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

I know that I’ve had a lot to say about DeVry University this week, what with my usual class report and a recent addendum to an older post. But more news keeps coming in on that score, to wit:

Although I’ve not yet signed the contract for it, I have been offered a section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition for the March 2018 session at DeVry University in San Antonio. The session runs 26 February through 21 April 2018; the class is slated to meet on Saturdays from 0900 to 1250 in Room 106 of the San Antonio campus. I still have a bit of time to begin to prepare and refine materials, and I look forward to doing again the work of teaching.

Among those materials will be an alternative assignment, one that follows the sequence prescribed by the University but that treats a different topic altogether. I have the hope that it will prove more amenable to students’ engagement than those previously assigned–and that they and I will gain more from it as a result.

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Addendum to “Reflective Comments for the November 2017 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio”

A while ago, I posted a set of comments in which I looked back at the work I did during the November 2017 session at DeVry University in San Antonio, Texas. At the time, I thought they would be the last word I had to say on the subject–but that has not proven to be the case (obviously). Information I received this week has given me cause to add to those comments–and happily.

The results of my end-of-course evaluations got back to me this week. One of the two classes I taught, ENGL 135: Advanced Composition, rated me at 3.53/4.00 overall, with all students who responded reporting that I met or exceeded their expectations. The other, ENGL 216: Technical Writing, rated me at 3.90/4.00 overall, with all but one report noting that I exceeded expectations (and that one said I met them).

To be honest, the reviews are far better than I am accustomed to receiving from students. I am glad to have gotten them–and gladder to be doing something right in the classroom. I suppose my earlier assertions about needing to continue particular practices have some backing; I am glad that I am doing more in that line, even if I still do go off on strange tangents from time to time.

A Rumination on Having Been a Fan

I remember having been a fan of things–of a number of things, in fact. None of them were what I “should” have been fans of, though. Rather than what the football or basketball teams were doing, or what was happening in the races or in the ring, I kept up on what was happening in the pages of comic books. Rather than reading the newest New York Times bestsellers, I read epic poetry and classic science fiction. Rather than following the Top 40, I listened to the music that had been popular–or less so, as I found later–in decades past, progressive pop and jazz-rock fusion and more esoteric blends yet. And for each, I did everything I could not only to learn the words and melodies of each by heart, but also to learn the greater fictional continua in which they existed and the details of the artists’ lives.

Had that been all I did, things might have been otherwise–and better. But that was not all I did, to be sure. I held myself aloof from that many others did, and in so doing, I isolated myself from them–which ended up leaving me in quite the awkward position when I returned to the town where I grew up. Worse, I made a point of berating others for their interests, and so invited being belittled for mine–and some went further than the invitation. Still worse, I staked my identity on knowing most about the things I knew, so I felt–and acted upon–the desire to show that knowledge and, when that knowledge was not enough, I recoiled in shame, chastising myself bitterly over things that few if any others cared about.

Often, that last has been my experience of fandom. There are many who are able to do as I did, to spend their time and money collecting the things from which knowledge (not wisdom, to be sure) can be made and copying over that knowledge from the things into themselves. (I know now that it was an exercise in privilege that I could do so.) In my experience, they have tended to view their knowledge of their interests as their primary value, and they have worked to secure that value by displaying themselves as having mastered it most. It becomes a display like that of the peacock or the bird of paradise, the shouting of the howler monkey, a jockeying for status within a group that seems devoted to no good end. And I did more than my fair share of preening and posturing, making much of knowing things (but not of doing anything with them) and delving into obscurities simply to avoid being wrong–and more often making myself look more the fool in doing so.

But even with all the problems of fandom–and there are many, more than I care to elaborate on here or have the capacity to expound upon elsewhere–there were decided rewards for me. I was able to learn a great many things, and I have tended to enjoy learning. (It should be clear that I do, else I’d not have gone back for more degrees.) And I enjoy even now the exercise of such faculties as I have. (How many is debatable, as witness my degrees.) And there is a pleasure in getting lost amid the details of things, of being able to take the time and spend the resources to focus narrowly and deeply on something purely for the pleasure of it, to be able to be immersed in a thing that has no real purpose and no real relevance, something that is idle and unimportant. (Again, witness my degree work.)

