A lot of what Leonhardt said in ‘Not Good for Learning’ is just wrong

I usually agree with David Leonhardt’s analysis in his New York Times newsletter “The Morning” because I think he does a good job of pointing out how both the left and the right have certain beliefs about issues– Covid in particular for the last couple years, of course– that are sometimes at odds with the evidence. But I have to say that this morning’s newsletter and the section “Not Good For Learning” ticks me off.

While just about every K-12 school went online when Covid first hit in spring 2020, a lot of schools/districts resumed in-person classes in fall 2020, and a lot did not. Leonhardt said:

These differences created a huge experiment, testing how well remote learning worked during the pandemic. Academic researchers have since been studying the subject, and they have come to a consistent conclusion: Remote learning was a failure.

Now, perhaps I’m overreacting to this passage because of my research about teaching online at the college-level, but the key issue here is he’s talking about K-12 schools that had never done anything close to online/remote instruction ever before. He is not talking about post-secondary education at all, which is where the bulk of remote learning has worked just fine for 125+ years. Maybe that’s a distinction that most readers will understand anyway, but I kind of doubt it, and not bringing that up at all is inaccurate and just sloppy.

Obviously, remote learning in the vast majority of K-12 schools went poorly during Covid and in completely predictable ways. Few of these teachers had any experience or training to teach online, and few of these school districts had the kinds of technologies and tools (like Canvas and Blackboard and other LMSes) to support these courses. This has been a challenge at the college level too, but besides the fact that I think a lot more college teachers at various levels and various types of institutions have had at least some prior to Covid experience teaching online and most colleges and university have more tech support, a lot (most?) college teachers were already making use of an LMS tool and using a lot more electronic tools for essays and tests (as opposed to paper) in their classes.

The students are also obviously different. When students in college take classes online, it’s a given that they will have the basic technology of a laptop and easy access to the internet. It’s also fairly clear from the research (and I’ve seen this in my own experiences teaching online) that the students who do best in these formats are more mature and more self-disciplined. Prior to Covid, online courses were primarily for “non-traditional” students who were typically older, out in the workforce, and with responsibilities like caring for children or others, paying a mortgage, and so forth. These students, who are typically juniors/seniors or grad students, have been going to college for a while, they understand the expectations of a college class, and (at least the students who are most successful) have what I guess I’d describe as the “adulting” skills to succeed in the format. I didn’t have a lot of first and second year students in online classes before Covid, but a lot of the ones I did have during the pandemic really struggled with these things. Oh sure, I did have some unusually mature and “together” first year students who did just fine, but a lot of the students we have at EMU at this level started college underprepared for the expectations, and adding on the additional challenge of the online format was too much.

So it is not even a teeny-weeny surprise that a lot of teenagers/secondary students– many of whom were struggling to learn and succeed in traditional classrooms– did not succeed in hastily thrown together and poorly supported online courses, and do not even get me started on the idea of grade school kids being forced to sit through hours of Zoom calls. I mean honestly, I think these students probably would have done better if teachers had just sent home worksheets and workbooks and other materials to the kids and the parents to study on their own.

I think a different (and perhaps more accurate) way to study the effectiveness of remote learning would be to look at what some K-12 schools were doing before Covid. Lots and lots of kids and their parents use synch and asynch technology to supplement home schooling, and programs like the Michigan Online School have been around for a while now. Obviously, home schooling or online schooling is not right for everyone, but these programs are also not “failures.”

Leonhardt goes on to argue that more schools that serve poor students and/or non-white students went remote for longer than schools. Leonhardt claims there were two reasons for this:

Why? Many of these schools are in major cities, which tend to be run by Democratic officials, and Republicans were generally quicker to reopen schools. High-poverty schools are also more likely to have unionized teachers, and some unions lobbied for remote schooling.

Second, low-income students tended to fare even worse when schools went remote. They may not have had reliable internet access, a quiet room in which to work or a parent who could take time off from work to help solve problems.

First off, what Leonhardt seems to forget that Covid was most serious in “the major cities” in this country, and also among populations that were non-white and that were poor. So of course school closings were more frequent in these areas because of Covid.

Second, while it is quite easy to complain about the teacher unions, let us all remember it was not nearly as clear in Fall 2020 as Leonhardt is implying that the risks of Covid in the schools were small. It did turn out that those settings weren’t as risky as we thought, but at the same time, that “not as risky” analysis primarily applies to students. A lot of teachers got sick and a few died. I wrote about some of this back in February here. I get the idea that most people who were demanding their K-12 schools open immediately only had their kids in mind (though a lot of these parents were also the same ones adamant against mask and vaccine mandates), and if I had a kid still in school, I might feel the same way. But most people (and I’d put Leonhardt in this camp in this article) didn’t think for a second about the employees, and at the end of the day, working in a public school setting is not like being in the ministry or some other job where we expect people to make huge personal sacrifices for others. Being a teacher is a white collar job. Teachers love to teach, sure, but we shouldn’t expect them to put their own health and lives at any level of risk–even if it’s small– just because a lot of parents haven’t sorted out their childcare situations.

Third, the idea that low-income students fared worse in remote classes (and I agree, they certainly did) is bad, but that has nothing to do with why they spent more time online in the first place. That just doesn’t make sense.

Leonhardt goes on:

In places where schools reopened that summer and fall, the spread of Covid was not noticeably worse than in places where schools remained closed. Schools also reopened in parts of Europe without seeming to spark outbreaks.

I wrote about back in February: these schools didn’t reopen because they never closed! They tried the best they could and often failed, but as far as I can tell, no K-12 school in this country, public or private, just closed and told folks “we’ll reopen after Covid is over.” Second, most of the places where public schools (and universities as well) that went back to at least some f2f instruction in Fall 2020 were in parts of the country where being outside and/or leaving the windows open to classrooms is a lot easier than in Michigan, and/or most of these schools had the resources to do things like create smaller classes for social distancing, to install ventilation equipment, and so forth.

Third– and I cannot believe Leonhardt doesn’t mention this because I know this is an issue he has written about in the past– the comparison to what went on with schools in Europe is completely bogus. In places like Germany and France, they put a much much higher priority on opening schools– especially as compared to things like restaurants and bars and other places where Covid likes to spread. So they kept those kinds of places closed longer so the chances of a Covid outbreak in the schools was smaller. Plus Europeans are much MUCH smarter about things like mask and vaccine mandates too.

