Archive for the ‘English’ Category

To crowdsource or not to crowdsource

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

I think I might be being attacked by grading, but I am not sure. Not only am I wigged out about a rewrite of an essay (and I am majorly wigged out, but in classic jessica style so far playing it cool), but I am also wigged out by all this grading. Though the grading, admittedly, is the easy part.

Most of the projects I have been seeing are quite good. I have one student who wants to apply for a position at the Smithsonian. I have another student who is working on a technology grant for a local nonprofit. I had one group of students write an assessment on a local nonprofit to find out there is a strong opportunity for a future grant. The class has seen quite a few successes, but there are things I plan to change for the upcoming semester. I’m thinking of teaching crowdsourcing using indiegogo or similar sites. I’m also working on implementing other changes to the class, such as requiring a letter of intent for the crowdsourcing assignment. The only hang ups I have about the crowdsourcing assignment is the following:

  • Timing. Unit 1 is a long slog and is highly dependent upon the type of class you get. For example, i had one class this semester that wrapped things up about a week quicker than the other class just because they were a bit more of a high-functioning group. Would there be enough time to write that letter of intent AND finish the crowdsourcing site? I need to do further research into this and think about it more and yes, I might be overthinking this a bit. (No surprises with me and overthinking)
  • The crowdsourcing would require nothing but group projects the whole way through. In no way is this unrealistic for working in the nonprofit sector, or as a grant writer, but wow, I can see some students strongly retaliating and dropping the class because of that and, quite honestly, I would not blame them. I know how I was as a student myself and I would have dropped the class because of the group work like it was on fire.

Considering those questions, AKA hang-ups, above I am thinking I may have to hold off until a future semester unless, by some miracle, I am able to figure it out for next semester during the winter break. But I really don’t know. I think crowdsourcing is important, and I’d like to find a way to fit it in, but i don’t know how feasible it would be.

I know I could also overlap assignments, and I’ve done that before for my English 320 class and it went all right. But do I want to overlap assignments in a class like Researching and Writing Grants and Proposals? I am not sure. My gut actually says no and my gut is usually right.

Another big concern would be the overemphasis on group projects. As an alternative, I could simply offer up the opportunity for the crowdsourcing, and allow them to do other things too, but only if it all can fit in nicely.

So I guess even at the end of this post, I am still not sure. Perhaps this was just a good way for me to think aloud and voice my concerns and see what thoughts others had. So ok. Do tell.


In medias res

Friday, October 18th, 2013

I’m in the middle of comp exams right now.

Like right smack in the middle, to use a cliché.

And, so yeah, I’m in the middle. In medias res. Halfway.

Sometimes when I run into colleagues they will ask me, “how are comps going?” and since I can only gauge my own performance at this point since no one in my program is told if they pass or not until after orals, I just say, fine, or that it is moving along, but mostly I’ll stick to the facts and just say that I completed my two timed essays and I am halfway done. I just need to write the longer two-week essay and complete the orals. After the orals, I’ll know how comps went, but until then I do not know. I feel like when I respond to this that I am starting to sound robotic.

The thing is that I do not know anything about how it is really going, though I feel I have done OK up to this point. At this moment, I am simply doing what I am supposed to be doing: writing, thinking, reading, and putting that on repeat, though this week I did get kind of a break as I wait for the third part of comps to start on Monday when I get asked a question for an essay I write in two weeks time.

As for what I have done so far, I will admit that I was less nervous for the first timed essay than I was for the second timed essay. This part to me is interesting because I thought it would be the opposite. But before the second essay, I was almost pacing around my department looking for a colleague who always says sweet and nice things to people because I just needed to hear something encouraging. I am not normally the kind of person who needs that sort of thing, and quite honestly I am more than happy to be equivalent to background noise or not mentioned at all, but on that day I totally needed to hear someone say I would do awesome. And luckily, a colleague on Twitter did come to the rescue and it totally helped me get it together for the second essay.

So will I be nervous for Monday’s question for the two week essay? For sure, but I know I will have two weeks and not four hours, or really two hours if you think of it that way, since you basically answer two questions in four hours. But I am also oddly excited/curious about what question the committee will ask and what it will get me thinking about. Did I mention I am damn glad I don’t have to write this in four hours? So glad.

