Monday, January 31, 2005

Not in the classroom

What we do when we're not in the classroom.

I thought I should give an explanation for my extended absence. Chaos reigns at my place of employment. After almost a year of fact-finding and discussion, our Faculty Senate decided to poll the faculty for a vote of no confidence in the present college president's leadership. The whole thing is unpleasant, but I think ultimately necessary, because the president's leadership is appalling at best. No people skills, a dictatorial manner that ignores procedure, implied threats to disband the Senate or its representative body -- the usual suspects. That's part of my committee assignment. I also was assigned to a contract-mandated committee that approves faculty development requests -- huge amounts of work because the administration didn't appoint its share of the members till January and we've met once, to find that there are about 50 applications waiting, some since June. Plus I'm on a really cool assessment committee, but that means working on an assessment project. And then there are the job applications. So I can't blog more till I get on top of this stuff.


Well, as many of you know, I am currently filling in for a FT faculty member on an admin. assignment. We had hoped that he would be granted a long-deserved sabbatical and that I'd be able to continue on a PT contract as a safety net in case none of my applications pan out. Sadly, he is getting no sabbatical, something that is really incomprehensible to many of his colleagues. And that means I've got no safety net. So blogging may be a bit haphazard for a while more -- job apps are even more important than they were yesterday.

Friday, January 21, 2005

quick punch line meme

Quick Punch Line Meme

Because wolfangel suggested it. Now you know my joke sophistication level ...
Extra points if you know where I heard the first one!
Copy and replace any you don't know with a different one in bold. Oh -- and I think first lines of songs would be easier ...
  1. Doctor, can you get this man off my ass?
  2. A coconut!
  3. One's a cunning linguist
  4. I'm looking for the man who shot my paw
  5. Didn't the antlers give you bruises?
  6. Because there are blond boys, too
  7. I'm soooo drunk!
  8. No, frayed knot
  9. Yesterday, we were campaigning. Today, you voted for us!
  10. No thanks, they're carrion!

note for music fans

I'm listening to Shivaree's new album on Rhapsody. My first impression is that I really like it. I'm working (-ish), so I haven't had a chance to really listen to the lyrics, but I think I'll be burning this one, unless it turns out to be cheaper to buy the released version with liner notes ...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Quick Poetry Break

Quick Poetry Break

Found at Dr. Crazy, who got it from New Kid and wolfangel ...
First lines of poems - leave the ones you recognize, replace the ones you don't (changes in bold).

Had we but world enough, and time,
I never saw a Purple Cow
The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Belinda lived in a little white house
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Because I could not stop for death
Tiger, tiger, burning bright

Because I'm honest, I'm leaving in the dread Dickenson. And the Blake. And yes, I do have more knowledge of poetry (note that I kept in the 17th c. stuff!), but for some reason, the ones that popped into my head first were from my childhood. Maybe we should start another? Or a first line of songs? or record albums? (sorry, CDs)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Back with a semi-vengeance

Back with a semi-vengeance

I'll be summing up my experiences at the AHA soon, but first, a short digression brought on by actually opening the latest copy of the AHR before tossing it into the "read when I have more time" pile.

Last night I opened up the October 2004 AHR and saw the usual interesting-but-not-in-my-field essays -- except for the review essay. To anyone interested in teaching History, I heartily recommend reading David Pace's review essay, "The Amateur in the Operating Room: History and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning." Despite the wordy title, it's a great read and pretty to-the-point. It was also especially apt, as Pace discusses different approaches taken in different studies to dealing with (and recognizing, for that matter) our own assumptions about what our students should know versus what they think they're supposed to be learning, identifying what we're trying to teach them, and how to best teach ourselves and each other to use that knowledge to make history teaching better. It's a great overview of the subject and fits in nicely with some of the things that Tim Burke recently said.

