Thursday, January 31, 2013

No rants here: outrage fatigue

Dr. Crazy has a great post on what I've been feeling lately about all the "end of the liberal arts as we know them" articles and MOOC cheerleading. I just don't want to write about it any more, for a while at least. It could be a case of outrage fatigue, and that's what I think it is, mostly.

But it could be something else, too.  I'm serving on a few committees now, one college-wide, where I actually have a voice.  That's where I'm putting my energy right now: speaking up in real life and making arguments that I hope are cogent and compelling.

If Northern Clime decides to go the all-MOOC and Scantron route* for the liberal arts, for example, I'll be one of the people who at least gets to go on record about it. You can never tell, of course, whether committees are real or just window dressing while an administration does what it's going to do anyway, but if you don't act as though it's real and as though your voice counts, it surely won't.

The other thing is that outrage takes time, even on a small level. I made a promise to myself this semester that in the name of productivity, I'd invoke the prime directive for email. This isn't  the Star Trek one, but the one that goes something like this:
If someone's telling you about something you already know or is treating you as though you don't know about something that you do know ("Do you know about MOOCs? Here's why they're swell!"), don't waste time being annoyed at having your time wasted. Stop reading and delete that message immediately.
This message is brought to you by "Outrage: It's not what's for breakfast any more."

*Written in 2008, but doesn't it sort of predict the whole MOOC thing?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Random bullets of Sunday

  • If you haven't yet read "My Fake College Syllabus" at yet, you really should. A sample: "The rest of the period will be spent in class discussion, which by week three will have settled into an “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-esque conversation between me and one or two consistently prepared students whom the rest of you will quietly despise. Occasionally, another student may come out of nowhere, Jeremy Lin style, and dominate a particular class, only to break my heart by fading permanently back into the woodwork the following week, Jeremy Lin-style."
  • I am still working with Scrivener, although when I try to find out an answer to a very simple question ("how can I add the complete word count for the ms. to the bottom of the screen?" "how can I read the segments as though this is a whole manuscript?")  I end up finding out five other things that Scrivener can do but never the ones I'm searching for. Still, it's exciting to see how much is done, even if it's mostly in first-draft stages. 
  • Boice and Silva and just about everyone else say that you should make an appointment with yourself for your writing time and not violate it for anything, including meetings. They recommend announcing this to all and sundry if someone schedules a meeting for that time.  They sort of imply that productive people will step back in awe and not bother you any more, because they, too, have regular writing schedules. Have you ever heard anyone actually say "I can't meet then; that's my writing time"? What did you do? My feeling is that your writing time is no more sacred than my writing time--or any of the rest of my time, for that matter--and that whatever time involves the least travel/inconvenience/interruption for the whole group is the one when the meeting should happen. You choose to attend or not, and I'll do the same. Thoughts? 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Googling job candidates: do you? should you?

Dean Dad/Matt Reed has a post up about googling job candidates, and while I don't always agree with his take on things (tenure, for example), he's right about this one.

Candidates may assume that we're googling them, but are we? In searches I've served in or chaired, the answer is no, for both ethical and practical reasons:

  • Practical: If the average search in English draws from 100-400 applicants (with some searches, I've heard, drawing 700+ applicants), who has the time? Even if you were to google only the top 50 or so, that's still a lot of computer time.
  • Ethical and practical: Don't we already have a lot of data (or "data points," if you want to be fashionable) about the candidates? CV, cover letter, rec letters, teaching/research statements, and writing samples--don't these provide a fairer picture than a random google search?
  • Ethical: What if the candidate has a common name and the first thing that comes up is a mug shot . . . of someone with the same name? Or if the name-alike or the candidate has really unsavory views on something?  What if s/he went through a phase of huge Goth disaffection with The System and posted said disaffection over the internet--should that taint your view of him/her?
  • Ethical: Conversely, if the candidate has assiduously promoted himself/herself through Pinterest/Facebook/Twitter/Storify/blogs and so on, having a big ego and a good sense of public relations doesn't necessarily mean that the candidate is a better or more accomplished researcher than a less self-promoting candidate.  How could you separate these from the other data, once you knew about them? 
  • Ethical and practical: I can best sum this one up by saying (1) we want to be fair and (2) HR would have our heads on a pike if we made decisions this way. The whole point of job search procedures, which are very well defined, is to level the playing field.  It's hard enough to know how to deal ethically with additional information, such as supporting emails or phone calls received from those at other universities, without addressing google searches. 
  • Ethical and practical: What if the first thing that turns up is teacher evaluations from you-know-which site, for which "help yourself to vengeance" could be a motto? Could you refrain from reading them? 
One of the most satisfying parts of being a search chair, which is a hellacious amount of work, is having the power to run a fair and equitable search and make sure that everyone is given the same consideration. I don't think googling them accomplishes that, but is refusing to google just hopelessly outdated as a concept? Bardiac? Flavia? You've both posted recently about the job market; what do you say? 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

If you're sick, stay home. If you're productive when sick, shut up about it.

In the novel Diary of a Mad Housewife, which I read a hundred years ago, there was a scene that so infuriated me that I've remembered it ever since--and it's not one you'd think.  The main character gets the flu and decides to read Proust, because someone tells her that Proust and a hot toddy is just the thing when you're sick.

I'm sorry, but if you're reading Proust, you're not sick. If you--like a colleague I once had--say that you use the time when you're sick to catch up on reading Derrida in the original French, you're not sick.

