Whole Foods is just another grocery store– shocking!

Gawker has published a couple of stories about disgruntled and generally former Whole Foods employees, here and here.  The short version is some of these folks are not happy about Whole Foods behavior toward its employees, the environment, recycling, and so forth, how it’s bad to eat the prepared foods, about how WF fights unions, etc., etc.

Continue reading “Whole Foods is just another grocery store– shocking!”

Teaching and the shifting definition of technology

I read Steven J. Corbett’s “Technology and Teaching” in Inside Higher Ed this morning mainly because I was quoted in it and that doesn’t happen too often.  I show up in the beginning of the piece:

Is it a given that technology enhances the acts of writing, as it does the arts and sciences of film-making, design, engineering, data collection and analyses, and so forth? What about the teaching and learning of writing?

In a flurry of recent exchanges (subject “Writing horse-shoe-of-horse-heading-east Technology”) on the Writing Program Administration (WPA) listserv, scholars in writing studies have argued these points in some theoretical and practical depth. Maja Wilson, from the University of Maine, sums up the argument nicely: “Steve [Krause, of Eastern Michigan University], and others were arguing that to teach writing, you need to teach the tools available now and not teach or allow the tools on their way out (pen, pencil), because if you aren’t teaching the tools, you aren’t teaching writing. Rich [Haswell, professor emeritus from Texas A&M University], and others argued that, while teaching the use of all those tools can be a good thing, it isn’t necessary to teach writing: writing itself transcends the particular tools, so while teaching the tools can be involved in teaching writing, it isn’t necessarily the same thing.”

Corbett then goes on to explain the “pros” and “cons” of teaching with “technology” in a fairly user-friendly and pro-technology sort of way, making points that would not surprise anyone who does even a hint of scholarship in teaching with technology.  A lot of what he’s suggesting here as new has been standard practice for lots of folks like me for years and years.  But that’s not really a criticism though because I don’t think that is Corbett’s audience.

Anyway, I largely agree with what he’s saying here, though I thought I would gently raise two issues.  First and foremost, Corbett doesn’t define technology, simply assuming it means “computer stuff we all don’t take for granted nowadays.”  I raise this as an issue in part because that was one of the points I was trying to make in that email exchange on the WPA mailing list he’s quoting.  Writing is inherently tied to tools and technologies, and literacy itself (as Ong talked about tons of times a long tine ago) is a technology.  Try writing something without a tool and see how it goes and you’ll see what I mean.

But I also think the issue of defining technology is more than philosophical hair-splitting because I think far too many people teaching writing– especially those who throw up any resistance to “technology” in the writing classroom– use their short memories as a way to resist new things.  Corbett doesn’t mention word processing, email, or even computers as technology per se because those things have been naturalized to the point that they fit into that “stuff we all take for granted” category.  This is understandable:  I haven’t seen an essay from a student written with anything other than a word processor in at least 15 years, maybe more.  Everyone has an email account nowadays, and I can count on one hand the number of students I had last year who didn’t own a computer.  But a) this doesn’t mean that there still aren’t problems with “taken for granted” technologies that writing teachers ought to discuss (I can’t tell you how many students don’t know how to do things like paginate, indent, double-space, and similar such things on something like MS Word), and b) let’s be aware that today’s new-fangled and cutting edge technology is likely to be “taken for granted” tool of tomorrow, and maybe, just maybe, teachers shouldn’t be so paranoid about trying something new.

So for me, one of the main ways I am trying to convince, cajole, con, or otherwise persuade the reluctant to consider current technologies for teaching writing is by trying to remind them that they have always been using technology to teach writing, and a lot of those “stuff we all take for granted” technologies were once resisted.  The current fears of “technology” (e.g., social media, laptops, cloud computing, etc.) all existed with “stuff we take for granted” (e.g., word processors, spell checkers, email, etc., and if you go back far enough, ballpoint pens, typewriters, pencils, etc.).

The other issue I have is pretty petty, but I’ll mention it anyway.  Corbett writes:

And the issue of students being distracted by social networks like Facebook is a valid concern for any techie teacher. A recent Inside Higher Ed article suggests just how distracting the thrall and temptation to visit online social networking environments in classrooms can be for students. But the article also suggests (and I would agree) that a vigilant teacher can stay on top of the problem of the compulsive web-surfer often simply by watching students’ eye movements and gestures. By circulating the room frequently, and training ourselves to be aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle eye and hand movements that can belie a Facebook frequenter, we can take steady steps toward keeping students attentive and on task.