Pace does not go as far as Burke does, by any means. In fact, it sometimes appears that he only sees a grudgingly-given place for scholarship of history teaching among historians, but argues pretty clearly that some of us do need to focus on this, and to serve as a sort of liaison with our more research-oriented brethren. If there is a weakness to the essay, that is it. Pace insists that, by and large, we all want to be great teachers. I'm not convinced that that is exactly true. If teaching were that important to all historians, then senior research professors would not balk at teaching undergrad courses -- or courses at all, in some cases. I might even venture to suggest that one of the reasons that many institutions are able to rely on a teaching underclass of adjuncts and grad students is precisely because enough people at the top of the academic heap are either unwilling or uninterested in the subject of good pedagogy, except in those cases where students (or their parents) complain. I think it's probably more the former than the latter, because making sure that a department has good teachers just boils down to more work for the faculty in the long run. It also means fighting administrations that want to pack as many students into a class as possible, despite the fact that those giant lecture classes, while perhaps great at delivering material, are almost completely passive. Such classes usually have discussion sections, but often those sections are taught by untrained grad students who have a great grast of the material, but have yet to articulate the connections between materials in a way that will teach the students anything useful in the long-term.

Despite the fact that by the end of the essay I almost felt that Pace wanted a few of us to fall on our academic career swords for better teaching by all, I was encouraged by the fact that anyone was willing to suggest that, since history really is a discipline with its own epistemological methods, some of us should be involved in crafting better ways of teaching and assessing in our field, rather than leaving it all up to the education experts. We have internalized the rigors of our discipline, and most of us seem to know when something historical is presented badly, but we do often rely on silly arguments like, "but historians wouldn't see it that way," and a general assumption that our expertise (and those impressive documents on our office walls) is enough to back up that pretty weak argument. That may have been true once, but today's students and, sadly, many of their parents and our employers just don't buy it. We have to be able to articulate why and we have to do it sooner than later.

Why did this article strike me, you ask? OK -- apart from the obvious, that I'm always interested in better ways to teach -- the bits about what we assume students know struck me. It wasn't particularly epiphanous. One of the things I tell my students from the start is that my courses are really history boot camp -- I will be trying to teach them as much about how and why historians know what they know, and come to the conclusions they do, as I will be teaching them any given narrative. As I've mentionedbefore, I sometimes struggle with that question and its application, but I have enough students who say that my approach makes them like history to think it's a good approach. My particular challenge this quarter (in addition to dismally low enrollments -- it is very hard to teach surveys to five or six people, since the critical mass for good discussion seems to be more like 15-20) is my assumptions about information literacy and curiosity.

My courses are all hybrids, and we use Blackboard for the online portion. The first two days of class I spend going over the course admin stuff -- there's a lot, and I divide grades up among many different kinds of activities. Journals are graded differently from tests, and class discussion and online discussion parameters are a bit complex. A couple of my students added class late, so they didn't get the grand tour. I asked them to catch up by reading the syllabus and the individual handouts posted below it that explained in more detail the different kinds of activities mentioned in the syllabus. "Read those documents, e-mail me if you're confused about anything, and catch up with the assignments as quickly as you can." So we're now in week three, and one of the students is still clueless about what we're supposed to be doing in class. Just seems out of it. So immediately after a class discussion on the paper proposals they have due this week, he finally says he can't find any due dates for the assignments. I tell him that all of the major due dates are in the syllabus. He claims they aren't, so we truck off to the library to look. Turns out they are there, but he has only explored Blackboard as far as the "Syllabus" button. Has not clicked on the "Assignments" button in two weeks -- if he had, he'd have seen that each week's assignments are laid out in separate folders, with links to the online readings and discussion boards in the order in which they need to be done. Bad teacher assumption number one: do not assume that your younger students who have pretty much grown up with the internet and computers are more computer savvy than you are. On the other hand, proof that the course addresses the Information Literacy Gen. Ed. outcome!