No, the pandemic was not good for learning, but it was not good for anything else, either. It wasn’t good for our work/life balances, our mental health, a lot of our household incomes, on and on and on. We have all suffered mightily for it, and I am certain that as educators of all stripes study and reflect on the last year and a half, we’ll all learn a lot about what worked and what didn’t. But after two years of trying their fucking best to do the right things, there is no reason to through K-12 teachers under the bus now.

Country White Bread Made with Poolish

The other day, I baked some bread that turned out exceptionally well and I posted a couple of pictures on Instagram (and that also showed up on Facebook):

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Steve Krause (@stevendkrause)

My friend Lisa asked about a recipe, and since I haven’t written/blogged about anything like that for a while, I thought I would procrastinate a bit (okay, procrastinate a lot) and write this.

Back in 2017, I wrote in some detail about my bread making ways as directed/guided by Ken Forkish’s excellent book Flour Water Salt Yeast. Sure, I have read other things about baking bread and have followed other recipes, but this is what I always go back to. It’s an extraordinarily detailed and well-written book, and considering the fact that the recipes in this book are all just variations of the same ingredients (thus the title) with slightly different techniques, I think that’s quite the accomplishment. And apparently, he has a new book coming out too.

I had been making mostly natural levain (aka sourdough) breads the last two or three years, but besides taking a few days to revive the starter and proofing, my results lately have been inconsistent and not great. Maybe I need to make some new starter. So I went back to Forkish’s book and gave the poolish recipe another try.

First things first (and this is stuff I kind of cover in the post from a few years ago):

  • This recipe makes two French “boule” style loaves of bread: round, ball-shaped loaves that are very crusty and the sort of thing that’s great for hearty sandwiches, toast, or just eating by the slice when it’s still warm. It’s not like baguette (though you can use this dough to make baguette, but that’s a different thing),and definitely not like soft sliced grocery story bread.
  • This isn’t rocket science, and if you follow the recipe closely, it will probably turn out well even if you don’t do a lot of baking. There are a lot of details here both because I had a lot of procrastinating to do, and also because I wanted to describe the steps in as much detail as possible. That said, this does take a bit of practice and your results might not be that great right out of the gate. Just keep trying.
  • The measurements matter, both in terms of ingredients but also in terms of temperatures and time. I can never get it perfect (the original recipe calls for .4 grams of yeast for the poolish, for example), but you want to get as close as you can and actually measure things. And as a tangent: that’s basically the difference between “cooking” and “baking,” as far as I can tell.
  • This does require some special equipment.
    • At a minimum, you need a kitchen scale and at least one four or five quart cast iron Dutch oven that can go into the oven at 475 degrees– so not one with a plastic knob on the top. I think the kitchen scale I’ve got cost me $10 or $20 and I use it all the time, so a very worthwhile investment. I have a fancy enameled Dutch oven I use for stews and soups and stuff, but for baking bread, I use the much less expensive, cast iron models you can get for around $50 at a hardware store (and those work just as well for stews and soups and stuff as well). Everyone who cooks regularly should have both of these things anyway. I bake bread at least once a month (and usually more), so I have two of the cast iron Dutch ovens– and as you will see with the steps below, if you bake a lot, using two instead of just one Dutch oven helps speed things up A LOT.
    • It’s helpful to have a couple of large food storage containers, too; here’s a link to what I’ve got on amazon, though I bought mine at the local Gordon Food Service store. You can just use a couple of really big bowls and some plastic wrap to cover them, but besides being  great for baking, these containers are also useful for things like brining a chicken or a turkey.
    • While not essential (and probably not something you want to spend the money on unless you want to regularly bake bread like this), a couple of wicker proofing baskets. Besides helping to create the cool texture of the finished bread, they also allow the dough to proof properly– and it’s what professional bakers use. Here’s a link to the kind of ones I have (also on amazon); I’d recommend just getting the baskets and none of the other baking doodads like a “lame” (which a French knife used to score the bread– I just use a razor blade or a sharp knife) or weird pattern molds or anything else.
    • Finally (and also all stuff in the category of you probably already have these things if you cook at all regularly), a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients (or large food storage containers), two medium-sized bowls lined with clean tea towels for proofing each loaf (or the proofing baskets), a dough knife/board scraper, a razor blade or very sharp knife, an instant read thermometer to measure the water temperature and some very heavy-duty oven mitt or grill gloves (which is what I use) to handle the smoking hot Dutch ovens, and a cooling rack for the finished bread. Oh, also: two plastic shopping bags, or a couple of small plastic garbage bags.

Okay, with all that out of the way:

Ingredients:

For the poolish:

  • 450 grams white flour
  • 50 grams whole wheat flour
  • 1/8th teaspoon of instant dried yeast
  • 500 grams of water (a bit warm, at about 80 degrees or so)

For the final dough:

  • 450 grams white flour
  • 50 grams wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon of instant dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 250 grams of water (quite warm, at about 105 degrees)

Steps:

