Tuesday, September 23: Group B

Today’s quote was beyond perfect. After taking way too long to draft my previous post (my first real attempt at analyzing my notes so that I will eventually have something to write for this thesis thing), it is very important for me to remember both why I started and why I need to keep pushing towards this transformation. If I want a productive writing life, I have to make it happen. So thank you, Pinterest, for the lovely quote found below.

I would also like to point out that a dance class takes place next door to this classroom and 50s swing music blaring in the background is beyond distracting to listen to while attempting to transcribe.
It’s not about perfect. It’s about effort. And when you implement that effort into your life…every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs. Keep going. Remember why you started.
In this class, it has become a norm for students to pull up anything they may need help with each day on the teacher’s computer as they walk through the door. This way, the mentor can skip the “what’s everybody working on” portion of the class period and get right to the workshop part of the class.

Today, Students B and C each had drafts of a paper to workshop so the Mentor split the class in to two groups:

Mentor Intern
Student A Student B Student C Student E
Student D Student F

I will focus the content of this post on the Mentor’s group for two reasons: first, I know that this is this Mentor’s first attempt at workshopping in this way and second, I was simply closest to this group.

After straightening out a few kinks with the Google Docs and Internet connections (and Students C, E, and F teaching the Intern how to log in Google Docs on a borrowed iPad–another cool example of students taking on expert roles and teaching something new to the Mentor/Intern), the Mentor allowed the students to divide themselves in to groups. Student C chose to work with the Intern and Student B chose to work with the Mentor. The other students simply divided themselves accordingly.

Before allowing his small group to begin reading the draft, the Mentor asked Student B to explain the assignment:

Mentor: “So, [Student B], let’s–let’s tell us, um, where you’re at with this and then what we can do for you.”
Student B: “So, basically you have to include two authors in your quotes so I can’t compare and contrast. So I did one author that I agree with, one author that I know that I can compare and contrast with [....] I need like evidence, like, some like stats from, like, outside resources.”

By asking Student B to explain what he needs help on in this assignment, the Mentor has both determined Student B’s understanding of the assignment and allowed the student to direct his peers to points in his writing that he feels are weak. This simple gesture gives Student B authority over both his writing and his practice as a student and a writer. It also allows the Mentor to step back from his usual role as the “more experienced peer.” In all honesty, the Mentor has no way of knowing what the assignment is asking and where the Student feels he needs the most help. This seems obvious, but, in my experience, it is almost instinctual for less experienced mentors to lead all discussions in the space.

In an interesting move, the Mentor then re-asked the same question of the Student and received a surprisingly generic response:

Student B: “Am I, like, going in the right path?”

Mentor: “Ok, so he wants to know basically, then, is he doing a good job making the argument? [....] So let’s read this and let’s see if, one, we can follow what he’s writing, and, two, if, by the end of what he’s written, we know what his argument is.”

This vague response is in direct contrast to his previous statement in which he points out a very specific gap in his research: statistics to support his claim and then the Mentor restates the student’s response to the group. This move effectively put the Mentor back in charge of the discussion and I am not confident that this was the Mentor’s intention. I imagine his intention was to ensure clarity. A minor bump in communication, but interesting nonetheless.

After giving the group time to read the draft, the Mentor asked for feedback and diligently typed all of the students’ comments as they came up. This is another move that puts the Mentor in charge. Instead of asking the students to type their own comments in the margins, the Mentor unconsciously inserts his own language into each student’s verbal comment as he writes.

While the other mentor began the discussion portion of the class by asking students for positive feedback, this Mentor began the discussion by asking students to explain Student B’s argument:

Mentor: “So, after reading, let’s start with the basics: what’s his argument?”

The first student to comment (Student A) instantly mentioned a surface level error. The Mentor responded by stressing the importance of looking at content before worrying about surface level errors and, to appease that student, was careful to leave time at the end of class to allow students to fix those distracting surface level errors.

The students had little to say about the content of the draft so the Mentor asked each of them to try researching to help Student B to find an additional source or two. The Mentor offered what we call a “Pro Tip” to his students by explaining his personal method for finding sources online. He suggested opening multiple windows in Google and using different search terms:

Mentor: “violent tv shows,” “violent tv shows benefits,” “violent tv shows helpful”

The students were instructed to copy and paste any relevant sources they found into a Google Doc and given minutes to search through Google. This is something that I also practice in my 30 space. I’ve found (and I think the Mentor found) that it encourages students to bring in their work at all stages of the writing process. Every stage is important and every stage has its own set of challenges.

