanna say, “karma is a bitch, isn’t it?” even though that is an awful thing to say and Karma exists throughout lives, and so on and so forth, if you have ever read anything about karma. So the karma comment is kind of irrelevant, and honestly, it is terrible she has such a debilitating illness.

Though bullies don’t just reside in junior high, as they also reside in adulthood. The thing is, bullying is way more passive-aggressive in adulthood and it is so much weirder, less in your face, and more regulated to people’s closed offices and some people simply call it gossip, though I think gossip can become a bullying mechanism as well. The thing is, as an adult, you know it goes on, but the less it becomes an issue, or a painful issue, though I would say it still sucks.  And I often wonder why they bother anyway. Is there something they are missing in their own lives? Are they upset by something you got that they didn’t? It must be something like jealousy, right? Or maybe just stunted personal growth? The good news is, of course, it is easier to avoid as an adult. You can do tons of things to never hear about it, and that is I think what makes bullying different now as compared to bullying in junior high.

But, in the linked article, the author talks about that even though our old bullying tormentors have “moved on” as have we and now have their own lives, babies, etc, there is still a part of you that wants to respond thusly (and I’m having a lengthy quote here because I wanna give some context):

Sure she had the backyard trampoline and the boy-girl parties I coveted when we were 13, but some day my hard work would pay off and I’d leave town for a good college. I’d end up living somewhere far away from Wisconsin, somewhere like Boston (I was obsessed with Boston, due to bricks being a sign of class and also not knowing what class was). One day I’d be working a job I loved, I’d have a life rich with experience, a million stories for dinner parties. I’d travel. I’d know things. I’d know interesting people. I’d experience things she’d never experience. And that’s how I’d “win.”

But part and parcel to my “winning” was my middle school tormenter agreeing with my definition of what it means to live a better life than another person.  I’ve traveled the country and lived abroad, but I’ve had a string of relationships that didn’t work out including a failed engagement. I graduated from college and my job sitch is fantastic, but I live in an apartment around the corner from a liquor store that has to buzz you into the room where you can buy wine. I couldn’t be happier with my personal life, but I don’t own a car. I live in one of the most exciting places in the world and can do almost whatever I want almost whenever I want it, but I’m childless. I met all three Hanson brothers one time during a shoot and one of them winked at me but I’ve never been to a Green Bay Packers game. What I really want is for her to acknowledge that she wishes her life were different, that she wishes her life were mine.

For sure. I could write a similar paragraph. I stayed home writing stories and reading books convinced that someday it would pay off. It did. I like to remind people of this now and then. I think my life is pretty awesome. But that last sentence in that paragraph is so important. There is this crazy, delirious part of you on the inside that totally and completely wants the harassers from the past to come up to you and say, “you know, I wish I had a life like yours today.” Just once.

But of course, they probably never will, even if they felt that way.

The closest I ever came to such a statement from anyone who picked on me in the past was at my ten-year reunion. The person gave an acknowledgment to what I had done so far in my life, in just ten years, and they were impressed. I remember smiling and saying something like thank you and I enjoy my life a lot. That person lives in the town we grew up in, has a family, and works a job where there is No Degree Required. I think the person even owns a home. I, meanwhile, am still in school, though in a Ph.D. program, living on a GTA stipend, in an efficiency apartment, but I have no kids and I can pretty much do whatever I want if I have the time and money, with money being the real kicker.  While that person starts the weekend with making dinner and maybe making sure the kids are all ready for bed soon, I start my weekend with a movie and a beer and no kids to interrupt my dinner, drinking, or movie watching and it is my version of bliss. And like how Erin Gloria Ryan points out in her article, still linked above, there is no way you can really right all the wrongs of what happened before. It would come out sounding bitter and you would only become the bully, even if it would be a little cathartic and maybe, there was some catharsis for the bullies back then, too, though I have no foggy idea of what that could be.

How and Why I choose my dissertation topic

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

During my comps reading this summer, I finally decided on the topic of my dissertation. It is no longer the idea I once had pre-Computers and Writing, though I think that stuff will definitely play a role and may end up to be one chapter, if my layout of chapter ideas is to be believed. (I like planning. Do not judge. I am also very flexible.) At any rate, I think the comps process has been incredibly useful to me so far since I’ve come up with a few arguments already for my dissertation, some useful sources to integrate, and I think I chose my areas of study wisely.

I thought about the different ideas I had for my dissertation for a long time because there is so much I am interested in that it is hard to choose. But I also know i had to pick something that A. I could do in a relatively short amount of time, so I didn’t want to take on too much that was completely new, B. I wanted to choose something that wasn’t too narrow, where I would be pegged as “oh, she is the one who does underwater basket weaving” and just leave it at that, and C. something I would enjoy since people do “peg” you based on your dissertation work, which makes sense because you have spent an enormous amount of time on that work.