  • You want to start with high quality flour. My go-to is King Arthur, though I also sometimes splurge on some kind of artisanal, stone-ground, small batch flours once in a while too. You can also make this with all white flour or try adding more wheat or maybe a little rye flour, but be careful about using too high of a ratio of not white flour because it can throw things off in terms of amount of water, yeast, time, etc.
  • At about 6 pm and the evening before you plan to finish and bake the bread, make the poolish. In a 6 quart tub (or a very large bowl), whisk together the flours and the yeast, and then mix in 500 grams (by weight, though volume is the same) of somewhat warm (80 degrees) water. Mix thoroughly so there are no pockets of dry flour left at all. Snap on the lid or cover snuggly in plastic wrap, and leave it out on the kitchen counter overnight.
  • At about 8 am the next morning, start to make the final dough. You have a little bit of “wiggle room” on when to start this step– a bit earlier, a bit later, etc.– but you don’t want to start much earlier than 12 hours after you started making the poolish, and not much later than about 14 hours.
  • In another larger bowl (or a 12 quart tub), whisk together the final dough flour, yeast, and salt until well-combined.
  • Measure out 250 grams of very warm/bordering on hot water, around 105 degrees. Uncover your poolish, which by now should be quite bubbly and tripled in size. Carefully pour the water around the edges of the poolish to loosen it from the container, and then poor the whole thing into the larger container where you mixed the other dry ingredients.
  • Mix this dough thoroughly. Now, Forkish goes into surprising detail about “the best” method for doing this by hand with large pinching motions, but I honestly don’t usually want to get my hands that goopy with the dough. So I just use a big metal spoon I like that keeps my hands a bit cleaner and that gets at all the dry flour bits out of the corner of the container. Mix this so there are no dry parts left and cover it back up.
  • This first proofing/resting lasts about 2 hours, though you do need to fold the dough at least twice. Again, Forkish goes into a lot of detail about what “folding” means, but what I do is lightly flour my hands and then scoop underneath the dough, folding it back over onto itself. I go all around the tub so that I’m folding/turning over the whole mess of dough so what was on the bottom is on the top. I try to do this the first time after it’s proofing/resting for about 30-45 minutes and then the second time about another 45 minutes later. After 2 or 3 hours, the dough should be more than doubled in size.
  • Next, it’s time to make the loaves. You’ll want to start this at about 10 or 10:30 am; again, there’s some wiggle room here, but it should be ready in about 2 hours and you don’t want to wait longer than 3 hours. You’ll need about 2 feet of cleared off and squeaky-clean counter space to deal with the dough; once you have that, spread a light dusting of flour onto the counter. If you don’t have wicker bread baskets, you’ll need two bowls that are each about 8 or 9 inches wide and a couple of clean tea towels. Set up your bowls/baskets first by liberally flouring the inside of them. This helps the dough to not stick, and it also gives that cool color/texture to the finished bread. Set the bowls/baskets nearby.
  • Take the lid off of the now proofed dough, flour your hands, and dump the dough out of the container and on to the floured work surface. You don’t want to add too much more flour to the dough, but you also don’t want to make it into loaves while it’s sticky. So what I tend to do is flatten the dough out into roughly a rectangle shape, add a little more flour to the top of the dough, flip it all over, and flatten it out again. You don’t really have to knead the dough much, but you do want to work it so you squeeze out some of the bigger air bubbles that will have developed.
  • Using a dough knife/bench scraper, divide the flattened out dough in half. You don’t need to obsess over it or anything, but you want to shoot for more or less equal halves. Bring the corners of each half of dough up together and form the dough into a tight ball and smooth ball. Put the rougher side/seam side of the ball in the bottom of the basket/bowl.
  • Put each basket/bowl inside a large plastic bag, making sure that the opening of the bag is bunched up/closed at the bottom. The best thing for this are the sort of plastic shopping bags you get from the drugstore or grocery store, though a (obviously clean and never used) small garbage bag works as well. These loaves will be ready for baking in about an hour.
  • Right after you bag up your bread for the final proof, put your Dutch oven(s) on the middle rack of the oven and pre-heat it to 475 degrees. You want to have the lids on too because you are preheating both the larger oven and the smaller, baking Dutch oven(s).
  • If you only have one Dutch oven, you’ll have to bake in stages. So after about 40 minutes of the oven pre-heating and the loaves sitting out on the counter for their final rise, put one of your proofing loaves into the refrigerator, still contained in that plastic bag. You’ll take it out of the fridge again after the first loaf bakes. Of course, if you have two Dutch ovens, you can bake both loaves at the same time.
  • Either way, about an hour to 90 minutes after you divided the bread up into two loaves and after the oven has been preheating with one or two Dutch ovens for at least 30 minutes and after it is indeed at 475, you’re ready to bake. This step moves kind of quickly and can be a little nerve-racking because the dough can be a little tricky to handle, and of course, the pots you’re going to cook this in are dangerously hot. But here’s what I do:
    • Put on this grill gloves or heavy-duty oven mitts, take the Dutch Oven(s) out of the oven, place them on top of the stove, and remove the lids. Take off the grill gloves.
    • Turning to the bread, take them out of their plastic bags and carefully invert the dough on to the floured counter. Using either a single razor blade or a very sharp knife, make a few scoring cuts on the top of the loaf. You can get super fancy with this or you can skip this step entirely, but I like to make two or three gashes in the top because it helps release some steam and it looks cool at the end.
    • With floured and otherwise bare hands, carefully scoop under the dough to pick up the entire loaf and then gently lower it into the waiting and ripping hot Dutch oven. Now, three important things to note. First, the dough at this point can be kind of tricky to pick up; it’s sort of like handling a half-pound blob of jello, so you kind of have to get your fingers under the loaf and cup it with your hands. Second, that pot is super-duper hot so be careful to lower the dough into the pot while not touching the pot with your bare hands! Third, don’t worry too much if the dough ends up being kind of uneven or whatever when you put it into the Dutch oven(s) because as long as it is proofed properly, it will still bake fine.
    • Put those grill gloves or oven mitts back on, put on the lid(s), and put the Dutch oven(s) back into the oven at 475. Don’t peek! Keeping the Dutch oven(s) closed for this first 30 minutes is key to a crunchy crust, and also it is what enables the “oven spring” that will cause the bread to rise and round-out further, and, unless you really fumble getting the bread into the Dutch oven(s) (it happens), this is also what will “round out” (so to speak) the shape of your loaf.
  • Bake for 30 minutes– again, no looking and no opening the oven, either.
  • After 30 minutes, get out those grill gloves/oven mitts again, open the oven, take off the lids and briefly admire your now lovely but not quite browned bread, and close up the oven again. Set up a cooling rack on the counter.
  • Reduce the heat to 450 and continue baking for about 30 more minutes without the lids, checking it again after about 20 minutes to make sure it’s not getting too dark on top. How dark (burnt?) is too dark/too much is probably a matter of personal tastes, but I’d encourage you to let it get really dark brown even to the point of a few burnt-looking spots for the best crusty flavor. If it looks like it is getting just too dark too quickly, you can always turn the oven off and let the bread continue to bake, or, after about 20 minutes, take the Dutch oven(s) out of the oven and leave it on top of the stove to bake through for another 10 minutes.
  • For one last time, put on those grill gloves/oven mitts and tip your now complete bread onto the cooling rack. The best (and most satisfying) sign that you have succeeded in making a lovely and crusty bread is the cracking sound it makes as cools.
  • Leave the bread alone at least an hour before you cut into it! This is a “discussion” I have with my wife all the time who always wants to cut immediately into the steaming hot bread. I understand that, but the bread is still basically baking as it cools, and if you cut into it too early and while it’s still really hot, you’ll release a ton of heat and steam and the inside of the bread (the “crumb”) will be more sticky than ideal. It’s hard to resist, but it’s worth it.

