Friday, August 31, 2007

A New Blog Home?

I've become fond of TenADay--it has done a lot of good work for me / helped me do a lot of work. But my university finally decided to host blogs, and I feel some institutionally loyalty to blog here. And some personal loyalty: a few people worked very hard to install Word Press, set up authentication for NDSU users, answer administrator's questions, etc.

The Word Press interface is seductive, and works with Safari, which I use less and less now, but I am composing this entry with Safari, and just had to hand-code that link up there. Looks like WP will also import Ten A Day if I should chose to do that. I suppose that won't shut Ten A Day down; maybe I'll have to do that and see what I think of the results. I will definitely have to make sure the NDSU blog site is stable and will have legs; I'd hate to have my blogging completely cut out from under me.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

rethinking 120 before it happens

I'm still happy with the course I have planned for this semester, but I was just flipping through the McLuhan Casebook from the late 60s--four chapters from Understanding Media followed by many, many book reviews and other responses to the media of the 60s. It did make me think about my class and the lack of a single supplementary text to anchor the course. I like the idea of students choosing their own topics (or having others in class commission topics of interest to them), but I think one reason students sometimes struggle with fairly open assignments like that is that the assignment and the student lacks an anchor. A single text might provide that anchor.

I used Fargo Rock City by Klosterman in that way for a couple of years, and I have used White Like Me by Tim Wise. Both worked reasonably well, but not so well as to keep them in the rotation. So my weekend thoughts went this way:

1. Propose a topic for investigation / examination (research topic doesn't seem like the right term).
2. Identify a central text on that topic for review, and perhaps rhetorical analysis.
3. Research the topic more fully (work on secondary research skills); write a commentary that builds on review / analysis and secondary research skills.

Disadvantages: undermines some sense of community via common text. Creates a real challenge for new TAs--feeling comfortable responding to diverse topics and texts. I do need to keep my multiple audiences in mind.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Thinking ahead

I just finished the first week of classes, which followed a full week of workshops--the semester is all downhill from here. We adjusted our placement procedures this year, and as WPA, I ended up fielding I don't know how many emails and calls. I've gotta admit that I actually like this part of the job--extremely fast-paced, problem-solving in nature, intense information management, I can generally help students and they are genuinely grateful (not always true of students in my classes : (

I wonder how many other WPAs like this part of the job? It seems gruesome to many of my colleagues.

In the midst of doing laundry on a hip and happening Friday night in Fargo, I started to think about the research I need to do this semester / year. My target conferences are GPACW, C&W, and WPA. I want to do something with McLuhan's hot and cool, Bolter and Grusin's immediacy and hypermediacy, Lev Manovich's film and database, and Scott McCloud's big triangle at GPACW--not too ambitious. I actually need to go back through this blog and find my notes.

C&W is the conference that I really thought about tonight, the conference with the "aah haa" moment. The theme is "open source: technology and concept," and while I haven't got much to say about open source technology, I keep trying to do what I would just call "open projects"--the Trivium Wiki, a CMS for our department website, other wikis for classes, blogs for classes--and I quite frankly haven't had any luck getting buy-in on any of these projects (except for Andy, but he is easy). It might be worthwhile to do a little reflection, a little research on online communities, and figure out what I keep doing wrong. Initial thoughts--the Trivium wiki is not open enough; too strong of an authorial stamp already on the piece. The department CMS; not enough time for others, not a sufficiently dynamic site or concept. We might be able to carve out a dynamic slot on the site, but ultimately it is going to fall on a few shoulders. Something like this could be turned into a potentially interesting paper; I wonder how well other departments have done with their CMS approaches? Clay wrote about the limited success at TTU about 5 or 7 years ago I think.

I also hatched an idea for a new MEmorial, and MEmorials ideally are "open projects" but I have some ambitious ideas for this open project that might limit participation. I want to establish a physical and virtual MEmorial for the citizen-victims of war around the world. The physical MEmorial would be at the International Peace Gardens located on the Manitoba-North Dakota border (ME having live most of my life in either MB or ND); I would like to turn the Peace Garden into a Mecca / pilgrimage site for Global Peace. I would like to see people make pilgrimages from all over the world to this remote, rural location, and then send post cards to the White House, to 10 Downing Street, to any world leader or organization the visitor thinks is responsible for war in the global village, and let those recipients know that they made the long trip to the Peace Garden as one way to express their commitment to global harmony. Would anybody make the trip?