Bad assumption number two: Do not assume that students will read actively and with curiosity. This takes us back to Pace's article. I assume students don't know how to pick documents apart, and I assume they will veer more towards synthesis, so I structure our primary source assignments to ease them from the latter to the former approach. But I did assume people would use the freakin' dictionary! Today, after Michael Woods told us all about the High Renaissance, one of the students who seemed particularly obtuse about Joan of Arc and why she was executed then claimed that it was really odd that people in the Renaissance were so worried about clothing, yet there was so much nudity in the paintings. The book talks about sumptuary laws, so I could see where she got part of it, but then she also said that Joan of Arc had been burned for wearing men's clothing. It was a great teaching moment, but only because it showed me how much the students were not making ANY connection between the readings and our discussions. So we talked about what exactly was reborn in the Renaissance -- took them 5 minutes, but they got to the classics in the end. Then J of A made her appearance, and we slipped off to 1429 for a few minutes -- why is Joan on trial? The English didn't like her helping the French to win. Er ... ok, so let me put it another way, what are the charges against her? Dressing like a man. Really? look again. Heresy. Ok, good -- so who's in charge of the trial? The English (I think they thought she was actually tried in England). Why would the English army try her for heresy? Try again, please. The Church? Yes, how do men's clothes fit in? They think she's not acting like a proper Christian woman because she wears them (mentions of gay-ness and discrimination). Look at the document again -- what does it specifically say about her clothes? Like a Saracen. What does that mean? Ok -- (and this is where I blow just a bit) you all don't know this word. That's OK, you get lots of new vocabulary in college. But did anyone look it up? A Saracen is a synonym for Moor, which is ...? A Muslim? Yes!!!! How would a comparison to Muslim custom fit in the context of a Christian heresy trial?? .

So, for the last part of class, we talked about how the assignments were really crafted so they could make connections, and my high school student saved everybody's bacon at the end. I asked about the pope mentioned in the documentary who died within weeks of Raphael -- who was he? And I pointed out that this was where notetaking (as I'd recommended) comes in handy -- HS kid comes up with Leo X and I mention that they should be familiar with him. From the readings. Kid looks thoughtful, and says, "Hey, isn't he that cardinal guy?" After a mad flurry of looking at notes, they then connect him back to the Medicis and non-nobles gaining vast political power in a new economy and patronage of the arts and classicla education, but boy, was it hard. Bad assumption number 3: Students -- do not assume you can slide by, because sometimes knowing what words mean is important. So I guess we all learned our lessons.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Blogging Temporarily Delayed

Blogging Has Been Temporarily Delayed

I've got lots of notes for days 2-4 of the AHA, but right now, I'm too damned tired. Two full paper sessions per day, debrief sessions with the students, and not nearly enough socializing, and I may have to cancel tomorrow's classes. Aches, pains, and a very sore throat. Not a problem for me, but I am supposed to guest lecture in a friend's class. I've called him and prepped him just in case, but it's better form to try to make it, so I'm getting an early night and blogging later.

a Brief Digression via Ancarett

I would not have thought this. But then, I like Anne (Elliott?) in Persuasion best, I think. Elinor Dashwood is ok, too, I guess.

Colonel Brandon: Sensible...  yet Sexy
You are the true hero(ine)! Sensible, steady and
mature, you are the lynchpin of your circle of
friends and family.

Male: At your
best, you are a dynamo combination of Mr.
Knightley from Emma and Colonel Brandon
from Sense and Sensibility. At your
worst, you may be briefly beguiled by silly
women (cf. Edward Ferrars in Sense and
and Captain Wentworth's
behavior toward Lousia Musgrove in
Persuasion), but in the end, you'll win
through and end up with the proper heroine.

Female: You are Elinor from Sense and
! Wise beyond your years, you
are all too aware of the folly of those around
you. You are "sense" personified,
and without you, things would certainly fall

Which Jane Austen Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Saturday, January 08, 2005

AHA Day 2

AHA Day 2

Blogfest turned out to be a nice dinner with nice people. Not many of us, but good ones. Went to one panel, interviewed during the next. Two interviews today (woohoo!) and have to meet the students in 45 minutes. More later.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

AHA Day One

AHA Day One

And I'm already exhausted. Met up with my students (I brought 4 -- one had to work, but three came today -- at noon and we got our badges. Then we picked up programs for them and went for coffee, playing "spot the historian" and its variations, "name that historian's field," "historians on the road: clothing as an indicator of geographic background," and "what's my rank?". Sat down at a Starbucks with only about 3 historians there, and went over the program. Great divergence of interest ensued. I'm going to one of the only early MA panels, but two of my students are going to this one instead. The other, an Interdisciplinary Studies major with a History minor, is going to something on Existentialism. Better her than me! Anyway, it was so nice to sit there with these young women, all very bright, and listen to them discussing which panels sounded best, and whether they should split up and take notes. They're undergrads, and having a blast so far. I have to say the enthusiasm was infectious; I may have been a bit overebulliant myself ;-)