 

Online Teaching and ‘The New Normal’: A Survey of Faculty in the Midst of an Unprecedented ‘Natural Experiment’ (or, my presentation for CWCON2022)

This is where I will be hosting my final materials for the 2022 Computers and Writing Conference. Many more details will be coming soon, I promise!

My CCCCs 2022

Here’s a follow-up (of sorts) on my CCCCs 2022 experiences– minus the complaining, critiques, and ideas on how it could have been better. Oh, I have some thoughts, but to be honest, I don’t think anyone is particularly interested in those thoughts. So I’ll keep that to myself and instead focus on the good things, more or less.

When the CCCCs went online for 2022 and I was put in the “on demand” sessions, my travel plans changed. Instead of going to Chicago on my own to enjoy conferencing, my wife and I decided to rent a house on a place called Seabrook Island in South Carolina near Charleston. We both wanted to get out of Michigan to someplace at least kind of warm, and the timing on the rental and other things was such that we were on the road for all the live sessions, so I missed out on all of that. But I did take advantage of looking at some of the other on demand sessions to see what was there.

Now, I have never been a particularly devout conference attendee. Even at the beginning of my career attending that first CCCCs in 1995 in Washington, DC, when everything was new to me, I was not the kind of person who got up at dawn for the WPA breakfast or even for the 9 am keynote address, the kind of conference goer who would then attend panels until the end of the day. More typical for me is to go to about two or three other panels (besides my own, of course), depending on what’s interesting and, especially at this point of my life, depending on where it is. I usually spend the rest of the time basically hanging out. Had I actually gone to Chicago, I probably would have spent at least half a day doing tourist stuff, for example.

The other thing that has always been true about the CCCCs is even though there are probably over 1000 presentations, the theme of the conference and the chair who puts it together definitely shapes what folks end up presenting about. Sometimes that means there are fewer presentations that connect to my own interests in writing and technology– and as of late, that specifically has been about teaching online. That was the case this year. Don’t get me wrong, I think the theme(s) of identity, race, and gender invoked in the call are completely legitimate and important topics of concern, and I’m interested them both as a scholar and just as a human being. But at the same time, that’s not the “work” I do, if that makes sense.

That said, there’s always a bit of something for everyone. Plus the one (and only, IMO) advantage of the on demand format is the materials are still accessible through the CCCCs conference portal. So while enjoying some so-so weather in a beach house, I spent some time poking around the online program.

First off, for most of the links below to work, you have to be registered for and signed into the CCCCs portal, which is here:

https://app.forj.ai/en?t=/tradeshow/index&page=lobby&id=1639160915376

If you never registered for the conference at all, you won’t be able to access the sessions, though the program of on-demand sessions is available to anyone here. As I understand it, the portal will remain open/accessible for the month of March (though I’m not positive about that). Second, the search feature for the portal is… let’s just say “limited.” There’s no connection between the portal and the conference on-demand program, so you have to look through the program and then do a separate search of the portal opened in a different browser tab. The search engine doesn’t work at all if you include any punctuation, and for the most part, it only returns results when you enter in a few words and not an entire title. My experience has been it seems to work best if you enter in the first three words of the session title. Again, I’m not going to complain….

So obviously, the first thing I found/went to was my own panel:

OD-301 Researching Communication in Practice

There’s not much there. One of the risks of proposing an individual paper for the CCCCs rather than as part of a panel or round table discussion is how you get grouped with other individual submissions. Sometimes, this all ends up working out really well, and sometimes, it doesn’t. This was in the category of “doesn’t.” Plus it looks to me like three out of the other five other people on the program for this session essentially bailed out and didn’t post anything.

Of course, my presentation materials are all available here as Google documents, slides, and a YouTube video.

To find other things I was interested in, I did a search for the key terms “distance” (as in distance education– zero results) and “online,” which had 54 results. A lot of those sessions– a surprising amount to me, actually– involved online writing centers, both in terms of adopting to Covid but also in terms of shifting more work in writing centers to online spaces. Interesting, but not quite what I was looking for.

So these are the sessions I dug into a bit more and I’ll probably be going back to them in the next weeks as I keep working on my “online and the new normal” research:

OD-45 So that just happened…Where does OWI go from here?: Access, Enrollment, and Relevance

Really nice talk that sums up some of the history and talks in broad ways about some of the experiences of teaching online in Covid. Of course, I’m also always partial to presentations that agree with what I’m finding in my own research, and this talk definitely does that.

OD-211 Access and Community in Online Learning– specifically, Ashley Barry, University of New Hampshire, “Inequities in Digital Literacies and Innovations in Writing Pedagogies during COVID-19 Learning.”

Here’s a link to her video in the CCCCs site, and here’s a Google Slides link. At some point, I think I might have to send this PhD student at New Hampshire an email because it seems like Barry’s dissertation research is similar to what I am (kinda/sorta) trying to do with own research about teaching online during Covid. She is working with a team of researchers from across the disciplines on what is likely a more robust albeit local study than mine, but again, with some similar kind of conclusions.

OD-295 Prospects for Online Writing Instruction after the Pandemic Lockdown— specifically, Alexander Evans, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, “Only Out of Necessity: The Future of Online Developmental FirstYear Writing Courses in Post-Pandemic Society.”

Here’s a link to his video and his slides (which I think are accessible outside of the CCCCs portal). What I liked about Evans’ talk is it is coming from someone very new to teaching at the college level in general, new to community college work, and (I think) new to online teaching as well. A lot of this is about what I see as the wonkiness of what happens (as I think is not uncommon at a lot of community colleges for classes like developmental writing) where instructors more or less get handed a fully designed course and are told “teach this.” I would find that incredibly difficult, and part of Evans’ argument here is if his institution is really going to give people access to higher education, then they need to offer this class in an online format– and not just during the pandemic.

So that was pretty much my CCCCs experience for 2022. I’m not sure when (or if) I’ll be back.

 

 

CCCCs 2022 (part 1?)

Here is a link (bit.ly/krause4c22) to my “on demand” presentation materials for this year’s annual Conference for College Composition and Communication. It’s a “talk” called “When ‘You’ Cannot be ‘Here:’ What Shifting Teaching Online Teaches Us About Access, Diversity, Inclusion, and Opportunity.” As I wrote in the abstract/description of my session:

My presentation is about a research project I began during the 2020-21 school year titled “Online Teaching and the ‘New Normal.” After discussing broadly some assumptions about online teaching, I discuss my survey of instructors teaching online during Covid, particularly the choice to teach synchronously versus asynchronously. I end by returning to the question of my subtitle.