I see his point and I’ve certainly experienced in my own teaching.  But as someone who frequently multitasks myself (meaning I have a FB window and G+ window open right now, I’m listening to the radio, etc., etc.), I think that teachers need to get over the whole “I must be the complete center of attention” thing a bit.  Or they need to be more interesting.

Boarding up Borders

IMG_0356It’s just a matter of time before there are no more Borders to visit, so while running a bunch of other errands on Saturday, I decided to take in the latest going out of business sale at one of the three stores that were in town.  I didn’t venture to Borders #1 downtown because of the Art Fair hoopla, though I am sure I will find a way to get down there before it’s closed up for good. Instead, I visited the one out by Ann Arbor-Saline Road.

I suppose like most people in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, I have mixed feelings about the end of Borders.

When Annette and I were in our PhD programs at Bowling Green State, we came up to Ann Arbor a couple times a year to go to the U of M library, see the sights, get lost, and spend way too much money on books.  We always hit Shaman Drum, the many great used stores, and the flagship store of the then relatively small chain book store (according to this timeline piece, Borders was 21 stores in 1992).   Though if we could buy a book at either Shaman Drum or a used store instead of Borders, we would.

It’s odd that the only book stores open in downtown Ann Arbor nowadays are used ones, comic stores, or mystery shops.

Anyway, I don’t like to see anyone lose their jobs nor do I like to see book stores close, even big box ones, especially ones with such important local ties.  Borders used to support a lot of Ann Arbor/Ypsi causes.  They will be missed. That said, I am sure that there are many owners and patrons of small and local book stores experiencing more than a little Schadenfreude at all this given that it was Borders’ big box stores and rapid expansion that drove a lot of those places out of business a few years ago.

I freely admit that I’m a good example of a consumer that help push Borders over the cliff.  As I blogged about here back in 2009, shopping for books online at amazon.com et al is just too convenient and cheap, and, as I wrote about in that post, the store had become kind of a pain in the ass.  You couldn’t get any help, they didn’t have a huge stock (especially of things that are more academic and/or not pop writing), and their prices were terrible.  I guess I would be willing to put up with some of those problems to shop local, but not for the would be Starbucks of book stores, even if it was based in Ann Arbor.

Anyway, back to the going out of business sale visit on Saturday:

The store I visited was one of the “concept” stores Borders opened in 2008, which I blogged about back here then.  The short version of that post: it was clear then that they didn’t know what they hell they were doing when it came to the whole “eReader” and “internets” thing, and in hindsight, that store was as dumb as a bag of rocks.  On Saturday, there were more people there than I had pretty much ever seen at a Borders or any other book store, certainly there to make good on the “up to 40%” discount on books.  The only problem was very few books were actually discounted much at all.  The place can’t even go out of business right.  I’ll wait until the end is near and/or the prices really do drop below amazon.

I’m no business person or retail expert, but it seems to me that it is possible to run a book store and make a modest amount of money at it– not a big giant chain (though Barnes and Noble seem to be doing okay) and not a tremendous amount of money, but some.  I buy books mostly online and increasingly electronic books ala kindle, but I still hold out hope that there is a place for book stores– or at least places that sell books, music, coffee and food, have events, etc.  It’s not possible to replicate the value of the place of book stores.  So my hope is that maybe clearing out one of the big box retailers will allow some smaller book entrepreneur to come in?

Professors, time management, and summering

There’s some trouble brewing in Texas about how faculty are spending their time in their cushy jobs, as this Chronicle of Higher Education piece explains, “Efforts to Measure Faculty Workload Don’t Add Up.”  It’s behind the firewall, but basically, it rehashes a lot of the problems that have been around for years about measuring faculty work time.  This discussion is also covered a bit in “Texas Coalitions Spar Over Scholars’ Time, Research, Pay.” And basically, critics of the Texas system are saying that faculty don’t teach enough, don’t work with enough students, don’t work enough in general, etc.

People who don’t really know what the job is about tend to think that a professor who teaches three classes a term basically works about 15 hours a week:  those classes plus office hours, and that’s about it.  The problem is that the people who don’t now better also tend to be the people who ultimately control budgets:  regents, legislators, voters, etc.  Professors, of course, dispute this, arguing that no-no-no, they work more like 100 hours a week because working as a professor is much MUCH more than teaching classes.  A lot of this is reflected in the “What I Do With My Time: Pamela S. Gossin,” which is a diary of her work in the course of a week at the University of Texas at Dallas.

