Initial Comments for the September 2018 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

I have been offered a section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition for the September 2018 session at DeVry University in San Antonio–and I’ve signed my contract for it. The course will run from 2 September through 27 October 2018, and it will meet wholly online. I admit to preferring hybrid or on-site courses to fully online work, but I also admit to preferring having income to not, so I was pleased to accept the course.

Ah, to see such a thing…
The image comes from DeVry University. It seems to fit, given the topic here.

I note, also, that there have been some adjustments to the assignment sequence in the course. As such, I’ll need to adjust my teaching materials somewhat from those I’ve been using for the past couple of years. It’s not a bad thing; updates need to happen as more research is done into what best practices are (even if that research tends to focus on traditional undergraduates, who are not the students DeVry tends to teach), and there were things in the previous assignment sequences that flatly did not work well.

Whether or not I assign a topic for consideration is still undetermined. I did not have great success with it the last time I did so, as I believe I noted. My concerns about it remain in place–the more so with a wholly online class, where students are typically even more pressured to cleave to assignments as prescribed and less inclined to range out from their expectations. (It’s not my first wholly online course, and my own mother completed a wholly online degree. I’ll admit my experience is limited, but it is still what I have to work with.) If I do, I do not think I will restrict myself to the previously assigned topic; again, few of the students I taught felt as if they could meaningfully address it. (I wonder if it derives from their having been underserved by their previous academic experiences.) Perhaps if I prescribe a topic, I will work with humor once again–although the circumstances of the class are not such as admit of jocularity easily.

In any event, I have it to do one more time, at least. Even if I do confine myself to the “standard” offerings this time around–and I might, that I might better negotiate the changes to the course sequence since the last time I taught it–I will be glad to have the opportunity to work with students yet again, hopefully to help them move beyond the idea of research as compiling and reporting information only and into the notion of research being the revelation or creation of new knowledge. Students in first-year writing classes do not necessarily often make such breakthroughs, but when they do, it is quite a joy to see; every time I am able to help it happen, I am pleased with myself.

Every time it happens, whether I am responsible for it or not, the world is that much better off than it was before. And more of that needs to happen.

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Class Report: ENGL 062, 16 August 2018

Class was intended to address questions from the previous class meeting and before and turn to organizational patterns before briefly treating some concerns of paratext. Instructor absence prevented that, however. Instructional materials, including an attendance-equivalent, were sent to students.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018
  • Homework: Essay 2, First Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 20 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Patterns of Organization and Inference Topics and Post-Tests, both due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018

The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week. No students attended the most recent office hour.

A Rumination on the Blog Itself

I‘ve noticed recently that my blog has been attracting more attention. Since close to the end of July, there’s been an upswelling of interest in what I write here, which I appreciate greatly. To illustrate, the week of 15 July 2018, which was a typical week for my blog in the time since I stopped trying to be a full-time academic, saw an average of six or so views a day from five or so visitors–and had days of no readership. The following week, however, saw an average of more than 45 daily views from more than 43 viewers, increases of 727% and 839% over the previous week, respectively. The most recent week, beginning 29 July 2018, saw an average of more than 66 views per day from 65 viewers, another 145% and 151% respective increase from the previous week.

Recent Blog Performance 20180805
You can guess when I wrote this, I suppose.
Image taken from the readouts WordPress gives me about my blog.

Again, and this needs to be emphasized, I greatly appreciate the interest in my work. I write here for others to read, and seeing that others do read what I write warms my cockles. It is because I want them to continue to do so that I find myself asking why it is so, what I have done that has prompted the renewed attention to my blog.

That most of the views I’m seeing reported are for assignment guidelines I’ve posted–which seems to be the case–suggests that my assignments are being used as models. Whether it is for instructors giving their own assignments or for the teaching of instructors about how to design them–and, in the latter case, whether as positive or negative examples–is less clear. I understandably hope it is one of the first two rather than the third, though if I have made enough of a name for myself that I have become an anti-role-model, I can comfort myself with the idea that no publicity is bad publicity. I have a long history of playing villains, after all, as those who have known me can attest.

The problem, of course, is that I am no longer in a position where I have leave to write my own assignments, not even so much as in the managed situation at the end of my time at Oklahoma State University. As such, I’ll not have much more of such material to contribute as has been receiving attention, though I am sure I could come up with some kind of assignment sequence that might be used, something not necessarily grounded in any one school’s programmatic requirements. Indeed, I recall a CCC article that proposes a writing studies curriculum; it might make sense to design assignments to suit it, and then to do something similar for the kinds of literature classes I would teach, had I but world enough and time–and opportunity, unlikely as I know it to be.