I am saying this is “part 1?” because I might or might not write a recap post about the whole experience. On the one hand, I have a lot of thoughts about how this is going so far, how the online experience could have been better. On the other hand (and I’ve already learned this directly and indirectly on social media), the folks at NCTE generally seem pretty stressed out and overwhelmed and everything else, and it kind of feels like any kind of criticism, constructive or otherwise, will be taken as piling on. I don’t want to do that.

I’m also not sure there will be a part 2 because I’m not sure how much conferencing I’ll actually be able to do. When the conference went all online, my travel plans changed. Now I’m going to be be on the road during most of live or previously recorded sessions, so most of my engagement will have to to be in the on demand space. Though hopefully, there will be some recordings of events available for a while, things like Anita Hill’s keynote speech.

The thing I’ll mention for now is my reasons for sharing my materials in the online/on demand format outside the walled garden of the conference website itself. I found out that I was assigned to present in the “on demand” format of the conference– if I do write a part 2 to this post, I’ll come back to that decision process then. In any event, the instructions the CCCCs provided asked presenters to upload materials– PDFS, PPT slides, videos, etc.– to the server space for the conference. I emailed “ccccevents” and asked if that was a requirement. This was their response:

We do suggest that you load materials directly into the platform through the Speaker Ready Room for content security purposes (once anyone has the link outside of the platform, they could share it with anyone). However, if you really don’t want to do that, you could upload a PDF or a PPT slide that directs attendees to the link with your materials.

The “Speaker Ready Room” is just want they call the portal page for uploading stuff. The phrase I puzzled over was “content security purposes” and trying to prevent the possibility that anyone anywhere could share a link to my presentation materials. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t that kind of the point of scholarship? That we present materials (presentations, articles, keynote speeches, whatever) in the hopes that those ideas and thoughts and arguments are made available to (potential) readers who are anyone and anywhere?

I’ve been posting web-based versions of conference talks for a long time now– sometimes as blog posts, as videos, as Google Slides with notes, etc. I do it mainly because it’s easy for me to do, I believe in as much open access to scholarship as possible, and I’m trying to give some kind of life to this work that is beyond 15 minutes of me talking to (typically) less than a dozen people. I wouldn’t say any of my self-published conference materials have made much difference in the scholarly trajectory of the field, but I can tell from some of the tracking stats that these web-based versions of talks get many more times the number of “hits” than the size of the audience at the conference itself. Of course, that does not really mean that the 60 or 100 or so people who clicked on a link to a slide deck are nearly as engaged of an audience as the 10 people (plus other presenters) who were actually sitting in the room when I read my script, followed by a discussion. But it’s better than not making it available at all.

Anyway, we’ll see how this turns out.

Actually, in-person learning is the “gold standard”

As someone who has been teaching online and researching distance education for a while now, I find the current enthusiasm about the format a bit weird. For example, take this piece from Inside Higher Ed on January 6, “Rhetorical War Over Online Versus In-Person Instruction.” Here are the opening two paragraphs:

Kenneth W. Henderson, the chancellor of Northeastern University, posted a letter on the university website late last month telling students and faculty members that the Boston institution intended to open as planned for the spring semester because “in-person learning remains the gold standard.”

The statement, which was not caveated in any way, struck many in education circles as strikingly unnuanced, especially for a chancellor whose institution offers a robust catalog of online courses. Henderson is not Northeastern’s top administrator, and while at most institutions the chancellor is the top person, in a new structure implemented by Northeastern, Henderson is a cabinet member.

The writer, Suzanne Smalley, goes back and forth between the desirability of the in-person college experience and the efficacy of online classes. She brings up many of the usual examples and quotes many smart experts, though I ultimately think she emphasized the advantages of the online format.

What a difference a global pandemic can make, huh?

By “gold standard,” I think Henderson means that the f2f experience is widely acknowledged as the best and most desirable approach for late teen/early 20-somethings (aka, “traditional” students) for going to college. It is the point of comparison for most people regarding the effectiveness of online courses, as in “online courses are just as effective as f2f ones.” This doesn’t mean folks defending the effectiveness of online instruction are wrong– and I’ll come back to that point in a moment– but I am at a loss who would be “struck” by such an “unnuanced” statement. All of the most prestigious, well-known, and selective universities in the U.S. are residential experiences and they hold the vast majority of their courses f2f. These are the universities that most students want to attend, which is why these kinds of universities are more selective about who they allow to attend. That’s just a fact.

Henderson said in-person learning rather than in-person courses represents the gold standard, and that’s important. I think he’s trying to include everything that happens for students in addition to courses. He’s making the connection between learning and the broader college life experience that includes living on or near campus, parties/the Greek system/other social activities, sports, getting into semi-supervised sex/drugs/rock-n-roll trouble, and so forth. But this doesn’t have a lot to do with the mode of delivery of courses.

This is not to say that everyone who goes to college has access to or even wants this “gold standard.” At EMU, we have traditionally aged/right out of high school students looking for the full college life experience with dorms and off-campus apartments and sports and campus activities and all that. But the majority of our students– including the ones in the dorms– are coming to EMU in part because they couldn’t afford the full-on college life experience at Michigan or MSU, or because they didn’t want to move too far away from home. Plus we have a lot of “non-traditional” students, folks who tend to be past their early twenties and who have grown-up responsibilities (jobs, spouses, kids, mortgages, etc.) that are not compatible to the college life experience. It’s kind of hard to go to all the games and parties if you’re a full-time student working two jobs to help pay the bills for school and your new baby.

It’s clear that online courses/programs can be just as effective as f2f courses/programs under the right circumstances, assuming that “effective” means students demonstrate the same level of learning in both formats. But as Van Davis, who is the “service design and strategy officer for Every Learner Everywhere,” is quoted as saying in this article, “The gold standard isn’t the modality. The gold standard has to do with the level of interaction that students are able to have with each other, and that students are able to have with the content, and that students are able to have with instructors.” I agree, and there are plenty of f2f courses with almost no interaction, unless you count some prof lecturing at a captive audience for 50 minutes at a time as “interaction.”