A trap that many new mentors fall in to is to be too specific about the kinds of writing are allowed to be brought in for a workshop. This Mentor is experienced enough that he has been able to stress how difficult writing is at every stage of the process and small moments like this one can help students still feel secure in the moments when they are stuck. Everyone gets stuck and, in English 30 spaces, there is a team of people who are more than willing to help. That is one of my absolute favorite parts about English 30. The communities that get built in these small spaces have the opportunity to give students a confidence that they often lack in their skills as writers and readers and students in the university.
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” – Robert Cormier

Monday, September 22

I would like to preface this post by stating the obvious: transcribing is difficult and time consuming and not my favorite thing on earth. But by the end of this semester (hell, by the end of this week), I’m gonna be really good at it. Practice makes perfect, right?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like, jump-up-and-down-in-your-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is “You like stuff.” Which is not a good insult at all. Like, “You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.”” – John Green
Intern 2 Student 9
Intern 1 Student 10
Student 3 Student 8
Student 4 Student 7
Student 2 Student 5
Student 1
As the class period began and students began to quiet down, the Mentor initially addressed the class by announcing that he was having a terrible morning.

Mentor: “I lost my keys, and then, like, I burned my eggs, and then, I was just like, Jesus, what is going on? The 49ers lost again, so I was just like, my world is crashing down around me right now! And that professor we were talking about? On Wednesday? That I don’t care for, I have him tonight so it’s just like, this whole concoction of shittiness (shittyness? shitty-ness?) going on in my life right now that’s kind of….but it’s alright, we’re gonna get through.”

The nine students present looked concerned and the Mentor stopped being the “Teacher” and instantly became a human being, a fellow student who is struggling his way through college. For a moment, the Mentor was so frazzled that he couldn’t remember the prompt for the quick write, but, luckily, it came to him.

Mentor: “So, yeah, um, two part question: you can either write about what your strengths and weaknesses are with regards to writing or you can kinda tell me about your practice. Like, as a–as a student writer. Like how you go about–like, when you have an essay, what’s the first thing you do?”

After giving the students the two possible quick write prompts, the Mentor immediately gave the students an example of how he might respond to the quick writes:

Mentor: “Like for example, like, my weakness is, like, I hate revising. Like, especially with poetry. If I ever have to revise a poem, I just, like, say, ‘oh, it’s not good enough,’ and I just write a new poem. Cuz I don’t wanna revise it, so, I hate revising.”

This is a practice that is very familiar to this mentor and I due to the fact that we are graduate students in the same program. Many professors here are in the habit of using themselves as examples when explaining an assignment like a quick write or blog post.

The students wrote diligently for about 4 minutes. Students 2, 3, 4, and 8 were the first to stop, but the Mentor did not notice until both Intern 1 and 2 stopped writing after 5 minutes. He was busy writing and, at one point, took out his iPhone. In this moment, without his knowledge, his students stopped looking at him as the authority figure or leader in the classroom and this was immediately reflected in their silence when asked to share what they wrote.

As a countermeasure, the Mentor used the age old threat to “call on a random student” and, after less than ten seconds of silence (with students carefully looking everywhere but at the Mentor or Interns), the Mentor called on Student 8. Luckily, Student 8 is not a shy soul (probably why the Mentor felt comfortable choosing him) and immediately responded with a smile.

Student 8: “Um, so basically, I hate revising. Because, um, when I’m revising someone else’s paper, I feel like, if I write something down, they won’t like me cuz, like, I write something bad–I don’t know. I feel like I might mess someone’s paper up”

Although the class had moved on, I was stuck on Student 8’s frank statement:

“when I’m revising someone else’s paper, I feel like, if I write something down, they won’t like me cuz, like, I write something bad–I don’t know. I feel like I might mess someone’s paper up”

First of all, I find it fascinating that Student 8 bent his understanding of the word “revision” to include “peer review” since “peer review” wasn’t a term used in the Mentor’s description of the prompt. He is using the same word as the Mentor, but his understanding of the word includes what the Mentor would most likely refer to as peer review. I have no idea what that means, but it’s so interesting.

