Miscellaneous Naples Trip Issues

We’re wrapping up our Naples, Florida trip with the in-laws, and I thought I’d post a few miscellaneous comments/pictures.

The weather has been pretty fine– mid-70s in the day, around 60 or so at night. My father-in-law turned on the heat and was concerned if we were warm enough at night. It’s in the low 20s in Ypsilanti right now; yeah, I think we’re warm enough.

Da Beach
We made a number of short trips to the beach in Naples– I think three times. All two or three times, we went to this beach that involves a “shuttle” ride on a big golf court sort of rig down a boardwalk and through the mangroves to the beach. I don’t have any pictures to share of this here, but it was an amusing part of the beach voyage.

Will and Steve on the Beach

Here’s me and Will waving with glee in the sun.

A bird pooped on me

Here’s Annette after a bird pooped on her. No kidding. We were sitting there, minding our own business, when some seagull or something like that pooped on her. It was both upsetting and amusing.

Annette contemplating the world

Here’s Annette, the day after the bird pooping incident, contemplating the universe. Actually, she’s watching Will who is playing in the surf.

Anyway, I find the beach fun. Because of mis-applied sunscreen, I always end up with weird burns (my left forearm is burned badly because I forgot about it). I like to walk on the beach for reasons that are both about contemplating the world and people-watching. It’s a nice place to do some light reading, WIRED magazine in my case.

We went one night to catch part of the sunset on the Naples pier… a long story, that evening, but it turned out okay.

More later; now it’s time to eat.

Enron Trial Blog: Newspaper expanding its coverage

On NPR this morning, they had a story about the blog “Enron: TrialWatch,” which is written by Houston Chronicle staff covering the trial. It seems interesting because the point that the reporter made in the NPR interview is that the blog creates a space to cover aspects of the trial that either doesn’t fit or isn’t appropriate for the newspaper pieces.

Funny; just a year or so ago, newspaper (aka “dinosaur blogs”) were running pieces about how blogging just couldn’t possibly be credible sources. Now it is a bit of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Grading and Tenure

The Chronicle had a first person piece by Louise “not her real name” Churchill called “Professor Goodgrade.” Basically, Prof. Churchill/Goodgrade has changed her grading policies/criteria so that she’s handing out “A”s left and right. Why? So she will get tenure.

Two examples from the article:

I approached the pile of papers with a new attitude. I was only going to give A’s and B’s, except in extreme cases.

I gave a lot of B’s on papers that should really have received some form of a C. I gave A’s where in the past I would probably have given an A- or even a B+. I felt a little polluted, but I also felt the need to receive better marks myself on those cursed computerized forms. I need these students on my side. I need them to like me.

After I returned that set of papers, the class dynamic didn’t seem to change, as it had in other years when I had handed back a slew of C’s. It even seemed to improve, as if the whole class had breathed a collective sigh of relief. I took pains to apologize, in a humorous, self-deprecating way, for a cranky outburst I let escape on a day of numerous class disruptions. I empathized with their stress during midterms and in the weeks leading up to finals. And I padded their grades. I need to get tenure.


I do worry a bit that if my evaluation scores go up, someone may notice that the number of A’s and B’s I’m giving at semester’s end has also gone up, but I don’t think that will happen. I hear from students and other faculty members that grading standards are quite lax among a significant number of my colleagues, most of whom already have tenure. There are a lot of easy A’s out there. So why do I find it so hard to join in on this A fest?

I’ve lowered my standards. I still teach with the same rigor and enthusiasm and I still enjoy the material, but I don’t hold students as accountable as I used to.

I need to get tenure.

Well, good luck to you, Prof. Churchill/Goodgrade, but I doubt this strategy is going to work.

First off, I think it’s not a good thing that the institution in question here seems to be putting quite a bit of weight on “fill in the bubble” scores. I don’t have that much of a problem that these sorts of student evaluations are a part of the mix, but the main way of scoring teaching for the purposes of tenure? That seems a problem, especially at a school that is supposedly emphasizing teaching.

Second, I personally have not experienced the correspondence between the overall student grades and the overall evaluation. Now, I have noticed that in upper-level/graduate courses I tend to get better evaluations, and I also tend to get better evaluations in classes I’ve taught many times before. But I have had plenty of experiences where I have given relatively poor grades (simply because the students weren’t that good) and I received decent evaluations. And vice-versa. So who knows?

Third, it seems to me that Professor Churchill has some other issues she needs to sort out. I think it’s kind of odd that she mentions being “cranky” several times in this piece, for example.