But I also think online courses/programs are most effective for students who have the maturity and discipline to interact effectively online, and in my experience, that means upper-division undergraduates and graduate students. There’s also the issue of what I’d describe as the aesthetics of the experience. I personally “like” teaching classes online, but lots of my colleagues and my students definitely prefer the f2f experience, and a year and a half of teaching all online has shown me that I would prefer to teach a mix of f2f and online classes. Maybe the real “gold standard” here is the flexibility for both teachers and students to engage in a course in the format that best suits their own needs.

Ultimately, it’s like a lot of things we’ve learned during Covid and and how to make do online. We can have a family game night or small party with friends via Zoom, but it’d sure be nice if we could do that more often in person. We can hold large academic conferences online and we should continue to offer some online participation as an option (and I had a long blog post about this before the CCCCs got cancelled in 2020 that I think is relevant here) more or less for the same reason why we teach courses online: to give access to people who otherwise can’t come to the f2f conference. But it’d be sure nice if the 2022 CCCC’s was still going to happen f2f. We can have department meetings via Zoom, but– well actually, that last one is an example where I prefer the distance.

2021 was, I don’t know, what?

I mean, what just happened? Was it better than 2020? Worse? Absolutely no different to the point where we might as well group 2020 and 2021 into one Covid memory?

Hard to say.

I was feeling hopeful and optimistic around New Year’s and with last year’s wrap up/reflection post because a vaccine was on the way. Biden won and Trump lost. Then there was January 6, which at the time seemed like a dangerous bunch of idiots and confused Qanon supporters, but as the year went on and Congress and the media investigated, the insurrection seems to have been a lot more than that. 100 years from now, will people remember this time for this kind of nonsense and Trump or the plague of Covid? Both? Neither?

In late January/early February, my former EMU colleague and friend Clayton Eshleman died– I blogged about it here. He was 85, had been in ill-health, and I hadn’t been getting together with him for lunch for a while. It was still sad to see him go.

But things started getting better in March. Biden was still popular, Covid numbers were down, vaccines were starting roll out. We took a few days to go down to Hocking Hills in Ohio and hung out at a cool airbnb and hiked around a very icy Old Man’s Cave with our friend Michelle.  And then the light at the end of the tunnel: on March 17, Annette and I both got our first doses of the vaccine (Pfizer, it turned out). It was not easy to do. I searched for appointments for us for about a week and finally found a couple at a pharmacy in Coldwater, which is a little town in the very red south central part of Michigan about 90 miles away. I swear every other person there to get the shot was also from around Ann Arbor. We followed that up with shot number 2 in early April, and back then, Annette and I thought of ourselves as “cured” or at least now able to get back to our lives.

We started going back to the gym again (which is still requiring masks), and after the winter semester wrapped up, we were rarin’ to go. I took a long weekend roadtrip out to Iowa to see my parents who I hadn’t seen in person since Christmas 2019. We went to fucking Las Vegas in May— and saying that now after everything that’s happened with Covid since then seems absolutely crazy, but back then, we thought the vaccine would protect us from everything and we were just getting a bit of a head start on what was going to be a great summer.

Then, summer. I’m not going to go into it and it wasn’t all Covid, but stuff got dark. But it did get better. We returned to the same cottage we had near Glen Arbor in 2020, ate some fancy food, saw some nature, hung around the cottage in lovely weather. Before and after that, there was golf for me and kayaking for Annette, and before too long, another semester at EMU. And then August came and after a family trip to see folks in Iowa, it was time for another school year.

As I wrote about here, my mindset coming into this school year was different (and perhaps not great) because of a lot of the unpleasantness in the previous term and because EMU had a buyout offer which I could have taken. It was the first time in my career where I really thought about retirement– not that seriously because there’s no way I could afford it, but not completely unseriously either. After all, I did have at least one colleague younger than me who took this deal (and good riddance to that person as well), and a friend just a bit younger than me left his job for good too. Maybe it’s all connected to the great resignation, I don’t know.

You’d think after the 2020-21 school year that things would have been better in fall 2021– at least students would be used to the online format of most classes by now. But in a lot of ways, it was quite a bit worse. Some of that is what I’d describe as “the luck of the draw” in terms of the individual students I had, though most of it was just everything that was lingering on, including higher Covid numbers in Michigan than we’d seen before (and we’re climbing again with Omicron too). Everyone was tired and defeated and at least a little (and sometimes a lot) depressed. So it was rough. I certainly didn’t do my best work, and a lot of my students crashed and burned all the way to the end.

And yet at the same time, it also got better. I have been reading about Covid every single day for almost 18 months now, and the reality of the situation as far as I can tell– even now with the Omicron variant and the breakthrough infections it has been causing– is serious illness and death from Covid 19 is almost exclusively limited to the unvaccinated and to people with serious pre-existing conditions. So at some point this past fall, I decided that the worry and anxiety about Covid (not to mention not doing anything in public for fear of the virus) caused by all the preventive measures was worse than the possibility of getting the disease. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to get Covid, I always wear a mask in stores or whatever, and I’m still not fully back to doing everything I did in the before-times. I don’t hang around in coffee shops much anymore, for example. But Annette and I got boosted as soon as we could, and with some reasonable precautions, I think we both felt ready to do more things.

So we had friends over around the fire pit, we went back up north to stay at a fancy bed and breakfast, we had a great Halloween. We had the Krause version of Thanksgiving/Christmas in Kansas City, and then the Wannamaker version of Christmas in Naples. And now here we are, at the end of 2021, whatever that was. I have a lot of friends and colleagues who think that all of those outings and roadtrips and airplanes and airports and getting together with folks is just flat-out dangerous. Wait more until it’s safe. But I don’t think covid is ever going to ever completely end, and we’re going to have to start to learn how to live with it.

Last year, I was feeling optimistic because of Biden, the vaccine, and what people were predicting was the beginning of the end of Covid. This year, I’m not going predict much of anything for 2022. Annette is going to be presenting at the MLA convention in Washington, D.C. next week and I’m going along as a tourist. As of today, the conference is still on, I think mainly because it was too late for the organization to cancel (though I don’t rule out some kind last minute change). I was looking forward to a f2f CCCCs in Chicago in March, but that’s been all moved online. I understand that decision, but based on what I read and hear about Omicron, there’s a very real chance that Covid will be a lot more under control by then. Who knows?

There’s only one thing I know about 2022 right now: Annette and I are both are on research fellowships, which means we’ll get a break from teaching until September so we can focus on our scholarship. I’ll be spending my time away from teaching working on the interview and then writing part of the project I started last year, along with other writing, reading, and other stuff away from the office. Crossing my fingers.

