Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Week 9 - خلاص

As our semester draws to its close, we end with penultimate week with Negroponte, who discusses bits vs atoms. His foresight was impressive, since his article was written in 1995. Even then, he knew that reading, researching, writing, teaching, accounting – heck, thousands of tasks were being revolutionized. “As one industry after another looks at itself in the mirror and asks about its future in the digital world, that future is driven almost 100% by the ability of that company’s product or services to be rendered in digital form” (p. 5).

It is now 2011, and bits as well as bits-about-bits are familiar territory for all of us TCR-types. One of the many things I learned over our semester together is that it is more or less a one-stop shop. Since then, record and bookstores, like so many other businesses and niches, have become obsolete or have expanded online. Most electronic resources are slicker, infinitely more efficient, practical, engaging, and certainly more significant in our day and age. I didn’t realize how much I depended on it until I wrote one of my posts for the Composition wiki final, which made me pause for a second. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, it is out there, our beloved information superhighway is here to stay, it is all-pervasive, and it is in our best interest to evolve with the times.

Most of the times I agree with Negroponte, that the acquisition of technological skills is hard fun, but there are times when I don’t want to struggle with learning a new interface, a new platform. Sometimes I’m tired, and I want something that doesn’t challenge me as I’m structuring a document or navigating through it as I set it up. I get annoyed with silly iTunes rules…but I sure do like the results once I’ve ironed out the technological wrinkles.

We are lucky, aren’t we? No more card catalogs like we grew up with. No more heavy textbooks either. We have an entire universe of 13 trillion websites at our disposal for our educational purposes. If we don’t know how to do something (What are good examples of APA style / white papers / collaborative learning?), we simply look it up on the web until we get exactly what we need. As Negroponte mentions, learning by doing has quickly become the rule rather than the exception.
We educators must think and re-think what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, and why. This is more important than ever before because as someone in our class recently mentioned, our students think in bits. It is our obligation to search for relevant solutions in order to make those important student-teacher connections, to push students along just enough so that we don’t discourage them, to seek those tools that will assist us in delivering our message and winning over as many as humanly possible.

Thanks for a very frustrating, terrifying, invigorating, and supportive semester. Our organic and dynamic discussions, readings, explorations will surely carry over into so many aspects even a month from now as some of us teach new semester classes and most of us take more TCR classes. It has been a trip.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Week 8 –Getting Stroppy with Miller & Shepherd

The reading that made me think a great deal this week was Miller and Shepherd’s “Genre Analysis of the Weblog.” The authors discuss the public vs private aspects of blogs. I can think of several colleagues who dedicatedly maintain them. Although they don’t want anyone to know about their blogs at work, they want me to follow them, which I sporadically explore when I think about it (which isn’t often). This is what I really want to ask: Why the heck do people (not in my TCR class) want me to read their blogs? Why does it matter so much to them? My life is surely just as interesting as theirs, yet I don’t feel compelled to share my TCR blog with them, nor photocopy my personal journals at home. When friends go on vacations, I’m the gent who takes them for coffee post-vacation and listens to all of their fantastic (or not so fantastic) anecdotes, nodding and smiling as I slurp my mochaccino. It’s my pleasure to do that, but I have no desire to follow their blogs.

It’s my belief that people need to think and re-think what persona they want to show the public, as well as what information they want to reveal to the masses. There are times when I read something about a friend and wish that I hadn’t. They may discuss something that either offends me (religious intolerance) or disappoints me (haughtiness and a host of other attributes). This is the second TCR class that I’ve had to maintain a class blog…and it has rubbed off on me. I understand what we’re doing in our TCR blogs, and I like it so much that I’m planning on having my students maintain one for Fall Semester’s Language of Film class. The two will complement each other well. It even makes me toy with the idea of maintaining my Composition blog after August. Then I would have to decide who the audience is and what function it serves. Is it for my personal travels? Academic research questions and pursuits? Bawdy humor? All or none of the above? Although I like this medium for classroom purposes, I’m not quite sure I’m comfortable enough with the genre to incorporate it into daily life outside of TCR.