Second, it seems to me that this feeling of “mess[ing] someone’s paper up” is a sort of residual effect from peer review in high school. It is a feeling that I have come across many times in my past four semesters as an English 30 mentor. So many students are fearful of coming across as “mean” to their peers and are therefore intimidated by those students who are not afraid to offer constructive criticism.

So, I guess my question becomes: how do we alleviate that fear? In my 30 space, it feels absolutely critical to have a conversation about how we will conduct peer review in the space and that conversation stems from each student’s previous experiences with the practice. Many have admitted that their previous teachers (or current English 130 professors) use rubrics to facilitate peer review and do not collect these rubrics, so students are not held accountable for their work. Also, students are forced to print copies of their paper/narrative/memo/etc. but their peers do not write on the copies. They simply read them and write notes on the rubric.

To my surprise, that conversation didn’t happen when I expected it to. Granted, the students have already begun the process of peer review within the space and a few (Students 1, 2, and 4) seem to have little concern with offering constructive criticism to a peer’s work; however, Student 8 made it clear that he still feels that fear and, ironically, it was his day to bring in a piece of writing to workshop.

Using his background as a creative writing student, the Mentor asked the students to begin their discussion with positive comments after they had silently read Student 8’s paper in a shared Google Doc. Positive comments included compliments on his topic, his skill at including quotes to support his argument, his inclusion of the opposing argument, etc.

When asked how the paper could be strengthened, Student 7 dropped in the term “code-switching.”

Student 7: “Code-switching is basically knowing when and how to speak and to who [.....] It’s basically saying, like, how I talk to my roommate or how I talk to my fellow peers, I wouldn’t talk to my boss like that. Or I wouldn’t talk to a professor like that.”

This was possibly one of my favorite moments from this class period because a student who had hardly spoken (she is usually very vocal in class) had the opportunity to demonstrate her expertise in a subject that the Mentor and Interns were unfamiliar. Not only did the Mentor acknowledge her expertise by asking her to explain what the term meant, but she also was able to help her peer further his understanding of his topic and give him an opportunity to expand his argument. It was a pretty cool moment to witness the Mentor relinquishing the reins as the “teacher” or the “more experienced peer” and giving that power to his student.
Learn to love the process.

Why Higher Ed?

In 2012 I was preparing to graduate from college at the age of 23 after five changes of major and one ill-considered effort to transfer universities that I thankfully decided against at the last minute. When people ask me about this, normally I answer with a smile and a practiced statement about how changing majors so many times gave me the opportunity to experience all the trajectories that I might have been interested in pursuing before I began my degree in English Education. But the truth is that at the time, I still felt a significant amount of confusion surrounding “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” In the five years that I had been in college, I had watched all my friends struggle, grow, mature, and leave me behind as they finished school and relocated to different areas or jobs in their field, while I was still mired in the mud that is choosing a vocation. But as the theme of this weeks connected course will surely highlight, these questions were all firmly planted in the what — What do I want to be? What job do I want? What should I do? What’s the next step? Were all questions that swirled in my head on a delightful daily basis.

Ironically, it wasn’t until after I applied to grad school that I started asking myself “why”. Even that came as a happy accident. When I finally started working to get my degree in English Ed, my entire attitude towards school took a very visceral shift. I wanted to go to school. I was excited about my teachers and my budding experience as a writing mentor, and this was reflected in my GPA. After finishing college I decided against applying to a credential program since I had decided that what I wanted to be was not a high school teacher. Based on the rumors I’d heard about people not ordinarily getting denied to grad school and the fact that I worked with/for many of the people who granted admission I figured I’d be fine.

I applied to several grad schools and got accepted to them all except for the only one that I actually wanted to go to — CSU Chico, my alma mater and place where I thought I had the best chance. I remember not even thinking twice when I friend told me that the committee had only denied one application that semester, because it was such an alien and ludicrous thought at the time to believe that one application was mine. It wasn’t until several days later when my inconsiderate roommate came home and brought me a letter from the school that I learned otherwise. He handed me the letter with a glib smile and told me that “it feels pretty light to be an acceptance letter” as he chuckled over his shoulder. But he was right. It was a rejection letter that thanked me for my application, but suggested that I reapply later or elsewhere. This was four days before my graduation ceremony, and once more I found myself back in the mud surrounded by what questions. What should I do now? What can I do? What did I do wrong? What do I want?

