Sabbatical lite coming soon…

I can see the finish line of the spring term– just a pile of end of term grading, one short class meeting on Tuesday, final revisions on Wednesday, and grade posting to go. And at the end of this term, I begin my year of sabbatical lite (and thus a new category at the official blog). I mean “lite” since I don’t mean light as in “bright” or even light as in “not heavy,” but I mean it as it is with beer, “watered down.” Though I still think it will be tasty.

Here’s the deal:

I was fortunate enough to be awarded a sabbatical for next year to work on my book/research project on blogs as writerly spaces. Now, at EMU (and at most universities nowadays), sabbaticals come in two different varieties: a full year (for 50% of the usual salary) and a semester (for no cut in salary). I flat-out cannot afford the pay-cut at this point in my life, so the one semester option was really the only one available to me.

Now, I also currently get a course release per term so that I can do the work of being the writing program coordinator– not to be confused with the first year writing program. As writing program coordinator, I advise/recruit grad students, advise undergrads, and do a bunch of other administrative work of the program, etc. I have a year and a half left in my term doing that and I don’t want to just quit and dump that work on someone else. As I see it, that means I really couldn’t take a semester completely off even if I wanted to. If, for example, I decided to take a break as the program coordinator for Fall term, I would inevitably have my short-term replacement calling me up/emailing/whatever with various questions anyway. And besides, a semester isn’t really enough.

So, here’s my plan:

For fall term, I’m going to use 2/3rds of my sabbatical time. That means all I’ll do for the fall is be the writing program coordinator. For winter term (2008), I’ll use the remaining third of my sabbatical time, continue to be the writing program coordinator, and teach one course. Thus “sabbatical lite.”

We will see how this works out.

The conventional wisdom I have received has been that a sabbatical is a “all or nothing” kind of thing, and the danger of administrative work based on course release is that it has a way of expanding to occupy the amount of space you allow it to occupy. In other words, I run the risk of spending my sabbatical– which, after all, is supposed to help me with my scholarship– on service.

But I am cautiously optimistic for two reasons. First, I am planning on setting up what I hope will be fairly rigid rules for when I will and won’t do this kind of work: right now, I am thinking that Mondays and Wednesday will be designated “school days,” and that will be it. Second, I’m a little worried about what might happen if I really did take a complete and entire sabbatical. As the saying goes, if you want a task to get done, assign it to someone who is always busy. If I had a semester where all I had to do was work on my scholarship, I am afraid I would spend far too much time watching TV, organizing my sock drawer, etc.

Anyway, we’ll see. Three more days. And a little summer vacation after that. And then it begins….

Blog writing: attention vs. productive procrastination

At the recent Computers and Writing conference in Detroit, I went to a presentation where Derek Mueller talked the role of “attention” in motivation for blog writing. I’m simplifying quite a bit just because I don’t have my notes here (though, note to self– remember to ask Derek for a copy of his talk).

Derek had a lot of good points in his talk, but I managed to stumble across another explanation that seems to explain a lot of the blogging that I do: structured procrastination.

It’s kind of an old essay by John Perry, no slouch of a Philosophy professor at Stanford. “Structured Procrastination” is a brief internet essay I probably should have come across earlier (had I been paying attention); regardless, it seems to ring a bell to the practice of blogging. For example:

I have been intending to write this essay for months. Why am I finally doing it? Because I finally found some uncommitted time? Wrong. I have papers to grade, textbook orders to fill out, an NSF proposal to referee, dissertation drafts to read. I am working on this essay as a way of not doing all of those things. This is the essence of what I call structured procrastination, an amazing strategy I have discovered that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Of course, it looks to me that Perry is still procrastinating from going into any more detail about all this procrastination. But that’s another project….

C&W 07: My Presentation

I presented at the very last session on Sunday, May 20, at the recently completed Computers and Writing conference in Detroit. To be honest, more people showed up to this session than I thought would, mainly to support the other two presenters, I think. Still, it was a marked improvement over my “crowd” at the CCCCs.

In any event, I am making my presentation available at this web site with three basic versions:

  • the script of my talk with a few key slides pictures included (the version I’d recommend for most readers);
  • just the script with numbers where I inserted the slides; and
  • the Keynote slides saved for the web.

