Reflective Comments for the March 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the January 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of SPCH 275: Public Speaking during the March 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in SPCH 275 during the March 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many were irregular formal presentations; others included homework assignments preparing for and reflecting on the presentations, as well as ongoing online discussion. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are below, with relative weights shown in the figure below:

SPCH 275 Grade Breakdown

Point values sum to 1,000.

Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.

The section met concurrently on-site and online in Room 105 at the San Antonio Metro Campus on Thursdays at 6pm, US Central Time, with online office hours generally being held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 27
  • Average class score: 699.9259/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 229.339
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 6
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 6

Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:

SPCH 275 Grades Earned

Additionally, since the class met at a prescribed time, it was possible to take attendance. Most students in the section missed at least one class meeting; some missed quite a few more, as indicated below (with the figure being classes missed, students missing that many classes, and percentage of students falling into that category):

SPCH 275 Students by Number of Absences

I must confess that this was not the best session of teaching I’ve done. Part of the issue is that the University is trying co-sat courses in an effort to fill classes; physical sections are paired with online-only. The idea is that each instructor will be able to help more students and that the students will benefit from exposure to yet more diverse viewpoints. In practice, however, it makes more work for instructors, and for those who will insist on a work-life balance, on keeping a part-time commitment a part-time responsibility, that additional work translates into less effective instruction. Or such was the case with me this time around.

I am pleased to note that more students earned A and B grades in the class than earned D and F grades. And I note, once again, that the chief cause of low grades among my students was simple non-submission of work; I can only award one score to assignments requested and not submitted. Admittedly, as part of a means to protect myself during the session, I operated under a restrictive late-submission policy, and some students ran afoul of that.

I am also pleased to note that things seem to have gone slightly better this time than last time I taught the course. It had been a year since I had a speech class, and I have evidently improved, if only slightly, in my teaching; the average score was slightly better, and I had higher percentages of students earn A grades this time than last. (The percentage of F grades awarded was reasonably similar.) So there is that to consider, as well.

As before, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to teach once again. I have been offered it at least once more (there is some suggestion there are more such opportunities to come), and I remain aware of my contingent position in the classroom. Keeping it, for what it’s worth, has been helpful.

Advertisements

Another Rumination on Publication

In addition to the academic work I’ve done and might yet post to this webspace, as I’ve noted, I’ve spent a fair bit of time writing less formal essays and poetry in other venues. I’ve also tried my hand at serial narration in this webspace, though that has not gone nearly as well as I would have liked. (There are reasons I abandoned the projects when and where I did. Some of them are even good ones.) I keep them in other places for reasons that must remain private for the moment, but I do toy with the idea, now and again, of sending them out for formal publication. I do still flirt with the idea of seeing my name in print, on the spines of books that other people read, even if there is much in me that hesitates to send ideas out into the world in ways they might actually be rejected.

Related image
Image from iStock, used for commentary.

I am a coward, I know. The worst that can happen with a rejection is the rejection; it’s not money out of my pocket, in the main, and it’s certainly not a punch in the face or a kick to the ribs–or lower yet. I’ve suffered such any number of times, sometimes even undeservedly so, so I ought to be glad of a simple “no” instead of a more emphatic iteration. Still, the “no” scares me more than it ought to, and I seem less able to move past it than ought to be the case. I expect my students to persevere; I ought to demand no less of myself. And I’ve knocked until my knuckles have bled before…

I can easily come up with reasons not to send things out. Some of them would even sound good. But they would be excuses, ultimately, ways to talk myself out of making an attempt that might not succeed. The idea of being rejected is an uncomfortable one, even if it is one I know I must contend with (again; I’ve had papers handed back with “nos” of varying friendliness). I try to avoid it; not being rejected has occupied more of my time than actually doing something that might be rejected–or accepted. But as long as I am not told “no,” I do not have to confront the idea that I have somehow failed (again; it would not be the first time I’ve failed, as I think has been made abundantly clear in this webspace and elsewhere). I do not have to face evidence of my own unworth.