I found it impossible to sleep from that day forward so I spent my nights trying to figure out how or if I even wanted to circumvent the decision, and I spent my days trying find someone to help or advise me. Unfortunately I suddenly found myself walled off or stonewalled from all the people I had come to rely on for support or advice and told repeatedly that there was a protocol for how these things work, and that this protocol had to be followed. This protocol stated that I had to talk to the coordinator, who told me that I had to present new evidence for why this decision should be reconsidered or overturned. This left me back at square one as person after person told me they couldn’t or wouldn’t be my sponsor in this appeals process — as these people, all of whom I I had come to respect, idolize, model myself after, and aspire to be like one day, turned me away I began to grow bitter and irate. Luckily one person agreed to meet with me (even though I don’t think they were technically supposed to) and in the midst of my juvenile effusion about the whole ordeal, he asked me two questions that I’ll never forget.

The first question he asked after listening to me explain the situation when we first met. He sat there kindly and patiently until I was done and told me that it was clear that I could articulate the reasons that my rejection letter had laid out for my rejection, but asked me why I thought they hadn’t accepted my application. “Based on the criteria given, you meet all the stipulations for this program but you didn’t get in. Why do you think that is” he asked.  The second question he posed as an interruption to one of my overwhelmed rants about the protocol for appeal: “So why do you want to go to Grad school then?”

It took me a couple of days before I could start to answer these questions. Why grad school? Why here? Why didn’t I get in? One day we were going over yet another draft of my letter for appeal, trying to eloquently write the reasons why I should be reconsidered before I could actually articulate them myself when finally I just blurted out “Because I can fucking do this! Helping students do college writing makes me happier than anything else I’ve ever done, and I want to dedicate my life to it.” He just smiled a small smile and turned back to the letter. Later that night, I recounted the story to my friend of seven years and I noticed the same small smile that I had seen earlier creep across his lips as I finished the tale. He said I seemed different somehow now, and that he couldn’t help but smile as he thought about the kind of teacher I would turn out to be after I got accepted. He said the people who had ruled against me were probably right to do so but even they hadn’t witnessed the effect it was having on me. “You know your path now, but nobody said it was going to be easy.” Only your best friend is really allowed to tell you things like quit your complaining or get out of your own way doofus, but when they do it seems to have such a magnified effect, and it did. I spent the entirety of that summer writing, rewriting, and revising that that letter of appeal and showing it to anyone and everyone who could or would give me feedback. That same faculty member wrote a recommendation letter for me as did another person who had first made me realize my interest in teaching several years prior. Augmented by these letters, my appeal was accepted and I was admitted into the program which I am now preparing to graduate from this coming spring.

But in retrospection, that cavalier kid wasn’t ready for grad school and there’s no way anyone should have let me in if that’s the kind of student I would have continued to be. That rejection forced me out of the what and into the why. And today I have no trouble answering the question of why I am in grad school: Everyday I get to wake up and do the thing I love most — the thing that makes me happier than anything else, and I get to become just a little bit better at it each day. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Why We Need a Why?.. My Why is Why Teach?

The idea of critical thinking and teaching to critically think is perhaps the most essential part about teaching, in my perspective. It is one thing to teach to memorize or complete an assignment, but to help and teach someone how to look at and work at transforming how they process and develop thought is essential to over all success of actual learning and achieving. This action of teaching to think critically is sculpting their  (the students) ability to take knowledge and use it for something more then regurgitation. That said the other essential part to teaching critical thinking is making it relevant to the individual and the community as a whole. If what is being taught is not meaningful or relevant to communities or the individuals with in the community it will be simply knowledge because they will not know how to develop the education. Nonetheless, on the opposite side the other essential part to teaching critical thinking is teaching students the basics, which at times can result in something that seems irrelevant to the individual or community, lying the ground work for the development of critical thinking is not always going to be able to address areas that are relevant to individuals or communities but rather help gain skills that they can then transfer over to what is relevant. For example if you are teaching the idea of symbolism there will be a point when you have to isolate this idea by itself to develop the student ability to understand what it is; then once the students understand this simple idea of symbolism they have now laid a ground work and are ready to start applying it in relevant ways. Therefore, perhaps part of the struggle in teaching this comes in helping students to understand that these are tools and that you must learn to use the individual tool before you can use all the tools together. In other words sometimes it is important to wrestle with individual concepts first and master their meaning use before they are applied to area of interest or relevancy.