I’m also going to be sharing this presentation to the community since, after all, it’s about them. We’ll see what they have to say about all this.

Winter Break 2007 "To Do" List

It’s winter break season here– what everyone else in the universe refers to as “spring break.” Given that it’s February and it’s a slushy/icy mess outside right now, winter break seems a lot more accurate to me.

This year, we’re not visiting relatives in Florida nor are we off to Mexico (the destination of several of my colleagues with their families). We’re hanging out here, where my wife and I both hope to catch up on work while our son is in school and in various after-school activities. As long as there aren’t any snow days.

Here’s some of what’s on my “to do” list this week:

Make listAlways the first item I put on every list I make.
Go through email
Register for Computers and Writing Don’t worry, Jeff– I’m coming, but I just don’t want to spend the big bucks any earlier than I have to.
Clean House
Clean Garage
Clean Dog
Clean computer labs at EMU. Actually, this one got done on Friday. Long-story short: we have had always had problems getting our computer labs cleaned, in part because the janitors can’t get in their for security issues, and in part because no faculty person is in charge of these labs right now. Anyway, after a series of complaints, I said I’d help clean it ourselves, and I persuaded a “crew” that consisted of Steve B., my colleague Christine Tracy, a long-time journalism lecturer (thanks, Arnie!) and even our department head, Laura George. Laura generously invested in a variety of cleaning supplies, including a cheap shop-vac (btw, one of the best tools ever for sucking the dirt and dust out of computers, IMO). Besides dusting, washing, and mopping up the general filth, we also threw away four giant construction-grade plastic bags of junk: software at least six years old still in the box and the shrink-wrap, stacks of manuals for some mystery product (also still in the shrink-wrap), journals and articles a decade old, cables and plus and adapters for mystery bits of equipment, old course packs and student projects, papers folders and posters, and, inexplicably, one pinata.
Work on The Process of Research Writing web site. When my textbook project went belly-up last year, I started to put it up on the web. As happens in life, I got distracted with other things. But now I’m feeling like it’s time for me to put this thing up to bring some closure to this project.
Clean my school office.
Work on the Department Conference coming up the first week in March.
Get English 516 stuff up to date.
Get English 328 stuff up to date.
Sign up English 516 folks for class blog.
Get busy (again) with BAWS project. I really would like to get the survey/Human Subjects Review stuff going before the end of this week.
Go to the gym more.
Wait patiently for delivery people. I ordered a new home computer the other day, a 20 inch iMac along with a second 19 inch monitor. I know, it’s overkill, but it’ll be my overkill. Stay tuned for details.

Hmm, seems ambitious. I guess if I finish half of this, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something….

Blogs as Writerly Spaces: The proposal

When I am advising students who are working on their thesis or a final writing project as part of our MA in Written Communication, my most common bit o’ wisdom is that when you’re working on a project like that, you have to “touch it” every day. I’m not suggesting to these students that they work on their projects for an hour or two every day (though, if you can be that disciplined/regimented, that’s probably a good thing), because different days will afford you different amounts of time. But, I tell my students, even if you have all kinds of other work and life responsibilities and the like, you still should try to at least touch your project, just to keep it in the back of your mind. Sometimes, that will mean spending just a few minutes on it. But those few minutes, I tell my students, will help you on those days when you really do have time to work on your project in more detail, and those few minutes at a time will help you keep on your long-term goal of finishing.

Like I said, this is advice I give to my students, but like so many other pieces of advice, it’s easier given than followed.

Well, today I’ve decided to start taking my own advice and I’m going to make myself get back into the swing of a project I’m calling Blogs as Writerly Spaces. Thus the category here of “BAWS.”

My first “touch” on this project (and to be honest, I see only touches on this thing for the next couple weeks at least, but hey, I’m still following my own fine advice) has been to revisit the proposal I submitted for a sabbatical for next year. I’d be of course curious to find out what others out there have to say about it– oh, and if you’re a book publisher and want to offer me a contract straight-away, let me know.

I’ve obviously got a lot of thinking, researching, interviewing, writing, etc., to do on this yet. But I will say that it’s nice to look back at this proposal, something I haven’t paid much attention to for about two and a half months, and still be reasonably happy with it.