The secret to avoiding graduate school debt Carey and Dempster don’t want to talk about…

This morning, I read a discussion between Kevin Carey and Doug Dempster in Inside Higher Ed, “Debating the Value of Arts (and Other) Degree Programs.” Carey is a journalist/writer specializing in issues of higher education, and Dempster is the former dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. They were discussing an article Carey wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education back in August called “The Great Masters Degree Swindle.” I haven’t read that original article, but given this conversation, the gist of it is pretty clear. There are a lot of graduate programs, particularly in “the arts” and “the humanities,” which are popular but which also are expensive and have a low return on investment. Carey spent time in that article talking about a very expensive graduate program in film studies at Columbia University and he names some other fairly exotic and expensive graduate programs in things like acupuncture and Positive Psychology (whatever that is). But I’m sure he also means graduate programs in things like creative writing, music of various sorts, acting, painting, etc., etc., degrees where there are  few chances of earning a decent living.

Carey and Dempster both agree the arts and similar pursuits are valuable in all sorts of different ways, though also both questioned the extent to which someone who wants to try their hand at filmmaking or acting or journalism needs to go to graduate school. Both talk about and around the problem of the rising costs of higher education generally, though neither of them have any solutions to any of this. And neither of them discussed the wisdom of going to graduate school in fields like this at all, nor do they discuss PhD programs– so I’ll put a pin in that for now.

But I was surprised neither of them brought up the obvious solution to the problem of paying for graduate school– or at least the obvious way for graduate students in many fields to greatly reduce the amount of debt. This solution has been around in the U.S. for at least 60 years, long before I started my MFA program in fiction writing in 1988, and it’s the way that everyone I know who is now in academia in some way got started in the profession.

It’s called a “Graduate Assistantship.”

When I applied to MFA programs in the late 1980s, I didn’t know much about graduate assistantships and I didn’t think much about how I would pay for graduate school. I just applied to what I thought were some of the best creative writing programs in the country and where I thought I might be able to get in. One of the places I applied– kind of on a whim– was Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, Virginia. I got in, and Greg Donovan (who is still a professor at VCU and who was at the time the director of the MFA program) called me on the phone. “Steve,” he said, “I’m calling you to let you know we want to admit you to the program, and we also want to offer you a graduate assistantship.” He made this call to everyone who was offered an assistantship.

So, cocky young person that I was, I said this was exciting but I also had been admitted to some other really strong programs, I’d have to think about the pros and cons of it all, etc. etc. etc. Greg listened patiently and said “Those are all good points and also good programs, Steve. But listen, it’s not worth going into that much debt for a degree in creative writing.”

That sealed the deal for me, and the rest (as they say) is history.

The details of graduate assistantships vary a lot, but generally, “GAs” (sometimes called something like “Teaching Assistants” or TAs or “Research Assistants” or RAs) are competitive positions where universities pay graduate students a pathetically small amount of money and free or nearly free tuition to attend graduate school. In exchange, GAs perform some sort of labor, generally related to their studies. In English departments (and that usually includes creative writing), that means labor like teaching first year composition and sometimes introductory literature courses, assisting professors in teaching (especially large lecture hall courses), tutoring in a writing center, or working as an editorial assistant for a journal of some sort. I think there are analogous teaching/tutoring/editing positions in most of the humanities. In most of the sciences, GAs tend to work with/for professors in labs.

As far as I can tell, there are very few opportunities for graduate assistantships in fields where the potential earnings are higher– disciplines like medicine, business, law, and so forth. But for most of the fields these two are discussing, GA positions are more common. Even with the meager resources we have at EMU and even with our modest graduate school reputation, we still offer a number of GA positions in our department and across the university.

Furthermore, these positions offer the kind of workplace experience that Carey says (and Dempster kind of says this too) is something these outrageously expensive graduate programs lack. Everyone I know who has a career in higher education– including in staff positions like advising– got their start as a graduate assistant. Again, these folks don’t discuss PhD programs at all nor do they discuss the challenges of getting a faculty position of any sort (and so I won’t go into that either), but I’ve been a part of a lot of faculty searches over the years, and there is no way we would ever hire anyone for a faculty position who had not had experience as a GA.

Now, GA positions are far from a perfect solution. For starters, this does nothing to deal with the debt from undergraduate studies– that’s a whole different problem. The pay (“stipend”) can be ridiculously low and the positions can be very exploitive, which is why there are a number of institutions where GAs have unionized. The free or dramatically reduced tuition GAs get is usually worth much more than what GAs actually see in a paycheck, and that pay is also typically not enough to live on. That is especially true at underfunded universities like EMU. Most of our graduate assistants still end up borrowing at least some money and/or working part-time outside of the university. But the alternative is to pay all the costs of graduate school out of pocket, and that is obviously a worse situation.

The other potential problem with GA positions is because they are competitive, not everyone can get one. Then again, maybe if you’re an aspiring actor or journalist or painter or whatever and you want to go to graduate school but you are unable to find a university willing to fund at least part of the bills in exchange for labor that will also give you some valuable workplace experience, well, then maybe you should rethink those plans.

Anyway, it’s not that Carey and Dempster are wrong in their discussion, but I’m just surprised that they present going to graduate school anywhere and for pretty much anything as being only possible if students pay for everything themselves. That’s simply not true, and it is especially not true for a lot of the degree programs in fields where the ROI is more suspect.

What’s missing from the new University of Austin? (Hint: everything but disgruntled academics)

Twitter was all afire with news of the forming of The University of Austin by a group of right-leaning academics, pundits and gadflies, primarily led by Bari Weiss. Here’s a link to the announcement, written by who will be the new “university’s” president, Pano Kanelos, a post titled “We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One,” which was published on Weiss’ substack site “Common Sense.”

It’s an easy story to make fun of because all the people involved in this new “university” have found themselves criticized or canceled for one reason or another, and the announcement’s tone is classic “I am taking my ball and going elsewhere” pout (more on that below). What makes this even  more amusing is the University of Austin happens to be located in the same city as another well-established university. Somehow, I expect a lawsuit of some sort that will result in either a name change or a move to a new city.

When I first heard this story, I tweeted and compared these plans to MOOCs, and I thought about the book I published two years ago, More Than a Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs. The book is for sale of course, and it is also available in its entirety on JSTOR here. Unfortunately, the book was published just as Massive Open Online Courses were no longer a threat to traditional higher education and after MOOCs morphed into a series of training courses and “edutainment” (think MasterClass). Fortunately, my book is actually about the history of efforts and failures to “disrupt” higher education.

