Posts Tagged First Year Writing
CRN 14458 – TR 9:30-10:45
CRN 14460 – TR 3:30-4:45
Everything By Design: Writing About Chicago’s Infrastructure
Infrastructure is all around you. The roads you drive to work or school, the water that comes out of the faucet in your home, the lights you turn on when it gets dark, and even the schools you have attended are all examples of infrastructure. These intricately designed systems for organizing space are fundamental parts of our lives that we often take for granted until they malfunction. But what is the logic behind the systems that make up infrastructure and how were those systems created? What is the future for infrastructure, particularly in the Chicago area? These are just a few of the questions we will explore in this class as we use the subject of infrastructure to learn some basic skills of academic research and writing.
CRN 24547 / 24548 – TR 11:00-12:15
You Were Never Here: Author’s Writing In And About Chicago
What comes to mind when you hear the word Chicago? For some it’s stockyards and steel mills, but these have been gone from the city’s landscape for nearly three generations. For others it’s the stories of violent crime, but Al Capone is a distant memory and many neighborhoods are not touched by the gang activity on the evening news. Some see the city as a patchwork of neighborhoods with different ethnic backgrounds at their core, but rising rents and mortgage prices have turned many ethnic neighborhoods into urban shopping malls. The Chicago that seems ‘real’ to you depends on what you already believe before picking up the book. In this class, we will examine the strong emotions that readers have about Chicago and the narratives that either seem real or fake to those reading them. Readings for the class will include classic novels such as Sister Carrie and Native Son alongside more recent works by local authors such as The Old Neighborhood. We will also read poems by Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry slam founder Kevin Koval’s recent collection A People’s History of Chicago.
Greetings from Chicago! It’s cloudy and cold outside today as I sit and write this blog post but unlike the east coast there’s no snow on the ground here. Perhaps I’m crazy, but I kind of miss the snow cover. Haven’t had a chance to drag out my cross country skis at all this year.
My last blog post was written before Christmas. I hope you’ll forgive me for taking the month of December off as I was focused on visiting my family and trying to wrap up a bunch of projects that had collected on my desk over the fall semester. In that November post I examined the use of electronic texts. This post will cover the topic of Educational Technology.
I first became aware of the term “Educational Technology” through Twitter, specifically the tweets of Audrey Waters. Before reading some of her posts on Hack Education, I had never heard of the term but I was well aware of the programs and services the term described. Most familiar to me is Blackboard, the Course Management System (CMS) used at UIC. I was also familiar with the various products such as MyWritingLab that Pearson had long been promoting amongst writing faculty on campus. Apparently they have a version of this My(fill in the blanks here)Lab for every discipline taught on campus.
Most faculty entering the market for Educational Technology are either lost in a field of options made more confusing by technical jargon or are simply content to accept whatever technological tools are provided to them by their employer. Few of us have the time or inclination to ask what types of technology are cost effective and, more importantly, what tools will actually enhance what we do in the classroom.
I experimented with several different types of educational technology in my First Year Writing classroom during the Fall semester of 2012. The course I was teaching (ENGL 160) is designed to teach students short genres of writing such as the argumentative essay and proposal writing. At the time, the course was balanced between academic and non-academic genres. You can find a link to the syllabus under the Teaching Materials tab of my website. It’s called “First Year Writing:Genre and Argument.”
I chose the Profile genre as well as that of the Manifesto to help students practice writing in a public context. Since many of these non-academic genres are published online, I decided to have them work on the text of their assignments in Microsoft Word but then import that content into Google Sites for the Profile and Tumblr for the Manifesto. Neither of these tools are typically considered educational technology, but that is part of my point. Marketers have software and services that they claim are designed with your classroom in mind. But any technology can become educational technology if you provide the proper pedagogical context for it.