Why do people on holiday feel the need to blog while they’re still on holiday? Maybe I’m old-fashioned or just plain old, but when I’m in India, I’m too busy playing Holi, getting drunk, and throwing colored powder with Hindu friends. When I’m eating Ramadan meals with Bedouins in the desert, I don’t think, “Man I’ve got to get back to my computer to share all this to the world ASAP!” Brazil? I’m in the Amazon. No internet. New Zealand? I’m milking cows on a dairy farm. No laptop. I suppose it’s about priorities. I actually LIKE going off the grid from time to time, shutting OFF my mobile phone, getting away from it all and LIVING.

Is that weird?

I liked the article’s discussion about reality television. Nowadays reality isn’t reality unless it’s getting filmed, which truly terrifies me. Someone always appears to be filming someone or something else. We are obsessed with morons like Kim Kardashian, who is as vacuous and uninspiring as an empty shampoo bottle. Yet she really isn’t exactly a moron, since she makes tons of cash from people watching her scripted problems and well, her assets. Ahem. The authors write that it is the ‘democratization of the celebrity’ and ‘mediated voyeurism.’ We watch celebrities’ lives unfold like the car crashes they really are. Clay Calvert mentions several factors for this, such as the pursuit of truth, the desire for excitement, and the need for involvement. I agree with this.

The authors suggest that no writings are meant to be 100% private. As an avid journal writer, I disagree. I’m on my 45th journal, which is a kind of tool. When I’m angry, I can kvetch and not injure anyone with ridiculous words. When I’m confused, I can flesh out the details and discover why I feel the way I feel. And yes, when I’m on vacation, my details allow me to remember the blue of a Maltese beach and savor the taste of Chilean chocle. In fact, it is in my will that my journals are to be burned when I die. They are deeply personal reflections that chronicle where I am at a given point and allow me to see what I was feeling at this time a year ago. For my eyes only.

I’ll conclude with “our immersion in a culture of simulation ultimately devalues direct experience, making it less compelling and ultimately less real.” I agree that that’s where our society is heading. Virtual vacations are on the horizon, aren’t they? I suppose I pine away for the tactile world that dazzles all five senses, and it saddens me that so many of us don’t occasionally abandon the information highway, our computers, our avatars, and don’t actually experience REAL real life so much anymore.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Week 7 – Talking Up Haswell + a splash of last night’s class

I had full intentions of dwelling only on Haswell this round, but Dr. Kemp’s last impromptu questions have had me thinking all morning. (I was at the hospital for hours on end, so it was a perfect opportunity to consider them.) What is learning? Nothing like trying to pretend I’m smart at 2:00am in a PhD class, and I **think** I spouted off something fairly cohesive. Without ‘cheating’ and researching the answers: Learning is opening our minds to others’ ideas and being receptive to them, considering them for present or future application. Is that how I run my own classes? Scheisse. I gulped. (Remember, at this point it was 3:20am.) Do I? Do I?? I said that I think I do this more in my Tech Writing classes with more ‘seasoned’ university brain power than I do in my Freshman Comp class, where the writing is everything from appalling to awe-inspiring. Heck, I think I do. My classes are positive environments that always contain at least one kind of learning moment. No one is embarrassed, a ‘good answer’ or a job well done is lauded. (At this point I could pick this to death and now ask, “What is a good answer?” I’m not going to do this now….) Finally, Dr. K. asked if we were happy. The hardest question of all. Some of us are / not happy and don’t know it, some of us are in denial, some of us react in knee-jerk fashion to save face, and then, well, some of us ARE happy. That’s me. My life is far from perfect, but my 41 years of living have been one heck of a journey so far, and I’m not done yet (unless Big Dude Upstairs has other plans, which would be sooooooo God). Good health, parents for best friends, nuclear family still alive and well, dear friends and other half, exotic life experiences, challenging TCR years, funky jobs, $, no debt: Yes, I’m a happy guy all things said. We could always be happier though, couldn’t we? If only I had my PhD. More $. A hotter bod. A smarter brain. Etc. That’s human nature.