Some ideas I considered involved looking at the pedagogy of other art degrees (a whole new field, really, and I don’t have time for that) and new media studies (this will play a role, but it is no longer the focus. Plus, again, I have to learn a whole new area along with the creative writing). While pedagogy and some aspects of new media will play a role, my dissertation will be focused on areas of critical theory, creative writing studies, and gender. I chose these things because of the A, B  and C considerations above. I felt I could get this done in a reasonable length of time, it didn’t strike me as as narrowly focused as underwater basket weaving (though let’s be honest and say most dissertations are narrow in focus, though interdisciplinary as well, which is helpful) and C. I would enjoy being seen as the person who does creative writing studies, pedagogy and gender.

Is this the right choice? Yes. Are other parties who have the potential to hire me going to agree? I don’t have any idea, but I hope so and I think I could make arguments toward their needs, as long as I choose which jobs to apply for wisely myself. I just want to write something where I could say something like “oh, you are looking for someone who does equity studies? Well, my work with creative writing and gender has taught me…”

I mean, I know the realities of the job market. I’ve read what Rebecca Schuman wrote about “thesis hatement.” (I usually console myself by repeating, “I teach writing. I teach professional writing. We will always need writing.”) I’ve read the articles by William Pannapacker AKA Thomas H. Benton and in fact they were assigned to us during my first semester in my program (I had honestly already read them. I knew the story. I knew that I was getting myself into some potentially hot water, but I am grateful the professor had everyone read those and talk about them in class). I follow someone on Twitter who tweets quite a bit about the suckitude of the academic job market and try not to take it to heart, but at least learn from it. I’ve also worked as an adjunct, as many have, and still have nightmares about canceled classes and faculty members suddenly deciding they want to teach my online world literature course, but I wouldn’t mind teaching composition II, would I? (Disclaimer: I like teaching composition. I do not like teaching composition online when you fill it with 40 students and I’m also teaching at another university and taking classes at a doctoral student. That semester was a nightmare.) I’ve read about alt-ac tracks and how to transfer “soft skills.” But I still want a teaching job, like hundreds of others out there. But I’ve also seen how bitter people can get, and I do not wish to be bitter, though I am sure no one sets out to be bitter.

So, in choosing my dissertation focus, I took the job market into consideration as well. I guess you could say that was my D. criterion.

Some people may read this and say, what a list of stupid reasons to choose a dissertation topic and maybe that is true. But passion and love don’t pay the bills or get you jobs all the time, either. What I can tell you is that I will enjoy the topic and enjoy writing it, though I know the whole process will have its moments of suckitude since I still very well remember my five to six hours a day writing my MA thesis, which came to five chapters. And, to be honest, I didn’t put the same level of thought into my MA thesis before I started writing it. I wanted to think about it more this time and luckily I had the luxury to do so. I suppose if nothing else, I can say I took the time to really consider my options and weigh them and I think weighed them well, considering the knowledge and experience I had at the time.

How do you use Twitter in your classroom?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

So I’ve been working on the assignments for my Grant writing class this fall and paying close attention to how I set up the twitter since it is entirely new and I’ve never taught Grant Writing before, as the most I’ve done is led some mini-lessons, so this will be new.

I figured there are two ways I can approach and use Twitter in this class that I think could work out well considering past experience with Twitter in the classroom:

  1. Have each student create an individual account where they follow organizations who promote or work with issues the student is interested in. For example, if the student is interested in looking at gender issues for their final project, they could follow organizations related to gender, such as gender in education and so on. They would do this throughout the semester, engage in a number of tweets and retweets, and be graded on elements of consistency, engagement and design. This is a brief overview of the assignment I have written up.
  2. The second option involves a group twitter profile that they create for the Mary’s books proposal. The Twitter would represent their company and they would tweet about their projects, such as Mary’s books, follow relevant organizations and basically this would be a type of fictional account, since the company does not really exist. And i imagine that there may be a group in the class who wishes to create a twitter presence anyway if we are already using Twitter. There is always one group that really enjoys this project and does a lot with it, or at least this is true from what I have seen in the class.

While I think #2 could be fun, I ultimately choose number one because when I took this class as a student, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my final project. I was new to my program. I had no remote idea of what I wanted to pursue for a dissertation. At the same time, I wanted the project to count for something beyond the class, which sadly didn’t happen, but that is mostly my own fault. So my main motivation for writing out the assignment related to number one is because of my own experience and the fact I have thought way more about option #1 than number two. Plus, I’ve had students do similar assignments in my Business Writing class and in my Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class.