In the case of the Profile, Google Sites was chosen as a simple web design tool that would allow students to craft an online Profile for the person they interviewed. This person was someone on campus at UIC that they felt others should know. My favorite example was the student project that focused on a custodian in her dorm complex. The hope with this writing assignment was that students would not only learn basic rhetorical techniques associated with the Profile genre since its creation but also would learn how to translate those analog skills into a digital environment. It worked generally OK. My one frustration was with my choice of platform. Google Sites proved easy to me, but not my students who struggled to figure out its design interface. Tumblr was a different story. Most of my students had already used Tumblr before and some had profiles on the site. They also like the photographic emphasis of the platform as opposed to the text heavy set up of Google Sites. They used Tumblr effectively to create a Fashion Manifesto (based on the popular Sartorialist blog) that was designed to teach UIC students how to be fashion savvy on campus.
This academic year our program has begun shifting to primarily academic forms of short writing. I haven’t taught this particular course in a while so I’m not sure how that would shift my choice of educational technology. One thing is for sure, however, I like choosing and shaping the tool I want to use rather than simply taking something given to me by an educational technology designer. This saves students money but is also gives me flexibility as an instructor to shift from platform to platform as I see fit rather than being locked into a deal with a major publisher or software developer whose staff don’t fully understand the needs of my class. The downside to this approach, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is that it does take a bit of time to create your own context. Perhaps that’s why I’ve stepped back from the process of platform selection in the last few semesters to more traditional pedagogical tools. I’ve even tried, Lord help me!, to make Blackboard work to my advantage. No luck on that yet. It still serves mainly for me as a clunky version of Dropbox.
Faculty on campuses around the world are doing some excellent work with their students creating their own educational technology. Two that come to mind are Chuck Rybak at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and Jeff McClurken at the University of Mary Washington. There are many more. What these faculty have in common is a desire to learn the logic behind technological tools and create a context for them in the work they do in the classroom. Again, this takes time. It also takes money and at the very least a minimal amount of institutional support. Unfortunately, at my institution security concerns and legal liability issues trump the desire for experimentation. As I often joke with colleagues, the answer to any question asked of our university computing center is “Blackboard.”
For anyone reading this post who’s interested in delving into the world of educational technology I recommend first finding a partner to work with. This could be either another faculty member in your department who shares some of your interests, a colleague in a department such as computer science who would be interested in collaborating with a humanities scholar, or a librarian willing to help you create your own educational tool. Not only will this save you time, but it will address the issue of funding, which is always a concern with new projects. Free online tools are abundant but not always easy to find. Adapting these tools might also cost you some money for things like hosting fees and access to advanced editing tools.
What I don’t recommend is simply taking the tools offered by educational companies and using them in your classroom. Blackboard is useful. Especially the announcements, file sharing, and grade book. But using it teaches me nothing. Nor does it teach my students. All it does is deliver content. The point of educational technology should be more than content delivery. It should be the act of learning how to deliver content through an electronic medium (a.k.a. digital literacy).
I hope you all find the tool that works best for you and don’t get distracted by technology that you don’t need. If you are a faculty member and have some tools that you particularly like or educational technology projects you’re proud of and would like to share with my readers, feel free to comment on this post.
My next post is going to shift from pedagogy to research. I’ll be sharing with you some of the themes associated with my next book project. A work very much “in progress.”
Until next time…
Here on the UIC campus it’s now week two and I’m already starting to fall behind. I’m sure that many of you reading this post can relate. Navigating my course schedule for the new semester, attending committee meetings, working on various writing projects, the to do list goes on. With a few spare moments in the schedule, I wanted to continue my conversation with you (the NEMLA membership) on issues relating to the research and teaching of American Literature. This month I’d like to consider what connection (if any) our research has on what takes place inside the classroom.
To start this discussion, I’ll share a bit of my own experience. My position at UIC is classified as teaching intensive. As a full time non-tenure eligible “Lecturer,” I teach a 3-3 course load on a one year contract. Of course, this year’s unexpectedly large enrollment of first year students means that most Lecturers in my department are actually teaching 4 courses with the additional class considered an “over-comp” (i.e. pay in addition to faculty base salary).