I’m not going to go into great detail explaining why this notion of “lazy professors” is wrong because a) if you are reading my blog on a regular basis, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve read that here before, b) there are a lot of other places to read about this in more thoughtful ways, and c) anything I say here as a professor will sound defensive anyway.  I have a “reverse ethos” problem.  I’ll just note that for the most part, I agree with the defenses that professor-types make about the amount of work they do, and, whenever I contemplate it, I am always surprised how much of my work really has nothing to do with teaching and even scholarship.  There’s a lot of paperwork shuffling and meetings and such in this job.

I think one of the biggest problems professors have is that we have a lot more in common with people who work out of their homes and/or who are “telecommuters” than people who work in normal white collar settings, even though we’re most visible to people when we are actually teaching and/or on campus.  This is different from K-12 teachers (who are generally at the school all day long, even when they aren’t teaching), and this does vary from university to university and even among faculty in my department.  I once applied for a job at a university where the administrator-type interviewing me said he expected all faculty to be on campus five days a week, and at least one of my colleagues actually uses his school office to work.  And with my department moving back into a newly remodeled building this fall, maybe working in the office will become an increasing trend.

The idea that most professors work outside of their classrooms, labs, and dingy university offices doesn’t register with the popular imagination and/or “as seen on TV” image of professors, and it is also out of sync with most student interactions with professors.  I will run into students in the “real world” once in a while, and it is always a little odd– particularly with undergraduates– when they spot me in a restaurant or on the street or wait on my in Target while I’m buying toilet paper.  It clearly doesn’t fit their assumptions about me (“I thought he only existed on campus”).

The other problem that lots of professors have– myself and Pamela Gossin included– is time management and/or the leaky borders between “work” and “life.”  Here’s a passage from Gossin’s diary:

7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Answered e-mail and coordinated summer research project, a digital-humanities project. Prepared for a forthcoming conference and read reports on a Texas bill that would allow concealed handguns on state-college campuses. Also read new information about the university’s retirement plan.

9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Watched a television special about John Muir for her class in nature writing: “I needed to watch it so I would know if their extra credit was valid.”

10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Sent e-mails and did more preparation for summer research. Made contact with a research assistant she hoped to hire.

Now, I totally relate, understand, and resemble this work schedule.  But part of the problem that I have (maybe Gossin has this problem too, maybe other academics out there can relate) is I am not good at limiting my email usage.  Not. At. All.  And every efficiency/productivity guide out there will tell you that if you want to get things done, you need to ration/limit the time spent on email.  As with most efficiency advice, this is perhaps a good intention rather than something that can realistically be put into practice, but still.

This diary also demonstrates the fuzzy definition of “work” in academia.  I get what Gossin is saying here about watching that John Muir show:  it is work, but my guess is that she might have watched it anyway.  There’s lots of reading, web surfing, writing (is this entry work?  maybe?) I do that is in that in-between space, which is not surprising because I like what I do.  But generally, people (especially Texas bean counters who want professors to account for all their time) define “work” as “something you would otherwise not be doing if it wasn’t for the job and/or the money.”  So I would bet that if some Texas efficiency wonk sat down with Gossin and looked at that entry about watching the show on John Muir, that wonk would say “that ain’t work.”  And that wonk would be kind of right, kind of wrong.

And then there is summer.  My extended family– who are all college graduates but who are also not academics– have learned by now that the best way to get an earful from either me or Annette is to say something about how it must be great to have so much “summer vacation.”   That’s not vacation, buster– that’s time for the work! the writing, the scholarship, the research, the clawing and fighting to get tenure and then promotion and then beyond– work work work work!

Well, I have a confession to make.  It really ain’t all that bad.

Oh sure, it is true for many academics that the space between winter and fall is time to write and research, and I have a couple of scholarly projects on the back of the stove right now.  While it is technically possible for faculty at EMU to completely check out (we’re on an 8 month contract here, more or less) for the entire spring and summer terms, realistically, there are still meetings, students to advise, paperwork to be done, etc.  And then there’s spring/summer teaching.  We can’t really afford to not teach at least one of the 7.5 week terms (the pay is essentially overtime), so that’s obviously work.

But even with all of that, I can’t really complain.  We’ll be doing some traveling soon, I finished today (while procrastinating and writing this post) my painting work on the back part of the house, I play a little golf, etc.  There is time off, and in a few years– when Will is through Greenhills and onto college (it’ll be sooner than we think)– I am sure that Annette and I will take advantage of all four of those months.

Though oddly, I get antsy for work.  I’ll probably spending some time planning one of my classes for the fall after I post this….