Finally, while comps is stressful and has caused others I know to seek therapy and understandably so (so far I am doing OK), I like the moments where suddenly you know where you are going and you just go and start writing and keep writing and you feel like maybe you are smart and have something interesting to contribute after all the sources you have read in preparation for this. It is like grabbing for the first cup of coffee in the morning on the first day at a new job you are excited and nervous about (though comps should not be compared to this, but I needed a conclusion & I am tired & not very witty right now). You aren’t sure exactly what to expect, but you know you have been waiting for this and you are interested in the journey.

That is probably it. You are ready for the journey.

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.

Dr Rebekka Kill – Facebook is like disco, and Twitter is like punk

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

New Media and Creative Writing

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

I’ve been a “creative writer” for as long as I can remember. I remember writing stories before I started writing poems. I wrote a novella when I was in elementary school in the vein of Stephen King and I’ll admit I learned about subplots from him and characterization, and I probably even borrowed some characters from him, but gave them different names, altered storylines, but nonetheless sampled, to an extent. If you care, the novella was a blend of something King-esque and influences by Audrey Rose (book, not film), which I know sounds terribly similar.

But because of this, and because of my current studies, I’m working on linking new media and creative writing in efforts to further legitimize it as a field. There are reasons for doing this, such as establishing a stronger site identity for creative writing in the university (honestly, how often do you see a creative writing department?) and giving it some sound theoretical grounding (craft criticism, using OOO with poetics, theories of authorship studies and new media, for example). I’m using the four areas suggested by Adam Koehler in “Digitizing Craft: Creative Writing and New Media: A proposal” which are 1. process, 2. genre, 3. authorship and 4. institutionality.

But my question is the following: if one were to link new media and creative writing to further legitimize it as a field of study, what should it even be called? What do creative writers think of the term “creative writing” itself? For example, the word creativity usually implies “original” and that sets off all kinds of ideas about things like the muse, voice, etc.

In thinking about this in terms of Koehler’s essay, he uses the term “Digital Creative Writing Studies.” He uses the term “digital” to imply how genres and authorship expand, mutate, an resist in digital spaces. He uses the term “studies” so we can build theory into the practice of creative writing, and link this all to pedagogy and build these bridges and expand these ideas.

While I don’t mind the phrasing of “Digital Creative Writing Studies”, I am certainly not attached and think we can find other terms as well. I’m also questioning this since there is more than “writing” done in a digital environment, so should we even use that term? Or is it still ok because we are still talking/thinking/doing writing, as a primary activity, even though we are working in new media environments. The word creative also a loaded term since it implies being original, though creative writing is thought to be creative in that it refers to being innovative, thoughtful, sampling, and using the tools available to create something as a form of self-expression or for sharing with others or both, and most often both. And creativity is one of those terms that may mean different things to different people. And in this sense, I may be oversimplifying the term “creative” and “creativity.” (Hint: I probably am.)

So today I started experimenting with others terms one could use. Such as New Media Creative Writing, New Media Creative Writing Studies (so long, I know, but it respects both new media and creative writing, which is really an important term that would be hard to get away from) and New Media Craft Studies and for a brief wonderful moment, Digital Craft studies, though there is a lot about digital craft.

But maybe terminology is no big thing, though it really is, at least in a university. Terminology is also a double edged sword in that once you create it, you cannot get away from it. But Creative Writing, as a field, does need to legitimize itself, which is why I focus (and why Koehler focuses) on the four areas that we do. By looking at process, authorship, genre, and the institution of creative writing in the university, we can build that. But terminology seems important as well, even though this may be premature.

I hate it when I answer my own questions. I think I just did there.

But all the same, if you are a creative writer, I would love to know what you think about the following terms:

  1. Creativity/Creative
  2. Creative Writing as a term/institution in the university
  3. Digital spaces/new media

Never feel the need to answer all of those things. Pick something important. Say something about it. We are in need of voices (no pun intended), scholarship and discourse around these things in creative writing departments. 

Monday, March 11th, 2013

A recent article about teachers as being the targets of bullying from students.

Schools of Thought

By Stephanie Goldberg, CNN

(CNN) Several years ago, Brendesha Tynes was taken aback when she received an e-mail from one of her former students.

The note directed her to a Facebook event for an all-night bar crawl an event with which Tynes, an assistant professor at the time, had nothing to do. But it featured an offensive image and listed Tynes as the host; another former student had set it up.

As an educator and researcher, Tynes had spent years looking into cyberbullying. Now, she was a victim.

Tynes said she was prepared to tackle the eye rolls and sharp tongues that can come with molding young minds, but being publicly humiliated by a student wasn’t in her lesson plan.

