A Notch Above Popular, A Notch Below Scholarly

Whenever I teach College Writing & Research, I explain to students the difference between scholarly and popular periodicals (magazines, or its online equivalents). However, that binary is not as clear-cut as it seems at first, because in reality, more students these days are coming into college classes with far less background in reading and familiarity with a variety of publications than 20, 30, or 50 years ago. Since the 1970's when more colleges became open access, more first generation college students started appearing in college classes. With the advent of so many online college opportunities, like SNHU or any other university's online programs, instructors cannot easily determine whether their students are widely read or, like the majority of high school graduates now, aliterate* and only keep up with the latest technology, hardly aware of the current issues of the day.

When students begin to write their first research paper (at least, for many it is their first), they can only see the college  library's search engine as a glorified version of Google. Already plenty familiar with Google, they tell themselves, "why bother with the more "complicated" version?" Even though scholars in library science and information retrieval are trying to capitalize on this familiarity with the ubiquitous search engine, the process of finding scholarly sources for a college research paper is more complex and multi-layered than having one point of entry.

When I used to take my students on a "library tour," I would often ask them to browse the "Current Periodicals" section, a common mainstay of most college libraries' first floors. Sometimes I would require them to find three periodicals that looked interesting to them and/or related to their major, list all three on a worksheet, then find one article within any of those three, read it, and summarize it, including the summary on the same worksheet, along with comments about what they learned, if anything. After we did this, most of the time the students remarked that it was an interesting and useful experience and said they weren't at all aware of all the magazines and journals out there. Of course, even though no library carries a complete inventory of ALL the magazines and journals "out there," this introduction to the breadth of possibilities was always eye-opening to and relatively painless for the students.

More often than not, students were drawn to a category I would call "substantive" magazines, a notch above "popular," a notch below "scholarly," the typical points on either end of a continuum that instructors explain in terms of intended audience. Sometimes "trade publications" were on the continuum, too, closer to scholarly than popular, or sometimes used as an interchangeable category. I would list Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report in the category of "popular" magazines, with the National Enquirer or Us Weekly on the far end,  the "sensational" category. (To quote an old friend of mine, "Time is for people who can't think; Look is for people who can't read.") But there's another category that is a step above "popular," that includes magazines that appeal to the "thinking person," with articles of such extended length that the aliterate normally shy away from tackling. It takes far too much of their valuable time. Sure, they CAN read it, but why bother?

If you haven't figured it out by now, I use the term "aliterate" very much in the same sense Kylene Beers does. She talks about the "illiterate" (those who don't know how to read or how to read well), "literate" (those who know how to read and often do), and "aliterate" (those who know how to read but choose not to, or at least, not if they can help it). Most high school graduates who don't go on to college tend to fall into the aliterate category, but many college students, even college graduates. could easily fit into that category now, too. People simply get out of the habit of reading and either don't want to read or feel they have no time for it, having grown accustomed to scanning user-friendly websites (read: "soundbite-sized information chunks"). Just like our we need to exercise our bodies, we need to exercise our brains a little bit more, too, or that ability to read more thoughtful and complex pieces will become harder just like our muscles atrophy.

So, if you'd like to rekindle your reading self, here's a list of print magazines that you'll find in any Barnes and Noble newstand section. Following that, I've assembled a list of online "magazines" and blogs that don't directly target people in a particular field as their audience, whose readership could easily be called the "thinking person."

Online Version of Print Magazines

Online Journals


Research Data

Reinventing Oneself

    This is the beginning of a new era--at least for IdeaWarehouse! Here I am in Boston, one of the most concentrated capitals of higher education, and for a long time I have identified myself as an academic, though it took me a long time at the beginning to really feel like I was, and it's the first day of classes either today, yesterday, or a week from today. Yet this is the longest time (since I was 14) that I have ever been without a full-time job. So it's time to re-invent myself (btw, does that require a hyphen or no hyphen?--I wonder what Grammar Girl would say?). I need to OWN my job as a writer and writing consultant. 

    Long before I established WW Writing Services as my own writing consultant company, I was doing free-lance jobs in writing and editing. I edited Dr. Dan Shelley's book for K-12 educators on using computers, way back near the time the WWW was being invented (makes me feel like I am from the stone-age era). Then I helped another professor with a master's thesis, which in fact, needed a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, this person must have thought I was doing it just to be nice or because I wanted to be friends or something, but I never got paid! Somehow we got our wires crossed, and I'm sure I could have done something more to have gotten the money, but it was a touchy situation because we had both started working at this college at about the same time, and I had to continue working with this professor throughout the years, so I sucked it up and decided never to make that mistake again (have someone mistake my hard hours of work for "just being nice" and trying to "be friends," especially when there were never any more overtures of friendship being extended after that.)