There are times I miss it.

Believe me, I am glad that I have the life I have now. My wife and daughter are excellent, and helping them be so brings me no small amount of joy. I have a good job, one that does some good in the world and makes use of quite a bit of the skill-set I developed in earning my degrees and making an attempt to work the work of the mind as my main job. I have a good second job, one that has helped my family to build up a bit of a financial cushion, enough that we can begin to think about diversifying how we handle our money. And I am still able to do some small bits of academe, both in teaching with the second job and doing some light scholarship–nothing ground-breaking, but (I hope) solid and reliable.

The thing is, doing all of those things prevents me from giving myself fully to any one of them–as I used to be able to do with my fandom. Parts of me miss being able to focus narrowly and deeply on a single thing, to take the time to master all of its minutiae, to expend the resources to acquire all of the newest and best materials in the effort to have a complete account of things, a complete record of how a thing I have enjoyed–whether it be the traditionally nerdy Tolkien or Star Trek or Star Wars or one of any number of role-playing games or some other thing that becomes nerdy through the obsession (because I maintain that the essence of nerdiness is obsessive passion). And I confess to having felt delight in the metaphorical dick-measuring contests of competing geekitudes; while I know better now than to get into them, I do miss the feeling of victory they often (but not often enough, oh, no) allowed me.

The thing is, I am enough in things that I am around people who can do the things I used to do and enjoy, and they do them–while I can only watch and, when I participate, do so as one who has been but no longer is. I am left behind, I feel, brought along only on sufferance. Part of me wants to have something to contribute to those communities–but I realize that I no longer really do, except the occasional friendly ear and reminder of good times for the friends I have made. But many have such ears and friendships without having expended the energies I have, so I have to wonder how much of my time and effort have ultimately been wasted.

Class Report; ENGL 216, 24 January 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of formality and complexity of reports, as well as persuasive techniques. Class focus was on applying principles from the textbook and lecture to in-class examples, with the idea that examining application will enhance student performance. Attention was also paid to upcoming assignments.

Students are reminded that the following assignments are coming due:

  • Course Project: Outline, to be submitted online as a Word document before 0059 on 29 January 2018
  • Week 4 Homework, to be submitted online as a Word document before 0059 on 29 January 2018
  • Discussion posts, to be completed online before 0059 on 29 January 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Rm. 107 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed seven students enrolled, unchanged since the last meeting; two attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended office hours Monday from approx. 1800 to approx. 1900 online. (Office hours are scheduled to approx. 2000, but after an hour without student attendance, they were closed.)

Class Report: ENGL 216, 17 January 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of procedural writing, research and documentation, and ethics. Class focus was on applying principles from the textbook and lecture to in-class examples, with the idea that examining application will enhance student performance. Attention was also paid to upcoming assignments.

Students are reminded that the following assignments are coming due:

  • Course Project: Annotations, to be submitted online as a Word document before 0059 on 22 January 2018
  • Week 3 Homework, to be submitted online as a Word document before 0059 on 22 January 2018
  • Discussion posts, to be completed online before 0059 on 22 January 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Rm. 107 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed seven students enrolled, unchanged since the last meeting; four attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended office hours Monday from approx. 1800 to approx. 1900 online. (Office hours are scheduled to approx. 2000, but after an hour without student attendance, they were closed.)

In Response to Eboo Patel

On 9 January 2018, Eboo Patel’s “Attending an Elite College Is an Identity, Too” appeared in the online Inside Higher Ed. After opening by relating a passage from Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, Patel notes the rarity of understanding college attendance as constituting an identity, tacitly calling for more such recognition. Patel goes on to note that elite colleges are more prone to the lack of recognition than are less prestigious institutions and sketch out some of the parallels between elite institutional privilege and white male cishetero–including their social construction. The article continues by pointing out parallels to other systems of valuation and the consequences of the exercise of elite institutional identity in the current economy before reiterating (explicitly) the wish for more recognition of that identity. It ends with a reminder that working with people of diverse experience and identity is a key component of the collegiate experience.

