Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Entering the Virtual Classroom

Today is my first day in the virtual classroom, teaching College Composition online. So far, I'm not liking it.

Other professors who have experience teaching online had warned me that a significant portion of the prep work needs to be completed before the semester begins, as opposed to addressing issues all throughout the class. The reason for this is twofold:
1) It's not going to come up in class. Any questions students might have about your writing expectations, how to find information on the site, what the goals are for the class ... these need to be clearly spelled out, in writing, from day one so that students feel comfortable (as much as they can), and like they know what they're getting themselves into. As a professor, I need to try and anticipate students' concerns and address them upfront.

Similarly, I need to provide samples of writing. When I say, "You need to write a comprehensive discussion board post for full credit," what does that even mean?!? As a student, I wouldn't have known how to interpret that. Therefore, since I won't be modeling the behavior during class, I need to demonstrate what I'm looking for before they even start the assignment, so they know what they're working towards.

2) To my mind, it's reasonable to assume that online students are busy people. I think there's a misconception of online students trying to "get away" with less work or less time spent in class. I'm sure that describes some of the online students, but the majority of students I've met who are taking online classes are doing so because they need to fit the classes into their schedules somehow. And between work, family, often second jobs, etc., online is their best option. Many of them say they wish they could be attending class in person, because it's easier to learn and collaborate and it also takes some of the responsibility off their shoulders in terms of remembering assignments and due dates. Showing up to a lecture is a lot easier than figuring out the material for yourself, I think.

So anyway, if you agree with they assumption that online students are busy, then you might also agree with me (and my more experienced contacts) that it's important to give online students longer deadlines, so they can fit in the readings and assignments around everything else. When planning my traditional classes and it went down to the wire (as it usually did), I knew that, at the very least, all I really needed to have is a lesson plan for the first day. Which isn't even a lesson plan; it's going over the syllabus and expectations. Instead, for the online course, I'm trying to have the first two weeks of lectures completed (as narrated PowerPoint presentations, which are taking me forever), as well as the first two weeks of assignments, quizzes and any other activities.

Point being, it's the first day of class and I'm really tired. I've only been getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night for the past week, once I started to realize there was no way I would finish all of this in time. I just barely got up the first lecture (plus a nearly hour-long Intro presentation that I hadn't even thought about before, introducing students to the class and the site). I'm hoping to have Week Two's lesson up by tomorrow, so that I can get on a regular schedule of having the Week 3 lesson posted the first day of Week 2. And now that the class has started, the grading will become a factor, too!

I have been assured that, once the online semester starts and class is moving along, it actually becomes much more manageable. I'm clinging onto this hope, because I definitely need the workload to lighten up a bit. Or else this isn't going to be much of a summer!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Photo Challenge: Anger


I personally thought "anger" was a tough Photo Challenge.Every time over the past week, when Keith asked for ideas, I just shrugged. As with some of the other prompts, the word felt very personal. Keith said his half-marathon finish time makes him angry. I said that a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes made me angry. (Didn't I just clean the kitchen, like, 5 minutes ago?!?) But it didn't really seem like the anger would come across. Traffic and dealing with idiot drivers always makes me angry, but he can't really have the camera out and shooting the entire drive to work. I mean, I'm sure people do it, but it's probably not the best idea.

So at 8 o'clock Tuesday night, still with no picture, Keith went outside to get some pictures of our backyard. I know I've been complaining about the weather a lot this Spring, but it has seriously been awful. I heard on the radio last week that this has been the rainiest year so far in over 50 years. And it's not just that there's been a lot of rain; it's been spread out so that it's been raining almost every day since mid-March.

Hence, the state of our grass. It's insane. Keith's cut the front grass a few times, but it's been too swampy to cut the back. Plus the backyard is Beckett's squirrel stalking grounds, so it's tall grass intermingled with doggy dirt paths. Very attractive!

This past weekend, Keith finally attempted to cut the backyard .... and the lawnmower broke. Oh, and rain is forecast all this week.

That frustration—plus the annoying fact that neither of us are particularly concerned about having a fantastically manicured lawn, yet there's still a fair amount of effort required just to keep it looking a mite better than constant shagginess—is what Keith was trying to convey with the picture. But I don't really feel like all that anger really came across. He tried taking a few pictures with the lawnmower on it's side, showing the broken part, but I don't know enough about lawnmowers for that picture to even make sense. The first comment he got was, essentially, "Where's the anger?" A few of the other commenters, who live in the rain-soaked region, did identify with the anger and frustration of the situation, but only because they're also living it.