In any event, I can hope that attention to some of my materials will prompt attention to more of them, and I hope to be able to produce more that people enjoy reading or find useful to have at hand. I’m not intending on giving up anytime soon, and I am thankful for having had the readership and support I have had to this point. I look forward to yet more.

Your patronage is appreciated!

 

In another Response to Eric Weiskott

On 30 July 2018, Eric Weiskott’s “The New Moralists” appeared online in Medium. In the article, Weiskott explicates the Rent Relief Act proposed by several Democratic US Senators and critiques it as a reflection of medieval three-estates ideology. After describing and offering a response to the proposed law (one that does not wholly endorse it), Weiskott notes the parallel to medieval social standards, using Piers Plowman as his example of medieval understandings of desired social dynamics. He points out that explicit or implicit work requirements for supportive programs are prevalent across centuries, although he notes that the author of Piers Plowman is, at least, more reflective than the 21st-century legislators that (unintentionally) echo him. After expressing the thought of supporting people regardless of work status, Weiskott concludes with the note that Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, who promotes such a position, won out over the proponent of a parallel to the Rent Relief Act.

One of the more notable depictions,
from MS Sloane 2435
and on the covers of many textbooks.
I’m told it’s a public domain image.

I’ve expressed my appreciation for Weiskott before, and some of what I’ve noted is applicable now. Weiskott remains a pleasure to read. Too, I’m happy to see another medievalist making comments accessible to a broad public, and I’m happy to see medieval literature being used to make a case relevant to current circumstances. Further, it’s always good to see the medievals presented as something other than the filthy idiots they are too commonly held to be–or those of us living now as uniformly more enlightened than they were. (There are ways, sure, but there are many things we retain, and there are some in which we may well be surpassed.) Too, I am glad to see the political comments made; I am not a proponent of the idea that the work scholars do is or should be apolitical. And for medieval studies to engage with such issues in the current cultural moment is particularly important, given some of the asinine shenanigans in which some are trying to employ it.

Related image
Not that three-estate life seems to have been good in any time.
Image borrowed from http://parismuseescollections.paris.fr/en/node/111064#infos-principales.
My French is not good enough to let me read the related text.

There is something potentially troubling about what Weiskott points out, though. If the idea behind the Rent Relief Act is one that echoes and repeats a kind of feudal ideology on display in Piers Plowman, it is one that bespeaks a continued slide towards a broader and more prevalent feudalistic social structure. The robber barons of the twentieth century were not afforded the elemental French feudal title idly. Their counterparts in the early twenty-first might well be so styled as they accumulate wealth and influence, and the access to and command of resources they embody, while more people grow increasingly poor. And I know that I, as well as most of the people I know, are more likely to be in what reflects the traditional third estate than either the first or the second. (The traditional second, those who fight, are increasingly those who work, as well. What god commands those who pray is open to interpretation. I acknowledge that the echo is not without garbling.) This is not Weiskott’s fault, of course, and it needs pointing out–but that does not make it not a sad thing to see…

Virtuous alms?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 9 August 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to paraphrase and summary before responding to student questions about orthography. In-class practice was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • Homework: Summary and Response, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Paraphrasing and Summarizing Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

A Rumination on Commas

Standout Comma
I recently came across Chris Stokel-Walker’s 23 July 2018 BBC.com piece, “The Commas That Cost Companies Millions.” In the piece, Stokel-Walker details several legal cases where the presence and placement of commas matters, whether to the tune of millions of dollars (as in the Oakhurst Dairy case), in a Texas Supreme Court insurance case, an old tariff law, or a vendor contract, or in a capital case, as in 1916. Stokel-Walker along the way also reports on the need for linguistic ambiguity in some diplomatic contexts, and the article closes with a commendation to review documents carefully and hash out their meaning–adjusting the affecting punctuation–before agreeing to them.

As someone who remains involved in teaching writing, and doing so in accord with particular style guides (which have stated opinions about comma use), I am engaged in issues Stokel-Walker addresses in the article. Indeed, as was true of the Oakhurst Dairy case before, Stokel-Walker’s piece is a boon for those in my position. No few students have, in my experience, bemoaned attention to small details such as comma use (and commas are frequently an issue demanding attention in their writing); having a piece ready to hand that notes ways in which different punctuation results in different meanings–some of them quite costly–helps to make the real-world connections that are not always evident to those enrolled in required writing classes. And even if the use of particular style manuals can be problematic–as I acknowledge they can well be–they do speak to audience expectations, which must be addressed in any writing that would succeed at reaching any particular group of people.