One of the students has just transferred to Regional U, and we ran into her department head, whom she had not met. She got to talk to him a bit about whether her load was too heavy (it is) and he's setting her up for some proper advising next week. We're going to try to scope out some of the folks from Flagship U for my other transfer student, so she can get off on the right track. I'm wavering between real pleasure that they're getting to network a bit and fear that I've not been a good enough teacher and will be found out when they really get into their upper-division work. I'm not sure why -- at least at this point student one says that one of her profs just repeated what she'd learned about primary sources from me, and that she'd already read some of the ones assigned for her new classes in mine. But I feel all Doktormutter-y, watching them go off into the wide world.

Otherwise, I dropped off 4 CVs at the meat market, was civil to a woman from a college where I applied, and that is interviewing, but hasn't had the courtesy to send out rejection letters, and kibbitzed with some colleagues from here and there.
Now, like Ralph Luker at Cliopatra, I have to take down the tree. It is, after all the Twelfth Day of Christmas today!

AHA Day Almost One

AHA Day Almost One

First AHA activity done -- met up with a friend I've known FOREVER (or since 1991, we figured out last night), who's got 8 interviews. Woohoo her! Had a nice dinner and a beer, then home. Let the real stuff begin.

BTW, Elephant and Castle is right out. I hadn't realized that it's in the lower floor of the Red Lion, where many conference attendees will be staying. Too zoo-ish, I think.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Blogfest Update

Blogfest Update

HI all -- since we haven't quite set a time, I've made emergency reservations at both the Elephant and Castle and the Fish House, both for 5:30-ish. Those can of course be changed or cancelled. The downside is that neither is in the bar area proper; the upside is that it might not be as loud/smoky. The guy at the Fish House said that if we wanted to get in and get a table for happy hour (3:30-6:00), we'd need a scout or two to get there early.

So ... I could use some feedback.
  1. Are the day/time ok?
  2. should we meet at a conference site and walk together or meet at the restaurant? If the latter, we can act like table vultures together if we want to sit in a bar area.
  3. Is there anything else I should have thought of?

Thanks -- and e-mail me if you have any questions. Remember, the Blogfest is open to all Bloggers, the only "rule" being that, if a person blogs Pseudonymously, everyone alse attending will respect that person's wishes about whether or not their cover gets blown!

Don't forget to check the weather reports, folks ... Seattle is having a little cold snap at the moment!

Another Update

Ralph Luker at Cliopatra has graciously made the call on the meeting place for us -- the registration desk at the Sheraton at around 5:30. And given us tell-tale clues for recognizing each other:

a) have extravagant academic hair;
b) are wearing a mouse pad instead of a name tag;
c) appear to be chanting "Sharon Howard is a goddess";
d) have a cup of coffee in one hand and a little stack of cookies in the other; or
e) are wearing pajamas instead of your usual conventioneering get-up

I will not be wearing pajamas, as I do not yet have tenure, but I will probably have a coffee cup of the large variety in my hand!

First Classes

First classes today went reasonably well, and I haven't lost any classes yet, now that I've got double-digit enrollment. We start on Magna Carta in the surveys tomorrow and I have to put together a background lecture on the French Revolution and Liberalism and Conservatism tomorrow. DInner Wednesday night with a friend coming in early for the conference! Woohoo!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Info for the Blogfest

Info for the Blogfest

 Posted by Hello

ADM in spirit. The hair and the face are actually similar, but I'm built more like a middle-aged academic-type. I'm also for some reason on a total Tom Jones thing these days. I think it's the New Year's Party spirit. Last week it was ABBA, and day before yesterday, Leonard Cohen covers ... Go Figure! Happy New Year's, Everybody!!

Blogfest Update

So far, we have two votes for the Fish House and one for the Elephant and Castle. I'm going to call both tomorrow (or maybe today) and check on reserving tables for Friday evening. 5:30 puts us across from the 2-year and Grad Student receptions, though. Is that a problem for anyone?