Composition Pedagogy

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Good News for Academics?

Via Dennis Jerz, a report from the American Council on Education's Office of Women in Higher Education: An Agenda for Excellence: Creating Flexibility in Tenure-Track Faculty Careers. Recommmendations from the (PDF) executive summary include:

• Uncover and eliminate the preventable causes of talented PhDs [sic] opting out of tenure-track faculty positions.

• Create re-entry opportunities (e.g., postdoctoral fellowships) for PhDs who seek tenure-track faculty careers later in life after having decided to stop out of academia or work part time in order to manage career and family responsibilities.

• Abolish penalties in the hiring process for documented dependent care–related résumé gaps.

• Provide assistance to new faculty hires with spousal/partner employment needs and other family-related relocation issues.

• Create flexibility in the probationary period for tenure review without altering the standards or criteria. Longer probationary periods should not be required for all faculty, but flexible time frames of up to 10 years with reviews at set intervals should be offered. This option could benefit faculty who may need to be compensated for lost time or given additional time to prepare because of unanticipated professional or personal circumstances.

• Provide quality, affordable childcare to tenured and tenure-track faculty, particularly new hires (or information about available services); establish or provide information for childcare programs for emergency back up, evening and overnight care, and school and summer breaks.

I'm happy to see that these problems and possible reform measures, which have been discussed in a recent issue of Academe and on blogs like Invisible Adjunct and Crooked Timber, are being exposed and called for at this level.

Faculty Fellows Presentation on Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom

Today Krista and I are scheduled to lead a workshop for the Digital Media Center Faculty Fellowship Program. Much to my dismay, though, Krista isn't going to be able to make it; please leave her heal-up-soon wishes. We had agreed to post our presentation on our blogs, though, so I've attached it to this post in both PowerPoint format and OpenOffice format if any of you would like to see.


Prompted perhaps by my reading of Michelle's reflections on teaching for the first time this semester,* on the way home from getting a haircut just now, I decided to figure out how many students I've taught over the years. I started teaching in Fall 1999, so I'm still relatively new at it, and I was surprised to realize that I've taught four hundred and eight students. I have interacted with four hundred and eight students. Four hundred and eight people have known me in that capacity, in the role of teacher. Wow. Makes me wonder how many students John has taught. Or anyone else, if you want to count, please post your number.

* I haven't said so enough in the comments to your blog, Michelle, but no, you're not the only one who thinks/feels what you're thinking/feeling, and yes, these things happen to everyone. :-)

UPDATE: D'oh! That number's wrong. I forgot that there are several students who have taken more than one course I've taught. I'll do a recount and post the new number later tonight. For now, I'm off to a little soirée.

SECOND UPDATE: Okay, the number is actually 396. Still, though, 396 people! It has made me think a lot about the magnitude of what teachers do and take teaching even more seriously.

Fish on Student Evaluations

Take that, student evaluations! Stanley Fish lowers the boom (Via Steve). Fish criticizes the questions some evaluation forms ask of students, like: "Did the instructor give lectures that facilitated note taking?" "Have you learned and understood the subject materials of this course?" etc. I agree, some of the questions put most or all the onus of learning onto the instructor, and some are problematic in other ways -- for example, at my university, students are asked to assess the instructor's use of technology to facilitate learning in the course. The teacher could be phenomenal but low-tech and could end up looking bad just because of that. Sometimes there are questions about course design that ask students to evaluate the teacher for decisions that have been made at the administrative level (the assignments, structure of the course, which textbooks are used, etc.). He's spot-on in that regard. But Fish goes further, suggesting that the very idea of having students evaluate teaching is wrongheaded. He calls instead for a grievance process that would be confidential and would catch problems early, while admitting that most colleges and universities already have such processes. What bothers me about the article is the idea that students' opinions are "ill-informed" and that students are unqualified to assess courses. Fish writes:

No doubt in many colleges and universities a grievance process is already in place, and if it is, there is absolutely no need for the waste of paper and time that now goes into preparing, printing, distributing, collecting, and tabulating forms that report the unfiltered opinions of those who, for whatever reason, decided to express them.

To be sure, there would still be a need for teaching evaluations that could legitimately play a role in promotion and tenure decisions. Those evaluations, however, could be provided by the system of peer visitation already used by most departments. It is, after all, a matter of judging professional competence, and who better to do that than a professional, someone who visits your class and assesses what you're doing (or trying to do) in the context of a career-long effort to do the same thing.

