End of Term Considerations

I'm winding up my last day teaching two sections of ENG 123 for Term 16EW6, although next week starts a whole new term: 16EW1 all over again! No matter how long I teach the short terms for SNHU, I still feel like the length of the terms should be "semesters," 15 or 16 weeks. But I guess that's not unusual, considering I taught for 24 1/2 years with those course time frames.  I'm always wishing I could have done a few things differently at these times. 

For one thing, I wish I had stressed how annoying it is to have repeated grammatical or punctuation (surface-level) mistakes in a piece of writing, especially one considered a final version. Next term, I should warn students about things that irritate me. Here's a list:

  • Unclear or vague pronoun references--it, this, them, that, they, etc..
  • Missing commas after an introductory clause
  • Fragments
  • Too many "there is/are/was/were" phrases in a paper
  • Using regular paragraph indentation instead of hanging indents
  • Not even thinking about a title for a paper
  • Thinking that I don't actually read the papers thoroughly or know when a student is writing a bunch of BS
  • there's more, but I don't want to come off sounding like Oscar the Grouch.
  • Students who don't bother to read the etext or the directions (Guidelines) for an assignment
  • Obvious plagiarism

I'm not happy with the way the Course Modules dumb down the paper-writing experience. More "Design Feedback Tickets" to fill out--ugh! I spend enough time grading, doing outreach, checking the Grade Center, and talking or emailing with students. 

I'm glad I didn't see too much blatant plagiarism this time. It's the bad paraphrasing-kind of plagiarism or near-plagiarism that I mostly see, and that's not necessarily a student's fault since they are simply learning how to integrate sources. It's so hard to do that skillfully, but it's 10 times harder when a person doesn't read on a regular basis. 

I could easily predict who might get a decent grade in a class if I simply had a questionnaire at the beginning asking students if they read for pleasure at all. The ones you do will probably get a better grade. It's pretty amazing. 

.......

I'm going to diverge from this topic for a brief minute and send a shout-out to my brilliant husband whose book was published a couple of weeks ago: 

Here's the blurb for it on the publisher page:http://www.wklegaledu.com/focus-casebook-series/id-9781454868064/Business_Bankruptcy_Law_in_Focus

Congratulations, Dan! Quite impressive! (Those people at Wolters-Kluwer need to put a picture of you on their site, too, not just the other guy!!)

Dans book on bankruptcy


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

Blogs

Research Data


Last Day of a Term: Teaching Writing Online

Today's the last day of another SNHU term. I have a stackful of papers to grade in the next few days, but I always feel a little mixed when the end day arrives. I keep thinking about what I should have done differently, or thinking that I hadn't connected with this student or that well enough, but when it comes right down to it, I spend more time than most people doing this job. It's low pay, if you consider how much aStack-o-papersctual time I put into it and that's required of me to do my job well. But I like that I can do it from home. The down side of that is that I'm always working, it seems! Last weekend my husband was feeling neglected, I'm sure, because I had the laptop on my lap every time he turned around. Still, I think this term is one of the best terms here I've had yet. 

 


2015 Theme--Grammar and Style IdeaWarehouse

       Although I have not been posting entries in this blog on a regular basis in the last few years, more like randomly, I have decided that every year I'll declare a certain topic as a theme and have the posts follow that theme throughout the year. The idea came to me partly because I've been slow to get my WW Writing Services webpage back into operation or the Wendy Warren Austin professional/scholarly web page barely more than online either. Meanwhile, as I am hard at work re-learning the ropes of online teaching for the College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE) at Southern New Hampshire University, I will put this permanent virtual space (an oxymoron?) to work for both me and my students.  But then I remembered -- "IdeaWarehouse" will save me! 

    So, in the vein of Mignon Fogarty's Grammar Girl, Sarah Belliston's Grammarist, and dozens of other good blogs about writing, grammar, and style, I hereby declare this blog: XXX IdeaWarehouse--haven't figured out the official re-titling yet.

My first order of business is to start a Blogroll of these venerable writers' links and then to continue adding to it as I find more. Their domain covers both scholarly and popular writing, since I plan to do the same as well, and my background is in both areas. 

Consider this a work in progress . . .

 

   


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.


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. 

Office Time

I wonder when I'll actually get to meet my "phantom office mate," Lorianne DiSaboto? I'm glad that these days, one can check out a person's blog and get a sense of at least one or more sides to a person's personality, but it's also a little weird that it's something we do virtually, and through the mediated space of our computers. I know I sat next to her at the retreat or maybe it was the orientation for new teachers before school started. I was trying to remember people's names, and I had remembered Lorianne's email and name, and so I was trying to remember all the newer ones. Sorry, Lorianne! I probably didn't do more than say hello that day.

Anyway, tomorrow I will finally get my ID card, also. A better time to do it would have been when everybody else did it: before classes. As usual, I had a zillion things to do/places to be, because of trying to cram everything in before Dan and I went to Tim and Suzanne's wedding at the Cape. We had to leave RIGHT after the orientation to get down there in time, so I was running around like crazy. Plus, when it was hot, it was much harder for me to do things. I'd get really tired real fast, and would have to pace myself. I attributed this to my MS, although now I am getting conflicting diagnoses of what these types of episodes might be. Soon, I will get a second opinion, but meanwhile, I'll also concentrate on taking better care of myself overall. I don't know why that is sometimes so hard to do, but it is.

Walking around Framingham State campus certainly gives me a workout, especially since there are so few places to park. It's a beautiful campus, even if it is quite hilly. My office window is huge, letting in a lot of pleasant light, and looks out onto the main building areas, even though it is in the basement of one of the buildings.

 

 

 


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.


Songs

One of the things I like best about teaching college students is that they know all the current music! Lately, I've had this song in my head, partly because it's a great tune, and partly because the words remind me of how I feel about my husband (and how much I miss him when I'm not with him). Yesterday as class was over, I asked anybody if they knew who sang that song (remembered a few phrases from it) or knew its title. Several people knew it, but Jordan Baughman sang a few lines right away--right in tune, I might add--and told me its title and artist! Congratulations, Jordan! You also have a pretty good voice.  It's Matt Nathanson's "Come On Get Higher."

 

To Dan