A Four-Letter Suffix that Changed My Life: Part One

Back in 2006-ish when I first signed up for a Gmail account, the username “dastengo” had already been taken. Since I planned on using this as my primary email address, I wanted to keep it professional.

Google had other plans for me.

Instead of “dastengo,” Google suggested I try several available variations of Danielle Astengo, all of which, with the exception of one, were followed by a string of numbers. Amid the numerical chaos was “astengorama”—just hanging out all nonchalantly like it was no different from the others. I, of course, recognized the poetry in Google’s Black Swan. Or the hilarity of it, rather. After laughing at the audacity of the Google robots I happily accepted their clever joke and I became “astengorama.”

So here’s how a four-letter suffix that became part of my email address, which eventually became my nickname, evolved into the defining research project of my graduate student career.

2007. Danielle registers the username astengorama with Google. Also, D decides to “quit” school by abandoning 16-units at SDSU the week before finals because f*** that, she’s moving to Chico anyway.

2007-2008. D uses astengorama Gmail to sign up for everything on the internet that requires an email address, including Butte County Community College which she has to attend for two semesters in order to be taken seriously by the admissions department at CSU, Chico.

2009. D unsubscribes to almost everything that she had previously signed up for (including community college) using her astengorama Gmail and uses it instead for communication with people and entities affiliated with Chico State as she makes her academic come-back.

A few weeks later in 2009: D submits astengorama.com to Dr. Baker, a comparative literature professor, as her preferable means of contact on an attendance card in her first English class as an English major. Dr. B is amused. D is amused that someone else finally thinks it’s funny too.

2010. D takes a second class with Dr. B and D follows same procedure with attendance card. Dr. B exclaims “The astengorama!” when he notices he has a repeat customer and is amused for a second time. D is amused that he remembers. The rest of class is not amused. During the semester, Dr. B casually references Honoré de Balzac and his novel Père Goriot several times.

4 or 5 months later, still in 2010. D remembers Balzac and Père Goriot when she’s studying abroad in France and reads novels by French authors to cope when culture shock hits and warm baguettes have lost their romantic charm. She gets to this part in the novel:

“The rest of the lodgers appeared, one after the other, both those who lived in and those who did not, wishing each other good day and murmuring those empty phrases which, among certain sorts of Parisians, constitute a kind of droll good humor of which stupidity is the main component and whose principal virtue consist only in how the words are pronounced or what gestures accompany them. This sort of jargon is always changing. The jokes that underlie it never last a month: some political event, some lawsuit or trial, a street song, some actor’s comic routine, all serve to keep this joke going, since more than anything else it involves snatching up words and ideas as they go flying past, and then hitting them back, as if with racquets. That new invention, the Diorama, which carries optical illusion to an even higher level than did the panorama, has led a number of painters’ studios to coin the jesting word “rama,” the introduction of which term into the Maison Vauquer was effected by a young painter who often visited and had, as it were, inoculated the pension with it.”

Extracts from the conversation that follows that passage:

“How’s our little healthorama going?”

“Are we ever going to have dinnerama?”

“It’s incredibly coltarama.”

“Why do you say coltarama? That’s wrong, you ought to say coldarama.”

“‘No, no . . . according to the rule, it has to be coltarama, as in my feet are colt.”

“Ah ha! Here comes a wonderful souparama,”

“Excuse me, monsieur,” said Madame Vauquer, “but this is cabbage soup.”

The young men began to laugh uproariously.

“That’s the end of you, Poiret!”

“No more Poiret!”

“Score two for Momma Vauquer.”

D thinks she understands the root of Dr. B’s amusement—he’s a Balzac scholar, after all. The astengorama is funnier than ever.