In my book, I argue that MOOCs were not an unprecedented innovation in distance education, but rather a continuation of previous innovations like more “traditional” online courses and programs that began getting traction in the 1990s, along with correspondence courses and programs from the early 20th/late 19th centuries. Since the demise of MOOCs (and since my book was published), there have been several other lukewarm at best attempts to change everything about higher education. There was the launched and now largely failed Global Freshman Academy part of Arizona State’s enormous online presence. Frank Bruni wrote last year about Minerva University as an alternative for going to college online during the pandemic, but as far as I can tell, Minerva remains an eccentric school of about 1000 students.  There was Outlier, which was pitched as a better version of MOOCs, and while it still appears to be around, they seem a long ways away from “disrupting” higher education as we know it. And so forth.

But as I read and re-read and thought about Kanelos’ announcement, I realized there actually is something different. The University of Austin is trying to create an entirely new kind of “higher education,” one completely devoid of students, courses, degrees, and research, and one sustained entirely by the presence of cancelled faculty and disgruntled quasi-intellectuals. Kanelos is not the first academic to imagine how much better the university life would be without students, but he may very well be the first one to actually write this down and announce it to the world.

More details than perhaps you want after the break.

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Continue reading “What’s missing from the new University of Austin? (Hint: everything but disgruntled academics)”

Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients:

Sauce:

About a tablespoon of minced garlic

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

28 oz (a “big can”) of crushed tomatoes

16 oz (a “small can,” or if you want more sauce, another “big can”) of diced tomatoes

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a teaspoon of grated nutmeg (optional, of course)

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each  (go easy on the salt because you’ll be adding the meatballs)

A half cup or so of wine, beef stock, or water (optional)

Meatballs

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 pound ground turkey thigh or ground pork

Between a 1/2 and a full cup of bread crumbs

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley and/or basil (if you’ve got it)

A teaspoon of grated nutmeg (again, optional)

3 or 4 tablespoons of milk or cream to bind it all together

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each (the cheese adds a fair amount of saltiness, so just a bit)

Cooked spaghetti or a similar pasta

This is a meal I make all the time and one where I never have to look up any of the ingredients or steps in the process, so why is it worthy of a recipe? And what if it’s something so common that it’s just another thing “everybody” makes? Who needs a recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or for a hamburger? And since I can look up pretty much any recipe for anything nowadays, why write any of this down? I mean, it’s not like there aren’t already a zillion spaghetti and meatball recipes on the internets. What’s the point of any of this?

Didn’t mean for this to turn dark like that. Anyway…

When my wife wants a comforting and homey dinner, this is it. I make this at least once every two weeks, sometimes more often than that. This recipe with a salad and maybe some garlic toast or whatever can serve four people, though this is what I make for me and Annette, and the leftovers are good for lunch for a couple of days. This is one of those things where you can do from start to finish in about an hour and it’ll be good, but it’ll be better if you let the sauce cook on the back of the stove for closer to two hours. Obviously, there are a million variations.

Instructions:

  • Start the sauce. Put a large sauce pan on a not yet lit stove burner. Add two or three tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of chopped garlic. Turn the burner on to medium, and give it a stir once in a while for three to five minutes. The idea here is to infuse a little garlic-flavor into the oil and what will be the sauce, but without really browning the garlic.
  • When the garlic starts to just barely simmer, add the tomatoes. Purists might say you should only use whole tomatoes canned in Italy or whatever. I do tend to buy not the cheapest canned tomatoes, but I don’t usually have the time or interest to hand crush them. So I tend to use one “big can” of crushed tomatoes, and one “small can” of diced tomatoes. Sometimes I want more sauce and I’ll use two “big cans” of tomatoes.
  • Add the Italian seasoning, nutmeg, and a touch of salt and pepper and bring it up to a simmer. It won’t taste right until it simmers at least 20 or so minutes while you make the meatballs, but do taste it as you go. I also suggest going easy on the salt at the beginning because once it simmers and cooks down for a while and once you get the meatballs and cheese and stuff involved, it’ll get more salty. Simmer that sauce for a minimum of about 45 minutes, and for pretty much as long as you want. You’ll simmer it some more after you add the meatballs.
  • While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Dump the ground meats into a large bowl. I always use at least half ground lean beef, and then half of either ground turkey thigh or ground pork. Either way, I do think the different meats do add a flavor you don’t get with just one variety– the same is true with meatloaf. Add the Italian seasoning, a bit of salt and pepper, parmesan cheese, and (if you’re using) fresh chopped parsley and/or basil and grated nutmeg. Then start with about a half cup of breadcrumbs– and either use some you’ve made yourself from leftover bread (and of course you should make your own breadcrumbs with your leftover bread simply by cutting it up in chunks, toasting it a bit, and then running it through the food processor), or just some normal/plain supermarket breadcrumbs. I wouldn’t use panko here–save that for the fried foods. And finally, start with about a quarter cup of milk or cream and mix in more if necessary.
  • With your previously washed and sparkly clean hands (and if you haven’t washed your hands yet in this process, what’s wrong with you?), roll up those sleeves and get mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. If the mixture is too sticky, add some more breadcrumbs– but be careful because no one likes meatballs (or meatloaf or crab cakes either) that have too much breading. I make them a little bigger than a golf ball, and I usually get 13 or 15 meatballs out of this mix. You can make them bigger or smaller of course, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • You could pan-fry them, but I cook my meatballs in the oven because it’s a lot less mess. Put the meatballs on a sheet pan and broil them so they get a little browned on each side– about 3 minutes a side (I flip them over halfway through)– or until they feel like they’re starting to cook through. They don’t have to be done because they will cook in the sauce for a while. If you want, you can deglaze the sheet pan with a little red wine or beef stock and add that to the sauce.
  • Put the meatballs into the sauce and turn it down so it is barely or not quite a simmer. The meatballs should be cooked through in about the amount of time it takes to heat up a big pot of water and to cook the pasta, but I like to let the meatballs slow simmer in the sauce for 30 or 40 minutes.
  • Cook the pasta according to the directions. I of course like spaghetti with my meatballs, but any pasta will do. Put the pasta into bowls, top the pasta with sauce and the desired number of meatballs (usually 3 or 4), and grate on lots and lots of good parmesan cheese.