NPR story about online courses (and weird hours)

I caught the tail-end of this story on today’s “Morning Edition,” “Online courses catch on in U.S. colleges.” I liked a lot of what I heard; they were focusing on an online English program at the University of Illinois-Springfield; I don’t know what software they use or anything like that (maybe I will when I read/listen to the whole story), but there is apparently a synchronous component to these classes, too.

I’ll probably link to it/assign it in English 516 this coming term, but I guess I have two slight reservations with the piece. First off, the title: haven’t online courses “caught on” at colleges/universities for a while now? Is this really something new? And second, this paragraph:

For professors, the growth of e-learning has meant a big shift in the way they deal with students.

Take professor Sara Cordell of the University of Illinois-Springfield: Her day doesn’t end at 6 p.m., as it does for some college professors.

I suspect that few college professors’ days end at 6 p.m. It’s not that college professors work long and hard hours; that’s true, but I don’t want to exaggerate that. But I think it is universally true that college professors work strange hours. In my department, just about every faculty member teaches at least one night class. So one day, you’re at home all day, half-working on school stuff (scholarship, grading, answering email, doing stuff online, etc., etc.) and half-working on home life stuff, and another day, you’re in the office for 12 hours. One day, you’re in at 9 am and out by 2 pm, and another day you’re in at 2 pm and not out until 10 pm.

A minor complaint (about the story– I prefer the weird hours, personally), but there you have it.

Computers and Writing 2008 CFP (and other conference thoughts)

I just found out about the call for proposals for the 2008 Computers and Writing conference in Athens, GA. It’s going to be May 21-25, 2008; proposals are due some time between December 3 and January 10.

The theme of the conference is “Open Source as Technology and Concept,” which I might or might not ignore, depending on what I decide to propose. My plan, which may or may not be acted upon ultimately, is to drive down with Steve B. and Bill HD and to bring the golf clubs. Besides many fine courses around Athens, I figure we can play on the way there and/or back. We’ll see how it turns out.

While I am certain (almost) I’m going to C&W this year, it does beg the “how many conferences” question. Originally, I was planning on going to the CCCCs this year, despite having my proposal rejected in a problematic fashion. But without going into any details right now, it is beginning to look like I’m going to a different conference in mid-April, and that has raised the “Is this Conference Necessary?” question for me. I am not quite the jet-setting academic eluded to in this article, but like most folks who are “active scholars,” I still go to a few conferences a year. Of course, at this stage, attending conferences is lot less important than when I was a grad student seeking a job (and needing to have something to put on my CV) or when I was a tenure/promotion-seeking professor. I spent quite a bit of student loan money going to conferences simply because it helped me get a job, and I spent a fair amount of time at whatever conference in order to keep my job. Now? Well, the mileage isn’t quite the same. Actually the mileage is pretty much zero, career-wise.

So, since conferences don’t count for me much anymore, I get to make choices. And I think I’m going to choose Athens and choose to stay home from New Orleans. Though I could easily change my mind.

Thanksgiving roadtrop thoughts, the South Carolina edition

Life is hard for Will, ain't it?

We’re in Columbia, SC to see family on the Wannamaker side of things. A few thoughts this morning:

  • As you can see from the photo above, this hotel is a bit nicer than the place we stayed on the way down in Virginia. There’s an absolutely killer HD TV in this room too, and it’s all been recently redone. Very nice.
  • Oh, and btw, I left the plug for my computer at that hotel. Fortunately, I discovered that the plug for Annette’s computer works fine on this one and the people at this Virginia hotel are going to mail the other plug home. Hopefully.
  • We’re staying in the ‘burbs, which might as well be anywhere, though it’s quite a bit warmer here than it is in Michigan right now.
  • Will and I went scrounging for something for lunch on Thursday and ended up at a nearby Piggly Wiggly. I almost bought a t-shirt with the pig on it, along with a University of South Carolina hat. Their mascot, which is the gamecocks, was abbreviated on this hat as “COCKS” and in big capital letters like that. I had some misgivings about wearing a hat that said “COCKS” in big letters though.
  • Will and Annette and her mom went and did some touristy stuff on Friday while I stayed back at the hotel to get some work done– mission semi-accomplished. I asked at the front desk for advice on someplace to go around here for barbecue and the kids there suggested a place called Sticky Fingers. I found out about this too late, but this is a bit like recommending Applebee’s as a good place to get a great local burger. Obviously, the people at the front desk do not care much for BBQ.
  • Some more family things today and then tomorrow it is the long long drive home, which we’re going to do in one day. It’ll be dark when we start, and it’ll be dark when we finished.