    Then I had several other miscellaneous projects--for which I always got paid, but the totals never amounted to anything more than extra clothes money, which I always welcome. When I was living in Slippery Rock and commuting 70 miles to Edinboro, I ended up purchasing my own paper for handuts and syllabi, file folders, and any office supplies I used at home, since I did so much there, rather than at the office. So, since Staples delivers for free to businesses, I decided to become WW Writing Services. Ahh, how I miss my spacious office!  ....Okay, I won't go there! I DO have own room within our condo that IS my office still. It's all mine, even though it moonlights as a guest room when people visit. If I didn't have a ROOM OF MY OWN, I'd go crazy, I think. Here in my "Office"--the official home of WW Writing Services, I crank out my projects:

The 1st 3 projects are the most official WW Writing Services projects, while the others are personal writing projects or academic ones, focused on first-year composition and writing center pedagogy. I plan to keep plenty busy and expect to post on this blog at least once a week (usually between Sunday and Tuesday) from now on.


Reactions to Myth #1--Escape from the Ivory Tower

The Life of the Mind:

"We’re very sorry, but academia will likely always include the teaching, committee meetings, shared governance, fights about office space, funding problems, and advising that get between us and the Great Thoughts. . . .The flip of this is also misery-inducing: That everything beyond the boundaries of the Ivory Tower is an intellectual wasteland full of busy work and ethically suspect agendas. In this story no one reads, public intellectualism is dead, and everyone is simply putting in their time until retirement. "--from

Good points all! Don't I know that my daily grind consisted of committee meeting after committee meeting, concern about whether courses would "make" or someone wouldn't get the short summer course they needed to fund their family vacation to Disneyworld or something. I actually didn't mind the committee meetings all that much when they were chaired by people who got in, kept the politics and feelings out of the discussion, and got us out in time for our next class or office hours. One thing that always got me, though, was how petty some of the in-fighting was, and how insecure some of the "excellent scholars" were.  Got to see misogyny up close and personal more than a few times, but also saw how easily rumors were started and spread, many completely false, but some more true than the institution could ever admit. 

The students are what kept me feeling so young, though. I enjoyed my interaction with them so much. Despite the fact that I got older and older, while they all stayed approximately the same age, I liked how they taught me so much about what was cool to say now, what was not, even if I never picked it up. When my own son and stepchildren were college age, it was interesting to see their world from other students' eyes. 

But back to the "Life of the Mind:" I would like to think that I conveyed the possibility to them that EVERYWHERE in the work world, not just in college, the life of the mind is valued. One of my favorite theme-centered writing courses that I taught was the one on "public intellectuals." The most interesting phenomenon that I encountered was that, for about two thirds of the students, that phrase didn't completely register in the sense that I wanted it to. Instead, they would replace in their mind the idea of "someone to look up to," "today's heroes," or "inspiring adult role models." The idea of public intellectualism was lost on them. And yet, I learned a lot myself about some  pretty amazing people. I still have the research material for the knowledge and insights I gained and the web pages they made on each person and want to translate it all into a paper still someday.

ARTICLE #1 in progress: Public Intellectualism and First-Year Writing Courses.

Gearing Up for Heavy-Duty Writing Times

I have an unusual oppportunity to catch up on my scholarship this semester, so I've been making lists and reading a lot of background material. Having gotten my Ph.D. in the year 2000, I didn't know of any schools that offered a Ph.D. in new media or digital culture. I had long been interested in that area, and I created my own individualized instruction class that I called "Writing for Multimedia" that Dr. Mike Williamson taught, or rather served as instructor of record. I read Landow's book then, before it was revised and updated, I read Jane Yellowlees Douglas's early work, and Colin Brooke's and many others who have continued working in this field. Twice I taught to writing majors at Edinboro an undergraduate version of "Writing for Multimedia," again which I created from the ground up. I taught "Science Writing" as an individualized instruction, and developed a plan for a "New Media Minor" at Edinboro, and received the blessing of the Dean of Liberal Arts to work on it as a multi-disciplinary minor, particularly with the Communication Department, Art Department, and Computer Department. At that time, I did not know (no one outside the department did) that the "Speech and Communciation Dept." was changing its name to the "Dept. of Communication and Media Studies," so I ended up stepping on a few toes as I called the first meeting to explore the possibility of this minor. After smoothing the few ruffled feathers of a few and reassuring everyone that I was hoping this to be an Interdisciplinary Minor, we had our meeting, at which time I suggested that the Communication and Media Studies Dept. take the lead on this. Nothing happened, so the minor when nowhere, but I kept up my contacts with the supporter of this idea.

I was excited to be able to review a new book in this field that was published in Composition Forum, and I made plans to attend the two-week DMAC (Digital Media something something) that started being held at Ohio State right about this time. However, even though I put down my $100 deposit, I couldn't attend that year, hoping to the next one. But, as things worked out, Dan got a job at Northeastern University's School of Law, and we began the difficult process of moving eastward. That's taken quite a long time, but we're here, now, finally (I say this after being here a complete year), and had a lot of weird setbacks along the way, some health-related, some family-related, and many simply hard. The hardest, I think, was leaving Edinboro after being there for 24 years. The last time I shut and locked the door of my office was one of the hardest and saddest moments I had in a long time. Yet, I know I'm not the only one in the world who is part of an academic couple who has to deal with this kind of thing. My way of coping with things like this--as Dan often jokes about/which is true also-- is to go find a book (or 2) on it! But there are none, really, for each situation is different.