I think Patel is correct in the claim that college attendance is an identity, and I believe the assertion that more needs to be done to recognize the identity and its socially constructed nature than typically is is similarly correct. But I would like to expand on the point Patel makes, if backhandedly, that students at colleges other than the elite are more likely to recognize college attendance as identity than their counterparts at more prestigious schools. I attended such programs, and I have taught in them, and my experience is that those who attend the schools both make much of having attended college and of having attended the colleges they have.

Sometimes, the awareness of attending college has been a good thing. I have had many students who were the first in their family to go to college (and some who were the first to have graduated high school or its equivalent), and most of them have been keenly aware of the privilege commensurate with that attendance. They have seen how much they work who do well in life without having attended or completed higher education, or they have experienced first-hand life in the lower reaches of the underclass–no few of my students have been ex-cons–so they have a keen idea what college can mean. They value it, and so they tend to be among the more diligent and devoted of my students. It tends to make them my favorites, for, having come from a similar background–as I write, neither of my parents has completed an undergraduate degree, and my father still works in the trades–I am sympathetic to their situations and appreciate hard work in itself.

Sometimes, the identification is, if not good, generally harmless. When I taught for a Big 12 school, for example, much was made of having attended the institution, of participating in its traditions. While some of those traditions have unfortunate overtones and undertones, and I found many of those traditions decidedly annoying as an instructor expected to conduct classes among them, they were largely benign, allowing the students a sense of community extending back from themselves and, presumably, forward to students yet to attend the school. Many involved athletic and academic rivalries with other schools in the conference, particularly the other such school in the state, but, as encounters with populations from those schools was relatively rare, the rivalries little mattered. (Little, of course, because there were always some who used the rivalries as excuses for all manner of bad behavior, although rarely so bad as I have seen in Texas, when the Longhorns and Aggies still faced one another.)

In no few cases, though, the identification becomes outright problematic. I have long since lost count of the number of times I have been told by students at state schools and two-year schools and schools of last resort that they are “only” at such institutions. Term after term, year after year, institution after institution, I have heard students say that they are “only” at the school where they study, as if earning a spot in a program is not itself a worthy thing, as if the learning they are doing does not matter because it is not done at some fancy place where more is made of who a person’s parents are than the effort they expend to achieve–or the results of that expended effort. Some try to use the “only” to excuse their own non-performance, but more say it with a certain tone in their voices that bespeaks their having accepted a lesser status for having gone to less prestigious schools. When they say “only” to me, they are saying that they believe themselves less than, something I know not to be true but which I have yet to be able to convince more than a handful of my students that is so. It grieves me that they accept the identity which has been constructed for them, that they have internalized being less than for the schools they attend, and while I do everything I can to ensure that what they get is of value, because of such identities as they and I have, there are barriers that I know not how to surmount.

So, yes, Patel is on to something, and the article is correct in its assertions. But there is more to explore on the matter, and there are many more than might be expected who would benefit from that exploration.

Class Report: ENGL 216, 10 January 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to theses, as well as concerns of document design and other paratextual features. Class focus was on applying principles from the textbook and lecture to in-class examples, with the idea that examining application will enhance student performance. Attention was also paid to upcoming assignments.

Students are reminded that the following assignments are coming due:

  • Course Project: Topic Selection, to be submitted online as a Word document before 0059 on 15 January 2018
  • Week 2 Homework, to be submitted online as a Word document before 0059 on 15 January 2018
  • Discussion posts, to be completed online before 0059 on 15 January 2018

Students should continue (or begin) reading for the Week 3 Course Project deliverable.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Rm. 107 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed seven students enrolled, unchanged since the last meeting; five attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended office hours Monday from approx. 1800 to approx. 1900 online. (Office hours are scheduled to approx. 2000, but after an hour without student attendance, they were closed.)

