Online writing assessment tools might not be evil

Another one of those things to think about for my teaching: “Students, teachers give high scores to online writing assessments,” which comes from some sort of southern Connecticut newspaper group– the Hartford Advocate? The Hartford Courant? I’m not sure…

Anyway, here’s a passage from the opening:

In Connecticut, schools in Bristol, Glastonbury, Windsor, New Fairfield, Killingly and Stonington received state grants last year to try the technology. East Haven also has a pilot program.

The online assessment tools, which are accessed by subscription, analyze a student’s writing sample to point out potential problems in organization, grammar, sentence complexity and other issues.

The technology doesn’t replace teachers, however, because computers cannot provide subjective feedback on skills such as analysis, creativity and interpretation.

However, many educators say the programs are a helpful tool that offer the kind of individual attention often not available in crowded classrooms.

Now, every time some sort of electronic grading tool is brought up among a bunch of composition teachers, especially in places like the WPA-L electronic mailing list, people go freakin’ nuts. And certainly I understand that it isn’t really possible to separate “content” and “mechanics” easily, that these tools can be easily misused, and they generally don’t work as well as the makers of the software often claim.

But if these tools are being used like this, if they are being used to help students deal with “mechanics,” and if they can help ease the workload of grading papers (and let’s face it, the worst part of teaching is grading), well, why not?

Reconstruction's special issue on blogging

Via Collin’s blog, I found out about Reconstruction, 6.4 (2006), a special issue of the journal on blogging. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I am sure that I will soon enough.

Actually, I haven’t had much time to read much of anything or do anything as of late. Or so it seems. There are two reasons for this. First, I am easily distracted. I had intended to get up and exercise this morning (someone ought to use the treadmill we have!), but I was almost immediately distracted by an email a friend of mine sent me about the Tuscan Milk phenomenon. I blogged about it on my unofficial blog, but I suppose I could have written about it as an “internets trend” here, too.

Second, life/work keeps interrupting me. For example, in my role as the accidental WPA, I am going to a previously unplanned meeting this morning with some of the folks in the new EMU Student Center, where we will be having our annual (well, once a semester– would that be bi-annual?) semester “Celebration of Student Writing.” This is the first time we’ve had this event, which attracts around 1000-1500 people, in the new student center, and it appears that there are some, um, “new rules” that have to be sorted out.

Anyway, I guess what I need to do is stop being distracted by my computer and just exercise, dammit, and I think I need to build in research/scholarship time into my schedule and stick to it. Dammit.

The best damn gallon of milk ever

I came across this via my friend Chris, who sent it around in an email. I have no idea how he got it. In any event, apparently it’s possible to buy Tuscan Milk from the gourmet food section of Now, while we’re kind of picky about our milk around here (I avoid milk products with bovine growth hormone), It’s never even occurred to me to mail-order milk.

It seems like a lot of people commenting on about Tuscan Milk feel pretty much the same way, and, as a result, there are many over-the-top funny reviews here on this page for the milk. I agree with my friend Chris; the second one is especially funny.

After doing a Google search on this, I realize that this Tuscan Milk thing has sort of spun out of control. See, for example:

Ah, that crazy internets….

"Inanimate Alice"

Who says that hypertext stories are all like “difficult listening music” and made only for adults? From my wife (who found it in a mailing list that discusses children’s literature) comes “Inanimate Alice.” I’ve only seen/experienced the first one on China, but I am looking forward to playing with the other installments soon. Definitely a good thing to include for English 516 and/or English 444.

Thanksgiving blogging, part 2: the pictures

Thanksgiving, CF, 2006

Originally uploaded by steven_d_krause.

I already posted about the first part of this year’s Thanksgiving gala; here are some pictures and more about the second part:

  • Friday for lunch was with Troy and Lisa at Rudy’s Tacos in Waterloo, which was great because it was a groovy place in a sort of weird industrial part of town that I had never heard of before.
  • After that, we made a run to Cedar Falls for a stop at Soho Sushi and Deli. This was mainly Troy’s idea, but we were all interested in seeing what this combo looked like. Well, it was quite the busy place, but it looked to us that everyone there was taking advantage of the “deli” part of things, and the sushi bar looked pretty lame. After that walk-through, we went across the street to Cup of Joe coffee.
  • Because this is a year in which the Krause kids spend Christmas with the in-laws, we did some gift exchange and present opening on the Friday after T-Day. The theme for gifts for the kids was books, which was good. For the adults, we had a “white elephant” style gift exchange, something I’m too lazy to explain but which only involved good gifts (not some sort of “re-gifting” and/or junk around the house). I was a skeptic, but it turned out to be kind of fun.

