"How to email a professor"

Via Dr. B’s blog, I found this post on Orange Crate Art: “How to e-mail a professor.” SOLID solid advice; in the near future, I’m either going to point out this entry to my students or I’m going to write up my own version of this advice (referencing Michael Leddy’s post, of course) and pass this out.

I for one like to communicate with my students via email (though I have colleagues who either would rather not have their students email or who even go so far as to say that their students cannot email them), but I do think it can be a problem. I get a lot of email– at least 100 messages a day– of various levels of importance. I get a lot of spam and junk of course, and while my “junk filter” works relatively well (I’m using the Mail software that comes standard on the Mac nowadays), I also get a lot of junk and spam in my inbox, all mixed in with some mailing list mail, important school mail, student mail, advertisements, mail from friends, etc. And the “student mail,” too often with a subject line like “hey,” can disappear into the mix in the inbox, or, far worse, be determined by my software to be “junk.”

Anyway, the advice offered by Leddy is pretty darn good, the sort of “common sense” that sometimes needs to be directly taught in order to be realized.

"Authors are saps" about Google

Via boing-boing this monring, I found an editorial by boing-boing co-editor Xeni Jardin in the LA Times titled “You Authors are Saps to Resist Googling.” The particular authors/saps in question are members of the Authors Guild, which is a group that represents author (about 8,000, according to Jardin). BTW, if you go to the Authors Guild web site, you can see plenty of links about why they are fightin’ mad at Google.

I think Jardin is totally right for at least three reasons. First, Google’s plan isn’t to show an entire book as the result of a search; rather, they’re just going to show a portion of the book relevant to a search. It isn’t going to be possible (apparently) to just get the whole book.

Second, the VAST majority of writers/authors that I know really want readers to read their writing; they aren’t as concerned with how many books they can (or really, can’t sell). Writers write for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons I write is because I like the attention, and I for one have gotten a lot more attention from things I’ve published on the web than I anything I have published in traditional print.

Third, putting information about books online– including big chunks of content– helps sell them. As Jardin writes:

Perhaps the Authors Guild members would prefer that search companies pay them for the right to build book search services. If Google has its way, their logic goes, we’ll lose control over who can copy our work, and we’ll lose sales. But Internet history proves the opposite is true. Any product that is more easily found online can be more easily sold.

Amazon.com’s “look inside” feature works similarly. And, surprise, the Authors Guild has squabbled with it too.

Yep. Saps.

More about insurance for lecturers (and maybe faculty?) at EMU

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about the lecturer’s negotiations and how paying for a portion of health insurance was figuring into the formula. This morning, Howard Bunsis, who is the president of the faculty union (the EMU-AAUP), emailed faculty and told us some of the basics of the deal the lecturer’s ended up with:

  • In a five year deal, the lecturer’s will get 3.2% in the first year and 2.0% for each year after that; and
  • Lecturers will have to pay up to $1,500 a year for insurance– half that if they are single, if they don’t use the insurance much, etc.

Bunsis concludes that this means that the lecturers actually negotiated a contract where they ended up with a pay-cut. How much of a pay-cut I supposed depends on how a particular lecturer uses (or doesn’t use) the insurance and how much they get paid. But for single folks who get paid around $32K a year, I think they end up with a slight raise the first year and they “break even” for the other four years of the contract. Regardless of the exact numbers, this is not exactly good news.

Now, Bunsis said that there’s no way that the faculty union at EMU would ever accept a contract that resulted in a pay-cut, and I think this is true. If the administration at EMU tried to make the same deal with the faculty that they (apparently) just made with the lecturers, I’m pretty sure that faculty would strike. And I should point out that our faculty union is not one of these “we’re going to work without a contract” sorta unions. Since I came here in ’98, we’ve been on strike twice: once for a week (more or less), and once for about 7 hours.

Of course, one of the reasons the administration made the deal they did with the lecturers is because they could. Simply put, the lecturer’s union doesn’t have the same kind of numbers of members as the faculty union.

But while I admire Bunsis’ committment to a contract where faculty don’t pay for health care, it’s pretty clear to me that this is inevitable that we’re going to paying something for insurance soon.

Handwriting not being taught + students cheat with cell phones = technology is bad for education

The current issue of NCTE’s InBox has two articles (and slightly recycled) from different newspapers that are both presented (more or less) as examples of how technology is bad for schooling. First, there’s “The Handwriting Is On The Wane” from the Hartford Courant. I don’t exactly know what they mean by “THE Handwriting” (shouldn’t that just be “Handwriting is On the Wane”?), but given that the byline is “By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Write” (as opposed to “Writer“), perhaps the folks in Hartford have some sort of “master handwriting” in mind. Anyway, here’s a typical quote:

Relying more and more on e-mail, blogs, websites, instant messaging and other electronic forms of communication, students at all levels are forgetting the fine art of handwriting, educators say. Cursive script, the graceful looping style that connects one letter to another, might be going the way of the inkwell and the fountain pen.

