Long belated post on “Videos from The English TA Experience by Iowa State Students”

I am startlingly tardy in posting about Inside Higher Ed’s article “Voltaire Wasn’t Cut Out to Be an Iowa State TA” and the videos that are the subject of this– linked on Facebook here and here. Frankly, for all the excitement over things like the Graff and Birkenstein exchange on WPA-L, I’m kind of surprised that no one in the Comp/Rhet blogosphere has commented on this.

I guess someone has to start.

On the one hand, I appreciate the experiences being noted/recorded in these two videos. I’ve been there, of course. And I don’t blame these grad assistants for making these two videos and I don’t dismiss the reaction they have to the writing program at Iowa State (if I was running that program, I’d see this video as a bit of a “warning sign,” frankly). But I do have more of an “other hand” here.

First, this is probably more of the kind of video that should have been shown at some kind of GA gathering more or less privately, giggled at, and then put away. Probably not a video to post on YouTube or, um, Facebook. Second, and I don’t mean to sound all old and WPA-ish on people, but it’s never a good idea for GA’s to make fun of students publicly, even it is in modest ways and clearly in fun (as is the case with this video). Third, the administrative folks clearly over-reacted in trying to repress this. That just goes to show you what happens when administrators freak out.

And fourth (no offense to those folks at ISU) this video is probably twice as long as it should be. A little sensible editing would have helped, honestly.

Gaming helps 21st century students

Article/link #2 I don’t want to lose when I reboot: “Gaming helps students hone 21st-century skills,” from eNews and its annoying password/account-driven web site. The sub-head specifically singles out sites like Second Life. A couple paragraphs:

Sharnell Jackson, the chief eLearning officer for Chicago Public Schools and the webinar’s moderator, noted that gaming and simulations are highly interactive, allow for instant feedback, immerse students in collaborative environments, and allow for rapid decision-making. The webinar was sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Studies of the brain have pointed to data suggesting that repeated exposure to video games reinforces the ability to create mental maps, inductive discovery such as formulating hypotheses, and the ability to focus on several things at once and respond faster to unexpected stimuli.

Which reminds me that the next time I teach English 516, I’m going to have to once again re-add the units on gaming and writing.

Flor-e-dah, conferencing and otherwise

Just to recap a bit: Thursday turned out to be the last day of the Jacksonville conference for me, and things were both less and more mysterious. I went to an excellent session in podcasting and student video projects in history and humanities courses presented by Deborah Vess from Georgia College and State University. Vess was the winner of the “grand prize” for her presentation: $5,000. No kidding. She gave a great talk held at a very non-stressing hour of 11 am. I linked to a couple of things she mentioned on Friday. And yet there was only about a dozen or fewer people there. Mysterious.

And who was the second keynote speaker at this international conference about education, learning, and technology in higher education? Why, Carl “All the President’s Men” Bernstein, of course. The mystery continues. He didn’t talk much about education, learning, and/or technology, but he did have some interesting things to say about politics and the like. Anyway, I spent much of the rest of the afternoon attempting to get caught up some school stuff and to get some exercise by walking around the Jacksonville riverfront.

Had I known ahead of time that there was nothing really scheduled for Friday morning I wanted to see and that my presentation was going to be on Wednesday, I would have preferred to have spent Friday traveling back home. But I didn’t know any of that when I made the reservations, so I rented a car (out of my own pocket, I should point out) and drove around various beaches and in St. Augustine. I uploaded some pictures from that day and a few from Jacksonville here.

Highlights? Well, there’s a state park between Jacksonville and St. Augustine called Guana River State Park that has the longest undeveloped beach I’ve ever seen in Florida; a pleasant drive indeed. St. Augustine was quite the tourist trap with actual old and historic buildings mingling in with ye olde towne t-shirt shoppe. And, because I know that Will would have wanted me to go, I even managed to get myself sucked into a visit to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum. Here’s the movie:

A few links at the conference

A few links I came across in various ways the last couple of days before I get on to the conference business of the day, which is a trip to the beach:

  • Mike Rose’s Blog.
  • This article about podcasting turning into publishing. One of the points I think I want to make in my book project (oh yeah, that pesky book project… almost forgot about that…) is that one of the logical transitions/signs of success of a blog is the blog’s author gets some kind of book deal. So this makes sense to me.
  • The design code rap:
  • EveryZing. I haven’t played with this yet, but apparently, it’s an effort at creating a search engine that can look at multimedia for information. I heard about this at a presentation yesterday by Deborah Vess, who talked about…
  • … this, Apple + iPods @ GCSU, which is about a pretty large and interesting Podcasting/videocasting initiative at Georgia College and State University.