2011. D gets over culture shock and has so much fun in France that she creates her “astengorama” WordPress blog and immediately forgets about it for three years. D eventually returns home and discovers that reverse culture shock is a real son of a bitch and that it won’t be placated by even Balzac’s humor. The rest of the year can be summed up with an emoticon: :’(

2012. D returns to CSU, Chico as a Graduate Student in the literature pathway of the English M.A. program. Goals are tenuous. Teaching literature and waiting tables in a diner in Hawaii both seem like good options.

2013. D decides to pursue teaching literature and serves as a Teaching Assistant in Dr. B’s “Great Books” class. D gives her first lesson to the class while they are reading Père Goriot. Inspired by Balzac’s theories on social evolution and their similarity to modern theories of cultural evolution, she has the students make internet memes of notable characters in the novel. Lesson is a success. D is intrigued. See “featured photo.”

2014. D teaches her own section of “Great Books.” D revamps the lesson on memes and tries it again. It’s still a success.

In the second installment of “A Four-Letter Suffix that Changed My Life“: D, now passionate about teaching and pursuing a single-subject teaching credential, decides to write a thesis focused on how to teach Balzac. She is inspired by Henry Jenkins’ Reading in a Participatory Culture as much as she is inspired by her two years of teaching academic writing and literature. Also, she finally remembers her astengorama WordPress blog. 

Connected Courses: ALL THE WHY’S! o/

I am realizing how brilliant a thing it is to start with “why” in this Connected Courses kick off week. And many thanks to Mike Wesch, Mimi Ito, and Helen Keegan for getting us started. In a way, starting with “why” means we must start with reflection, something we typically reserve until the end of a project or a course. What a fabulous way to “bring the end forward” as my (now happily retired) colleague Judith Rodby was known to say. “Bringing the end forward” is actually quite challenging in a course (or in life for that matter): you must imagine an end goal while still allowing for emerging ideas and digressions. Knowing the why can support us as we participate in challenging ideas and projects, but too often in school, the why is simply because I need to finish school.

I spent the last couple of weeks thinking a lot about my whys in education. Why do I teach? I certainly started my own higher ed journey with both a less sophisticated (“I just need to finish school”) but also a high stakes why: I had a hope that a college degree would help me out of a terrible marriage and allow me to support myself and two toddlers. “I just need to finish school” can actually turn out to be a profound why. Almost twenty years ago now, my journey started as a sad tale: I was sitting on the floor in the tiny house in Gridley, CA sobbing because my then spouse had not been home in three days, the phone was turned off, I had no gas money—felt completely closed off from the rest of the world. I had these two sleeping toddlers in the other room, content underneath their 101 Dalmatians comforters. I went to my bedroom and pulled out a box of old school stuff, dug through until I found my transcripts and my outdated Chico State catalog, and sat down on the floor. Through tears I flipped through the pages, matching disciplines with coursework I had already completed years before. When I was done, I decided that I could get a degree in English the fastest and believed that somehow with that college degree I’d have a better chance to support myself and these sleeping babies; I never wanted to feel this stuck ever again in my life. The next week, I found a place in Chico we could afford and moved back so I could be closer to my family and their support. When my daughter, Ashley, started Kindergarten that fall, I started Chico State–fall of 1995–and never looked back. A BA, an MA, a PhD, a tenure-track job in my hometown, a new marriage, and happily grown children twenty years later, affords me the gift of time…to think about new “whys.” This gift of time–time to think, time to reflect–is such a privilege.

So, why do I teach? I teach because day after day I get to see the generous work students do for us. They take our (often) confusing assignments and our attempts to create a space for learning, and they generously try them on–write, talk, play, and even forgive us for our failed efforts at this thing we call higher education. And in the moments when they stop doing the work of higher ed for me and do the work for their own goals for learning, they always blow me away. I get to learn from these amazing humans every day and I am so grateful that students are willing to produce and share their creations with us. How could you NOT want to teach, when you get to witness work like this:

Amanda Haydon’s vlog synthesis after a couple of weeks reading about open access:

Sheila’s blog post, wrestling with the “why” of Connected Courses and digital platforms.

My freshman, Matt Mulholland, has an amazing blog this week about gaming.

The films freshmen have created about digital culture:

Stormie’s film looks at the “production” of our persona/identity.

This film from Larly Lee and his team asks how you will use this powerful platform known as the web:

Anthony Miranda’s film gives us a hopeful view of education and some fabulous educators:

Why do I teach? See examples above. ^  Students. They rule.