But my questions are how do you use Twitter in your classroom and do you have any feedback for the ideas above? I welcome any suggestions or further ideas. Thank you. Below is the assignment I have created, so feel free to use it in your own classes if you think it sounds interesting:

Twitter Assignment

Genre and Length: A social media profile to be completed throughout the course. 16 tweets/retweets total plus appropriate design and followers/follows

Due Date: The final exam time, TBA. Please email your twitter profile address to me or follow me on Twitter at @adventuresinphd

Assignment Description: You will be asked to first create a Twitter profile (www.Twitter.com) for use in following organizations related to your social, political, and personal interests and other non-profit entities and/or people who are involved in non-profit organizations you are interested in to learn more about issues, discussions, and other information relating to your interests. With this assignment, you will be required to tweet relevant material that is related to these interests or goals. This means you will have to do some research on your own to learn more about these interests and/or find relevant news articles. You will also have to retweet your followers as well if something they tweet is relevant to your own interests, goals or motivations. I ask that you follow at least 10 organizations/people/etc, but you may follow more. I ask that you have at least 16 tweets and retweets meaning 8 tweets and 8 retweets during the semester, but you may have more. Each tweet and retweet should be relevant to your goals and motivations, which should be outlined on your short profile biography.

Purpose: Doing this will provide an excellent opportunity for you to see conversations regarding your interests that are happening now. Also, this may help to give you ideas for your final project. Also, using social media for organizations is very important, and I believe this assignment will give you good examples of how organizations use social media and get some practice doing it for yourself.

Rubric: Twitter Assignment

Content:

  • Tweets and retweets are 16 in total
  • Tweets relate to interests student chose to focus on, as reflected in 140 character bio
  • Student has followed at least 10 relevant organizations or people
  • Student has included other media when relevant, i.e. multimodal elements with video, pictures, or other links.

/50 points

Design and Consistency

  • Twitter profile has a professional design that is appropriate to the subject at hand
  • Tweets and retweets took place at different times throughout the semester, i.e. student didn’t do a number of tweets or retweets in last days or weeks.

/20 points

 

Engagement

  • Student shows an engagement with the audience and has an awareness of the audience in terms of organizations, tweets, retweets, tagging, design, etc.

/30 points

/100 points total

Disclaimer:  I place a lot of emphasis here on engagement, precisely because that has been my biggest concern in grading Twitter profiles. Students often don’t show any engagement–they just make sure they have the required amount of tweets, retweets, and followers and that they use multimodal elements. So if you do decide to teach Twitter, I would put emphasis on seeing how students are engaged in the task at hand, and you can do this simply by looking at the contextual/content quality of the tweets, who the student follows, if the student engages with their followers, if the student just did the required work in a week or so, and so on. I know the term “engagement” may be somewhat open ended, and I did my best to explain it in the assignment sheet and rubric, but just be open to the importance of emphasizing the quality of the work and not just the content of the work. Realize as well that you will need to emphasize this in class quite a bit and describe exactly what you mean by engagement to them and give them some good examples, via your own twitter profile and/or other twitter profiles.

Is the Creative Class just about the Creative Class? Maybe.

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

So, I read this earlier about Richard Florida and the creative class and how many cities, such as Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative really fail because they basically make life better for us creative class types, but make the more blue-collar, working class suffer once basic living needs, such as housing, is taken into consideration. I have to admit that the more rational, logical part of me isn’t surprised, but my more creative self doesn’t want to admit this is true and that this is just another terribly biased article, which it probably is in its way. I remember reading Florida’s book on The Rise of the Creative Class for a class I took last academic year and thinking, yes, this is like me and I love this, and at the same time thinking, but what would happen to people like who my parents were when I was growing up? What about the working class? And while Florida discusses blue collar workers in his book, I couldn’t help but think they don’t really benefit from it, despite his arguments since I had never seen any evidence for it. When you are working class, you are far less likely to take in the latest community-sponsored play or see what is happening in your local arts scene. You are also far less likely to have completed a college education. So what does the creative class do for the blue-collar workers, or the working poor?

Sure, you may get a nicer community, but that also means the cost of living rises whereas your wages may not. You also get a group of people who care about schools, the arts, and just people who in general care about having leisure activities that aren’t about seeing how many beers you can drink after you clock out at five. But are the blue-collar workers going to care? I’ll admit I’ve been in my share of dive bars and seen them acknowledge, hey, we have a great city now; look at these young kids having a fantastic time and doing cool and interesting things, and oh, you are one of them! Fantastic!, but if you ask them how they benefit from it directly, they cannot say. They may mention their rent has went up in the last year or so and no, they have never been to Newest Hipster Hangout and what does that mean again?