I think I would prefer to actually be leaving for the airport today, but when I booked this trip, I didn’t know exactly when the conference presentations were going to happen and I didn’t realize that there’s almost nothing on the program Friday. So as long as I’m here, I think I’ll find out what St. Augustine is like.

The conference gets less and more mysterious

Let me first be very clear: this mystery conference in Jacksonville has actually turned out to be a pretty good thing. I went to some good panels this morning and this afternoon, I had some nice chats with various folks, mostly from the community college world, my presentation went pretty well, and I got to catch up a bit with at least one friendly face I recognized from the computers and writing conference world. So it has been a much better conference than I had expected, and I am looking forward to some of the sessions tomorrow.

But it has still been kind of weird.

First off, the sessions this morning that I attended had some pretty small audiences– which is fine, frankly. That’s typical for academic conferences, and I just kind of assumed this is kind of a small conference overall. But when I went to the luncheon banquet, I was rather surprised to see a rather large ballroom with somewhere around 800 or so people in it, complete with a big dais of distinguished people. It was odd; I was just wondering where the heck all these people came from.

Then there was the mini-monolith. Before the keynote speech by Marc Prensky (the first 20 minutes of which were pretty good; the second 20 minutes which were kinda problematic; and the last 20 minutes of which were probably unnecessary), they announced the awards for the conference. Now, one of the reasons I was sent by folks at EMU to this conference in the first place was that I was the EMU nominee for an “Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology.” So I knew I was going to get something, and I also knew that there was 40 or so other winners. But I wasn’t expecting this:

Mini-monolith 1

Mini-Monolith 2

This trophy is pretty cool, but it seems rather dangerous. It’s made out of marble, it’s about eight and half inches high and about three and a half inches in circumference, it is cut so it has a rather sharp point at top, and has got to weigh 10 pounds. Gian Pagnucci (a fellow winner, btw) and I were talking at dinner about this, and we both seriously wondered if you could actually take this thing onto an airplane in carry-on luggage. I mean, I have no doubt that you could most definitely brain someone with this thing if you really wanted to. I’m a little worried about what kind of damage it’s liable to cause in my checked suitcase.

Well, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Tomorrow, more mysteries await.

Some multi-tasking and links at the mystery conference

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m at this something of a mystery conference and listening to a guy talking about a laptop campus program at Cal State San Bernardino. It’s potentially pretty interesting to me because while CSU-SB is a lot smaller than EMU, the profile of what the school is like is pretty similar to EMU. I think this is a guy I should talk to at some point. One of the points he just made: the main complaint that various powers-that-be on his campus (e.g., faculty senate, tech committees, provosts, etc.) was concern about that one poor student who just can’t afford a laptop no matter what. So the solution they came up with was they collected old but still decent laptops from other institutional resources. So far, they’ve loaned out one.

Another fun-fact: 70% of the students at CSU-SB are on financial aid. At the same time, some huge percentage of students had computers, over 70% had high speed internet access where they lived, and over half of the students already owned a laptop before they were required to buy one. Again, given that CSU-SB has a similar profile of students at EMU, I bet that a survey would be about the same.

But a couple of other things I came across via my feed that kind of connect to the conference and that’s just kind of interesting:

Jacksonville and the mystery conference

After I updated my Facebook status by pointing out I was in Jacksonville, Florida, my friend emailed me via Facebook and asked why. Good question.

Well, for reasons that are too complicated to go into now, the short version is that I’m at the 19th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning because EMU said that they would pay my way. So I figured it’d be a chance to represent EMU and get a trip to Florida near the end of my quasi-sabbatical.

So far, the trip has been kind of a mystery. Jacksonville has to date struck me as kind of a strange place. Most of the conversation with the cab driver from the airport to the hotel revolved around the cab driver’s love of soup. Downtown Jacksonville seems kind of like a cross between Richmond and Detroit in that it is a bunch of big office buildings– banks, telecom companies, insurance companies, etc.– and some weird and seemingly failed urban revitalization efforts. Just down the riverfront from the hotel is a “mall” that reminds me a lot of this place in Richmond that had a reasonably successful food court and a bunch of empty store fronts. There is a Hooter’s, though. And– I swear to God this is true– there’s even a monorail. I might take a ride yet this trip.