That younger students I’ve taught, both at the secondary and undergraduate levels, would balk at having to pay such detailed attention is not a surprise. Being young, they tend to act as youths, and youth is not much associated with patience. Too, being young, they are newer to having to do anything, including to attend to details; they will necessarily be less practiced at it, and will therefore likely do less well at it–and I know of few who enjoy having it pointed out to them that they do not do a thing well. (They may appreciate knowing where they need to improve, but that is not the same thing as enjoying it, to be sure.) But I am surprised that the same attitude prevails among the older students I currently teach–people who, having been in the workforce and, in many cases, the military, are acquainted with the idea that small details matter. And I am surprised that those enrolled in the business- and technology-heavy programs offered where I continue to teach balk at such things, given the damage done by a misplaced decimal point on an accounting spreadsheet or by a single mis-typed character in a long string of code.

I suppose the matter is one of looking at standardized spelling and punctuation–whatever standard is applied–reads as a matter of being persnickety, as one that doesn’t affect anything “real.” Some of that, I’m sure, is an attitude held over from bad earlier teaching (not that I necessarily teach well; I’ve read the comments students have written of me, and they are not always compliments). That is, part comes from an issue I address in another essay, and part comes from teachers using “grammar” as a “gotcha” mechanism. Some, too, is the same unfamiliarity present among younger students; those I teach now have generally been away from formal schooling for a while, and the lack of exposure is not always helpful. But whatever the reason, I think it will be helpful to add Stokel-Walker’s recent piece to my teaching materials; while the details can differ, they do matter, and students–indeed, all of us–benefit from attending to them.

Care to help me fund my further comma use?

Another Rumination on an Online Course

A week ago, I commented on a training course I took to help myself and my major employer against disaster-readiness requirements, in which comments I made a note about my old study habits:

I looked at relevant texts–in this case, printed transcripts of the lessons [associated with the training course]–and annotated them before sitting for the actual lessons, and I followed along with the lessons as I could with the annotated texts in hand, making adjustments to my own notes along the way. Consequently, I had little difficulty in passing off the in-lesson assessments, and, when it came time to sit for the exam that would solemnize my completion of the course (and offer me continuing education units, which offer was not unwelcome), I passed it off with little difficulty.

Aside from coming off as more than a little arrogant–which I know it does, thank you–it suggested itself to me as a point of departure for more discussion. Indeed, I note that my study habits “might become [what I want to make a point of] in another blog post”–and so I offer this one.

First, I know that the methods I use may not be useful for every student in every subject. I’m trained as a reader and annotator, and I know not everybody is–and not all areas of inquiry and practice admit of annotation. The martial arts I have studied at times in the past are such disciplines; while judo may admit to it to some degree, what with certifications involved in refereeing and serving as a technical official, the performance of the art is a thing that must be done to be understood–and Aikikai aikido even more so. I hardly hold such practices in disdain–and many of the folks I esteem greatly are not “readers,” as such.

Second, I’m trained as a reader. Seriously. I’ve been damned lucky in being able to access and undertake such training, as I know many are not and have not. And I’m luckier in that I have a main job that still allows me to keep a toe in academe and run side-hustles that let me use that training to advantage. It’s a position of privilege I occupy, and I do not discount that. But neither this point nor the previous mean that what I do cannot be of some help to others, which is why I make a point of it now.

So, as I note above, I tend to print texts out (or buy them, when I have the money and I must or can) in large part because I find the physical media easier to use. I can page through books faster than I can scroll through screens, and while I can use a search function faster than that, I cannot always remember the best search terms–but I can glance across pages and remember what it was that I was supposed to be looking for. And I make marks on the physical pages for my convenience, in part to make later references easier–the marks stand out, being different from the printing on the pages–and in part to keep my notes about things with the things they are about. The things themselves need annotation, or I need them to have it, else I’d not make it–but the notes make no sense without reference to what they are notes about. I have a box full of notes taken on legal pads and other assorted papers, and when I look through them, I have no idea anymore what’s going on with them–but where I’ve marked my texts themselves, I’ve had no such problems at all, even a decade or more after the fact.

20180726_095727
One page of many.
The picture is mine. So is the handwriting.

To be sure, it’s no miracle method I use, nor is it anything necessarily special. For me, it works. I can hope it will for others, too.

Care to help me find and discuss yet better ways?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 2 August 2018

After a note about the abortive class meeting of the previous week, discussion turned towards the needs of introductions and conclusions before moving on to revision strategies. In-class practice with selected revision techniques was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • Homework: Essay 1, Final Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Implied Main Ideas Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. The most recent office hour was canceled due to another obligation on the instructor’s part.