My digital path

Greetings and salutations,Greetings, Connected Courses! Glad to be aboard at last. professors and master teachers, and fellow students and colleagues at Connected Courses! My name is Sheila, a student in Dr. Jaxon’s 692 course, “Digital Culture(s),” and am so happy to be a part of Connected Courses and the concept of “open access” education, even though I’m not sure what it all entails. Not only am I a digital literacy newbie (and new to the discipline of Composition), but I’m also, for the most part, new to interacting online academically, except, of course, for email and our college’s electronic platforms.

Truth be told, for the last several years, I have grappled with having a web presence/online identity–though I once had a short love affair with Facebook, a couple of years ago. All in all, I enjoyed interacting with others and sharing photos; however, after six months of spending on average about 1.5-2 hours a day on FB, that is, keeping up with friends and relatives and uploading and diligently commenting on photos, as well as trying to navigate and assuage the social drama that seemed to erupt and take on a life of itself from misunderstandings from, what I believe, were the absence of facial cues and voice tones, I realized just how much I missed how I used to spend those precious 1.5-2 hours: be it walking and jogging or hiking through a park, or working in the yard, or gleefully suspended in a piece of fiction or non-fiction, or if time really allowed, dabbling in hobbies put on hold. I also missed meeting with my friends and family in person, as well as devoting more time to the community organizations I’m involved in and serve in. (Don’t get me wrong, I still am fascinated by aspects of FB and other social media. Maybe I’ll check out Instagram? Communicating via images sounds interesting. Is there a Snapchat for older people like myself?!) Oh, I failed to mention that  there was this thing called a “Master’s thesis,” creative literary project in my case, that needed to be written and rewritten, and so on. Hence, the urgency and necessity of my project was the ultimate deal breaker in my relationship with FB.

All that being said, it probably seems odd to hear that a Composition Studies’ student–one who’s recently graduated with a Master’s in English, in addition to previously completing a Bachelor’s in Linguistics and English, including TESOL certificate and minor in Creative Writing (as well as outside courses in psychology and counseling from another college source), and one who, during grad school, interned as well as taught a section of Beginning Creative Writing–is, in this age of all ages, digitally impaired.

I want to blame my lack of digital online experience on the fact that I enjoy being away from the computer and its glow of blue screen more than being on it (except when completing course work or creating a piece of fiction–don’t miss typewriters at all!), and on the fact that I grew up during the years of the Vietnam War and the things and ideas of that era, not to mention the Old World values I was raised with, things which only seem to work against me when it comes to trusting the online experience, as well as on the fact that I have spent most of my early and later adult years working in the private sector (among other things, such as all the messy things, and all the trial and tribulations, for better or worse, that come with relationships and living a life), working hard, sometimes working two jobs, as I tried my best to make ends meet and carve out a career for myself in corporate America. Of course with that commitment came the obligatory night classes at the local community college, that is, if one was interested in having a shot at moving up the corporate ladder(s), and/or keeping one’s job, especially when the “Outsourcing” phenomenon of the ’80s hit. In terms of employment, the mid ’90s for me was mainly keeping my job in the atmosphere of the resulting downsizing of jobs; working became a way of life, and what was happening in the world of the Internet didn’t seem all that important. But I digress. Granted, there’s much more to my life journey, experiences and lessons learned, but for our purposes I limit my discussion to my digital path, which at this point seems embarrassingly limited.

Okay, where am I going with this? I digress too much. Are we allowed to digress in blogs? And just what is a blog, its purpose, its intent? These questions quickly come to mind. A lot of questions revolving around the digital experience are coming to mind now that I’m taking Dr. Jaxon’s course, which involves Connected Courses, making me that much more excited about understanding and creating a digital identity, especially how it relates to teaching FYC with the digital literacy component. Yay, I feel like I’m on the cutting edge of things! What a time to learn about teaching FYC! I surmise that these emerging questions re all things digital were there all along in the back of my brain somewhere all through the years; I was just too busy trying to do relationships and life, and then school and life, in the frame I understood it. But now I see that there are so many more connections and collaborations that can be made in the ever-evolving digital world of things. Heck, even the community organizations I’m involved with could greatly benefit from digital collaboration. Now, if only I could get over the idea of a web presence/digital identity and the idea that a lot of folks are possibly going to be reading what I just blogged.