Haswell’s article was my clear favorite this round. He discusses something that hits home, something very relevant to all of us. (I never talk about this sort of thing with colleagues, so it is quite refreshing to re-remember that everybody faces this.) How much time and energy do you devote to grading student papers? I felt myself agreeing out loud as I read it: Yes, so many of my students read my comments for superficial local errors only. No, as much as I like them, I stay away from correction symbols because students always end up asking me what the heck they mean; therefore, I grudgingly type out “Examine your verb tenses” instead of “VT”. We discuss grammar and textual errors in class without embarrassing anyone. We discuss meaningful examples of essay text. A considerable amount of students darkens my door to review their work one-on-one, which is simply the best; most of them catch local or global issues simply when I read them out loud.
Does instructional response actually lead to improvement in student writing? I don’t think that’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Does that mean that I should stop trying to improve their writing? I don’t think so. However, I think it DOES mean that we instructors need to be open and receptive to a variety of ways to reach our masses.

We instructors read for all kinds of purposes every day. We read to grade student work, we read for preparation of committee work, we read to access our latest TCR assignments, we read e-mails to remain abreast of work situations, newspapers, facebook, twitter, texts…WHEW!

I’ve got a point of contention with Haswell’s ‘Regulation’ section on page 1279. If I were to simply write ‘redo’ on a student’s paper, a better draft would indeed be resubmitted, but I’d bet my salary that it was plagiarized, too. Copying from a friend, getting an older sibling to write the bloody thing, plagiarizing from here or there: Plagiarism is RAMPANT at TAMUQ. I’m such a Cheat Freak that I have my students write essays in-class, the 1st draft of which is on pen and paper. Ridiculous? Kind of, but I want to see what the heck my students can do in their most ‘pure’ brain power. No help from anything or anyone. (If someone has a better idea, I’m all eyes.)

By and large, I liked the takeaway from the article, and it reminds me to remain wary about band-aid shortcuts to lessen the workload (as well as page 1278’s dictum, “the young will resist even your efforts to reduce their resistance”). We need to be careful with what we write on student papers, what we do in our classrooms. As stated in a previous blog, we need to ask ourselves what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Week 6 - All Things Underlife

Brooke has brought up a fascinating topic in “Underlife & Writing Instruction”. “Identities which may be developing for students in writing classrooms are more powerful for real academic success than the traditional identity of the successful student.” At some points I found myself nodding my head, while on other points I shook my head.

Identity as Social Interaction: I’m not sure that this point has as much relevance today as it had in 1987. Is it so easy to stereotype people on their appearance? Perhaps I’ve lived in Qatar for too long, where most Qatari gents wear long white shirt-dresses and Qatari ladies wear long black cloaks on a daily basis. The spectacle is the norm here, and no matter what turmoil is brewing underneath the surface, more often than the not, their appearance is immaculate. That having been said, I don’t think it’s so easy to spot the frat boy / athlete / nerd / etc. in the USofA in 2011. When I was a frat boy (yes, I know…), I took pride in altering my appearance so that people didn’t suspect that I was.

Information Games: I definitely agree that the identity we assign others is determined by the information provided to us. I rely on this to find a commonality with each student. Aysha loves TGIF and all things American, Nabil is obsessed with football / soccer, and Georges loves Katy Perry. Pre- or post-classroom banter can safely pull up these topics so that we can individualize students, make them feel like they’re the fabulous unique individuals they are, but not pry too deep to make them feel vulnerable or uncomfortable.

Organizational Roles: I wholly agree with Brooke and Goffman – that students in SGA will act a little more responsibly, tutors from the writing center will take their assignments more seriously, and well, foreign exchange students from the main campus will be lazy as hell (they wanted a semester BREAK!) but do their best to hide it.

I found the discussion of disruptive and contained forms of underlife to be quite thought-provoking. Those students who are placed in remedial English and don’t want to be associated with it will do their best to show how they don’t belong to this group. The vast majority is the latter: Yes, I’m an English instructor, but I’m also a yoga-practicing catholic academic who also bakes, reads, travels, and listens to mindless pop music.

As I perused Brooke’s four types of underlife in the writing class, I smirked. For each type of underlife, I immediately thought of students who would fit each classic type – the one who completely alters classroom materials; the one who comments on classroom roles; the one who evaluates classroom events; and the one who divides time between classroom activity and something else. I find it interesting that oftentimes students who clearly love my class will do their best not to show it in front of their peers. That would be so uncool to divulge, no?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Week 5 - We've Come a Long Way, Baby

Alright, we’ve beaten ourselves up over the last few weeks because our we’ve analyzed that a lot of components of our belief system have been questioned and battered. Now it’s time to pat ourselves on the back for a moment. Bruffee’s article was published 20 years ago, at the dawn of Collaborative Learning, and look how far we’ve come with it. Don’t we love ourselves profusely right about now!?
I’ve been a long-standing advocate of Collaborative Learning – not all the time, mind you, but it is a vital component in the arsenal of the 2011 English instructor. As soon as my Tech Writing students complete their professional portfolios, each student forwards an electronic copy to an assigned colleague, who will in turn evaluate numerous aspects of the work. Are all the components present? Have needs, values, and attitudes of audience been analyzed and addressed? Are the documents attractive? This is a grrrrrrrreat help to me, too, so that I can look at the original work alongside with the student’s critique in memo format. (Ironically, most often students are A LOT more severe in grading than I am.) We discuss in class why we do what we do for that metacognition ignition, too.

I enjoyed Oakeshott’s quote on page 548. My, we DO like to talk, don’t we? Our Maymesters are filled with rigorous academic discourse about courses to be taken, articles to write, research to conduct. It’s as though all of our minds are brewing in a very concentrated manner for two weeks. I converse with my colleagues to discuss new and exciting ways to educate the TAMUQ masses. Heck, my Indian colleague at Carnegie-Mellon Qatar (literally right next door to us), who I joke has the neurons to power a moderate-sized Tamil town, tells me all about the compelling corruption of Indira Ghandi. In all three scenarios, I drink up the knowledge.

Is writing nothing more than a documented monologue, as Bruffee suggests? Perhaps I’ve over-simplified, but it’s something I had never considered before. “If thought is internalized public and social talk, then writing is internalized conversation re-externalized.” I agree that our task is to engage students in conversation among themselves as often as possible, in both writing and reading processes. That’s how the real world works: We collaborate. As they examine their learning styles – what was learned and how it was learned – peers can discuss reading and writing processes that can beget better reading and writing.

It is my belief that the teacher doesn’t have to be a knows-all-sees-all entity. Heck, as I work through my own PhD journey, I feel more like, “the more I learn, the less I know.” My own classroom approach is more as mentor and coach. I try to guide my students along their journey to discover how to tackle classroom projects, how to manage the various tasks at hand in a streamlined manner so that they can apply what they’ve learned to their next class and eventually…to life outside of the university. “This is an arena,” I tell my students on the first day of class. “None of us knows all the answers, but it’s important to take risks…so why not practice now, while you’re in a safer environment, with peers and a mentor to help you along?”

Abnormal discourse IS necessary to learning. Where would we be without those kooks or revolutionaries who stir things up and gets our neurons firing, seeing a topic on a deeper level or in a clearer manner? “We must teach the use of these tools in such a way that students can set them aside, if only momentarily, for the purpose of generating new knowledge.” Why stick to one learning style when we can explore other untapped opportunities?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Week 4 - The Winds of Change

Do students have to read my mind? I don’t know if you guys do this, but I, ehrrrrrm, have a tendency to project myself and my professional (or academic) experiences every time I read something for our class. Fulkerson was no exception. Yes, I quite enjoyed the discussion of all things expressive / mimetic / rhetorical / formalist, as well as Hirsch’s ‘relative readability,’ but by the time I reached the end of the article, I had two thoughts.

#1. Zoinks, Shaggy, it’s quite amazing that students learn ANYTHING at all. (Steve’s theory as mentioned in our last class was that students don’t learn so much as discover ways to navigate through academia. Depressing.)

#2. How often do students have to read MY mind? In reference to the final paragraph: “The assignment seemed to call for writing that would be judged expressively, but the teacher’s brief comment was not written from an expressivist point of view.” Sigh. How often do I project unholy expectations on my poor little lambs? How often do I traumatize them with ambiguous assignments that torment their very souls? Inshallah (Lord willing), not often. Surely it happens, for every once in a while I catch myself and immediately clarify…so how often?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be perfect?