A few brief thoughts on Google +

As someone who has been on Google Plus for a little less than a week now, I too am a bona fide expert on this new social network– or at least as much of an expert as the people who haven’t really used it for anything yet but speculate on its usefulness.  For example, ProfHacker has a post here about it, and they point to an article in GradHacker here.

It is far FAR too early for anyone (certainly me, as an expert) to speculate too much about what G+ is for (or not); that said, let me speculate a bit on what G+ is for (or not):

  • Everyone seems most excited/interested in talking about hot G+ allows you to set up “circles” that sort out who you connect with and for what purposes.  For example, some of my circles are “comp rhet folk,” “EMU,” “Friends.”  So far, the vast majority of people I’m following are in the “comp rhet folk” circle and are fellow geeky-types who are mostly kicking the G+ tires.  Anyway, this is not that big a selling point over Facebook for me because I’ve been setting up groups for Facebook for a long time now.  I spent one afternoon a year or so ago putting all of my “friends” into lists, and I have a couple of lists (for example, “students”) which I regularly do not post updates to.  If that makes sense.  So while I agree that G+ makes it a lot easier to sort out friends, it is not as if this is completely impossible on Facebook.
  • One thing that is a lot easier with G+ is to “start over” in terms of the whole social networking thing.  If I were to do Facebook all over again, I wouldn’t have friended everyone I have; in fact, I might have even left FB to just the handful of “real friends” I have out there.
  • The most potentially useful part of this is the poorly named “Hangout,” which is group video chat, basically.  I haven’t used this yet and I am kind of dubious as to how well the group chat will work technically, but I can definitely see the point in trying to use this kind of tool for teaching, particularly for online teaching.
  • I’m a big fan of just about all things Google.  I love gmail and google reader– use them every day– and google docs and google sites are go-to places for me for teaching, working with collaborators, etc., etc.  Having said that, I have to wonder what is “in it for them” with G+.  Sure, Facebook is kinda evil, which is why it is useful to try to a) figure out how to set various privacy setting there, and b) remember that whatever you post on Facebook doesn’t just stay on Facebook between you and your friends.  But always remember that Google is primarily a media company, so how will they use this new service to sell ads and/or mine user data? (And BTW, literally as I am writing this, Jeff “Yellow Dog” Rice just posted about this very topic in some interesting ways.  And I also just came across this somewhat alarming discussion of the issues of privacy on ZDNet).
  • Right now, G+ feels a little to me like Ning.  As they describe it on their web site, Ning lets you “create your own social web site.”  This was at one point pretty popular with some of my MA students/colleagues interested in secondary education I think because it gave teachers the chance to “control” a social setting.  So you had some of the advantages of  a social network site but while closing out all the “nasty bits” of the internets and MySpace and such, those “real world” elements that secondary schools are always trying to make sure do not leak into the closed world of classrooms.  Well, the problem with creating your own social network is it isn’t really too “social” (and/or much of a party) if people aren’t showing up.  Which makes me wonder if G+ will go the route of Wave or Ning.  On the other hand….
  • … Who knows?  Before MySpace was “the place” to be, there was Friendster; and before Facebook was it, there was MySpace, which was sold off very recently for what is a relatively measly $35 million.  So who knows where we’ll be in a year?  Right now, G+ is mostly a curiosity and one that makes me think more about my relationship with Facebook more than anything else, but a year or so from now, maybe it’ll be the “go to” social network and Facebook will all but done.  And then my mom will join G+ and the “cool kids” will be on to the next thing.

Past Tense Blogging

One of my quasi-productive/quasi-procrastination projects right now is going back through my previous unofficial blog and official blog (both of which I haven’t kept in over three years because I kind of combined them both here) and seeing what’s there worth saving before I delete that database to make a little more room for other databases/projects on stevendkrause.com.  I suppose I could take the time to figure out how to merge those past databases into this one (I don’t think it would be that hard to do), but it’s not all worth saving and it’s kind of therapeutic and fun to go back and read through all these old posts.  So sooner than later, I’ll delete those old blogs and redirect them (maybe) to a wordpress.com site I’m calling Past Tense Krause.