My thinking on the virtual at this point is a video upload site; video blogs, video postcards, even more carefully produced and constructed video pieces that call for reductions in global violence in various forms. The virtual and the real would need to be connected, of course, through one site, probably with a web cam at the Gardens; maybe people can download images from the Peace Gardens, photoshop themselves into the pics, and then upload or send their own post cards? That defeats the purpose of establishing a real pilgrimage / mecca location, which might be a sad but realistic compromise.

And what would this have to do with C&W? A proposal for an open project that would acknowledge up-front the challenges of building community and getting contributions. More PR for the genre of MEmorial?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sequence of assignments

I didn't chose a supplemental text for my fye class this semester, but as I am prepping the semester, I wonder what a sequence would look like if I had taught White Like Me again, and used an assignment sequence like:

1. memoir (grounded in research)
2. profile (read partner's memoir, follow-up interview + research)
3. rhetorical analysis (of WLM, or maybe Heart of Whiteness)
4. commentary (too much like memoir?)
5. proposal (instead of commentary)

A sustained topic like white privilege would probably wear most of my students down over 16 weeks. Maybe a graduate pedagogy or theory course that started with WLM and the topic of white privilege could explore how various approaches would handle such a topic.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why do teachers resist teaching?

I'm wrapping up a full week of training new Teaching Assistants and facilitating a couple of additional workshops. The week has gone well, even though my entry title might suggest otherwise. I was just prepping one more session for later this morning about teaching peer review, and I was pulling together material from a graduate student who just wrote a good MA paper on peer review. She taught peer review through very deliberate, obvious steps--some might even say JR high-ish or high schoolish--but had good results.

Doing this work got me thinking about "why teachers resist training?" or why teachers (including me) might resist this kind of training? What struck me is that teaching a fairly deliberate approach requires a lot of confidence in that approach. It also assume as high level of pedagogical articulation--you really need to know what you want. Because many writing teachers (including me) don't want to box students in, and allow for invention, we sometimes want to back off of teaching when it actually gets too specific and articulate.

Betsy also reminded me of the McLuhanism--education is violence. Articulating specific expectations for a writing assignment or a writing process is an aggressive move. Doing so is not far from telling someone how to think or act, and even though education seems to be reasonably engaged in the act of helping others think and act, it can also be approached more environmentally--setting up assignments, courses, curriculums that provide a context for thinking and acting, but not a program for thinking and acting.

I guess I am getting myself into some familiar agency-structure questions about education, aren't I?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Theory-practice relationship

I've had lots of blog posts run through my head in the past couple of weeks, but I haven't found the time to get them on the screen. Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth--I will respond eventually!

Just working on my Pre-semester workshop for new TAs this morning, and I am thinking through how to talk to them about the theory-practice relationship. I've been skeptical of the theory-practice relationship for a lot time, having read Fish and Rorty, the other neo-pragmatists, having taken 3 classes with Tom Kent in grad school, and being a bit of phenomenologist at heart--seems to me that almost everything I "think / theorize" comes out of practice; my theories are indeed descriptions, not prescriptions.

What's prompting this reflection, however, is that I need to explain to new TAs how our first-year writing program's theory, a rhetorical-formalist, genre-based program, is related to our university's General Education goals. I don't have much problem seeing the connections, but the Gen Ed goals were concocted without my input, before I even arrived at NDSU, so it raises an interesting new relationship for me about theory-practice: our program's theory is not driving the goals, nor are the gen ed goals precisely driving our theory; each were arrived at independently. What we in the writing program have done is matched up our theory with the goals as best we can (although as I write I realize that we tweaked one goal to get a better fit) in order to create a semblance of coherence. I've always preferred coherence theories of truth to correspondence theories of truth, so again I have no problem with this relationship, but maybe what I am trying to get at is "what drives what, if anything?" Or can we abandon causal thinking in favor of emergent, situational, coherence thinking? Instead of saying we have a rhetorical-formalist, genre-based theory guiding our program (a label I came up with to try and describe what we do), maybe what we have is a pragmatic, situational program that responds to a variety of factors (institutional goals, personal preferences, personnel training, changing technologies, etc.) in ways that "we" think will lead to good classes, engaged and satisfied teachers, institutional buy-in, and decent results come assessment day.

Have I really said anything here?