That was about it. Now it’s just the mad dash to Christmas and beyond.


McDavidI’ve been working on putting together a movie on our vacation to Italy and Germany lately, which has included downloading some pictures from the internet of “David” (I couldn’t take any pictures of my own when we went to see it). Anyway, perhaps that’s why I find this so funny. Or maybe it just is kinda funny. I found this via boing-boing, which was mentioning this PhotoShop contest for combining famous art pieces with advertisements.

Never mind the handwriting; what about typing?

I’ve posted many things here about handwriting and computers over the years; here’s what I think is the first article on typing: “Exercise still key to computing,” a poorly written headline for an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Long gone are the days of high school typing classes, where the clack of manual Underwoods and electric IBM Selectrics echoed down the hallway.

Students as young as first grade are introduced to a keyboard in computer technology classes. The state’s technology standards recommend that all students be able to type proficiently on a keyboard by eighth grade.

But as with handwriting, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to teach keyboarding. Schools are preparing students for state tests, or there’s so much more technology to teach than just keyboarding.

There’s also a cool picture here of kids typing at computer keyboards with boxes over their hands so they can’t “cheat” from their practices of touch typing.

"Paperless" school article

From the Orlando Sentinel comes this article, “Who needs pens? School goes paperless,” an article about (guess what!) an elementary school with lots of computers and laptops and such.

First off, I don’t think it’s so much about paperless as it is about just having computers. The idea that this is a “paperless” seems to be the work of a headline writer. Second, I think this falls into the wildly optimistic view of technology. For example:

“Technology is one of the best and worst things introduced in schools in the last 20 years,” [Eugene F. Provenzo Jr., a University of Miami education professor] said. “It can be an extraordinary tool. . . . But it can also be the difference between watching a movie about Venice and actually going to Venice and smelling the salt air.”

I mean, I am of course all for computers in the schools and technology and stuff like that, but this view seems a little rosy. Unless they’ve got smell-o-vision on those computers in Florida….

Thanksgiving blogging, part 1

Thanksgiving is actually one of my favorite holidays, largely because it revolves around one of my favorite activities, which is eating. Oh yeah– there’s some family stuff, too. Anyway, in no particular order, the T-Day holiday so far:

  • This year, we went to Iowa to see my side of the family. At Christmas, we’ll make the trek down to Florida. We drive to Iowa, but after about 10 hours in the car, caught in traffic etc., we started to wonder how much would it cost to fly.
  • We stopped on the way at Panera, in part because we were thinking that it was a healthy option. Well, according to Dottie’s Weight Watcher page, not so much. It’s still tasty, though.
  • Yesterday involved the running of a variety of errands– car washing, picking up pies, buying a University of Northern Iowa sweatshirt. Two things that eternally fascinate me about visiting my hometown: first, Cedar Falls strikes me as so much more “liveable” of a place than it was when I was a kid, mainly because so many more things are so easily available here than it used to be. For example, good coffee, good books, the New York Times, decent restaurants, good shopping options, organic vegetables, good cable, etc. Call it progress; call it the state of advanced capitalism.

    Second, I inevitably get lost when I come back to my hometown because a few years after I moved away (I actually haven’t lived here full-time since I was about 19, and I am pretty sure that I passed the point where I have lived more outside of Iowa than in Iowa a few years ago), they did a major road reconstruction project, totally changing the traffic patterns and right way to go. It took me more than an hour to pick up the pies.

  • Lots of play with the kids on the playground, lots of play in the backyard, card playing, eating and drinking, etc., etc. I was going to upload some pictures, but I left the cable for that at home, so it will have to wait until we get back.
  • Other than that, pretty boring stuff. Good dinner, but no green bean casserole, which is, of course, wrong. My father grilled the turkey, and at no point did anyone think about deep-fat frying it. The neighbors across the street did, but nothing bad happened.
  • Other than that, a lot of the last couple of days has involved me catching up on email and determining the schedule for my online teaching in the winter term. Really exciting stuff.

But I will leave you with this amusing item about bunnies cooking turkeys: