Remembering John Lovas

I’m shocked and saddened to hear that John passed away yesterday at the age of 65. There is a web space at DeAnza college to remember John, a “Festschrift.”

I feel like I knew him quite well as a colleague, and yet I met him in person only once at the Computers and Writing conference in Hawaii last year, and I probably only exchanged a dozen words with him then. This is how fellow bloggers are: we talk to each other through our typing.

John’s posts at “A Writing Teacher’s Blog” were a regular way for me to start my day. I found his writing engaging, inspiring, inviting, and, well, useful. John was a great source of advice and wisdom about the practicalities of teaching writing and it was so obvious that he loved what he did. It’s fitting somehow that the last post he made about a month ago was titled “Beginnings” and is about the challenge, as John wrote, of getting “the student to connect the banalites to real experiences, observations, or recollections. When that happens, there’s a real chance for a paper worth reading.”

I’ll miss John quite a bit and regret that I didn’t have a chance to speak with him more in person, but I’ll always remember our conversations in writing.

Thoughts on "Blogs as a Tool for Teaching"

I’m guessing that at least some people coming to this blog for the first time are here because of an article I have in the June 24 Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Information Technology Supplement.” It kind of shows up in the back of that section, so I don’t know how many people have (or ever will) read it. But if you’re here because you did read it, thanks.

This was an interesting writing experience for me in a couple of different ways, so I thought I’d mention a few things about it here:

  • This came about because I was contacted by an editor at the CHE who either read or had heard of an article I had in the online academic journal Kairos called “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Email Lists, Discussion, and Interaction” and asked me if I wanted to write a piece about teaching with blogs. Considering the fact that the CHE has quite a broad reach and they were going to pay me, I of course agreed.
  • I thought the CHE folks were nice to work with, actually.
  • If I ever teach an undergraduate class at EMU about the “publishing process” as it really happens, I’ll show them the various drafts and the give-and-take with the editors. It’s interesting because where I started this essay months ago is not the same where I ended up. For the most part, that’s a good thing.
  • Regrets? A few, maybe. I (of course!) did not have a lot of space to work with, and there were a few places where the editor was asking me “to explain that more” and I really just couldn’t explain enough. I mean, these things are complicated. As a result, there are a few places where I think the piece reads a bit stiff to me.
  • I have no idea what the deal is with the “drummer boys” graphic on page B34.
  • I still basically agree with the points I think I am trying to make, though one thing I wish I had talked about more in this essay (and in the Kairos piece, for that matter) is the extent to which improving blogging tools make certain aspects of blogging, such as interaction, better than they were. Well, maybe that can be the next essay.

Oh yeah: there’s other essays in this issue, too.

I don’t have any use for it in a small writing class (at least I don’t think I do…), but these “clickers” that are surfacing in lecture hall classes are really interesting. It’s kind of a gimmick, sure, but I bet it really does keep students interested. Interestingly though, some of the other articles are talking about using technologies (video, for example) as a “hook” to keep students (the proverbial “MTV generation?”) interested.

There’s a piece called “Hold a Socratic Chair” that I thought was pretty interesting because I’m going to be teaching an all online class for the first time in the fall. It’s about a guy who teaches at Concord University School of Law, which offers a completely online degree. And then there’s a bunch of stuff I’ll need to read later, a piece by Janet Murray, an interestingly titled essay called “Why Many Faculty Members Aren’t Excited About Technology,” an article about course management tools that might come in handy for a different project, and some other things I’m not going to mention now.

Anyway, go buy it now. Good reading.

Update:
Jeff’s question in his comment prompted me to ask the folks at the CHE if I could reprint/repost my essay here. They said I could republish it anywhere I wanted as long as I acknowledged that it first appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. So there ya go.

My scan of the article (saved as a PDF file)
is pretty bad, so if anyone has an electronic version of this from the CHE web site, I’d appreciate it if you could send it to me. Thanks in advance.

The jump to WordPress, a semi-rocky one

Just as the Piston-San Antonio game is getting interesting, I finally FINALLY get my WordPress version of this blog to function. I’ve got a few other tweeks I want to make before I go to bed, but I had thought this transition was going to be a bit easier than it was. More later….

Update #1:
As you might be able to tell, I’ve started to mess with the template a bit. The picture in the masthead is one I took on campus a while back. It’s walking away from Pray-Harrold toward Welch Hall. But you can’t really see that; the big thing in the middle of the page is the infamous “Water Tower” of Ypsilanti.

Why the move to WordPress? Well, I’ve been using it for my unofficial blog for a month or so now with no problems. With this CHE article coming out, I decided to spiffy things up a bit around here. And I wanted something to do while watching the Pistons play, though importing my blogger blog into this proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated.

There will probably be a lot more updates in the not-so-distant future, but this will due for now. After all, I still have a class to teach, things to grade, a textbook to write, a trip to prepare for, etc., etc….

The fine line between blog as prewriting tool and procrastination enabler

For the record, let me say at the outset that, despite the fact that I played golf today and I am temporarily a “single parent” while Annette is at a children’s literature conference in Canada, I actually did get to work on chapter 2 this evening. I now return you to the blog….

I came across two different blog postings today that spoke (at least in part) about the practice of blogging. The first was Collin in this oddly titled post, where he talks about writerly habits and how keeping a blog can figure into that in a positive way. Collin writes a lot of interesting stuff here, but one brief quote:

I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that bloggers write better dissertations, but I do think that there’s a case to be made that weblogs can provide an opportunity for daily writing, an opportunity that will serve a blogger well when it comes to a larger project. Keeping a weblog may help students develop the kind of procedural knowledge that receives so little attention in the formal venues of academia.

Okay, fair enough. Then, over on Maud Newton’s blog (which isn’t all by Maud anymore but which covers a variety of issues of interest to “creative” writers/literati-types) there’s this post by Maud, “celebrating” the third year of her blog:

Frankly, the anniversary depresses me. Three years, and I still haven’t finished my goddamned novel. Worse than that: I abandoned the first one in late 2003 and started a second. Meanwhile, my OCD tendencies rage unabated. I’m still a slob. And I remain estranged from my parents.

The post kind of goes downhill from there.

Now, I think what we have here is the proverbial double-edged sword that is blogging. On the one hand, I completely agree with Collin. I find blogging to be an excellent invention/prewriting/thinking/note taking activity for me. But beyond that, I’ve found blogging to more or less be an end in itself. I mean, I’m not getting huge amounts of hits here, but I am pretty sure more people read my blog every month or so than have ever read my official “scholarship,” at least the print versions of my scholarship.

On the other hand, Newton has a point. I will be the first to admit/confess that posting to my blogs (this one or my unofficial one) is all too often a way of me avoiding something else I should be doing, things like grading student projects, reading, doing stuff around the house, and, of course, writing. It isn’t fair to say that I could be spending all of this blogging time doing “something more productive.” Still… uh… I could be doing something more productive.

Ultimately, I think that Collin is absolutely right when he offers the same advice that I give to students and anyone else who asks: when you’re working on some academic (or other) writing project, you should work on it every day, even if you can only work on it for a little bit. Of course, it’s a lot easier to give advice than to follow advice.