A few interesting (to me, at least) observations in looking through a bunch of old posts:

  • I’ve been blogging for a long time now.  I guess I knew that already.  I kind of was blogging right after my CCCOnline 2002 article “Where Do I list this on my CV” piece came out, but I think it’s fair to say my more formal blogging began in August 2003, wondering around with blogger and then MoveableType on my own server space, and then back to a domain name of my own (aka, here).
  • It is amazing how writings that are less than 10 years old seem super-duper out of date now.  Internet time, especially in talking about anything having to do with technology and tools.
  • Facebook has replaced a lot of the posts I used to make, especially just posting links to things, and especially on my unofficial blog.
  • A lot of what’s worth saving might come in handy for other chunks of writing later (or not), which I guess is one of the points of keeping a blog in the first place.  Of course, it’s pretty useless to say that if you never go back and look at old posts….
  • It’s amazing to me the number of links I have from just a year or two ago that are gone, and some of these are for pretty big sites that seemed at the time to be promising services/ideas or something that you would think would still be around.  All of which leads me to think:
  • The thing about the internets is that while it is true that it’s hard to “get rid” of something online once it has been posted there, simultaneously, it is so often so hard to find things from the past that no one bothered to save.  So while I do agree that putting anything out there on the ‘net means that it could come back to haunt you forever (I’m talking to you, Anthony Weiner), it is also can be a haystack full of needles.  I talk about this paradox a bit in version 2.0 of “Where Do I List This On My CV” piece here, but basically, while the web allows for access to text to zillions of people, the low access paper text has a better chance of “living” “forever.”  Lots of people (still!) stumble across my dissertation online and I suspect it has never been checked out of the BGSU library; and yet with a few shifting server spaces here and there, my online diss would be gone and the print would be left (note to self– move diss to stevendkrause directory).  I can still lay my hands on diary entries and old clips from 20 years ago that are in a box in my basement, while some of these internet files are a kicked plug away from vanishing.
  • Which makes me think that one of my other projects will be to print some of that Past Tense Krause out and stick it into a binder….

On Micciche’s and Carr’s “Toward Graduate-Level Writing Instruction”

I guess I’m trying to make up a little for my tardiness with scholarship reviews by posting a second (or third?) review in less than a week, but it’s also an effort to keep up a bit.  I finished reading “Toward Graduate-Level Writing Instruction” by Laura R. Micciche and Allison D. Carr at the gym the other day and I don’t want to fall behind on this stuff again.  (For the citation-minded, this was in College Composition and Communication 62:3 February 2011).  The general topic of the article is on my mind because I will be teaching what is sort of the “capstone/before you do a project of your own” course in our MA program next year, “Research in Theory and Practice in Writing” and I want to try some new things.

On the one hand, I think that Micciche and Carr are right on track in that I think there is a need think more about writing pedagogy at the graduate level– heck, at all levels beyond freshman comp.  Micciche says she is trying to “demystify scholarship” by trying to bring the messy process out in the open, to more or less show how the trick works.  Along the way, I think she is emphasizing that it is good habits and practices and not “inspiration” that are what leads to scholarship, and no brilliantly thought-out and imagined piece of scholarship began as perfectly formed.  Carr is credited as a co-writer here, though her contributions (we are told) are mostly limited to the textboxes that appear throughout the piece, more or less in response to Micciche’s writings.  I think this is the most insightful one:

I have learned that badness is just part of my process, and I love the badness for helping me get to better-ness.  If I want to accomplish anything, I have to allow myself to have bad ideas, to write bad sentences, and to make bad claims.  Badness, I think, is my first language.  The fun is in the process of sorting it out, translating, recomposing in a more artful language others can understand and appreciate. (491)

Well said.  I’m always trying to beat perfectionism out of my students, which I think is sort of like embracing the badness.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure how much of Micciche’s approach is translatable/useable by others– or at least by me.  She’s teaching this course for all MA students in English at the University of Cincinnati, and I don’t think that would ever go over here.  It is more or less a “writing workshop” approach, which I know from past experiences is a mixed bag sort of affair:  while it can be productive and insightful, it can also produce a sort of “group-think.”  And I think that some of what Micciche is talking about here with a “pedagogy of wonder” is a little fuzzy for my way of thinking of these things.

Anyway, this article and/or some elements of its approach might find its way into ENGL 621 this fall.  It’s a tricky course in that it is supposed to be teaching students about research methodologies, about the logistics of our MA projects, and about IRB stuff, which is to say there’s too much going on in the course as it is.  At the same time, I don’t think it has done as much as it should do to show students the workings of presenting and publishing scholarship in the field– you know, conferences, articles, books, etc.– and it seems to me that even though 621 is already a pretty crowded course, it wouldn’t be a bad or difficult addition to have some discussion about what it is scholars in the field do.  And it also wouldn’t be a bad to have a discussion about some of the necessary habits of good writing and good scholarship, things that I think often trip students up when they are trying to finish those pesky graduate projects.