Class Report: ENGL 216, 3 January 2018

For the first course meeting of the session, discussion focused on introductions to the course, instructor, and basic concepts of technical writing.  Assignments in the short and long term were treated, as well, and practice on upcoming homework was offered.

Students are reminded that the following assignments are coming due:

  • Week 1 Homework, to be submitted online as a Word document before 0059 on 8 January 2017
  • Discussion posts, to be completed online before 0059 on 8 January 2017

Students are also urged to start work on selecting a topic for the course project and to begin reading peer-reviewed sources for upcoming course project work.

Class met slightly differently than scheduled, at 1800 in Rm. 106 of the San Antonio campus (the regular room, 107, was out of order but should be open for the next class meeting). The course roster listed seven students enrolled; four attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. Office hours, normally Mondays from approx. 1800 to approx. 2000 online, were preempted by the recent holiday.

Reflective Comments for the November 2017 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

Returning to a practice begun in past years but that was allowed to lapse, comments below comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in ENGL 216: Technical Writing and ENGL 135: Advanced Composition at that institution during its November 2017 session. Overall impressions and implications for instruction are also discussed.

ENGL 216: Technical Writing

Students enrolled in ENGL 216: Technical Writing during the November 2017 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, and the weightiest, related to the overall course project; others were homework meant to practice skills used in the workplace and in later stages of the course project. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values arePercentage Breakdown

  • Online Discussions
    • Weeks 1-5, 20 points each
    • Weeks 6 and 7, 80 points each
  • Homework Assignments
    • Weeks 1-4, 50 points each
  • Course Project
    • Topic Proposal- 20 points
    • Annotated Sources- 50 points
    • Outline and Back Matter- 50 points
    • First Draft- 70 points
    • Front Matter- 40 points
    • Final Draft- 100 points
    • Presentation- 60 points
  • Final Exam- 150 points
  • Total- 1000 points

As before, most assignments were assessed by means of rubrics provided by the institution. Some few were assessed holistically, with assessment being conducted more gently in light of less formality.

The section met on Tuesdays from 1800-2150 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus of DeVry University, moved into the more congenial room from its original location. Its overall data includes

  • End-of-term enrollment: 6
  • Average class score: 704.45/1000 (C)
    • Standard deviation: 208.26
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 0
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 2

Owing to shifts in assessment, attendance was not recorded as strictly as in past sessions, when it influenced grading. Perhaps as a result of that shift, absenteeism was a problem in the course. Perhaps concomitantly, non-submission of assignments was also a problem, with several students failing to submit one or more major assignments–and suffering grade penalties as a result.

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ENGL 135: Advanced Composition

Students enrolled in ENGL 135: Advanced Composition during the November 2017 session were also asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, and the weightiest, related to the overall course project; others were homework meant to practice skills used in the workplace and in later stages of the course project. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values arePercentage Breakdown

  • Discussions
    • Weeks 1 and 7, 60 points each
    • Weeks 2-6, 30 points each
  • Homework
    • Information Literacy Module- 30 points
    • APA Assessment Activity Module- 30 points
  • Course Project
    • Topic Selection- 50 points
    • Source Summary- 100 points
    • Research Proposal- 50 points
    • Annotated Bibliography- 100 points
    • First Draft- 75 points
    • Process Review- 45 points
    • Second Draft- 80 points
    • Final Draft- 120 points
    • Reflective Postscript- 50 points

As before, most assignments were assessed by means of rubrics provided by the institution. Other assignments were generally assessed by rubrics of similar form, announced to students in advance of assignments being due and returned to students with comments once assessment was completed. Some few were assessed holistically, with assessment being conducted more gently in light of less formality.

The section met on Thursdays from 1800-2150 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus of DeVry University. Its overall data includes

  • End-of-term enrollment: 6
  • Average class score: 521.68/1000 (F)
    • Standard deviation: 287.12
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 0
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 2

Owing to shifts in assessment, attendance was not recorded as strictly as in past sessions, when it influenced grading. Perhaps as a result of that shift, absenteeism was a problem in the course. Perhaps concomitantly, non-submission of assignments was also a problem, with several students failing to submit one or more major assignments–and suffering grade penalties as a result.