Reports from teachers say her case isn’t an anomaly. A 2011 study, “Understanding and Preventing Violence Directed Against Teachers,” reported 80% of about 3,000 K-12 teachers surveyed…

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8 talks about learning from failure

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Today I had a few students come to conferences talking about their “struggles” in learning how to do new things. And frankly, I was happy hearing this. For one, it shows that they are working hard at what they are doing. If you don’t struggle, what do you learn? If things come easy to you, what do you learn from that? I don’t think you would learn much. And even downright failure, which I know some of these students have felt at one time or another during this semester, is a learning opportunity. In that spirit, here are 8 TED talks about learning from failure. I think good lessons are inherent within each one.

TED Blog

Allan SavoryAllan Savory isn’t afraid to own up to the “greatest blunder” of his life. In his incredible talk from TED2013, Savory shares his life’s work managing grasslands in Africa, weaving a gripping tale out of what seems like an unlikely topic. [ted_talkteaser id=1683] In the 1950s, Savory helped create large national parks in Africa. But as people left this land to make way for animal reserves, Savory and his team noticed the land deteriorating and quickly turning into desert. After careful analysis, they determined that the problem was an over-abundance of elephants. And so in a politically heated move, they shot 40,000 elephants in order to save the grasslands.

Only, it didn’t work. Even with all these elephants killed, the grassland deterioration only got worse. In a powerful moment in the talk, Savory expresses his dismay.

“That was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life,” he said. “I will…

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Adapt, revise, adapt and revise again.

Monday, February 4th, 2013

The first thing you learn about a new class after you have watched someone else teach it for a semester is that you are not the teacher you observed. For observing and learning how to teach English 320 Business and Professional Communication  I observed Josh, who teaches Business and Technical writing at my university. While we have some similarities  such as we do not deal with with BS and are very direct in our ways of communicating with students, we also have many differences. While the similarities helped me in observing and learning strategies in how to teach business and professional writing, such as how we are both direct in our instructions and feedback, the differences have led to some stumbling blocks for me as a teacher of English 320.

The most memorable example of this occurred in class during the very start of the semester. In fact, I think we were in the first or second week of class. Josh has an activity where he has students analyze him as an audience in preparation for the professional email assignment. I also tried this, but it didn’t work as well. This is partly because I do not have the same presence in the classroom that Josh does. I do not inspire the same reactions in students that Josh inspires. Students tend to immediately respect, and perhaps feel a little intimidated by Josh pretty quickly. I do not have that ability.  What I have noticed, is that students think I might be fun to grab a cup of coffee with or share personal problems they are having. In fact, I tend to hear a lot of sob stories, which I ironically dislike hearing. I must look comforting, I guess, which is deceptive considering my true personality, which Josh totally knows about and probably could tell you some good stories about.

But the activity also failed because I have done some work to revise the assignment has a whole. The clues I gave to how to read me as an audience in the assignment sheet were almost all I needed. Thus, the activity fell flat. It fell so flat that I simply abandoned it and I moved the class onto something else.  And, as mentioned before, I don’t have the persona to carry it through. For example, when I told Josh I had tried his audience-reading activity, he did laugh a bit. I just don’t have the Josh persona or presence to carry it through, or at least not in the way he carries it through. I like the idea, so I think I just need to revise it so that it fits me a little more.

And of course, while I did some work to revise each assignment, I know there will be other revisions made in this course. I still haven’t got to the Marketing portion of the class, which I am the most curious about since A. While I have taught parts of marketing before, I have never had an entire Marketing unit and B. All my prep for this has been my own readings and observing Josh, who teaches Marketing juxtaposed with the other assignments. I chose to teach Marketing on its own, in the latter half of the semester. I felt I would not be as adept as Josh, nor have the time, to teach marketing alongside everything else. Taking classes and doing research kind of eats up a lot of time that could be spent prepping (and actually sometimes vice versa happens. I tend to spend a lot of time prepping for what I teach and TA for, which means maybe prepping more than I actually need to prep, but that is another story.)

While I enjoy English 320, I know I will feel I won’t have this class “down” like I feel I have english 358 down until my third or fourth time teaching it, or a class similar to it. That is the bad part of teaching a lot of classes at this level: it is difficult to develop that strong expertise and ethos a teacher develops after teaching the same or similar class 4 or 5 times in a row. What a professor who has taught this class for ten semesters knows, versus me in my one semester apprenticeship, is vastly different.  So I suppose that is something that while it is good to acknowledge, is also good to think about in terms of making this the best learning experience possible for everyone. And it is a hard lesson to learn when you are taught a class through observing and working alongside someone else, only to turn around and teach that class on your own. You realize you are not that other person and so you adapt, revise, adapt, and revise again.

