More English 516 stuff for Winter 2009

These aren’t exactly “new” news kind of articles, but still new things that might find their way to a syllabus for English 516 this coming winter (and this list of stuff all comes from the latest NCTE Inbox):

  • “Can Technology Make Teens Better Writers?” an article on MSNEncarta
  • “Teachers disciplined for Facebook postings” from the Charlotte Observer. The headline here should be “Charlotte teacher incredibly stupid in use of Facebook.” Among other things, she wrote in the “about me” section “I am teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte,” listed as one of her activities “teaching chitlins in the ghetto of Charlotte,” and she skipped the option on Facebook where you info stays private to only you and only the people you friend. Who says that students are the only ones who are stupid about this kind of thing?
  • “In Florida, virtual school could make classrooms history,” from the Orlando Sentinel web site. According to the article, a new Florida law will require every district to set up an online school for K-8.
  • Maelstrom over metadata from Inside Higher Ed, which might fit in to a unit on library stuff if I decide to do that again this coming winter. This is a fairly geeky piece though

Two observations about English 516 for this coming winter, which I really ought to be working on developing sooner than later: first, this might be the first time in a long time that I don’t use any specific textbook for the class. There isn’t anything out there right now that strikes me as both current and “worth it;” instead, I think I might have a lot of eReserves readings and structure the course around what I guess I would describe as “important units” for issues having to do with computers and writing. I dunno; we’ll see.

Second, this is a good term to contemplate a revision of the course since it’s the first time in the last few years I will be teaching it in person and on campus. Interestingly enough, I think a number of our current students were actually looking forward to the online version of the class. I had a couple email exchanges with potential students who more or less said that they’d see me next year when the class was back online. And I ran into a student in the student center who didn’t realize the class was face to face and who had signed up for another class the same night. What strikes me about this is how quickly students have gone from being a little leery of the whole online thing to actually seeking it out.

Obama/Biden=Mac; a NYTimes dream; the YouTube “actually good” video contest

I came across three things right in a row that I want to post this morning, but I don’t have time to write/talk about any of them. Luckily, they mostly speak for themselves.

First off, yet another reason to like Obama/Biden: they are apparently both Mac users. See this piece, and the boing boing entry on it.

Second, via Mark Maynard and an Facebook entry, there is this spot-on dream/wishful thinking of a July 4, 2009 New York Times. Yes, I want all of these things too. But let’s be careful and not have too many unrealistic expectations for the President-elect. Bush left a hell of a mess to clean up.

And finally, the Onion announces a (fake?) YouTube contest where users will win $100,000 if they make a video that is “actually good:”

YouTube Contest Challenges Users To Make A ‘Good’ Video

I gotta show this one to my 328 students who are trying to make videos right now, good or otherwise.

“The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education”

Via the NCTE Inbox comes “The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education,” which is a resource published on the Center for Social Media at American University. This includes a long article and this six or so minute movie:

The timing of this is good for me because these are topics that are coming up right now in English 328 as my students work on short collaborative movies and as I think about English 516 for the winter term. And there seems to be some good stuff at this AU center. For example, another resource to look at when I get a free minute: Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video. This one seems to be particularly about mashups and remixes and how they “could” be legal under certain circumstances.

Of course, the timing on this is also bad since I have no time right now. All I can do yet this morning with these things is post some links. I have a mid-semester “to-do” list that could choke a horse….

One video leads to another

A grad student and friend of mine sent me this video, “The Matrix Runs on Windows:”

Funny stuff, which lead to another video, “Professor Wikipedia:”

That Wikipedia one is certainly going to find its way into a class sooner than later. Anyway, now it’s on to grading stuff.

The Greenhills adventure so far

I’ve been at a couple of functions over the last few weeks where I end up talking with friends and acquaintances about their kids and schools. It can be awkward. One of the most popular (and not necessarily in a good way) posts I’ve had here in a long time is the one where I wrote about leaving public schooling behind, and a lot of the over beers/wine conversation at parties has been about how happy friends’ kids are at West Middle School (in Ypsi), or in the Ann Arbor public schools, or wherever.

Now, I mean absolutely nothing bad about these schools at all, and I do think that the different kids/different situations thing means a lot. These other schools are good schools, no doubt about that– though I do think it’s interesting that virtually everyone that we hang around with has nothing good to say about East Middle School in Ypsi. And be aware that I still have liberal guilt– at least a smidgen of it.

But Greenhills has been a mighty fine choice for us.

I was thinking about this because of some of the stuff that Will has been able to do lately and what the experiences has been “like” so far. In no particular order:

  • Will is on the chess team, which starts having meets next week or so, and which practices every Friday afternoon. There are like 25 kids of all ages on this team.
  • I think there are about 65 or so kids in his entire sixth grade. I think there are something like 500-600 kids total, 6 through 12.
  • I believe he is still active in the Manga club, though the D&D game club has yet to get off the ground because of scheduling problems.
  • He and a partner were doing this project in his science class (you will note many of these moments are about science class) that involved building a little bridge out of various household products. He and his partner didn’t pull it off in the time allotted in class, and Will was pretty disappointed about it. But that night, we had a voicemail message from his bridge partner about how he wanted to go in early the next day to finish it. So the next day, we dropped off Will 45 minutes early, and he and his partner figured it out.
  • All of the books he is reading and the writing he is doing in his English class are happily endorsed by Will’s English professor parents.
  • Will’s Latin teacher (and this is a class he is enjoying a great deal) insisted that each of his students bring him one piece of Halloween candy.
  • So far, field trips/special day things have included going to a nature center of some sort, going to a rope course (crossing bridges, zip lines, etc.), going to the SOS office in Ypsi to talk about homelessness and such and to also put together some care packages for homeless kids, and hosting a bunch of “special needs” kids for some kind of event at Greenhills.
  • The other night, Will and the other sixth graders were at the Ann Arbor Hands On museum for an event where the kids did all kinds of various things. Will ended up dissecting a cow eyeball.
  • Will has been pestering lately about how to use a video camera because one of the options for the multimedia project in his science class on plate tectonics is to make a movie. I have a feeling I might have to “act” in said movie, too.

