A Reflection on #Kzoo2020 from an #AcademicExpatriate

Were this year a normal year, I would be posting now about my experience at the International Congress on Medieval Studies on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ve done so once or twice before, I know, and I’ve commented about papers I’ve delivered there, such as this one. The Congress has its problems, as I think I’ve noted and as I know many others have written about far more eloquently and at greater length than I have it in me do do, but it also remains one of the few places where I can be part of a broader scholarly discourse, having sharply limited access to journals and the other paraphernalia of contemporary scholarly work.

20190511_153608.jpg
And there are these glorious accommodations, too!
Picture mine.

This year, due to COVID-19, the Congress did not meet. I am fortunate in that I was able to get most of the money I’d laid out to attend back; the rest is bound up in other things, and I do not expect to see it again. I am fortunate that the business meeting I was to chair was able to move online and do what needed doing. I suppose that I am fortunate in that I ended up not needing to write the papers I was going to have to write for the event and that I had not started when I needed to get them going; my sloth will not out in quite the same way as would have been the case had I tried to talk once again. (Obviously, I am admitting to it here, but telling doesn’t have nearly the same impact as showing, right?) Too, I was home for my mother’s birthday and for Mothers’ Day for the first time in many years, which is the kind of thing that should be celebrated.

But–and it should have been clear that a “but” was coming–I do miss the opportunity to hear new ideas pushed forward by people who have not yet been so ground down by the drudgery of academe that they cannot see farther than a single step in front of them. I miss getting to see friends I’ve known for ten years and more, now, and to enjoying their company again. I do miss getting to get up and advance my own ideas and see them taken up for consideration by others, to hear them discussed and debated; I miss feeling like I still matter in some small way inside the ivory tower I so long sought to enter and from which I had to make an escape because I knew I would never be let out of its basement. And I miss the power I felt in pulling together ideas, in making new knowledge–even about so small a thing as a series of fantasy novels or a particular kind of bullshit in something Spenser wrote–and, in so doing, pushing back against the boundaries of human ignorance, clearing out just a little bit more room for what we know against what we still have to learn.

I still have the chance, of course. I can use this blog to that end, and it is expected that the Congress will happen in 2021–and that I might well be able to attend it. But that good things are still to come does not mean it is wrong to sorrow for such good as was lost.

Help me save up for next year?

Reflective Comments for the November 2019 Session at DeVry University

To conclude a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the July 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 ENGL 135: Advanced Composition during the November 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions are discussed.

Students enrolled in ENGL 135 during the November 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Owing to changes imposed by the University, there was little overlap with previous sessions’ assignments and examples. Three short papers (a current event response, a claim analysis, and a case study on counterargument and rebuttal), a presentation deriving from the last of them, and an informal statement of connection between the course and careers accounted for most of the course grade. Discussion activities took up more than a third, and an online assessment took the remainder, as noted in the figure below.

November 2019 Class Assignment Spread

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 wholly online, so no attendance was assessed. Online office hours were generally held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 25
  • Average class score: 687.88/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 289.871
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 6
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 8

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

November 2019 Grade Spread

As I have intimated, I do not intend to return to teaching, whether at DeVry or at another institution. I had been having doubts even prior to the session about whether I was doing any good continuing to teach and continuing to teach in the specific circumstances at the institution, though I continued to accept pay for doing so, so I did not voice those doubts quite as openly as I might otherwise have done. I understand my complicity in structures and their continuation well enough to know that I would invite more justified critique by offering my own. Some events early in the session, both in and outside the class, affirmed those doubts, and, as I compose this final report about my teaching, I know I have made the correct decision in withdrawing from the profession.

I have a number of regrets about my career in the classroom. I have had what is perhaps an unfortunate amount of time to consider those regrets, to mull over what I ought to have done better. Some things did improve in time. For others, the opposite was true; certainly, I have lost much of the joy in the work that I once felt. I have also lost the grinding necessity of continuing; I am in a much more stable place, emotionally and financially, than I have been in previous sessions. Having that stability, being able to stand firmly for a bit and take a look at my circumstances and situation, has let me see what others have likely realized for some time. Having stable footing is letting me step away–and it is time, indeed, for me to do so.