When students do write by hand, many resort to printing, educators say.

“It’s true. Unfortunately, a lot of schools are not spending enough time on handwriting,” said Priscilla Mullins of Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers, an Ohio-based firm that produces classroom materials for handwriting, spelling, grammar and related subjects.

Of course, this is old news, and, interestingly enough, it’s old news where Zaner-Bloser has commented. She was making the same kind of argument in South Carolina back in January.

The second “sky is falling” piece is “High-Tech Cheating Comes to High Schools,” which appeared in the Detroit News but which was a reprint of an article from the Sacramento Bee. Basically, it’s about using cell phones to cheat:

“Some people text you during tests and ask if you know the answer to No. 3,” said Amy Pederson, a 17-year-old senior at Sacramento’s Folsom High School.

The number of high school students who admit cheating has steadily increased, said Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and one of the nation’s top researchers of high school and college cheating. His most recent survey, published in June, found that 70 percent of students at public and private high schools admit to some form of cheating on tests.

Lance Chih has seen it.

“Last year in one of my classes we had a sub,” said the 18-year-old senior at Folsom, “and students were distracting the sub while they took pictures of the test.”

Once again, we have an article where the usual suspects– McCabe in this case– provide a reporter with a dramatic and dire warning about cheating. I don’t know how “recent” his survey his and I don’t know how he defines “cheating” exactly, but I blogged about McCabe a bit back in August 2003.

I will say this though: at least the reporter for this story was careful enough to follow-through and ask the teachers about what they “do” about these things:

“A lot of this stuff is just a matter of monitoring the classroom,” said Shannon Morgan, a math teacher at Folsom High School.

“You can tell just by their body language if they’ve got (a cell phone) out,” said Sean Rivera, who’s also a math teacher at Folsom. “You grow a third eye. … We can just tell. Those of us who’ve been in the business long enough can tell when they have a phone out.”

Some educators believe the problem is changing too rapidly to be quelled by conventional methods, and it’s time that teaching methods evolved with technology.

“The days of teachers just getting up and lecturing … those days are kind of over,” said Mark Hyatt, president of the Center for Academic Integrity. “Especially the younger generation — they want to be part of the action.”

See? Maybe the kids today aren’t going to hell in a handbasket….

Cool use of Screencasting (and my own Teaching Online adventures continue)

Via Collin’s blog comes this link to Will at Weblogg-ed about giving student feedback via a screencast. For the time-being, I really just want to link to this so I can come back to it later when I start working more earnestly on my CCCCs presentation. But I guess I’ve got two thoughts for now:

  • I’m not sure I like the idea of screencasting for each student’s essay, but it’s an interesting demonstration.
  • Personally, I’m having enough problems/”challenges” just keeping up on the “basics” for my online class. I’ve whined about this before, so I’m not going to whine about it now, but I guess what I’m getting at/wondering about is the tradeoff between doing things like screencasting or podcasting versus the time it takes to make screencasts and podcasts, not to mention the learning curve.

Study proves: religion bad

I’d best not comment on this too much, so I’ll just post the link:

Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side’ from the UK’s Times Online

I’m not convinced that the study proves a particularly clear cause/effect relationship, but it’s interesting reading. And it sure as hell isn’t going to be published in the mainstream US press.

Oops, I mean sure as heck.

Dark sitters

The Little Professor observes/wonders why it is that it is common for teachers to come into a class of students who are sitting in the dark. Judging by the comments here and the fact that Inside Higher Ed linked to it in their “Around the Web” section, I am guessing that this is a common phenomenon in colleges in the English speaking world.

A few thoughts:

  • I haven’t experienced this for a while because I tend to teach in the late afternoons and evenings, and, in my experience at least, the lights tend to be on later in the day. I also tend to not teach classes populated with first year students, the most likely group to remain patiently in the dark, especially at the beginning of their college experiences. And to tell the truth, I suspect that some of these students come from high schools where they were told to not touch the light switches, that those switches were in the domain of the teacher. That’s just a guess though.
  • Having said that, I have indeed come into classrooms of students sitting silently in the dark and have always thought it kinda weird.
  • Despite some of the theories advanced on the Little Professor’s site, I suspect the reason for dark sitting is a simple group psychology phenomenon. I remember seeing a little movie about this in high school psychology/sociology class. The movie was (supposedly) footage from an experiment. The first scene showed a single person sitting in a waiting room. Smoke started to come in from one of the vents. It didn’t take more than about 2 minutes for this person to get up to inform someone about the smoke situation. The second scene showed a waiting room with about 10 people sitting around in it. Smoke started to come in from one of the vents. No one moved, and if I am recalling this right, the reason given by participants was something like they thought someone else would do something.

