Saturday, January 27, 2024

Random bullets of teaching in the new semester: Zoom, teaching, AI


- It's my umpteenth year of teaching in person and my umpteenth year of teaching online as well. Does it take far longer than I ever imagined to prep courses that I have taught before? Yes. Is it exhausting? Yes. Do I still love it? Also yes.  

- I love the energy of teaching in a classroom and seeing the students' expressions.

- Teaching via Zoom on occasion: I still like it, and the students are old hands at it by this point.  But I had to stifle a laugh at the image that came to mind when they all logged on and then immediately turned off their cameras: it was like Sean from The Good Place sealing himself inside a cocoon whenever he heard something he didn't like. All those little black squares = all those little cocoons. (Image via DeviantArt.)

- That doesn't mean that I'm opposed to the Zoom cocoon. Indeed, during Zoom presentations when we're asked to turn off our cameras, I can listen a lot better, especially if I can move around. I don't know what it's called, but I can either (1) look intently at the speaker in person or on Zoom but not hear a word that they say or (2) look down, take notes, walk around, or whatever and be fully engaged with the topic. 

- Apropos of the last point: I think the MLA should place a walking meditation labyrinth in all of its larger meeting rooms, maybe in back of the chairs. Those who can watch a speaker and sit still and listen can sit in the chairs, and the rest of us can walk the labyrinth and listen in our own way. Activity is the key to engagement for some of us, as it is in the classroom, and conferences would be so much better if we could move (and also if the room temperatures were set at something less than blood heat).

- We are going old school in my classes this semester: writing drafts by hand and revising drafts in class. I have a lot of reasons for this: (1) replicating the experience of giving an uninterrupted space for students to write; (2) being able to comment on their drafts before they revise them; (3) giving them time out of their busy schedules to focus; (4) being there if they have questions. 

- The whole AI thing is about a distant number 40 on that list. Yes, I suppose they could have AI write their papers, but the vapid nonsense that AI usually spews out--like a mission statement on steroids--would be a waste of their time. 

- It would also be a waste of mine, and spending any time at all on wading through that slush and figuring out whether it was plagiarized or not would be maddening. Sometimes students write slush--don't we all? and haven't we all?--but if it's honest slush, it has promise. If it's AI slush--well, why should I bother to read what no one was bothered to write? 

- About reading what no one bothered to write: I grant you that the Washington Post and New York Times seem to have dispensed with their copy-editors--you know, those people who catch things like geographical errors and subject-verb agreement--but I'm not paid to read them, and if they have news (hint: read the digital images of the print edition rather than the fluffy stuff that they put on the front pages of their app), I don't mind as much. 

- Speaking of reading the news, I picked up and reread Rosemary's Baby the other day and laughed when I realized that I would rather read about the literal Satan incarnated than the former guy.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Random Bullets of MLA 2024 (Philadelphia)

 Time for the MLA Random Bullets Roundup!

  • First, despite the weather Philadelphia  was a good conference venue. The Marriott, Loews, and Convention Center were all close and within easy walking distance of each other. The Loews and Convention Center had had former lives as a bank and a train station, respectively, so it was fun seeing the traces of what they used to be. 
  • There were, as always, a few directional challenges for your geographically inept correspondent—hidden escalators in the Loews, etc., but I used the usual strategy of following people who looked like they knew where they were going and eventually got there. 
  • The book exhibit, though smaller than pre-COVID, is growing. There was space to get around and see the books, which wasn’t always the case in the pre-COVID crammed exhibits world.
  • The MLA theme this year must have been something about emotion, or it may be that emotion is the new critical trend, because there were lots of panels about feeling. 
    • “The — turn” must be on its way out.
    •  I was, I confess, a bit taken aback that a profession that runs on being (1) “smart,” (2) critical, (3) hierarchical, and (4)  insanely and incessantly productive suddenly cares about feelings, even if it’s only to analyze them, but it’s an intriguing trend. 
    • Maybe it’s like all the self-care & wellness & work-life balance programs we now get at the workplace, where you’re supposed to take MOAR time and add MOAR to your schedule to testify that you’re being relaxed and healthy in exactly the right quantifiable way. Their hearts are in the right place, but  . . . maybe not the outcome they're looking for.
  • I saw in the program and heard about a session where people were to bring (or come as?) their favorite object but didn’t attend that one—perhaps it was a working group? 
  • In terms of technology: the tech mostly worked, and people finally seem to have stopped being precious about using the microphone and started using it so everyone can hear. The Wi-Fi codes were published in a separate guide that I only received late in the conference; I couldn’t make it work, but that’s on me.
  • Masking—maybe a third of the people were masked at any given time, which is a good thing. People sometimes commented about protecting vulnerable family members, etc., but really, no explanation is necessary or expected, which is a very welcome change. I wore my mask on the plane and in the airport, of course, and increasingly put it on during sessions, especially when I heard someone coughing behind me.
  • There was a public awards ceremony, but it was really (when I went there to hear the remarks) more for awardees and their academic families, so to speak, so I left.
  • The Big Meeting was unanimous on some things but contentious on others. The voting clickers stopped working, so voting was held by a show of hands (not a private ballot). 
  • This conference seemed a bit less expensive than previous ones, or maybe it's that Reading Terminal Market and Trader Joe's made quick dining much easier. 
  • Edited to add: I overheard someone, recounting to a newbie in the manner of the Ancient Mariner, that there used to be job interviews only at the MLA in the olden days before Zoom. There were doubtless still job interviews happening, but it wasn't as obvious as it used to be.

Other MLA Conference Posts: