Tuesday, February 27, 2007

the exams are coming

and in turn my blog has been neglected.

I start my first exam on Friday (as in *this* coming Friday...as in three days from now) morning. The second exam the following Friday, and my (teleconference version of) orals on Friday, the 16th. My oral portion will be a teleconference as one of my committee members is now on faculty at a school in Texas.

It may sound crazy, but I'm not sure of the best way to "prepare" for these exams. I've mostly been busy clearing space. Taking care of NUTs (nagging unfinished tasks), grading up a storm, etc., so that when the exam questions arrive in front of me, they'll have my full attention. I can't say I'm not scared. But I'm almost beyond that point. I've thrown up my hands. There is not much more I can do.

I don't know that I'll be blogging much or doing much blog reading over the next couple of weeks, but I'll try to do brief updates after each exam. I'm sure my NetNewsWire will announce something like 2,000 unread articles and blog entries by the time I return to my "real life."

Until then....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What's so wrong with the word scrotum?

I don't know why I let things like this bother me so much. Cases of censorship and/or controversy over silly things crop up all the time. I try not to let them get under my skin so much, but it just infuriates me that there are people in this world who are so...so...(the least offensive, but totally nondescriptive, word that I can come up with is) clueless! I know that calling people clueless isn't terribly articulate. This is why I generally try not to respond when people get all riled up over the naming of anatomical parts. Scrotum is just a word for the skin surrounding a male's testicals. I'm not sure why, to quote Frederick Muller, a middle school librarian, “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.” Why is that so difficult to explain? Or as Andrea Koch, the librarian at French Road Elementary School in Brighton, N.Y., puts it, “I don’t think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson,” she said in an interview. And why is that? Because we'd rather have nine, ten, and eleven year olds referring to their body parts by other names? These reactions just get so lost on me. And I'm irritable as it is. I just had to sit hear and watch the evening news while reader after reader (well, I'm using the term "reader" lightly as they didn't read the whole book just the one passage) recoiled at the word scrotum.

Okay, well here is a much more carefully stated and well thought out response to the lunacy.

Friday, February 16, 2007

there's hope for me yet!

Today I met with a member of my committee who agreed to help me with what at first seemed a potentially overwhelming idea to create a survey for faculty and students regarding use of proprietary software. The logistics still seem a bit overwhelming, but the support will help a lot. The results will become part of my third chapter addressing proprietary software as clearly representative of the corporatization of the University. Not only did she help me with that, we just had some really productive conversation and brainstorming around my project that helped to clarify pieces of it for both us (I think; I hope). In addition(!), I’ve completed more than the asked for number of exam questions. Not only that(!)—but I’ve completed them before the agreed upon send-out to committee date set by my chair. Granted I still need to spend tomorrow going back over them, tweaking and such. I also still want to get a question in there that addresses the difficulty of a strictly materialist theory in a classroom that is devoted to creating the written word, which then, undeniably (at least in mind) needs to be treated as material. Discourse as material. Somehow I need to work in a question that deals with these issues around discursivity and materiality (and their seeming or alleged inability to meet).

Other than that, I feel like I might be coming down with some dreaded cold or flu type thing. Hopefully it doesn’t turn into anything as I have a “big” poker game scheduled for tomorrow night. Or maybe I’m just exhausted from the exhilarating nature of my day. Let’s hope.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

snow day

I thought to opt for a more creative title for this post, as I am quite certain that thousands of other bloggers share that headline with my today, but I decided nothing could be more appropriate than that.

As promised today I will blog about my profession -- what I *love* about it that is. <3 It that even right? Is that the little heart symbol / emoticon that I see my students make? It looks funny. I think I did it wrong. Okay, well, I love that as part of my profession I learn crazy little emoticons from my students as they attempt to add inflection and clarify meaning in blog posts and e-mails.

Of course, the obvious...I love snow days (rare as they are).

I love when students ask me for recommendation letters. This is fresh on my mind, as I've had two students from last semester recently ask me for recommendation letters. Although it is work to write these letters, I love the fact that my students recognize the fact that they succeeded and the fact that they recognize my recognition of their success. Okay -- the less wordy version -- my students know that I'm proud of them and endlessly impressed with them, and I'm glad that they know that.

I love having interesting and lively classroom conversations with a group of saavy (often young, but not always) folk. They know so many things that I don't know. Sometimes I joke and say that their blogs are my link to the outside world...only I'm not really joking.

I love that when I curl up in the big chair in our living/bedroom (don't ask) with a cup of coffee and a book I am getting paid for that work. What a deal!

I love walking college campuses. There is an energy about most schools that I've been at -- an energy that translates into collective curiousity about the world (or at least that is how it feels when I'm walking across campus watching the bustle of briefcases and bookbags).

I love having access to multiple libraries and online databases.

I love being around like-minded people and being in a place where I can talk to (in a generally civilized manner) the ones who don't think like me, and if all goes well, we both come away with something new to think about.

In all honesty -- it is actually a little painful for me to get this mushy and idealistic -- even if that was the whole point. I want to go back to #2 on the list -- the snow day. Here is what I do NOT like about snow days. On snow days I feel like I'm going to get tons of work done. I'll be all caught up on grading AND have crafted some exam questions by the day's end. This is what I think going into it. But instead, I sit down to work and have to get up and shovel. Sit down to work and need to put more coffee on. Sit down to work and have to get up to go to the bathroom because I've had soooo much coffee, hot chocolate, and tea all day.

D stayed home from work today, and we were out every hour or two shoveling and snow blowing. Actually, she has been out a total of four times today, and I've only been out twice. AND, she did go around the neighborhood helping out the neighbors with her snowblower -- because that is the type of girl she is. But I did keep the coffee coming, and I made oatmeal muffins. I also went out in the backyard this morning and made a giant heart in the snow as a happy valentine's message for D. Of course by noon there was no longer a trace of it. All in all, I've done the baking and hot drink drinking and shoveling and snow playing that one is supposed to do on a snow day, but my work hasn't exactly progressed the way I'd envisioned. So that is my issue with snow days -- they create an illusion of extra time.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Presentation on uses of RSS in the classroom

Today I am presenting for the Provisions series at CSR -- a lunch time series for faculty to come together and discuss pedagogy. Today's theme is "teaching with technology." Here is what I'll be offering:

Using RSS in the classroom

RSS: Real(ly) Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary = a webfeed delivered as an XML file to an aggregator or feed collector / reader.
General Benefits (for education):
➢ Organizing and streamlining the abundance of content on the web.
➢ Allowing for an approach to reading the combines both scanning (picking out interesting and relevant materials) and synthesizing (making connections between the relevant and interesting materials).
➢ Developing reading skills important for both our students and ourselves as we all become more inundated with information.
➢ Gives students the opportunity to evaluate and weed out content on the web.

For Students
It stays much more current than a textbook: Students can subscribe to topic-specific sites that relate to the course, allowing them to stay aware of recent developments in the field. These feeds can help them with research (both finding topics and finding further information). Students can also contribute to the collection of feeds by seeking out relevant sites on the web and sharing these feeds with the class.
Ease of reading and commenting on peers’ blogs: In a class that uses blogs, RSS can make more efficient the exchange of ideas and knowledge that makes blogs a worthwhile pedagogical tool in the first place. Students can subscribe to the blogs of their classmates and easily see when they’ve been updated.
Think differently about writing for a digital world. Using RSS in a classroom where students are writing for the web offers the opportunity for students to think about how to craft writing that might be delivered and initially read in the form of a news feed (ofton only a headline and brief “blurb”).

For Educators
Making announcements: Do you always remember something after class that you wanted to say during class? Keep a class blog site for announcements and assignments. Every time you update it, students will be able to view the update via their RSS aggregators.
Reading students’ blogs: In a blogging classroom, RSS eliminates the need to go to each individual student blog; instead, they come to you. You can read through students’ blogs in half the time. You can also use RSS to keep track of comments left on student blog posts.
Get updates on the latest news in your field: Google (news.google.com) or yahoo (news.yahoo.com) news advanced search will give you a feed to subscribe to that will update your reader whenever your search topic has new articles locatable on the web.
Combine with a social bookmarking site like del.icio.us to create feeds for specific tags. If you create a unique tag for a specific class, then any bookmarks you (or anybody) adds with that tag will be automatically fed to both your RSS reader and your students’.

NetNewsWire and NetNewsWire Lite
Google Reader

• Blogs for Learning article by David Parry: “The Technology of Reading and Writing in the Digital Space: Why RSS is Crucial for a Blogging Classroom”
• Will Richardson’s online guide to RSS: “RSS: A Quick Start Guide for Educators”; and his blog Weblogg-ed; and his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms Corwin Press, 2006.
• Wikipedia entries on RSS and web feed

Just added....
O'Reilly's XML and RSS page
From teachinghacks.com -- RSS ideas in Education
For a great non-technical explanation: "How to Explain RSS the Oprah Way"

Monday, February 12, 2007

more exam questions

Today D took the day off from work and cleaned the entire house. I tried my best to be okay with it and focus on working while she cleaned -- even though it is VERY VERY difficult for me to let her do stuff around the house without helping out. In fact, she's still cleaning the house now. Still, I've cleaned the house numerous times, so I'm trying to rationalize that it is okay this time for me to simply focus on getting work done -- not that I've achieved a whole lot.

I finished up writing questions for exam/list one (cultural studies and critical pedagogy). I have four full questions, which is what my director asked for, but I have the skeleton of two additional questions, which I want to return to and complete because I don't know that I was quite "spot on" with the first two.

Then it came time to begin tackling exam/list two (composition). Now this second list on comp theory is really the list that I am most "into" or interested in, yet I got stuck in such a rut when trying to craft questions. I have only one so far (lovely evidence of an entire day's worth of work), and it asks too many questions, but I'm not sure which one I want to get at:

1. There is an abundance of material out there on composition or the writing classroom’s disciplinary and normalizing functions; its role of turning students into “workers who are ‘compatible with the work environment’…” (“Cults of Culture” Hurlbert and Blitz 11); and its “gatekeeping” function. Sharon Crowley addresses this in her book Composition in the University and C. Mark Hurlbert and Michael Blitz as well in their essay “Cults of Culture” and in their edited collection, Composition and Resistance. In that collection, James Berlin states that in his effort, with a group of Purdue colleagues, to create a cultural studies writing course their primary goal is “to make students aware of the cultural codes – the various competing discourses – that attempt to influence who they are. Our larger purpose is to encourage our students to resist and to negotiate these codes – these hegemonic discourses – in order to bring about more personally humane and socially equitable economic and political arrangements” (“Composition and Cultural Studies” 50). In the same collection, Stephen North responds to Berlin (and to the ideas of cultural studies and critical pedagogy in general) by saying that he can’t and won’t “use this language of the Left…” (135). In doing so, he seems to help draw this divide within composition between Left and Right (obviously) and, therefore, between the discourse of current-traditional theories of composition and more recent moves to critical teaching, radical pedagogy and resistance. One of the points that Hurlbert and Blitz make in “Cults of Culture” is the way in which these debates surrounding the introduction of cultural critique into the writing classroom get played out in a type of “two-party” system, and thereby “reif[ies] one of the great failures of United States culture” (14). In a similar response to the teaching of resistance as pedagogical move, Joe Marshall Hardin notes that both views (the acculturation and normalization of students versus the liberalization and radicalization of them) “serve as two side of the same coin” (107). What kind of language or discourse might these two (supposed) sides share? What are the difficulties involved in an emancipatory classroom discourse that relies on the “illusion” of a “dichotomic dimension” (Laclau qtd. in Hardin 107) in order to operate? How might pedagogues who offer an alternative to oppositional discourses or pedagogies of resistance speak to what Bill Readings terms a community of dissensus, which "would seek to make its heteronomy, its differences, more complex. To put this another way, such a community would have to be understood on the model of dependency rather than emancipation" (University in Ruins190)?

So, it still needs some tweaking, but at least momentum is on my side (hopefully).

Friday, February 09, 2007

calling all women academics

Please consider posting (or simply just writing down or sharing with a friend or...) what you love about your profession as a part of happy woman professor day -- Feb. 14th!!! (via d. hawee's blog)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

two questions

My committee has asked for my participation in creating (my own) exam questions. It may not seem like it, but it is a pretty intense process. The questions have taken me well over an hour (each) to craft. I'm not yet sure if I'm on the right track in terms of what they are looking for, but here is what I have so far:

1. "Althusser's Marxism is in the last analysis a reductionism, where ideology plays the role that the theory of mediations plays to Hegelian Marxism" (Aronowitz, The Crisis in Historical Materialism 161). For Althusser there is no practice except by and “in” ideology: “what thus seems to take place outside ideology…in reality takes place in ideology” (“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” 175). So it can be said that for Althusser the “last instance” is ideology; whereas for Marx it the productive forces and the relations of production. For Marx the dream/illusion or “false consciousness” constituted by the ‘day’s residues’ of individuals materially producing their existence needs to be interpreted in order to discover the reality of the world. And it is those relationships of production at the level of the infrastructure or economic base that have become one of the central components of historical materialism. Althusser, however, claims to “go beyond” the representation of base/superstructure to focus on the “point of view of reproduction” (136). This might be described as one moment in the “crisis of historical materialism” to which Stanley Aronowitz refers. Althusser’s movement away from Marx’s historical materialism without, as he says himself, wanting to “reject the classical metaphor” outright became important to the emergence of cultural studies as it encountered structuralist and poststructuralist thought – As Stuart Hall puts it, “Nevertheless, the refiguring of theory, made as a result of having to think questions of culture through the metaphors of language and textuality, represents a point beyond which cultural studies must now always necessarily locate itself" (“Cultural Studies and its theoretical legacies” 271). What exactly is the crisis of historical materialism to which Aronowitz refers? And how do divergent views of materialism within cultural studies answer to or seem to stem from this crisis?