Evaluation of Lecturers is based solely on teaching and teaching related activities. What this means in practice is that student evaluations, syllabi, and faculty observations (by both TT and NTT colleagues) serve as the basis for hiring, retention, and promotion to Senior Lecturer. Research (unless it relates directly to teaching) is not considered relevant in the assessment of UIC’s fairly sizable teaching intensive faculty pool.
Course assignments for Lecturers in the UIC English Department are determined primarily by the needs of its First Year Writing Program. Nearly all of our department’s Lecturers can expect to each at least one first year writing course in a semester. On occasion, as enrollment allows, NTT faculty in the department might also be assigned to teach General Education or introductory level courses for the English Major. Some of our NTT faculty in Creative Writing also teach upper level writing workshops.
You might very well ask yourself at this point why I’m focusing on what might properly be considered “human resources” issues. These issues, however, are at the heart of the question of how research relates to teaching in my department. For Tenure Track faculty, research is the main focus of their job description with teaching assumed to follow in a holistic way from that research. NTT Lecturers, hired solely on the basis of their teaching ability, face a different situation with research considered an outside interest that runs parallel to their duties for the university. In essence, for a Lecturer at UIC, there is not (in most cases) a connection between their research and teaching, nor does the university expect such a connection to exist.
That said, many of my NTT colleagues persist in conducting research in a wide variety of fields and find ways to “smuggle” their interests into first year writing and general education literature courses. This might include course readings that either analyze an area of research interest for faculty or represent a concept crucial to their studies as scholars. Our first year writing program also encourages faculty to have topics for their courses, and a casual glance at those topics will quickly give an outsider a sense of what the research interests are of Lecturers in the UIC English Department.
So far so good, but what about my research interests? If you’ve taken a chance to read through my CV and skim through some of the writing samples on my website, you can see that my central research interest is in veterans of the United States Civil War and the cultural legacy associated with them in the late nineteenth-century. How exactly that might be turned into a first year writing course still escapes me, so I haven’t tried to create one with that as its course topic (yet). Nor have I had a chance to shape a lower level literature course to fit that topic since I haven’t (Oprah moment here) taught a literature course since 2011 (Introduction to American Literature and Culture).
The main venue through which my research has managed to cross over into my teaching has been in my methodology, which relies upon archival research. Each semester that I’ve taught the research paper course at UIC (ENGL 161), this method has managed to find its way into my syllabus and influences the topics that my students select. It also influenced the way I taught many of the units in my Introduction to Critical Theory and Literary Criticism course (ENGL 240), especially the one on Digital Humanities. Another way that my research has found its way into my teaching is the emphasis that I put on place and community in all my courses. Both of these themes were central to what it meant to be a veteran in the late nineteenth-century United States. Feeling out of place or in the wrong community is a feeling that shows up in many of the narratives examined in my book New Men.
Never in my life have I been good at conclusions. Even though I’m an introvert by nature, I love to talk and talk and talk and talk. Especially if the topic is one in which I have an interest. Yet even a blog post needs an ending and this is where I’d like to leave you all this month. Teaching has become for me a place to test ideas and find new interests that might not develop if I were sitting at home with a stack of books working alone on my next article or book chapter. The constraints of my working conditions also serve a purpose as they teach me that good ideas need skilled pitchmen and women to make their way out into the world. Rhetoric, I have swiftly learned, is not just a departmental staffing need but the mother discipline, especially in these times of budget cuts for the humanities.
In my next blog post, I’d like to share some of your experiences teaching and researching on American Literature. How do you understand the relationship between teaching and research? What types of classes do you tend to teach and how do you find ways to emphasize your interest/understanding of American Literature in those classes? You can send your thoughts on this topic to me directly via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the subject line NEMLA Blog Post #3. I’ll share selections of those emails with you all in my next post.
Until next time…