Really, though, I need to get over myself. I cannot not write the words; I am compelled to it, and I grow even more irritable than I normally am when I do not heed that compulsion. And since I am going to write them, and since I put enough of them where others can see them anyway, why would I not see about gathering enough of them together (and there are enough such out in the world) and trying to make a sale of some of them?

Help a writer out?

Class Report: SPCH 275, 25 April 2019

After making some procedural notes, discussion turned to presentations of the assigned impromptu speech for those students present on-site and live online. Some feedback on speeches was provided for those who presented.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at approximately 1800 US Central Time in Room 105 of the San Antonio Metro Campus. The class roster listed 27 students enrolled, unchanged from last week; seven attended on-site or live online.

No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that, for those who did not present their impromptu speeches tonight, recorded presentations are due by the end of day Saturday, 27 April 2019, as the session closes at that time. Any petitions for incomplete status must also be submitted by that time, per University guidelines.

Reflective comments on the session will be forthcoming after the session closes and assignments are graded.

A Rumination on a Roleplaying Game Character

I have made no secret of my long-running play of tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). Nor have I made it much of a secret that I am currently playing in an online one, another Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) game, if one using an older rules-set than the current. (It’s still one more familiar to me than the current one; RPGs update, partly to make more money, but games continue despite them.) And, as is common, I have a character in that game, one character whose thoughts and deeds I narrate in reaction to the thoughts and deeds of other players’ narration of their characters and to the overall milieu which has been presented. It is, as Daniel Mackay has described it, extemporaneous, rules-assisted, collaborative storytelling, and I have found it to be great fun across years.

Not quite this automated…
Image from Giphy.com.

The game I am playing now has me playing a hunter turning clandestine security operative, and it dovetails with a concept I’ve often turned over in my head, playing L5R. There is a group of purportedly elite guards, and it has long occurred to me that they would be in position to be kingmakers or eliminate rising threats, and it has also occurred to me that their internal affairs analogue would be both present and fearsome. The character I am playing now is working towards becoming such, although that work is not going quite so well as I might like it to. (It’s a common thread with me; I’d like most of my work to be going better.)

The thing is, much about the character is at odds with who I am. There is little clandestine about me; I am open, perhaps too much so, and make little effort to hide. Nor am I so committed to causes as I would need to be to be able to act on their behalf; I am timorous in the main, averse to risk more than desirous of reward. I am certainly not an outdoorsy type, preferring air conditioning and indoor plumbing to open skies and tree-leanin’. (I remain Texan, however.) And I am aware that playing a character is, at best, a fleeting and transitory thing; I know better than to think that my experience in the RPG translates in any way to the real world.

I know that much of the allure of RPGs is escapist. That is, they allow players to inhabit other lives for a time, leaving their own behind. And they are or at least try to be fair, which the real world decidedly does not. And perhaps it is that fairness that I look for as I play, that notion that what happens happens not because the system is set against me, but because my own skills and choices, with some random chance at work, have led to such outcomes. I know I feel forces working upon me that I can hardly name and can worse understand, and I do not think I am alone; the idea that I have some control is a welcome one, time and again, at table or in online simulacra of one.

Dice cost money, even virtually. Aid in indulging my bad habits is welcome.

A Rumination on Wildflowers

One of the things I missed about the Texas Hill Country while I lived away from it was wildflower season. I had spent my undergraduate years commuting back and forth between Kerrville and San Antonio, going in around sunrise and coming home around sunset many days. During a good wildflower year, the pinks and golds and reds of the brightening or darkening skies would be mirrored by the ribbons of highway medians and the patches of open pasture amid the oak and cedar and mesquite, such that where the ground might stop and the sky begin was not always clear, and I traveled surrounded by beauty.

Related image
And this ain’t even as nice as it gets…
Image from Texas Hill Country.com.

Now, the swampy lands of southwestern Louisiana have their charms, the solemn cypresses standing stern and point-decked pines reaching up. The cement and steel and sheets of glass of New York City offer testament to drive and grit and stubbornness. (Wind-swept plains bespoke in song fall short of their promises.) But always, in the spring, I would think of the blues and reds and yellows and purples that spring from the thin and stony soil unbidden in the lands where I grew up, and I would nearly weep at both the remembered joy and my absence from it. Even as I write this now, I–even I–feel tears upwelling, mawkish and overly sentimental though such may show me to be.