So yeah, things are good. Maybe Will would have had a similar list of adventures at West Middle, and I know that some of Will’s friends who are going there are doing fantastic. But things are good.

It is taking me longer than I thought to do virtually anything this term

Last year, I was on quasi-sabbatical, meaning that between my administrative release and my research release, I taught one class the entire year. The year before that, I was doing two administrative jobs at once, which meant I taught a whole lot less. And before that, I had been receiving one kind of release or another for administrative this or that.

So this is the first term in a long time since I’ve taught a full load, and also the first time in a long time where I’ve taught all of my classes on campus. And, just to add to the adventure, the graduate course I am teaching is new for me, and, because it’s a theory course called “the rhetoric of science and technology,” it involves a BOATLOAD of new reading. AND I’ve added/modified English 328 (the class I teach all the time) to include a collaborative video project. I have no idea how this is going to translate into the online version of this class.

Anyway, I’m not complaining exactly because I know lots of academics– especially at regional/undergrad-oriented institutions like EMU– teach a 3-3 load along with doing a lot of stuff I don’t have to do, my classes are quite small (I have fewer students in these three different classes than some of my literature colleagues have in one of their three sections), and, as always the case with academic jobs, it’s better than shoveling coal. But it does make me think of a couple of things.

First, I have yet to get my “grading mojo” back. The worst part of the job is reading, commenting on, and grading student essay projects. I don’t say that as a slam to my students at all; they do good things, they’re trying hard, etc., etc. I’m not going to lie and say that they all do really interesting and great work, but enough of them do that I can honestly say that the problem here really isn’t them. I think the problem is it’s just kind of hard work to do that can sometimes be boring and often can be easy to put off. Grading is certainly a lot less “fun” than actually being in class (or online, for that matter) and “teaching,” or planning a class, or just talking with students.

So, the first couple of batches of essays for student projects have just taken me way WAY too long to comment on. It vaguely reminds me of when I started teaching 20 years ago, or, much more recently, when I mentored a bunch of new grad students through their first semester of first year writing here at EMU when I was the temp WPA for a year: I used to (and my recent grad students used to) spend just HOURS on these things, mainly because I didn’t quite know what I was doing in the broadest possible sense. This is what I mean by my “grading mojo:” I am not back to the place where I can sit down with a batch of student projects and give them decent/useful feedback in a reasonable amount of time.

Second, I am reminded once again of how much of the job of being a professor has almost nothing to do with teaching, and that includes people (like me right now) who are teaching “full loads” with no release time to do anything else. This state of affairs has been obvious to me for a long time I suppose, but I do remember how when I started down the tenure-track at Southern Oregon 12 years ago that I was quite surprised by this. I suppose also that I am in the stage of my career where I could blow off a lot of this stuff and become one of those “dead wood” professors, but retirement is still about 25 years off for me and I’ve seen the sort of bad things/bitterness that can happen with senior folks who take the easy road and opt-out of the operations/politics of a department.

And third, I’m not sure which is the better lot in faculty life, the position I was in recently of teaching two and getting a course release to attend to a fair amount of administrative things, or teaching three, doing a few non-teaching things here and there, and largely staying out of the administrative heavy-lifting. There are some quasi-administrative things coming up that I can imagine wanting to do and/or being told that I really need to do, so we’ll see how that works out.

But if I start talking about becoming a full-time administrator, you know that a) I really want the money, and/or b) I’ve gone off the deep end.

Good bye old media, helllo new media

Via Will Richardson, I came across this NYTimes article/blog/whatever, “Mourning Old Media’s Decline.” It’s an interesting article about the ongoing implosion of old media/traditional newspapers. My wife and I were just talking the other day about canceling our paper subscription to the Ann Arbor News; what’s the point if I’m either going to not read it at all and/or read it online?

Anyway, this is an article that might work well for 444, where I usually have some discussion/unit/readings about “citizen journalism.” But I also post about this because I think that Will has it slightly wrong, when he writes:

The problem for us is that we’re still teaching like our kids are going to be reading those edited, linear, well-written newspapers when the reality is they’re not. And the bigger problem is that, by and large, we still don’t know enough about the “new” media world in our personal practice to push those conversations about change in any meaningful way.

We better figure it out pretty quickly, or we’ll be mourning much more than old media…

These are important warnings, but I have to say that I think that my colleagues in journalism (and I teach in a somewhat unusual English department in that journalism is housed here) are well-aware of this, and I think that there teaching has been moving in that direction. I’m not completely privy to the discussions that happen among that group, and I do know there is a tension between, um, “old school” and “new school” folks. That being said, there’s lots of technological awareness, abilities, and pedagogy in these kinds of classes.

And the thing is that while the medium itself is changing– as is the definition of what constitutes an “expert” or a “journalist”– the basic literacy and research skills of what we train in students in journalism is not. We still have lots and lots of students in our journalism program (not to mention PR and our writing majors), and, as far as I can tell, these students still end up getting jobs. It’s just that the paper pulp and the ink is gone.