So, here we go. New adventures await.


BRAWN get-together

Went to a delightful gathering this evening in Cambridge! The Boston Rhetoric and Writing Network (BRAWN) had a One-Last-Gathering-Before-We-Grade set up at a local bar & grill. I met some very nice people there from a variety of schools with an equally wide variety of interests, but all with a rhetoric/composition/writing degree or job or major. 

Germs Catching Up with Me

Unfortunately, I've been sick most of this week, battling an upper respiratory infection that leaves me super exhausted, if possible even more so than usual. Good health is something a lot of people take for granted until it leaves them. Nevertheless, besides resting, I am using this time to communicate with my students and colleagues via email, and catch up with grading, along with adjusting the two course calendars so they are back to being up-to-date after these small glitches.

Even so, I'm pleased to be asked to be a reviewer for a First Monday publication, which coincidentally is where I have planned to send my most recent article early this summer.

If you are a cat lover or a fan of Tiger (he has his own "Catbook" page!), please say a prayer for him! He is losing weight too much and seems to be more depressed and inactive than usual. He is 14 years old, but shouldn't be declining this fast. We are worried. He used to be so fat, and now you can feel every little bone in his skeleton. His backbone feels more raised than normal or knobby, so I wonder if he has cat arthritis. Poor Tiger. I sure love that cat. He is in Boston now, so he can't catch any of his favorite critters, like voles. He used to get one for us (like a present--ewww!) practically every day! He'd leave it right outside the back sliding door so you couldn't miss it when you tried to step out. I may bring him back here next week to see if that helps any. Nicer whether always makes him happier.

 Meanwhile, here's one of my latest favorite songs: "King of Anything" 

Writing my "example paper" on "public intellectuals"

Just as I do each semester I teach ENGL 102, I choose a topic and stay a few steps ahead of the students in the assignments that I make them do. Right now, I'm creating the Annotated Bibliography of 10 sources on the topic of "public intellectuals" and previously posted and talked about the Research Paper Proposal which I've posted online at http://users.edinboro.edu/warren/researchpropexample.pdf . Astute readers may or may not notice that I made a few mistakes in that example, enough to drop me down to a 92 or 91 --yikes! For example, I left out an entire book's information, because I was getting lazy and in another case, I left out 3 pertinent pieces of information about another book. That and I didn't capitalize the main word in one of the titles. I am THAT picky, even with my own work.

Now that I'm choosing the 10 sources I will annotate, I realize that I have all of their bibliographical information EXCEPT the database where I found the source(s). So I had to go back in and locate each one, but it wasn't hard, just took an extra half hour.  Then, of course, I need to annotate each one before Tuesday's class to have the example to show them. 

On a personal note: I am going to lose 27 lbs. at least--as soon as I can. If I lost 2 lbs. a week, it would take 14 weeks. Oh, that seems sooo long! I suppose I could do it by the end of  June, if I cut myself some slack and didn't demand 2 every SINGLE week.That would give me 4 times when I wouldn't have to meet that quota. Okay, I'm checking in today--you don't get to know the starting weight (unless you know me), but I will tell  you the pounds gained or lost each week on here.

Keeping Up with Intelligent Blog Posts

It's not so hard to just write ANYTHING every day or every once in a while. It IS, however, a little challenging to write more intelligent blog posts every day, like a newspaper column, almost. You want a single message to come through. So this post will be about creating significantly-thought-proking posts  frequently. It may take me all day to write this, but probably not.

Well, since today is FEB 2nd, we must defer to the venerable groundhog for our weather predictions: Punxatawney Phil predicted that we would have an EARLY SPRING, and his handlers predicted that the Steelers would win the SuperBowl! Of course, that last prediction is their own preference, but I'm sure everybody in attendance (for the most part), would have agreed with him. Steeler Fever is growing here every day, as game day gets closer. It'll be weird to see the SuperBowl in Boston rather than in the heart of Steeler Nation.

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Apparently, the origins of Groundhog Day lie in its connection to the celebration of Candlemas. Since German settlers came to that region of Pennsylvania, they brought with them their traditions and religious beliefs, one of which was Candlemas. On that day, churchgoers lit candles  for the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, the end of Epiphany, frequently holding a procession with the candles. When Jewish women had children, they were considered unclean for 7 days, and then after 33 days is supposed to wait until the end of that time (40 days altogether) when they  underwent a purification ceremony involving a ritual bath and the lighting of candles. Mary was also expected to bring Jesus to the temple where the priests could dedicate him. After this time, the mothers, including Mary, were allowed to have relations with their husbands.

On a non-Christian level, this was also a time of weather predictions. One site states:

"Farmers believed that the remainder of winter would be the opposite of whatever the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again."

(from http://www.churchyear.net/candlemas.html)

As many Christian and Pagan customs do, we often get a secular "holiday" (if this can be called a holiday), corresonding with the time of a Christian holiday, whether still practiced or not.