So far, this has been a pretty good wildflower year ’round here. I still drive to San Antonio, still drive to Fredericksburg and occasionally other ways, still get to see the layered ribbons of flowers threading among the hills and the patches of open pasture that erupt in color. I see the small stands of springtime flowers in people’s front yards and along the sidewalks in my hometown, whence I once fled and where I live again. Seeing, I–even I–cannot help but smile, and I wonder if, in years to come, my daughter will feel as I do. I wonder if she will look and see and smile and, when away and thinking on such things, feel tears well up in her eyes at the beauty of the thing and the wonder of living in a world that has such things in it.

For now, I will work to let her see, to help her have it in memory so that, even if she departs and does not return, as I had meant not to return in days when I was more prideful than I now am and far less equipped to earn it, she will have beauty in her mind always. And perhaps she will learn sooner than I did the lesson that such beauty teaches; I can hope she will be a better student than I too often have been, not in the classroom but outside it, where the teaching never truly ends unless it is made to do so.

Help me buy gas to go on a wildflower drive?

Class Report: SPCH 275, 18 April 2019

After making some procedural notes and addressing questions from the previous meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of visuals and of color schemes. Discussion worked from some basic websites, which were introduced to the class. Time to work on assignments was offered to students, as well.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at approximately 1800 US Central Time in a WebEx session necessitated by travel difficulties. The course roster listed 27 students, four fewer than at the previous regular meeting; seven attended on-site or live online. Student participation was reasonably good, given the circumstances.

No students attended the most recent office hour; the next and final office hour will be Monday, 22 April 2019, at 1800 US Central Time.

Students are reminded about the following upcoming assignments, due through Canvas before the end of day, US Central Time, on 21 April 2019:

  • Discussion Thread: Persuasive Speech Progress Check
  • Persuasive Speech (preferably as a PowerPoint file)
  • Persuasive Speech Documentation, including an outline, references list, visual aids, and self-evaluation (preferably as a Word file)

A Rumination on Taxes

Today is, of course, Tax Day in the United States. I have no doubt that, even as this piece finds its way to the part of the Internet where it can be easily seen, people are rushing to get materials together so that they can rush through tax programs and hope they do not end up being audited or so that they can speed down to one tax preparation office or another and pass the task off onto another. (Full disclosure: I do work for one such, Liberty Tax Service in Kerrville, Texas. I do their social media work and the occasional odd job.) All the while, they are like to complain about both the burden of filing taxes and actually paying them; I like to think myself removed from that, as I do not mind paying my fair share of things, and I would rather do or have the work done myself than trust revenuers to be diligent with such things.

Image result for taxes
Seems appropriate.
Image from Kiplinger.com.

I do not mind paying my portion because I enjoy many of the things I get and have gotten from doing so and from being among others who do so. I believe I’ve noted here that my father has been an employee of the US government for decades, now; his salary comes from tax money, and I’d not have been able to eat without that salary, so I appreciate it and its sources. I’ve been an employee of more than one state, working in each for an agency that is funded in large part through federal taxes (and, to a lesser extent, from state taxes); my own pay has come from such, and I have appreciated getting paid. The same has been true for my wife. And we both had our higher educations subsidized through tax-funded programs; I feel I ought to pay into a system from which I have benefited.

This is not to say that I approve of all the things to which my tax money goes. I would like to get more value out of the salaries I help pay to the legislators who get into office (too often above my objections, but still…) and the executives at levels ranging to the highest. I would like to see institutionalized discrimination based on inborn characteristics be stopped. I would like to see more devoted to education and rehabilitation that punishment and belligerence. And there are more things about which I could comment at length and with no small fervor–but I doubt it will be of much help or new insight.

There is this, at least: I do not expect to benefit without paying in. And there is this, too: I do not begrudge those whose needs are greater than mine having those needs met. There will come a time when I have need, or when some for whom I care have it. I can hope that they will be able to find it–but I know they will not if it is not there, and this day helps make sure that it might actually be there for them.

Care to see if you can get me into a higher tax bracket next time?