My response to “Why We Need a Why” will soon follow. My mind is still processing and digesting the information from the Connected Course webcast.  So many great things on the horizon for teaching. A very exciting time, indeed. I may be a little distrustful, a little hesitant, but all in all, I’m ready to embrace the new concepts being presented to me. I just have to remember not to hit the publish button until I am ready to do so.

Fair Warning

So up until this point, I have been one of those annoying college students who “hates blogging.” I hated it so much that I refused to implement it in my syllabus for the freshman comp class I teach. If I hated writing them, I wasn’t interested in forcing my students to write them. Period.

Then I read danah boyd’s paper “A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium” and, to my horror, I realized that I don’t hate blogs at all. What I hate are the “discussion posts” that so many professors refer to as “blogs.” Those aren’t blogs at all? I love writing, how could I ever believe that I would hate to blog?

When asked to define a blog, an experienced blogger told danah:

“It’s a blog because a blogger’s doing it. It’s a blog because it’s caught up in the practice of blogging. It’s a blog because it’s made on blog tools. It’s a blog because it’s made up out of blog parts. It’s a blog because bloggers are engaged with it, and everyone points at it and says, “It’s a blog!” – Carl” (9)

So here I am, blogging. I’m a blogger(?) Weird. In the spirit of trying new things with an open mind, I am attempting to build a productive blogging life. What does that look like? No, really, what does that look like? Cuz I don’t have a clue, but I’m trying. I suppose it looks a lot like a productive writing life, just in a space where people can see what I’m writing…

In conjunction with blogging for the Connected Course and Kim’s grad class, I’m going to attempt to use this as a space to organize my thoughts about the data I am collecting for my thesis (emphasis on “attempt”). Four times a week, I sit in on two small group mentoring spaces that we refer to as English 30 (each group meets twice a week for fifty minute periods). I take copious color-coded notes that look more like a play-by-play than actual observations that make any sense whatsoever. I also record the audio from each session (I’ve found that students get nervous if I set up a camera and end up censoring themselves but will forget that I’m recording their voices if I set my ipad on the desk next to me).

While observing these spaces, I am looking at identity construction: how does each mentor take on the identity of “teacher”? I use the term “teacher” very broadly here because I have found in my own experience as a 30 mentor that my identity is incredibly fluid. In any given period, I go from the more formal roles of teacher or mentor to informal roles of peer or even friend to my students, depending on their needs. I do this instinctively. I am firm when I need my students to take me seriously and I am soft when my students are vulnerable and that to me is utterly fascinating. I’ve always been interested in identity construction and now I’m curious about how 30 mentors construct their “teacher” identities in their classes. How do they know when to shift? How do these shifts in identity help them reach their students, from the most invested to the most resistant?

Given that this post is titled “Fair Warning,” here’s the warning part: From this point on, I will post quite often and I will use incredibly boring and generic ways of distinguishing between the mentors, their interns, and the students. When I say boring, I mean it. Mentor 1, Interns 1 & 2, Students 1 through 10. So boring. I may be showing my age and inexperience here, but in my mind, it is important for me to think about these students by their real names because they are very real people and I know quite a bit about each of them. While I am in the space, I don’t want to confuse their real names with some pseudonym that I have given them. I would never look at a student are think of them as “Student 7.” The numbers are simply to tell them apart in this blog space.

But perhaps I should back up: 30 spaces look nothing like traditional classrooms. There are a maximum of eleven students in each space and one mentor. It is possible to have up to two interns (upperclassmen who are aspiring to be 30 mentors the following semester). It is also possible that each student in the 30 space has a different English 130 (Academic Writing) teacher. There is no homework, no tests, no final. The only way to not get credit for English 30 is to not show up. Which is weird, because English 30 is fun.

All we do in the space is support students in whatever way we (meaning the mentors, the interns, and the students together) see fit. That could mean workshopping a paper, learning research methods, spending time in the library, playing silly writing games like Exquisite Corpse, etc. Every space looks dramatically different and every space is specific to each mentor and each group of students. That’s part of the beauty of the space and part of what makes it so fascinating to study.

So here goes nothing. Wish me luck? K, thanks.