2. In “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies,” Stuart Hall addresses Antonio Gramsci’s influence on cultural studies. Most important for Hall is the way(s) in which Gramsci "displaced some of the inheritances of Marxism” (266-7). Without a doubt Gramsci’s theory on hegemony has influenced the way various cultural theorists think about ideology. While, as Lawrence Grossberg argues, there have been (mis)readings of “the conjuncturalist form of cultural studies” as defining “the problematic of cultural studies within the ideological” (“The Formations of Cultural Studies” 56), for Grossberg (drawing on Gramsci), “Hegemony is a historically emergent struggle for power called into existence by the appearance of the masses on the political and cultural scene of civil society” (57). In this way, hegemony is not purely ideological, and it encompasses a conjuncturalist conception of historical specificity. In “Beyond ‘Doing’ Cultural Studies,” Eric Weiner distinguishes hegemony from ideology by saying it is not the process of establishing “false consciousness.” On the other hand, he does see it as somewhat similar by describing it as the process through which "discursive absences are generated, and those parts of the narrative that are left in place are represented as the whole" (65). He describes their relationship as hegemony being the “underbelly” of ideology. And Hall also seems careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water as he tries to hold onto the problem of the class structuring of ideology by drawing on Gramsci and arguing that "ideological struggle does not take place by displacing one whole, integral, class-mode of thought with another wholly-formed system of ideas." How do definitions of hegemony both relate to and break from definitions of ideology? And how might this affect a pedagogy of cultural studies or critical pedagogy?

Friday, February 02, 2007

wiki wars

I am using wikis in my class for the first time this semester. It has been interesting so far, to say the least. I haven't been using them for anything "fancy." We haven't even gotten to the point of creating links, headings, subheadings, and sections -- elements that seem common to the "genre." I've experimented with a couple of different approaches / assignments.

So far I have a couple of different purposes for our class wikis: 1) I want to use the wikis to help create guidelines for blogging that the students contribute to more and more as they read more blogs and better understand the genre and become bloggers in their own right. 2) I want to create a constantly changing and evolving definition of culture (as the class is Writing about Society in Culture). Every time we read a theoretical essay on culture or an online definition of it or any text that addresses how a person or field tends to define culture, we revise our class definition.

The first time I had them working in groups (after writing individually their thoughts on a reading regarding culture). Each group would then work on a revision of the defining culture wiki. But a couple of groups started to get into a bit of a struggle over the defintion -- editing much of the other group's work. This, by nature, is how a wiki works and we discussed this in class. But, I fear that they are learning that collaboration is a struggle for power in some way; that the idea of a democratic, collaborative space in which to share knowledge is more about getting in the last word.

I'm thinking that I should have them start using the discussion space to better negotiate the edits being made. We talk about wikipedia and how these kinds of changes and edits happen on this larger scale. And, what I have been doing, is coming together as a class to go over the (for the moment) "final" version and ask students for additional ideas, changes, etc., which we then negotiate as a class. But if anyone has better ideas for negotiating these wiki wars that appear to be breaking out, please feel free to share....

Thursday, February 01, 2007

grading made easi(er)

This semester I purchased a grading/gradebook program. I've always used an excel spreadsheet to keep track of grades but never kept up on entering the formulas as I went along, so the end of the semester has always held an additional element of madness for me. Some may disagree entirely with keeping grades in a spreadsheet or figuring them with such strict mathematics and argue that grading should be done more holistically, which is fine for them and something I buy to an extent. But, having been in the position of having students come back to me the next semester questioning the grade I have given them, I find having the spreadsheet makes these conversations much easier. Anyway, I demoed only a couple of programs and settled on Easy Grade Pro. So far, I really like it. My favorite thing about it is the check mark. Yes, you can simply hit the check mark button for all those freewrites and low-stakes assignments that you just want to mark as completed. The program really allows you to create specific systems of marking and grading that allows for some of those not-so-straightforward types of grades. You can also attach footnotes to specific grades -- something the little lines of a gradebook or spreadsheet don't allow so easily. Also, previously I kept attendance only on paper, but the attendance sheet that automatically lists each class meeting day of the semester (you can create one based on only the days that your class meets) "forces" me to keep track of it the computer. The program adds up absences and latenesses as I go along, so that when the end of semester comes -- voila! -- no more madness. (As if...).