The girl teacher in the room

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Last semester I spent a lot of time observing a male colleague teach English 320 Business and Professional Communication and English 321 Writing in the Tech Professions as part of field experience in preparation to teach those classes at a future date. During the observations, I could not help but notice that he seemed to have an easier time gaining respect, especially from the alpha male English 321 students, than I would.

Now, it should be noted that the male colleague and I have almost no physical similarities. He is tall and could possibly be considered imposing. I am short and definitely not unapproachable. In fact, I think I am at times far too approachable.

But after completing this field experience, I begin to reflect more on the differences males and females encounter in the classroom. And something happened recently that has made me think way too much about this whole dynamic.

Yesterday in class I had a student texting during group work. As I was letting students know it was time to finish up, I mentioned in an almost off hand way that I had noticed this particular group was done since Sam (not student’s real name) had been texting. At first, the student looked at me like what, and gave me all these nonverbal cues to suggest I was possibly crazy (shrugging, looking around innocent, looking around at people like wow, it isn’t me, the teacher is just crazy). I then said, no, pretty sure you were texting and after that he seemed to more or less admit to it. After this incident, I realized that this happens to me a lot regarding male students, in particular.

Another example occurred last semester during a section of English 358. I was giving a mini-lecture about something and two boys at the side of the room were having their own conversation. I got after them and told them to cut it out. One of the boys then shrugged and acted like he didn’t do anything by clearly saying, “what, we were not doing anything” when in fact the whole room could have heard their conversation.

Meanwhile, I had noticed that the male colleague I was observing would often get apologies from his male students if he called them out, particularly in his English 321 class. He also would not get the same reaction I did, i.e. you are crazy thinking I was misbehaving. The whole dynamic was different.

In some ways, I imagine it goes without saying that there are differences, but it still bothers me that there are. If it is harder for women in the classroom to gain respect, wouldn’t that interfere with our pedagogy in some way? Wouldn’t that interfere with class time? I would think so and it probably does in subtle ways we do not always stop to notice or maybe we are just so used to the differences we deal and not think about it.

So my question is, is this just because I am the female teacher in the room this happens? Think of how women have been portrayed historically: emotional, slightly crazy, and not rational thinkers. Each time things like this happen to me, I can’t help but think these behaviors I noticed are gender-specific.

So with that in mind, do any of you other teachers encounter similar behavior from male or female students? I’ve only mentioned incidences related to males in my classes in this post, but it is possible girls have reacted the same to me. Though in my memory, girls are usually more upfront about their behaviors and often apologize for it. I seldom receive apologies from male students for disruptive or inappropriate behavior. So i am pretty curious as to other experiences other instructors have had.

Where I read poetry

Monday, December 31st, 2012

When I started writing poetry regularly, I also started to submit my poems. This started in the mid-1990s. At first I sent them out to mainly print publications, but a few months after doing this I started sending out poems to online publications, commonly referred to as ‘zines. It was in ‘zines that I first started to get my poems published. One of the places I was published was Stirring: A Literary Collection. I also submitted to other ‘zines at Sundress. I somehow–and to be honest, I am not sure how, but I think it started with the online poetry slams–got to know some of the editors at Sundress. I also did a little editing while there. 

Today I still read the published material at Sundress publications. I also read other online ‘zines. I read Poetry Magazine. But a lot of my poetry reading is done online and maybe that is because I don’t study poetry as I am in a composition and rhetoric program. But that is probably just an excuse.

Really, the last book of poetry I read was from the Best American Poetry series, which I have heard from my MFA friends garners a lot of flack. I have always liked these collections because of their variety of voices. I confess I don’t like to read a book of poems by a singular author in one sitting. I’ll often read a few poems, put the collection down, and read another. So If I do go to the library to get some poetry, I will grab a few collections by different authors.

The last book I recall reading by one author is Ted Kooser’s Flying at Night. Even though his poems are metaphorical and I don’t tend to write poems in a metaphorical style, I enjoyed his collection. What I liked was the rural nature of the poetry, the quiet small town feel, and the elation of being alone. If you read Kooser, you can tell he is a private person and enjoys his time in solitude. His poems demonstrate this tendency well. In that sense, I could relate to his poems. And I suppose we all want to read something we can relate to because when we read something personally familiar to us, it is almost as if we are touching or caught in an embrace with that writer. It becomes tangible, even though there is miles of space between ourselves and the writer. But that is the power of art, proximal and full.