Is this whole article supposed to be a joke...? Some of us find student feedback quite valuable, at least as valuable as a one-time class visit and write-up (though those evaluations are much-needed too). What about the problems involved in peer visitation evaluations? While a sympathetic observer is a good thing, sometimes the resulting write-ups can be a little too rose-colored.

After reading the article, I thought: Oh yeah! I need to email University Course Evaluations and arrange for the Early Semester Evaluation Forms to be sent to my students.

Blog Post Online Readers, CC Licensed

There's a good discussion on Kairosnews about free, collaboratively authored, online, Creative Commons-licensed, open-access composition textbooks. As you might guess, I like the idea, but the planning and execution are going to be very tricky if a group actually gets together and does this thing. But as I was writing my comment, it occurred to me how easy it would be to assemble an online reader for a first-year composition course. There's so much writing talent in the blogosphere, and many bloggers have Creative Commons licenses. I might just do it: Find great, essay-style posts that model qualities of good writing style and argumentation, group them into themes, and copy them into my course site. I could use Drupal's collaborative book module. I'm excited! I'm already thinking of posts I might want to use, like for a unit on the war, I'm thinking of Mike's post titled The Photos and Jeanne's And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink: A scattered and contradictory post on responsibility and Abu Ghraib (To be sure, Jeanne doesn't have a CC license, but maybe she'd give permission for her work to be reproduced for educational, noncommercial purposes.). I'm also thinking of Jeanne's recent post titled Democrats, Aristocrats, and the Torturer's Assistants.

Such a reader could be assembled for any class; I'm thinking too of an intro to Gender Studies class. I might use something along the lines of Dr. Crazy's "Why Women's Studies Sucks" series (Part I and Part II, and hat tip to Jonathan for those), and the responses from The Little Professor and others. Ummmm, yeah, my argument would be stronger if these blogs actually had CC licenses, I know (heh), but again, they might allow their work to be used for this purpose. If not, there are many with CC licenses who have excellent work on their blogs, like Rad Geek, Lauren, and many more. The more I think about this idea, the more I like it. Reduced cost to students, more freedom for the instructor to design the course around themes, and more opportunity for the students to be an active audience, conversing with the authors of the work if the students also blog, or even if they don't, as most bloggers have an email address displayed.

Public Speaking Course Web Site

I'm teaching Oral Presentations in Professional Settings this semester and, while I'm in favor of having students post to course weblogs in most courses, I make an exception for speech courses. Requiring students to blog in a course focused so strongly on oral communication feels superfluous, like it's more for me than the students.* I am, however, using Drupal as a content management system for course materials this semester. I'm envisioning the course site primarily as a space for me to make announcements, provide online resources, and post notes from class (although the students are more than welcome to post if they like). Notice my list of links in the left sidebar; if there are any you think I should add, please let me know.

* That's really because I haven't thought of a good way to make blogging an integral part of the course. If you have ideas on how to do it in a speech course, I'd love to hear them!

New Issue of Lore, with Section on Academic Blogging

I'm pleased to see that the new issue of Lore is out, which features the Digressions section on academic blogging. I've got a brief essay in there, and if you'd like to respond to it, please feel free to do so here. I'll probably be posting responses to some of the other essays here too; I don't have time right now to read them, but several of them sound intriguing. I'll probably start with Dennis's piece.

UPDATE: Responses from Torill and Kristine.


Austin Lingerfelt has just posted a fine essay on using weblogs in the classroom (Via Chuck).

Visual Rhetoric Bibliography (Via Delicious Jill.)

A New Forum (Blogging) Inspires the Old (Books): This story examines the tactics of savvy authors who are trying to get a publishing contract; some have been successful at using their weblogs to demonstrate that there's an audience for whatever they're working on, and then there are the Julie/Julia and Salam Pax precedents -- I think Ginmar also has a book deal -- as proof that it's possible to get a book out of a blog. It's great, but I worry about how this will go over in academia. I would like to, if not see everything go online, at least to remove the electronic scholarly publishing stigma once and for all, and I'll be dismayed if weblogs are used as a means to a (proprietary) print end. I don't mean to come across as this paranoid about it, but the thought has crossed my mind.

Oh, and I'm about to go home for three lovely weeks, so I might not be blogging all that much.

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