Friday, February 10, 2023

More on handwriting

[Sorry! I was trying to get rid of a dead link in this old post and it posted as a new one.] 


The Washington Post has an article, "The Handwriting Is on the Wall" about the death of cursive (not handwriting per se--thanks, Sisyphus, for making that distinction). Here's a snippet from p. 2:

In one of the studies, Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George's County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills. But Graham worries that students who remain printers, rather than writing in cursive, need more time to take notes or write essays for the SAT. Teachers may say they don't deduct for bad handwriting in class, but research tells another story, he said. When adults are given the same composition written in good handwriting and poor handwriting, "they still give lower grades for ideation and quality of writing if the text is less legible," he said. Indeed, the SAT essays written in cursive had slightly higher average scores than those written in print, according to the College Board.
I'm not as worried about the first statistic. First graders aren't college students, and by the time students have practiced some form of handwriting for 12 years, they're bound to get pretty good at it. Some people can print as fast as they can write (anyone ever teach engineering students? I rest my case), so that statistic may not hold true. But what about the second part? Have you ever noticed a correlation between types of handwriting and the content of the work? Most people I've talked to who've graded a few thousand essays have formed some impressions, although they don't let it get in the way of assessing a paper. Maybe if everyone starts printing, those differences in scores will be erased--or maybe the advantage then will go to the fastest typists. Also, will it become difficult for people who don't know how to write in cursive to read cursive writing? Disclosure: the handwriting thing is hitting home for me because it seems to be going down the tubes just as I've gotten all interested in pens, inks, and paper. I've been trying to keep a notebook recording word counts, notes, page counts, information to look up, etc., and have been writing in it with my new pen. (I'm not obsessed yet the way some are, but I can spend far too much time pondering the qualities of J. Herbin versus Noodler's Ink or Clairefontaine versus Moleskine notebooks. Okay, maybe I'm a little obsessed.)

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Latest in the "let's kill all the libraries" movement: newly-formed Vermont State University

Quick midday post: the newly consolidated Vermont State, the latest college to kill the libraries, is really, really committed to it:

Administrators announced Tuesday afternoon that the system’s member schools — Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College — will shuffle their athletics programs and transition its five campus libraries to an “all-digital” model. 

The library shift is set to take place by July 1, and will eliminate seven full-time positions and three part-time ones, according to Parwinder Grewal, the inaugural president of Vermont State University. ...

As part of those changes, campus libraries will shift online, meaning students will only be able to access books, academic journals and other materials online. Most of the physical books and other materials will be donated and administrators plan to “repurpose” the spaces. 

We're not talking about your basic Starbucks Memorial Library here, knocking out a few obsolete science journals to make room for the ever-essential coffee machines and treadmills.

All the books will be gone. 

I kind of get it. My students don't seem to go to the library much, except when I take them on a tour or make an assignment requiring it. 

But the no-books model has some issues.

1. How could you not like to go to the library and work with real copies of, say, The Illustrated London News or Harper's Weekly in big oversized bindings, especially when your campus may or may not have access to the increasingly-behind-paywalls digitized versions? Learning is so 2-D in a digitized world: we look at screens all day, every day. It's kind of exciting, as my students tell me every semester, to go and look at the actual materials. 

2. And given that budget cuts happen every single year in a university, and library budgets are especially prone to being given the axe--happens at Northern Clime every year--what happens when students don't have access to a particular paywalled resource?

3. What happens if you're working with a historical text (a novel, say, from Google Books or HathiTrust) where part is missing, blurred, or otherwise inaccessible

4. In a broader sense, won't this lead to more of a haves vs. have-nots situation, with this being one more place where resources are removed for the have-nots but kept for well-funded universities? 

Maybe this is all an irrational fear on my part. I guess it's reminding me of an exam I had to grade one time for an independent study student (not my student). The exam hit the basics but did not go one word, one thought, or one sentence beyond what was absolutely required. Did it pass? Yes. But it was like a ChatGPT essay: grammatically correct and without insight, a perfect C. 

Somehow I think that a curious student + a library with books has a better shot at a different perspective, which may be a romantic illusion.

Your thoughts? 

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Random bullets of February 1

  •  First of all, happy February! January's over, and you got through it, so yay!
  • I'm still hoping that the cloud cover clears so that I can see the green comet
  • If you haven't read about New College of Florida--about how the Florida governor is undercutting academic freedom and removed the well-respected scholar Patricia Okker in favor of one of his sycophant/cronies, here's your chance. What I'm seeing from other academics is that New College was basically the honors college of Florida. Here's more from the New York Times about how DeSantis is laying waste to the education system, one step at a time, to "build his brand" for 2024. 
  • Speaking of "building a brand," I am sick to death of those videos of big talking heads of influencers flapping their gums at me from a camera 2" away whenever I go to a news site or Twitter. If I wanted to see big talking heads saying nothing, I would go to TikTok or Instagram. I realize that this is a niche view and that apparently all Americans have lots of time and money to waste in paying attention to influencers, but please, make it stop on sites where news might actually be present. Yes, I sound like my grandmother. Consider this my entry in #crankyrantsmanship for February.
  • About two years ago, we started hearing about substacks instead of blogs, which are apparently passé. A substack is a blog or newsletter that you pay for instead of reading it for free. Since binge-reading blogs is a treat for me when I have time and email is a "one more thing I have to deal with," I'm not usually tempted to subscribe, except for George Saunders's story club (which I still haven't joined), and I'm definitely not inclined to write one, since it requires a real rather than sporadic commitment. Questions: 
    • Do any of you have a substack (maybe under your real names)? 
    • Do you like the format and interaction?
  •  I'm hesitant to say anything about writing for fear of jinxing the progress made thus far this year, but it's going all right. What's different?
    • I've gone back to the pomodoro system and
    • I'm tracking in the notebook as well as in the Excel spreadsheet.
    • Notes and brainstorming count as much as real writing. Hey, they're words, too, right?
    • For the current project, I'm using Scrivener for the draft so that I can see all the notes I've made, which is easier than having 15 Word documents open. 
  • How's your February going?