I think, for me, it's a lesson that not ALL pictures have to be universally understood. Maybe you do just need to pick something that makes YOU really, really angry and take a good photo of it. It might inspire anger in others ... or they may just like the composition and find it peaceful and soothing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

10k Playlist 2011 version

Some people don't need music to motivate themselves to run—particularly 2-year-olds. It's not always music, but I typically want some kind of motivation or distraction along with me, so I'm not constantly thinking about how far I've run, how out of shape I feel, how hard it is to breathe ..... Sometimes it's music, or podcasts, or audiobooks, or the dog. Just something to take my mind off the momentary pain, so I have a better chance of arriving at home feeling somewhat refreshed and glad I ran, instead of just tired.

Here's the music playlist I used while occasionally training for the 5k. I know I call it a 10k playlist; that's just because it's long enough that it could probably get you through a 10k. Some are old songs that have appeared on many of my old playlists, but some are new favorites. All of the links are to the albums at Amazon.

  1. "How You Like Me Now" by The Heavy
  2. "Percussion Gun" by White Rabbits
  3. "Little Lion Man" Mumford & Sons
  4. "The Charm" by Maps & Atlases
  5. "Kick Drum Heart" by The Avett Brothers
  6. "River, Sea, Ocean" by Badly Drawn Boy (This song is on pretty much every running list I have. This whole album, the About a Boy soundtrack, is fantastic for running, I think.)
  7. "Tighten Up" by The Black Keys
  8. "Winter 'o5" by Ra Ra Riot (This song is actually a little slow and melancholy for running, but I wanted a Ra Ra Riot song.)
  9. "Pressure Point" by The Zutons
  10. "Get Over It" by OK Go
  11. "Flathead" by The Fratellis
  12. "Ready to Start" by Arcade Fire
  13. "Eight Days a Week" by the Beatles
  14. "Hands Open" by Snow Patrol
  15. "Need You Around" by The Smoking Popes
  16. "The High Road" by Broken Bells
  17. "Glamorous Glowing" by Cast Spells
  18. "The Rockafeller Skank" by Fatboy Slim
  19. "Bicycle vs. Car" by Bob Schneider
  20. "Anna Sun" by Walk the Moon
  21. "Writing to Reach You" by Travis
  22. "Rolling in the Deep" Adele

Friday, May 20, 2011

Plagiarism Top 10

I think I briefly mentioned it in passing before, but the Spring semester is over! Finals were last week, and I have a mere two weeks before Summer session starts. (Well, just over one week now.)

Final papers this semester were pretty atrocious, overall. Individual students were fine, but in both my classes I had wayyy too many obviously plagiarized papers. For anyone who's wondering, here's a few ways to tell that a paper is plagiarized.

For example, a C student who relies on words like "things" and "stuff" turns in an essay that starts, "Mary Shelley was cleverly inspired by the theme of an uncontrollable creature wreaking vengeful destruction upon the heads of his monomaniacal scientific creator and his world is sustained in a way that makes the book a powerfully unique presence in English literature." This is a dead giveaway for several reasons:
  1. The last name Shelley is spelled correctly. The majority of the time, the Frankenstein papers, even though we've been studying the book for several weeks, refer to the author (Mary Shelley) as Shelly, Shelby, or something else just off enough to show they don't really care.
  2. Not only was "wreaking" used correctly in the sentence, but it was also spelled correctly.
  3. This sentence is quite long, but it's still grammatically correct. For most of my students (the ones who are in the position of plagiarizing their final papers, anyway), there is no way that a sentence this long wouldn't be a run-on or have random commas or a complete lack of parallelism between parts of the sentence.
  4. Frankenstein is English? Well, I'll be damned. I wonder if I asked the students, how many would give the correct answer to Mary Shelley/Shelly/Shelby's nationality?
  5. Monomaniacal? You couldn't even change it to something a little less obvious?
Another giveaway is when the paper explains to me why Frankenstein is a good example of Gothic literature. Um, we didn't cover this AT ALL in class, and none of the assigned paper topics even come close to asking students to address this topic. So you usually can't even be bothered to show up for class, but now you're going to do extra research outside of class to identify the genre of the work?

Finally, when a student cites a source like Sparknotes or Free Essays.com in the Works Cited, but has never cited these sources within the essay. And yes, this has happened.

I'm not sure that two weeks is enough time for my end-of-the-semester cynicism to wear off.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cleveland Marathon Events

As I mentioned the other day, we spent the weekend racing. Running and driving around to catch everyone in their various races.