If you say that you're sick and you finished writing an article and grading 40 papers, and isn't it lucky that you didn't have to teach because you are so productive when you're sick because it forces you to slow down, you're not sick.

If you can do anything more intellectually challenging than guess which of the three houses the people on House Hunters International will choose, you're not sick.

And if you think you can struggle into the classroom or meeting, coughing and sneezing and spreading whatever pestilence is going around this week and we will be grateful because you're just that important, here's a news flash:

Don't be "determined" to do something so that we can catch your germs.

Stay the #@$%^ home.

(Sorry, IHE columnist, but you really hit a nerve with this one.)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thank you! I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your server.

Historiann as (as usual) a good post up this week about a phenomenon she calls "Mr. Warmup"--the kind of student who, when you walk into a class, has already broken the ice and has the class chatting, which makes the transition to discussion easier for everyone. Being your own Mr. Warmup can work, too, she says.

Now that she's named the phenomenon, I realize that I've had some of these, too--not always an older student, but often a male student, although I've had small groups of women students do the same thing.

If you have to be your own Mr. Warmup, it helps, I think, if you don't plant yourself behind a lectern but wander around the classroom chatting before the class.  It also helps if you have some common ground that you're not going to turn into A Lesson for them.  I'm hopeless at telling jokes but can usually come back with a quip or something that makes them laugh within the context of the class, if the opportunity arises.

I'm teaching a large lecture class now, which makes me think even more about how to get the students engaged.  A few of them have laptops, but most of them seem to be engaged with what we're doing, even if only maybe 25% of them speak up during the class. I can see their faces, and they're thinking even if they're not talking.  It's a different experience from one of the classes I had last semester, which was small and "decentered," with far more participation than lecture.

The thing is, I genuinely want them to tell me things and have set up what we're doing so that they (I hope) want to speak up. It's not a grim march toward a predetermined end where they tell me what X word in Y poem means.  I was looking today at the copies of the marked-up poems that the students had discussed in previous iterations of this class, and no two classes said the same things--and yet they all said good things.  I haven't seen a Mr. Warmup in this class yet--it's still early--but wonder whether one will emerge now that the ice is broken a little bit through the class's participation.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Random Bullets of Recommitting to Writing, with a side dash of MOOCs

Between MLA and a bout of illness, I've fallen off the writing cliff big time. Here's a self-reminder list about why I need to climb back up.

  • Unless I want to move to a non-pseudonymous blog where I can talk about MOOCs and brag about my posts on Twitter, the way everyone else does, my writing life lies elsewhere and I ought to knock off talking about them while I work on the book. 
  • Ditto for the comically inept and silly MSM posts about lazy professors and the rest of it. 
  • Double ditto for the MLA debates over the "dark side of Digital Humanities," which is an interesting discussion but a distraction.
  • Jonathan Rees's recent post about disaggregating knowledge and separating it from the workers who own it (a MOOC practice reminiscent of labor-busting in the olden days) reminded me of this New Yorker article in which Atul Gowande argues that a Cheesecake Factory model of consistency might help improve medical practice. While Gowande makes a good case for this in medicine, it occurred to me that this is the MOOC model, too. In the "I'll teach/lecture, and you can be my tutor/assistant/handmaiden" model now being hyped for local professors, we're all going to be the  sous-chefs doing prep for a meal that we never get to create. If I'm going to be stuck in a food assembly line arranging arugula leaves on a plate hour after hour, day after day, for the creative foods that the MOOC superchef/lecturer hands down for us to replicate, having your own writing as a focus is going to have to replace the satisfactions of teaching.
  •  Time to get to work. 

Monday, January 07, 2013

Random Bullets of MLA 2013

Back from MLA 2013 in a cold but bright and sunny Boston. Random trivial observations:

  • Great choices on the hotel sites. You could walk outside if you wanted to, but for those with health issues affected by the cold, like some of my colleagues, it was possible to get from the Sheraton to the Westin and other points via the giant mall.
  • The giant mall meant more places to eat, get coffee, and so on, so there was less stress about grabbing a quick bite to eat. 
  • Also good: no secret password for wifi--yay! Every year I go hunting for it, since it's not published, but this year when I asked at the registration desk, they told me there wasn't one.  That's a good way to increase access and engagement, so thanks!
  • Really good panels, even if some weren't well attended. I don't agree with the commenter at Dean Dad's who said that MLA ought to count the audience and get rid of low-attendance ones.  Just as there's room for tentpole movies and small indy ones, at the MLA there ought to be the big sessions but also more focused ones so that people in emerging fields can connect with one another.  Does every panel have to draw the audience of The Dark Knight Rises? Also, are you really going to hold the Sunday at noon sessions entirely responsible if they don't draw a huge crowd?
  • Like Dean Dad, I noticed a lot of Macs being used for presentations and also a lot fewer of the "I can't get this thing to work; I think we have to turn off the projector and reboot" or "It's showing on my screen; I don't know why it's not projecting" problems of yesteryear.  Is it that technology has evolved, that Macs are easier, or both?
  • The signage was better, and there were a lot of people to help you find rooms. This sounds trivial, but when you're walking (lost) through a cavernous convention center or are trying to figure out which floor the session is on, having someone there eager to help makes a difference. 
  • There were people checking badges this time, and not just at the book exhibit.  
On the more substantive side, Michael Berube and others put the focus on jobs and the state of the profession, which is where it should be.