According to Hairston, a change is a-comin’. An all-out paradigm shift. Our class readings and discussions point to the very same idea. I suppose the correct question to ask in this regard is, “How will we instructors prepare for this change?” I try to remain fairly adept in technology, hard news, and pop culture, with a slice of methodologies explored at whatever most recent conferences I’ve attended. (Forget Athens though. I was too busy eating, drinking, and being merry in post-presentation bliss. I mean come on, it was ATHENS….) It’s my belief that these four can be our allies in morphing into that professor that we know and love. (My guy is Robin Williams from ‘Dead Poets Society.’ Carpe Diem!) Technology can be a useful tool to carry out whatever message we want to deliver loud and clear to kids half of my age. Hard news is current events, which can often affect what we’re doing and when we’re doing it. (Here in Qatar my Egyptian students created a proposal for a cultural exchange to promote the recent Arabian Spring. VERY relevant.) Pop culture? Trivial, yes, but it normally grabs my students’ attention if I bring up Tinie Tempeh or Green Lantern as a class discussion. Methodology? Yes, one has to wade through a slew of drivel, but every once in a while there is a golden nugget out there that contributes a magical dynamic to the classroom. One 5060 colleague last week suggested that I empower my film students for Fall 2011 by actually letting them offer what we should study in the class; even if it’s just a portion of classroom dynamics, methinks that those are words of wisdom.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week 3 - DAZ3D & CONFU$3D & A LiTTL3 BiT ANXiOU$

Our last class has left a real impression on me. During class, I kept starting to write something in the MOO and then I kept deleting it. It was a bizarre little psychosis: I felt so strongly about what we were debating…yet I hated everything that I was going to writeX-S
I don’t WANT to be a member of Grammar Gestapo. The worst feeling comes from being too strict on student work and positively KILLING any passion and life in their essays. Said victims, who want a good grade more than anything, robotically churn out dull, soulless Engfish drivel, and I think, “Oh no. I really did it this time.”
The day after our class (heh heh, mere hours for me), I talked about what kind of teacher I am to a colleague of mine. At first, I confessed to being Grammar Gestapo…but it’s more complicated than that. I appreciate peer-o-gogy via peer evaluation; I reinforce the idea of writing as a recursive process via drafts whenever possible; and I also try to fan the flame when I read passion in student essays. Nothing brightens my day like seeing students taking risks in their essays – calculating and playing with their English language skills. They’re all speakers of other languages, and English is often their 3rd of 4th language, so…more power to them!
So…does that still make me Grammar Gestapo?
Very soon, I’ll begin the tough job of designing a course. It isn’t Composition, but rather an Introduction to Film course. I want it to be completely different than any other course that these Education City students have taken. I want it to be dynamic and invigorating, and I want it to be COOL.
I’m afraid of failing, too. I’m a film buff – as in foreign and indie and a smattering of Hollywood fodder – but I haven’t been trained per se in the film arts. Yet…my students won’t be film experts. Of course, they’ve seen scores of films, but their majors will mostly be in Engineering, Medicine, Computer Science, and Journalism. Therefore, I try to downplay the fact that I haven’t taken so many film courses and that I’m a great admirer of celluloid from directors as diverse as Pedro Almodovar to Ang Lee to Martin Scorsese.
The class will be issued iPad 2s so that they can rewind and re-watch as many times as they like. I plan to somehow employ Twitter. At the end of the semester, their project may entail creating an iMovie or Camtasia project that includes various aspects of film noir, etc. There will be peer evaluations and there will also be pizza and pop.
But what if it sucks?
I know that I DON’T want it to be the environment of my English classes, where I literally run the class like a company and I’m quite strict – with grammar, with deadlines, with lengths of projects. Conversely, I can’t be a slacker because then they’d take advantage of that and try to run all over me.
Ultimately, I know that whatever I didn’t get right in the first round, it would get repaired in the second time I taught the course. I’m a bit of a perfectionist though, and I’d like the darn course to be perfect and enjoyable and organic and right bloody fabulous the first time!