Perhaps a "pre-made" unit on copyright/creativity/teaching

I’m still trying to figure out what to do (well, in detail) in my English 516 course for the winter 2008 term, and while there is already too much stuff in the class, I have been thinking about adding a unit on issues having to do with technology and copyright. This post on the always useful DigitalKoans has a link to a current post about an article called “Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap;” but conveniently, it also has links to previous DigitalKoans articles on the same topic. Maybe I’ll just include a link to this blog post and tell my students to read it.

PS: They could just read this post, too.

A few misc. reflections from the Thanksgiving roadtrip

We’re on the road to South Carolina to see Annette’s relatives for the holidays. A few random thoughts before I go to bed:

  • I do not enjoy driving in the rain. At all.
  • I do not like driving in mountains. Annette finds mountains comforting and cozy. I find them claustrophobic and stress-inducing. At least it wasn’t raining.
  • Wytheville, VA (where we are staying this evening) looks like it might be a good place to buy crystal meth.
  • At the convenient store across the way, they sold no good beer. However (and I guess I find this kind of bizarre) they did sell both Bud Light & Clamato and regular Budweiser with Clamato. No, I don’t know what it tastes like and I don’t want to know.
  • Pizza Hut tastes pretty much the same everywhere, thankfully.
  • The show “Deal or No Deal” is absolutely stupid (essentially a coin flip bet, right?), and yet I absolutely cannot stop watching this show.

Yes, but did they ever read?

This story was on NPR’s “All Things Considered” last night, “Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in U.S.” The gist of it is that all kinds of people (kids, adults, etc.) aren’t reading as much as they used to read and the dang internets and other technologies are to blame.

I think the story was compelling and worthy listening and all that. Still, stories like this remind me of the piece that Tom Standage wrote for WIRED a couple of years ago, which, among other things, critiqued the dance “the waltz” as being the fall of civilization:

“The indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced … at the English Court on Friday last … It is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous inter�twining of the limbs, and close com�pressure of the bodies … to see that it is far indeed removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was con�fined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is … forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.”

I mean, I am just old enough to lament the decline of reading of print/”words in the row” books, and I am just enough of a parent to want my 10 year old son to read some “good books” once in a while. But goodness, it is so so easy and so pleasurable to wallow in the failings of the young. Too easy and pleasurable, which gives me pause.

Where is Kindle going?

I’m listening to NPR right now and listening to Jeff Bezos talking about the new Kindle, the latest in electronic reading devices. I dunno. Several years ago, I thought this sort of device would replace textbooks. Now, I’m not sure who will want one of these things.

Without actually seeing one, the problems I see with this include:

  • At $400, way too expensive.
  • No color.
  • No browser (at least I think that’s the case).
  • Suppose I want to buy a book that is not in the kindle store; how would that work?
  • I’m going to guess that most of the books I would read (particularly academic ones) aren’t going to be in this format anytime soon. I’m also going to guess the same is true for most of the blogs that I read, too.

But hey, what do I know? There might be one under every Christmas tree this year. See their video demo if you’re curious; and this might be something that will fit into ENGL 516….

"Podcasting on a Shoestring"

Nick Carbone passed this article along to the WPA-L mailing list and I’ve been meaning to post a link to it here and possibly for English 516: “Podcasting on a Shoestring: Community college turns to open source and used computers for captured lectures” is a story about how some folks at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College put together some hardware for podcasting for virtually nothing. Besides being a great story about open source software and the value of “being scrappy” (I think the article uses the term “feisty”), I think it is in the vein of articles/materials I want to introduce to suggest that the “technology gap” is more or less meaningless, at least in a general sense.

Yes, I realize not all is perfect with the world. Someone posted the other day on WPA-L (not in response to this thread, I don’t think) about how she still can only get dial-up access to the ‘net in her rural and Appalachian locale, and how the broadband service providers are unlikely to make it out to her area anytime soon. These problems have not gone away. However, as the podcasting story suggests, less than ideal access is not a reason to not try, and the exception to the rule in this country is certainly not a reason to not do technology stuff in writing classrooms at all. If that makes sense.