As for the conference itself: well, I’ll get a better sense tomorrow, but right now, it too is a real… mystery. I had never heard of this conference before I got myself involved in it this year, and I don’t recognize a single name in the program. I went to a little reception thing this evening, and I very much felt oddly out of place. There is some interesting abstracts in the program, and I guess I’ll find out more about this whole thing tomorrow and Thursday. Though I am also looking forward to finding out more about St. Augustine, which is my trip for Friday. Stay tuned.

Wednesday (and not partying in the French Quarter) Links

Well, since I’m not in NOLA and up to Lord only knows what Steve B. and Bill HD. and my other typical conference partners in crime are up to right now, I thought I’d post a whole bunch of links from my Google Reader feed:

No NOLA (or reindeer games) for me

Browsing through my Google Reader feed the last couple of days, I see post after post from my fellow comp/rhet colleagues about getting ready for the CCCCs. Checking my email, I see message after message on WPA-L about sharing a cab from the airport to downtown New Orleans. I have already had to respond “no” to a couple of other “see you in NOLA” inquiries.


This year’s CCCCs has kind of put a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing. First off, as I wrote back in October, I didn’t know what was going on with my proposal until the middle of October, or a full six months after I submitted my proposal in the first place. I can’t think of any good reason why it would have taken this long. Second, I thought I had a pretty good proposal, especially given the fact that it was based largely on the research that I’ve been doing this year on blogs. Actually, as I think about it a bit, the last two proposals I’ve put into the CCCCs that have been based largely on some sort of technology and comp/rhet have been viewed by the process a bit skeptically. My proposal (and ultimately my presentation) for the CCCCs in New York City last year was initially rejected, but I appealed to the program chair to see if there’s anything that could be done about it. Long story short, I ended up getting in, and I gave a presentation at pretty much the worst possible time on Saturday morning.

I supposed I could have appealed this year’s rejection too, but I didn’t want to press my luck. Back in October, my thinking was I was going to go to the conference anyway, but after I got involved in this conference that is new to me, I decided to skip the CCCCs this year. Now I’m kind of regretting it, as much because of missing out on the New Orleans experience as much as anything else.

Oh well; I guess there’s next year, potentially?

I’m going to take this as a back-handed compliment

Via Digital Digs, I came across this article in The Nation, “Professing Literature in 2008,” which is about the 20th anniversary of the Gerald Graff book Professing Literature and which laments the sorry state of English departments. At least from the point of view of a literature professor.

Here’s a long quote, one I find especially interesting as one of those comp/rhet specialists:

There’s no better way to take the profession’s temperature, it seems to me, than by scanning the Modern Language Association Job Information List, the quarterly catalog of faculty openings in American English departments. If you want to know where an institution is at, take a look at what it wants. The most striking fact about this year’s list is that the lion’s share of positions is in rhetoric and composition. That is, not in a field of literature at all but in the teaching of expository writing, the “service” component of an English department’s role within the university. Add communications and professional and technical writing, and you’ve got more than a third of the list. Another large fraction of openings, perhaps 15 percent, is in creative writing. Apparently, kids may not want to read anymore, but they all want to write. And watch. Forward-thinking English departments long ago decided to grab film studies before it got away, and the list continues to reflect that bit of subterfuge.

That’s more than half the list, and we still haven’t gotten to any, well, literature. When we do, we find that the largest share of what’s left, nearly a third, is in American literature.

Yes indeed– can you imagine English being something beyond literature?

Well, three brief thoughts on this:

  • In the early 1990s, I went into a PhD program in composition and rhetoric and not literature for a bunch of different reasons, but one of them was what I already knew about the job market as a relative outsider. I vividly recall a lunch I had with my dissertation director in about October 1995 about the job market where I was expressing my anxieties and concerns. She waved a spoon at me and didn’t even look up from her soup and said “you’ll be fine.” When I asked more about this, she just pointed out to me that people in my field had been in demand since the mid 1970s and that no one who graduated from my program had not gotten a tenure-track job. In other words, the “new” rise of these wacky and marginal fields like composition and rhetoric is not, um, new.
  • It would be tempting to dismiss the author of this article, William Deresiewicz, as some old fogey who can be excused a bit for being out of touch with contemporary trends in English studies. But interestingly, as his homepage indicates, Deresiewicz is only 10 years out of his PhD program. You’d think that someone like that would be a tad more up to date on trends in his field. Sadly, I don’t think that Deresiewicz is really all that unusual among my colleagues in fields like British literature.
  • This seems to me to be another reason as to why we’re seeing a rise of “Writing” departments across the country, and why I think that the free-standing writing department– one that includes first year composition, undergraduate majors, and graduate programs– will be the norm by the end of my career.