Anyway, if there are any students reading this: go ahead and turn on the lights. Or, if you really want to mess with people, turn them off.

The Happy Academic ponders not being on the job market and not being an administrator

This is the season in which folks start posting potential job searches to mailing lists, where folks start polishing up their CVs and making hotel reservations for MLA. Not me– not this year, and probably not ever again.

Never say never, of course. But since my wife has started on the tenure-track here at EMU, we’re probably here for the duration, for better or worse (and it is mostly for better).

I have to say that it is a somewhat odd feeling, though. My wife and I had been “on the market” pretty much since 1996; some years, we were somewhat casual about our searches, and in other years, like last year, we were very close to taking different jobs. But now that we’re settled, I’m merely a spectator and it is a weird sort of feeling. Good, but still weird.

Anyway, I started thinking about this in part because of the CHE article “The Sixth Time is the Charm,” by Esther “not her real name” Davis. Basically, Davis offers advice to current job seekers based on her own six years “on the market” in the social sciences. My and my wife’s experiences are pretty similar to Davis’.

Also in ths issue of the CHE is an article with the inviting title of “Crossing Over to the Dark Side” by Jean and George “real names” Dowdall. I think it’s a worthwhile piece for faculty like me to consider. Like many faculty who have been granted tenure, I have thought (albeit very briefly) about pursuing an administrative position. But this article simple re-confirms my reasons for not doing this. Among other things, the Dowdalls warn potential deans and other full-time adminstrators that moving from a faculty position to an administrative one means:

  • an “academic calendar change” (meaning that they expect administrators to show up every day during business hours, including the summer);
  • being required to work within a pretty strict system of supervisors and supervising;
  • having to work with people you don’t want to work with (though faculty have to do this, too); and
  • inevitably making some decisions that will piss some people off (my paraphrase there).

Oh yeah, one thing not mentioned in this article: the dress code changes– I mean, they don’t call them “the suits” for nothing.

There are some quasi-administrative positions within the English department– director of graduate studies or coordinator of the writing program, for example– that I wouldn’t mind doing. But being a full-time administrator? No, thanks.

Toothlessness/Soccer Game

Two Will events as of late:

Toothless Will
Will FINALLY lost one of his front teeth, as you can see here. I’m not sure why, but Will hasn’t lost a lot of teeth at this point, even though a lot of kids his age have lost plenty more. This particular front tooth had been loose for weeks and weeks and weeks and still it hung in Will’s mouth. So finally, a couple nights ago, I told Will that if he pulled it out– tonight– I would take him to Dairy Queen. Well, that was enough of an incentive. He wiggled and tugged and twisted that thing until it finally came out and we went and had a couple of chocolate sundaes.

Oh, and Will is VERY proud of the fact that this tooth is missing.

Will in Soccer uniform

In other Will news, today was Will’s team’s first soccer game of the season. Here’s Will in his uniform before we left for the game. I intended to take pictures at the game but I forgot and was too busy watching and cheering. Will’s youth league soccer is kind of interesting. They play 4 on 4 without a goalie, and it would probably be best described as a “pack” game: eight little kids following around the ball sort of like moths around a swinging lightbulb. It was fun– probably more fun than watching 7-8 year olds play basketball.

Will’s better at soccer than he is at basketball, too. I think he’s probably in the “top half” his 8 person team. Of course, when I asked Will on his way to the game today if he would rather play basketball or take swimming lessons, he immediately said swimming. Which is fine– I think that Will is still searching out his interests, which is fun to watch.

Starbucks coffee cups just “too gay” for Baylor U

Here’s a cup of morning intollerance by some religious nuts for ya:

Via Dr. B’s Blog, I came across this article about how Baylor University has stopped selling coffee in cups with little sayings on them. Maybe you’ve seen these before: printed on the cup holding your latte is some inspirational/pithy quote. Here’s a quote from the “Gay News” article:

The Seattle-based coffee company launched its “The Way I See It” promotion earlier this year, and one of the phrases being used is from Armistead Maupin.

Maupin, whose “Tales of the City” chronicled gay life in San Francisco’s homosexual in the 1970s and 1980s, is quoted on the cups as saying “I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don’t make that mistake yourself. Life’s too damn short.”

This week Baylor University ordered the campus Starbucks outlet to pull the cup campaign, even though the Maupin quote was just one of about 100.

Frankly, I think Baylor should order Starbucks to stop selling coffee because it just isn’t that good, but that’s another issue entirely.