That's done (sorta); now what do I need to do?

Monkey writer

I managed to meet the deadline that I had set up for myself with my textbook project just over a week ago– at least technically I met the deadline. This “on-again/off-again” project has been “on-again” in the past six or eight months, so I’m feeling confident about my progress and possibilities of finishing this project, or at least more confident than I have felt in the past. Of course, there’s still a fair amount of work that needs to be done, more revisions and such, it still has to be sent out to readers (yet again), if it’s approved it will take a year or more to actually publish, and even with all that, there is still no guarantee that this thing will ever actually appear as a textbook. Someday, when the dust for all this settles, I’d like to write something about the textbook writing experience. It’s been an education, no question about it.

Anyway, I worked on this a lot for the last 10 days or so, and this morning, the day after I emailed stuff to the editors, I have this odd “what now?” kind of feeling. Frankly, I know “what now”: I have to get ready for that pesky fall semester that is going to be starting here in about two weeks. I need to tidy-up my blogs and some other web projects. I should do at least a little thinking and reading about my longer-term project on the history or writing technologies before the computer (btw, thanks to Dennis Jerz to this link of Flickr picts of “writing machines,” mostly typewriters). And I am also interested in trying to focus some more time on actually trying to read the scholarship in my field and less time in trying to create more of it.

Not to mention I have a life, which includes a seriously neglected garden and a flabby body that needs to get to the gym. Immediately.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I know the answer to the question of this post. It’s just a matter of convincing myself that I need to go on to something else, I suppose. Okay contemplative monkey– get to work then!

Academic Commons: Looks promising to me

I just found out about Academic Commons, “a forum for investigating and defining the role that technology can play in liberal arts education. Sponsored by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College.” It looks like they are running both an on-going blog and a quarterly (the first edition, August 2005, is available here).

And it also looks like they are attracting some “big names” in the world of technology and education. Their first issue includes articles and interviews with Jerry Graff, Michael Joyce, and Richard Lanham. Something I’ll have to check out in more detail soon.

Nice list, dude…

Bradley Dilger has a really nice reading list on his blog for a course he’s preparing called “Computers and Writing.” I’m linking to it now because, in a few days at the latest, I’m going to have to start planning a revamped version of English 328, and I’m always looking for things to do with my Writing for the World Wide Web class and Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice.

What's wrong with Kansas?

Nick Carbone just posted this Inside Higher Ed story to various mailing lists, “University as Author?” which is about a pending case before the Kansas Supreme Court which might decide that the Kansas Board of Regents can declare that it “owns” all of the rights to the intellectual property of faculty teaching at public colleges.

Of course, what the Board of Regents is really going for is a piece of the action for technologies developed in the laboratories at Kansas universities. There’s not a lot of money to be made by most English professor-types. But there might be some implications to the Board’s/University’s grab at all this Intellectual property for the likes of me:

Ann Springer, associate counsel for the American Association of University Professors, which filed a brief on the dispute, said that if colleges own their professors’ works, then they are also responsible for the content. “They would have to review everything that is written,� she said, adding that if the university were considered responsible for content, it might seek to contain controversial content. “I don’t think [the University of] Colorado wants to be responsible for all of Ward Churchill’s writing, but they would be.� She added that faculty members would have far less incentive to innovate if the institution could claim full ownership of their work.

I do think that the Board/University is entitled to some portion of IP rights, especially for IP that is developed largely with the support of the University and IP that is developed by a faculty members as part of his or her job. But I don’t think they ought to get all of it. And if this decision were to be upheld, I think you would see a chilling of innovation, and/or some interesting wranglings by professors to protect their rights.

For example, if I write an academic book (or textbook or a novel or a musical or whatever), if I receive some sort of release from the institution to complete that book, and if that book “counts” in the process of tenure and review, then I am okay with the institution claiming at least a portion of that IP. Not all of it, but some of it, probably negotiated in some process (at EMU, that would probably be a union issue). On the other hand, if I write a book with no support from the institution and if it doesn’t count as “intellectual work” in the tenure and review process (btw, in my department, a textbook does indeed count as a “book”), then I don’t think I owe the institution a dime.