And along those lines, it seems to me that something that Professor Churchill needs to think about (and this perhaps goes with the crankiness) is that teaching and grading are not some sort of contest between the students and the teacher. I think this is a pretty common mistake for younger teachers; it’s certainly one I made. Thinking back, I can come up with a couple of different occassions where I gave grades to “show them,” so to speak. That wasn’t a good idea.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced that Professor Churchill’s strategy is going to work. It seems to me that the way to get good evaluations (besides demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about) is pretty easy: treat your students as you would want to be treated, be polite, professional, consistent, fair, and pleasant. Simple enough.

The Naples House Porn Sunset Cruise

Annette and I had a lovely day while Will and the grandparents went off on an all-day trek to Everglades National Park. After lounging about the house, we went off to the Naples National Art Festival, which is nowhere near as big or zoo-like as the Ann Arbor Art Fairs but was very pleasant. Actually, we talked to one artist who said that she had been going up to Ann Arbor for Art Fair for years and years but she wasn’t going this year because they are simply charging too much money for exhibitors and they aren’t selling enough stuff. Could make for an interesting summer. In any event, I bought a T-shirt but no other art.

Then, after a bargain happy hour, we went on to the main event, which was a sunset cruise on the Naples Princess. This was Annette’s parent’s idea (and their present to us!) and not the sort of thing we normally would have done, but it was fun and kind of interesting.

Annette on cruise
The basic premise, as we understood it, was we went out for a while on this large boat, ate and drank, listened to Dixieland jazz (of all things….), and watched the sunset. Here’s Annette in anticipation.

Well, the weather was kind of bad, so while we did get to see a sunset of sorts, it was pretty cloudy. And beyond that, it was too choppy for them to take us out into the gulf, so it was all puttering around in the canals.

Porn house #1Porn house #2
Which brings me to the unexpected element of the tour. Annette’s mother had said to me before we left “Wait until you see some of these houses,” and she wasn’t kidding. Up and down these canals were these gigantic and ridiculously over-the-top houses. I could have taken 100 pictures like this, but besides the dubious qualities of my camera and my less than great photographic abilities, the houses all pretty much looked alike after a while. They were positively pornographic in the way that the food on the food network or gardens (or houses) on HGTV are like porn, softly-focused images of exaggerated and impossible to actually achieve expressions of ecstatic perfection. These houses practically throbbed in their freakish abilities to perform.

What’s interesting is that these houses are apparently not the “really big ones;” according to Annette’s parents, the most spectacular houses are the ones that are on the gulf.

It was a kind of weird spectacle. In part because of the less than ideal weather, the house porn became the main attraction. Some of our fellow passengers were offended; we overheard more than one conversation where someone was “disgusted” with the display of wealth and the fact that no one needed that much money. Some of our fellow passengers were enraptured; more than once we heard gasps or child-like excitement at the infinite horizon pool next to the elaborate patio kitchen. Most though were a mix of the two, like Annette and I. I find myself, like more traditional porn I suppose, simultaneously repulsed and attracted.

On the way back, it was darker, which made it easier to look into the houses. Just to add to the extravagance of it all, most of these houses are vacation homes and actually empty most of the year. But like we were riding some sort of boat ride through a zoo, we did manage to spy into the animal cages, looking for signs of life, and what we saw was some of the extremely wealthy in their natural habitat. The ultra-rich, it turns out, do not have wild sex orgies out by the dock or offer human sacrafices in their patio pizza ovens. Rather, they sit around inside and eat dinner and watch TV. Fascinating.

I Need To Do Some Updating….

See? I told you I wouldn’t stay away for long….

Anyway, a comment from someone asked when I was going to set up an RSS feed for this site, and even though that comment was really spam, they did have a good point. So I set up a Feedburner feed; I might do something different sometime soon.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this here or not, but I have been meaning to set up a podcasting element to the site. Since I went ahead anddid the feed….

I'll be away from my desktop…

Spring Winter Break is upon us at EMU, and, as you read this post (I actually wrote it earlier in the day), I am on an airplane to visit family in Florida for a few days. I decided not to take my laptop for both technical and, I don’t know, quasi-spiritual reasons. “Technical” because my ailing laptop which no longer will run on battery power has become a bit of a pain to haul around. “Quasi-spiritual” because I could probably use a few days where I don’t spend as much time at the keyboard.

This is not to say I won’t be spending any time on my short break doing computer work. My wife is bringing her laptop and I suspect I will be borrowing it from time to time. I just don’t know if I’ll be posting anything here or not.

In any event, see you next week. Possibly sooner.