Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Random bullets of still here

  • I come back to the blogosphere after a week or so and discover that many of the posts are about food--lovely food, like Comrade PhysioProf's fabulous pizza or Dr. Crazy's excellent restaurant meal. Do we rediscover food again once the semester is over and we realize that we have, you know, bodies that like to eat?
  • In another vast epiphany, I realized that have fixed opinions about what makes a panel work: my panel, my rules. The rules are pretty simple:
    1. Shut up and let the panelists shine, but don't let them talk past their allotted time (that one is a no-brainer).
    2. Shorter is better for presentations, since everyone's attention spans are getting shorter.
    3. Be prepared for massive technology fail but do all you can to make it succeed, like getting the presentations set up on a single computer ahead of time if possible instead of switching between them
    4. Let the audience talk rather than posing a bunch of questions yourself or letting the panelists just ask each other questions.
  • Addendum: I also realized that I am impervious to the criticism that arises from enforcing my rules because they work.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The hazards of reading literary criticism at home

As I was working at home yesterday, there was a knock at the door. I was concentrating on what I was reading, so I had the book in my hand as I opened the door and saw a clean-cut young man with a stack of handouts.

It was a religious-oriented local lawn service business, and since I didn't need the service, I politely said so. We were polite and cordial in our conversation, and then he turned to go.

As I was closing the door, he turned back to me.

"Is that a good book?"

"What?" I'd forgotten that I had the book in my hand.

"Is that a good book to read?"

"Yes. It's a book of literary criticism," I said, and shut the door.

Why on earth would he ask about the book? I thought at first maybe it was one of those salesmen's ploys--you know, where they ask for a glass of water to keep you talking to them. That hadn't seemed to be the case here, though.

Then I looked at the book in my hand. Like so many cultural studies books by a prominent publisher that rhymes with Luke Luniversity Fress, it had a provocative image on the cover--an image of a naked woman swathed in gloomy draperies, in fact. I'm sure the naked woman was performing gender or destabilizing gender identity or representing the hegemonic forces of history, but whatever she was doing, she sure was naked enough that the lawn guy noticed--and, to judge by his peculiar parting expression, didn't approve.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Random links about technology and teaching

Take these with a grain of salt and my standard disclaimers: I like technology and think it has valid uses in the classroom, hands-on learning can be useful, and all the rest.
  • Here's an experiment: say you have a class that for some reason is mostly lecture, and in the eleventh week (which we could call the "week 11 slump," because anyone who's ever stood in front of a class knows that's what it is) you tell the students they'll be part of an exciting experiment about learning, and you let the postdocs take over and give them all kinds of cool interactive tools. For one week. The students who have practiced on these tools perk up and do better with their week's learning than a control group. Would you then conclude that "Postdocs Can Be Trained to Be More Effective than Senior Instructors"? You wouldn't? What kind of scientist are you, anyway?
  • Kim Brooks, at Salon, wants something different to happen with high school English so that her first-year comp students can write better. I think she wants fewer hands-on assignments that ask students to make videos about how Hester Prynne would act today and a few more assignments that focus on making sure that students can write a sentence that has (1) a subject, (2) a verb, and (3) a clear point.
  • But if you go to USC, you might get to keep making videos instead of writing papers. For the record: making videos can be a valid pedagogical choice, of course, and students can come up with some very sophisticated visual arguments. But sooner or later students are going to have to write something, aren't they? A cover letter? An email? A report? Do geologists (one of the examples) get to turn in a video assessing the prospects for drilling for oil in a particular region, or do they have to write a report? I'm guessing the latter.
  • According to the Chronicle, Stanford med students, who were issued iPads last fall, demanded paper notes or books instead of reading their required books on the device, although they found the iPad useful for sketching and taking notes in lectures: "But when Stanford's School of Medicine lent iPads to all new students last August, a curious thing happened: Many didn't like using them in class. Officials had hoped to stop printing an annual average of 3,700 pages of course materials per medical student, encouraging them to use digital materials instead. Some students rebelled, and Stanford was forced to resume offering printed notes to those who wanted them. In most classes, half the students had stopped using their iPads only a few weeks into the term."
  • At least no one's requiring that Atlas Shrugged be taught lest money should be withheld from the school. Oh, wait: "A separate grant from BB&T funds a course on ethics and economics in which Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is required reading. The novel, which depicts society's collapse in the wake of government encroachment on free enterprise, was recently made into a movie marketed to tea party members."

Thursday, May 05, 2011

I want a meeting . . .

Disclaimer: This isn't inspired by anything in particular.
  • I want a meeting that doesn't simply repeat and elaborate on information that's already been disseminated by email, especially if the information is, as always, more bad news about the budget.
  • I want a meeting that recognizes the truth of this statement: "Email is for announcements. Meetings are for action."
  • I want a meeting in which faculty venting about issues that can't be changed and won't be the subject of a concerted protest is either banned or kept to a minimum.
  • I want a meeting in which the phrase "We will talk about this at the next meeting" after the subject under discussion has already been talked about endlessly will be banned.
  • If there's supposed to be a vote, I want a meeting in which the vote will happen.
  • I want a meeting in which entirely new information that I've never heard about, even after attending every single meeting, is not presented in the context of "everybody knows about this" as a done deal.
  • I want a meeting that doesn't happen and is canceled if there's no reason for it beyond the fact that it is scheduled.
  • I want a meeting that I can come out of feeling as though I’d accomplished something instead of feeling angry and helpless at what the powers that be are imposing on us.
This will probably be *poofed* for rantiness, but I had to say it.