Maybe the smart thing for these professors in Kansas to do (and who knows, it might be the rest of us sooner than later) would be to carefully construct a very specific and legally defined “life” outside of the institution. As I understand it, there are plenty of academics (particularly in fields like business, law, medicine, but also in areas like education, journalism, and public relations) who maintain a “private practice” or a “consulting” business while being a professor. Framed as that sort of arrangement, perhaps faculty-types would have a better chance of holding on to the IP that is really theirs and theirs alone.

Blogging and "academic branding"

I’ve read and read about the Chronicle of Higher Education article “Master (or Mistress) of Your Domain” by Michael J. Bugeja in a couple of different places, but I like the way John talks about the article here. I disagree with the presumption that Bugeja is making about what it takes to become an associate or full professor, to be “nationally recognized,” because the majority of colleges and universities are not tier 1 research facilities and thus have different standards for tenure.

But I do agree (obviously) that it’s a good idea for academics to have a web site and to even think about investing in your very own domain name. I’ve been darn happy with Sure, I have to pay a little money out of pocket, but it’s much more reliable service than EMU’s servers and I can pretty much do whatever I want with it. Personally, I think it’s the best $40 or $50 a year I spend.

Slight update:

Oh yeah– Like Collin, I too think that Bugeja’s self-promotion is kinda creepy and slimy-sounding. I do think it’s important for academics to do self-promotion, something that I think many folks (including me) are kind of reluctant to do. On the other hand, Bugeja has probably gone a wee-bit too far here.

What academic blogging means to me (and what it is likely to mean in the coming year or so…)

As I mentioned the other day, Alex and Collin both had some very good and reflective posts about the reasons for academic blogging. Good posts. Go read them.

For me, keeping an academic blog has been useful and satisfying for all kinds of different reasons. I use this blog space to kind of keep notes and make links for myself (for teaching, for scholarship), my blog is a way making connections with other scholarly-types, I like the immediacy of blogging, I like the control I have, and I like the attention, modest though it may be. This is just a guess, but I’m pretty sure that more people read my blog every month than have ever read my more “real” scholarly publications.

In fact, I for one am likely to write even more on my scholarly blog and even less in more conventional outlets, at least for the next year or two. Why? Because I can.

See, in the next week or two, I should be will be as done as I am likely to get with a textbook project that I’ve been working on (and off and on) for years now. That’s the kind of project that will make you want to take a “break,” believe me.

Plus I’m in a comfortable and “settled” space life and career-wise. I’ve been tenured for a while now, and, because of the way things work at EMU, I will almost certainly be promoted again to “Professor” in a few years based on the work I’ve already done. My wife, Annette Wannamaker, is going to be starting a position in the department here at EMU as an assistant professor, specializing in Children’s Literature. This situation– both of us employed in good tenure-track positions that allow us to live in the same house like “normal” couples– has been something we’ve been working to achieve for almost 10 years now. We’re darn happy about it and because of this arrangement and the difficulty in getting this deal in the first place, I seriously doubt that we’ll be leaving EMU (which means we won’t be “going on the market” again, which we’re pretty darn happy about, too).

In other words, I’ve reached a point in my career where I don’t have to play the usual “publish or perish” games. And because of that, why not just blog?

Of course, my situation is a bit unique and perhaps different from a lot of other bloggers out there. It seems to me that grad students and tenure-seeking faculty need to make some careful decisions about blogging, about what to write or not write (I’m thinking here of the need to avoid posting things to a blog that might hurt future or on-going employment), and about how much and how often to write. Collin says that blogging is something that has helped him with his other academic writings, but I think I tend to agree with Alex when he writes:

You don’t give up other scholarly pursuits completely to go “all in� on blogging (or, at least, most don’t). But the truth is, rather than writing this entry, I could be working on a half-dozen other projects that would actually show up on a vita. The direct payout is not at all clear.