Initial Comments for the May 2019 Session at DeVry University

I have been offered and accepted a class for the May 2019 instructional session at DeVry University, a section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition. I’ve taught the course several times at the school, most recently in the November 2018 session, so I am confident I will be able to do so successfully again. Certainly, I welcome the opportunity to do so.

Image result for college writing classroom
It’s a nice idea.
Image from Faculty Focus, used for commentary.

So far as I know, there have not been changes to the instructional sequence at play in the course, so I think my earlier examples will continue to work for the students. If there have been changes, I will see about drafting new ones to suit. As a reminder, those examples can be found linked below:

The class will meet online only, which will be something of a relief. I will be spared the commute I have in teaching on site, which will save me a fair bit of money. And I will likely continue my practice of holding office hours online on Mondays at 6pm US Central Time; it works as well as anything else, so I have no reason to alter it.

I am sure I will have additional comments about things as the session progresses. I still have to get through the March 2019 session, so it will be a bit. But I am still happy to have the opportunity I have to earn a little bit more by doing what I spent so long learning how to do. I remain an academic expatriate even so, but I might as well enjoy having a little bit of support while I can.

Class Report: SPCH 275, 11 April 2019

After addressing questions from earlier in the session, discussion turned to concerns of argumentation and returned to concerns of sourcing before speaking to assignments.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at 1800 US Central Time in a co-sat session focused on Room 105 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 31 students, one less than at the previous regular meeting; nine attended on-site or live online. Student participation was reasonably good.

No students attended the most recent office hour; the next office hour will be Monday, 15 April 2019, at 1800 US Central Time.

Students are reminded about the following upcoming assignments, due through Canvas before the end of day, US Central Time, on 14 April 2019:

  • Discussion Thread: Preparing the Persuasive Speech
  • Discussion Thread: Conducting Research
  • Annotated Bibliography (as a Word document)

A Rumination on Publication

Image result for printing press gif
Old-style publishing.
Image from Giphy.com.

It is clear to me, as I have attested in more places than I care to relate, that I will never have the kind of job I once envisioned myself having. I will never be a full-time professor, whether of the “cool” variety or of the traditional tweed-and-pipe type. (I gave up my pipe once I learned I would be a father. I miss it sometimes, but not as much as I love my kid.) While I continue to do part-time teaching, and I still putter about with research, neither gets to be my professional focus anymore. Not that I did a good job at either when they ought to have been, as I have noted elsewhere in places I do not care to find at the moment; I am not bewailing my circumstances–I have earned them, in part, and I have been lucky to have them in other ways.

What happens, though, is that the work that I would otherwise be trying to place with academic journals, or that I should have been doing for them, does not have the same urgency to find a home in such venues. And, indeed, I have the inkling that most of the journals where I might publish as an academic expatriate would not look quite so kindly on someone with a lack of institutional affiliation. I might claim that of the school where I still teach part-time, of course, which would address that particular issue–but I do not know that I want to tie myself to it in such a way. The job might always end; I might have to go to some putative home from my visit on its faculty. (That’s part of why I keep so much of my teaching material here, in fact; it’s a sort of suitcase when I need it.)

Yet I have done a fair bit of academic writing. Some of it, I’m proud of having done. I don’t know that I want it to languish unseen in the gathered files where I currently have it. (Yes, I’ve collected all or most of my writing not already released. I am vain enough to think it a good idea–clearly so, else I’d not keep several blogs as I do.) Yet I don’t think it would necessarily do well to send it to publishers; popular presses seldom want such things, and academic presses, as I’ve noted, are not like to accept work from outside academe. Too, my job is not contingent upon my research, but I know many whose jobs are, and I would feel poorly about getting in the way of their attempts to keep and retain jobs that I know now and learned too late are not for me.

There is an obvious solution, of course. I have access to several webspaces, after all, including this one. It would be a simple matter for me to post my papers here, those I would like to see receive some attention. (Not all fall under that rubric.) They are not peer reviewed in this forum, of course, but I do hold a doctorate in English language and literature; my observations would not be without merit. They might even be worth reading by those outside the field, which is a pleasant thought.

Care to support a subvention or something like it?