Reflective Comments for the July 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the May 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 ENGL 112: Composition during the July 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 ENGL 112 during the July 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. While there was some overlap with previous iterations of the course in terms of the assignments requested, there was not congruity; the later assignments differed from previous practice. Three papers (a profile, a rhetorical analysis, and a “persuasive” paper) and a presentation deriving from the final paper accounted for the majority of the grade; discussion activities accounted for more than a third, and a quiz over APA guidelines occupied the remainder, as presented in the figure below:

ENGL 112 Assignment Spread

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 in a hybrid on-live session on Wednesdays 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: 18
  • Average class score: 762.222/1000 (C)
    • Standard deviation: 158.91
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 5
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 1

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

ENGL 112 Grade Spread

Since the class met at a prescribed time, it was possible to assess 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):

ENGL 112 Rptd Absences

This session has been one of the better ones I’ve had in the past few years. Although live attendance could have been better, the students who did attend were more engaged than many I have had in my classrooms since leaving New York City, and student engagement in discussion threads was quite robust. I think it directly ties to the quality of the work I received from students in the class; many of the papers and presentations I got were good ones, if perhaps not the most adventurous. (I note that many students took a “safe” route in their final two major assignments, but with as many as were in their first session at DeVry, if not in college, generally, I cannot be justly annoyed at it.) It is the kind of thing I continue to hope to see when I take on a new set of students, and I am particularly happy to have gotten it this time around.

The thing is, the fact of having good students does not do much to help me further develop my skills as a teacher. Working with good students is easy; they do most of the work, needing only limited guidance. In the kind of lock-step curriculum in place at DeVry, there is not the flexibility to challenge further those students who show themselves able to do more, and while I have worked to reward those who have done that more, there is only so much I can do within the constraints within which I must operate to keep working. The same offers have been and will continue to be open to any students who seek to avail themselves thereof, but I am still not sure how to get more students to take me up on them. It is something I clearly need to continue to work on.

As ever, I am glad to have had another opportunity to put to work those skills I spent years developing. I am less happy that the September 2019 session does not have me teaching–but I look forward to future sessions that will.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 28 August 2019

For the final meeting of the session, discussion opened by noting the availability of evaluations and the looming end of the session (31 August 2019). It moved thence to treat questions from the previous class meeting and earlier before looking at others’ presentations to offer critique and addressing final assignment concerns.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 18 students enrolled, a decline of one since the last class meeting; seven attended live online or onsite. Student participation was good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the the rhetorical strategies presentation, of which a sample is available here, is due before the end of day Saturday, 31 August 2019.

Grading will be finalized shortly after the session ends, with reflective comments to follow after.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 21 August 2019

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion remarked upon student surveys being available. It then turned to concerns of presentation, in anticipation of the final assignment for the course.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, a decline of two since the last class meeting; seven attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonable. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 25 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Presentation Experiences (five posts or equivalent)
  • Discussion: Presentation Peer Review (five posts or equivalent)

Students are urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies presentation, due at the end of the session. (A sample is available here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 14 August 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion returned to concerns of citation, which had been brushed against during the previous week’s meeting. It then treated some common concerns of usage noted from student papers and suggested by students during the meeting.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 21 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting; eight attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonable. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 18 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Integrating Research in APA Style (five posts or equivalent)
  • Rhetorical Strategies Persuasive Essay (in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format, please)

Students are urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies presentation, due at the end of the session. (A sample will be made available for student reference soon.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 7 August 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of research, including the environments of writing and publication, before addressing upcoming assignments.

Class met as scheduled, if with some interruptions, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 21 students enrolled, a decline of two since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 11 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Beginning Research (five posts or equivalent)
  • APA Quiz

Students are still urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies essay, due at the end of Week 6. (A sample is available for student reference here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 31 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to a brief review of the pulse surveys offered during the first three weeks of class. It proceeded thence to concerns of revision, corresponding to ongoing online discussions and to be applied to upcoming assignments, which also received attention.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 23 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonably good. One student attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 4 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Revising and Refining (five posts or equivalent)
  • Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Students are also urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies essay, due at the end of Week 6. (A sample is available for student reference here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 24 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of theses. It moved thence to consider rhetorical analysis before addressing upcoming assignments, notably the rhetorical analysis (of which a sample is available here).

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 23 students enrolled, a loss of two since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was somewhat subdued. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 28 July 2019:

  • Discussion: Analyzing Persuasive Messages (five posts or equivalent)
  • Week 3 Pulse Check

Students are also urged to be at work on the rhetorical analysis essay, due next week. Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 17 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of genre, patterns of organization, and essay-building before looking at assignments.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 25 students enrolled, a net loss of one since the last class meeting; ten attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonably good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 21 July 2019:

  • Profile Essay (a sample is here; please submit through Canvas as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file)
  • Discussion: Getting Started Writing (five posts or equivalent)
  • Week 2 Pulse Check