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Impressions and Implications

Compiling such comments as these across terms and currently working in the non-profit sector prompt some adjustments to the current report from previous iterations. One such is the current format, which attempts to do more to offer paratextual cues than previous iterations. Another is the increased incorporation of graphics into the report, made in the hopes of easing access to the data contained.

To return to more normal discussion: as noted above, absenteeism and non-submission were the main problems during the session. Attendance was low throughout the term, with some class meetings seeing one student or none in attendance. Similarly, submission rates suffered, with more assignments seeing incomplete submission than not–as the figures below attest.ENGL 216 Non-SubmissionENGL 135 Non-Submission

Discussions with colleagues on campus suggest that the problems were not restricted to my classes. In some ways, it is a comfort to know that it’s not just me. In other ways, it’s a concern, as I have to wonder what it will mean for the whole of which I am part.

Other concerns persist from previous teaching. For one, I remain prone to tangential discussions, and, at this point, the idea that I will be able to set them aside is laughable. If and as I continue to teach, they will have to be accounted for and accepted.

This session, when I remembered to bring “real-world” examples of various types of writing into my classroom (I would often plan to, but I would not write the plan down or remember it amid teaching), the students who did attend seemed to get much out of it. I will therefore be making a point of doing more such as I move forward. Indeed, as I have started to plot out the January 2018 session, I have already begun to incorporate specific example texts into required threaded discussions. So that much should be helpful.

I am and remain grateful for the opportunity to continue teaching. After the loss of other academic employment and the end of years of searching for it, remaining even as involved in academe as part-time employment at a for-profit school allows is a welcome thing. Getting to see students grow and mature as scholars and budding professionals has also been gratifying. I hope I will continue to have the chance to do both.

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In Response to Coleen Flaherty

On 18 December 2017, Coleen Flaherty’s “Where the Grass Is Greener” appeared in the online Inside Higher Ed. The article reports results from a Cornell working paper that suggest those who earned doctorates in humanities and social sciences and who left academia for non-academic non-profit work are more satisfied with their work than those who remain in academia–and, it seems, those who work in for-profit jobs. The study also seems to suggest that women in academia do not suffer from choosing to have children to so great a degree as has often been supposed. Flaherty presents opinions of several involved with and concerned with the Cornell study, as well, illuminating the work further and, ultimately, presenting an interesting read.

What Flaherty presents also corresponds with my own experience of such things. While I am not now and have never been a tenured or tenure-track faculty member–and have, indeed, given up on the idea of being so–I did complete a doctorate, and I did (and do) work in academe, but I do most of my work for a non-profit substance abuse treatment facility in the Texas Hill Country (as I have noted, I think). And I am in contact with no few of my former classmates and coworkers, many of whom are tenured or on the tenure track–and what they tend to share more or less publicly suggests that the life of the mind is far from the idyllic, indolent life many outside it believe it to be. At the same time, although I do face some problems in my current primary line of work, I find myself generally satisfied with my lot in life.

Why would I not be? I am paid by the hour, so that if I work more, I earn more. The job is inside work with no heavy lifting. I get paid holidays and leave time, and I am clearly on the side of good. My job helps people help people, and that has not always been the case with what I have done in the classroom. My skill-set is respected and appreciated, and I am able to deploy more of it than I was in the classroom or the research carrel–as well as deploying my specialized training in interesting ways. And, unlike the humanistic research I have done, I never have to wonder about whether or not my current work matters in people’s lives; I know that what I do and what I help make happen makes people’s lives better.

Yes, I know that my experience is idiosyncratic and anecdotal. Yes, I know that it cannot be taken as representative on its own. But I also know that enough such testimonies can be, and that adding mine to them, adding my small confirmation to the study Flaherty reports, helps enough such testimonies emerge that something might be done with them. And I know that I, at least, am better off working where I work than I might well be otherwise, and I am content with it.