And again, by “direct payout,” I think what Alex means is stuff that will count in the academic game of getting a tenure-track job, getting tenured or getting a better academic job, getting promoted, etc.

For me, blogging is a benefit in and of itself. But I also see it as a dangerous procrastination activity. In the time I have spent this morning on this entry, I could have (probably should have) gotten some more work done on my textbook. Which is what I think I’ll go do right now…

Finally, "The Writing Show" goes on: thoughts and conclusions

Finally, it was time for the grand event itself, “The Writing Show.” Here’s how it went:

The event was held in downtown Richmond at the Creative Change Center, which describes itself as “a community space and an organization of collaborators promoting creative, innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors in the region.” It’s a cool and funky loft space in an old warehouse, but one where some group spent a lot of money making it cool and funky. My guess is it’s used on a day-to-day basis as a “spill-over” space by the advertising agencies on the second and first floors.

Anyway, it was set up pretty much like Dennis promised: there were some couches and chairs with microphones up front, and Dennis sat stage left (as is the tradition on most talk shows), the other two guests (Jeff Lodge and Doug Childers) and I sat stage right. Dennis asked us questions, we answered and chatted. There was an audience of about 20, which I thought was reasonably good (how many conference presentations and/or readings have you been to with much smaller crowds?), though it’s apparently small for this thing. Past events have had much bigger crowds, 80 or so people. Of course, the timing of this event, late July, probably meant a lot of people were out of town, and, in my experience, the internet and its related geeky factors often make writerly-types and English majors seek cover pretty quickly.

The intention of the format was for us to talk amongst ourselves for the first hour or so and then take questions from the audience, but the crowd jumped in pretty early with questions and comments of their own. People on the panel did a few “show and tell” things as they came up (I showed folks Stuart Moulthrop’s web site when a question came up about using to web to do things other than as a publishing vehicle for more or less “traditional” print writing, Doug showed the web site he did for a writer in Richmond, Jeff showed some links, including the electronic journal he helps edit, Blackbird), but mostly, it was, well, like a talk show.

Personally, I thought the format worked pretty well, and I’m thinking about ripping it off borrowing from the concept. I think it might be kind of an interesting teaching tool (groups of students put on a talk show about some kind of writing concept for other writers), or it might just be kind of cool to try to replicate the concept in the Ypsi-Arbor area.

The only thing that marred the event a bit was at the very end. Dennis was cleaning things up and I was milling around, talking to him, talking to a few straggling audience folks. All of a sudden, Dennis and a woman named Colleen (who, it turns out, is the director of James River Writers and the only person who is actually paid to do any of this stuff), start having this confrontational, ah, discussion. Colleen didn’t think the event went all that well. She said she wanted to see more people taking notes (actually, a lot of people were taking notes), she didn’t think people were all that engaged (though the fact people were interrupting sort of suggested to me they were), and she didn’t think we were really delivering the right “product” (which begs the question “just what exactly were you expecting?”).

It was a kind annoying/marketing wonk way to end the evening. I’ll let those folks sort out their own internal political issues, but I guess what annoys me about the whole thing is the way she treated me. Or rather, didn’t treat me. Sure, I did come in and do this because I wanted to make a road trip to Richmond, to see Dennis, to participate in a unique kind of presentation, etc. And I’m not exactly a “superstar” or the sorts that can draw people just with my name. But that doesn’t give this Colleen person the right to more or less just ignore me (I don’t think she ever said “thank you” or much of anything else to me), and I thought it was bizarrely unprofessional to have that “discussion” right there. It’d be too bad if a good idea like “The Writing Show” was sunk because of petty politics and “creative differences” and micromanagement.

Anyway, even with all that, it was cool and fun. Now I gotta hit the road.