I grew up on a farm and small towns. Farming communities have their share of middle class people because land is tied to money in our culture, which the government constantly reminds us in the form of taxes. But even with “rich farmers” I also knew a ton of working class people. My best friend in elementary school had two parents who were beautifully blue-collar and with them I felt like part of the working class, even though by the time I was in high school, my dad was a paid professional. Still, I saw how long it took for my parents to “catch up” on the socioeconomic scale. Having three kids didn’t help. While my mom held a number of jobs, she was mostly just a stay-at-home mom, which is a really great opportunity, if one can do it. And, as the oldest child, I probably still best remember what it was like before my dad finished his MS in Crop and Weed science and got better jobs. Now my parents appear to be doing great, but my dad is also partially retired and it took them so long to even get to that point. In a few days, they will have been married for 32 years, and that, as far as I am concerned, is a long time to do anything. And I know we were very lucky and things could have been far, far worse if it were not for my grandparents on my mom’s side and some of my dad’s extended family. Far, far worse.

But my past experiences as a child always make me concerned for what people term “the invisible poor” and/or “the working poor”. It is easy to not notice (or just plain ignore) the working poor in the community when you are not the working poor. I think about them far more than I should and worry about them and wish that there is more we could do as a community. I know initiatives exist, but the midwestern culture does not always look kindly upon people who are less than middle class because, as you know, bad things happen because you didn’t work hard enough.

I admit I am speaking entirely from bias and my experiences and while I admire Florida’s ideas and goals and want to believe strongly in them (and in some ways I do), I worry about them as well. What kind of culture are we really producing and who really benefits? I mean, I love the arts. I am a part of the arts community. But I know we cannot ignore the whole picture, either.

playing the pathos

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I am going to start out this post by saying I’m single and I’d rather keep it that way. I also do not have any children and in all honesty, I’d rather keep it that way. I start out saying this because I am going to point to some realities that people could misconstrue, no matter my clarity and that my post here is not about the choices I have made. I am writing this post because this morning I was reminded of the kinds of choices we make, albeit indirectly, but still reminded of them, and these choices in some ways relate to what I feel I need to say.

To start out, I am going to tell you a hypothetical story, just out of fairness, and this hypothetical story will illustrate my point. Let’s say you are teaching a course and have a student who has children and is married. Let’s now say that this particular student is having a hard time keeping up with his or her work and has had a number of excuses or reasons for it throughout the course. (I’m not assigning a gender to this student since I think it is irrelevant. As far as I am concerned, anyone who has children has the same responsibilities to those children–or child—, regardless of gender. The same with being in a relationship.) When this student confronts you about the lack of work, the student likes to point to all the other responsibilities he or she has, such as children, family life, and so on. As a teacher, and because this student came to you before the due date, you give an extension. Still, this student seems to have a problem with this and seems to be looking for something you cannot give to him or her. This causes you, as the teacher, to feel frustrated as you explain over again that what they are asking for is not possible and that everything must be completed at X time, regardless of this student’s family life.

While this story is hypothetical, I promise you that it has happened. Even if you are not a teacher, I’m sure you can think of other instances that are similar to what is discussed above. I’m sure you have heard people give many reasons for not getting something done. The thing is while the student in the above situation is trying to play on the pathos, or emotional response, of the teacher, in my mind it is still irrelevant to the situation at hand. Pathos is part of the rhetorical appeals, but there is more to this than just pathos, and in the above case pathos does not have a lot of sway. Logos does since this is for a class for credit and most certainly ethos does as well because of power/authority distributions. We have the facts. The student signed up for the class. The student obviously knew he or she had to balance family, and school, along with any other obligations that student had, such as a job, or so one would think the student realized the obligations of taking the course coupled with other obligations. Therefore, it is not your responsibility, as the teacher, to try and make up for any of it.

And still, people play the pathos and think that should make a worthy argument. No. The point is that if you decide to do something, you better make sure that A. you can do it and be competent and B. nothing else suffers too much. And when I say “nothing else suffers too much,” I mean that yes, there may be sacrifices, like putting aside extra money for daycare or spending less time with someone or your family and you need to know if you are OK with making those sacrifices. If not, it is probably a bad idea.

Granted, I understand things happen that are out of a person’s control, but even so you still signed up for X and Y responsibilities. If you realize that no matter what you will not be competent, the best course of action is to say, yeah, I messed up. I probably shouldn’t have done that and apologize and walk away. I know we have all messed up from time to time and probably have reacted poorly. I guess I just wish as a society, we could respond to problems better. We are all kind of awful about looking to what is around us and making excuses and, worse yet, using the people and things around us as a personal crutch. It is kind of a disgusting human behavior that we need to stop, but I don’t think we will. I’ll just try to be better in the meantime and be as clear as possible, even though that sometimes doesn’t even seem to work as it should.