It started Saturday morning, with my 5k race. Actually, back up a minute; it started on Friday afternoon when we went to the Cleveland Marathon Expo to pick up our race bibs and goodie bags. Until this year, the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon is the only big marathon weekend event that we've participated in. Keith has run the half and the full marathon there several times, and I've done the 10k and marathon relay leg. We've always enjoyed the Pig and heard many good things about it; in contrast, we've heard some bad things about the Cleveland Marathon—that the organization isn't the best, and that there's not as many spectators, so the "event" feel isn't really there.

From the Expo, we were less than impressed. You had to know your bib number to pick up your stuff, instead of just going by last name. Who knows their bib number?!? I walked up to the desk and said, "I have no idea what my bib number is." They snootily sent me to a bank of computer around the corner, where there was a line to get to the 10 computers because NO ONE KNOWS THEIR BIB NUMBER. That's just dumb. It seems very convenient for the organizers, but incredibly inconvenient for the racers.

Right, so, back to Saturday morning. My race was at 8 o'clock. We were meeting my parents at the Browns stadium (start and end of the 5k) about 7:30. The night before, Keith and I had joked about what would happen if the storm knocked out our power overnight and our alarms didn't go off.

Fast forward to 6:45—15 minutes after my alarm was supposed to go off. That's right! We actually predicted the future and our power went out. The benefit of that is that we were so busy trying to get to the start line that I didn't have time to be nervous. I really didn't run enough leading up to the race—not enough runs, and not long enough runs. But I finally decided it didn't really matter. It didn't matter how fast (or slowly) I ran, or if I walked. I'm 4.5 months pregnant! All I would have to do is finish the race and it's a win.

So I signed up for the race, and nearly missed it. I didn't have time to be nervous, but I did have time for a weird high school moment. We were hurrying to the race, walking a few blocks behind this group of 2 guys and 1 woman. I ended up chatting with the woman when we ran to the bathroom before the start and found out that the two guys were from my high school, and they graduated a year before I did. I'm sure I hadn't seen them in 15 years, but as soon as she said the names, I recognized them. So weird!

As you'll notice, most of my race recap doesn't actually have anything to do with the race. Because that really wasn't the highlight. I felt good while I ran it, and I ran the whole time except for the water break midway. I sprinted at the end because I still had energy to spare .... and then saw my time. It was terrible. I kept telling myself that it didn't matter, but it was more than 11 minutes per mile. I found it pretty depressing.

So we're skipping ahead to the end of the race. The picture above is because, once my race was done and I found Keith and Eleanor and my parents, Eleanor was very excited about her race. She kept wanting to practice, so we ran back and forth across the field many, many times. I guess it was my cool-down.

Of course, when it was actually Eleanor's race time, she wasn't nearly as excited. She wanted a nap, was scared by all the kids and the clowns, and told me she wasn't going to run. But she was allowed to run while holding my hand so she did complete her 50-yard dash and get a medal, which she was very excited about.

Finally, Keith ran the half-marathon on Sunday morning. He wasn't happy with his time of 1:36, with the just awful pace of 7:23/mile. He was depressed for about a day, and then emailed me with his next half-marathon race.

I'm done racing until after the baby's born. So now I'm looking forward to not paying any attention to how slowly I run anymore. I won't time myself at all. I'll walk when I feel like it. And if I ever have any concerns about the fact that I may have been gone about about 40 minutes for a 2-mile run, I'll just attribute it to Beckett's 50 pee stops.

Happy running!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finally! Spring Blog Update

Ever since I finally figured out how to easily personalize the look of my blog (to be fair, it's a LOT easier than it used to be last time I tried, I swear), I told myself I'd try to update it on a regular basis.

The first picture was very winter-oriented, so I figured I'd update it every season. How hard can it be to change it four times a year, right? Except, as I've complained about repeatedly of late, it won't stop raining! I wanted pictures of flowers and new life, but I feel like we're just drowning in day after day of gray, cold rain.

But finally I went back and used a picture Keith took of store-bought flowers my Mom had in her kitchen. For the past few weeks, I've also bought flowers at the grocery store. I need some color and brightness in my world! So if you usually check out the blog through a feed reader, go onto to the actual site for artificial Spring cheer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Photo Challenge: Tracks

This week's Photo Challenge is Tracks. It seemed appropriate in that we spent the weekend running races all around Cleveland (more on that later). But actually, running the races made it very difficult for Keith to get any photo shoots in.

And it's STILL raining. This Spring has just been so cold and rainy .... this is the time of year that usually we're desperate to be outside, soaking in the sunshine, reveling in the feel of warm wind on skin. Instead, we're still cooped up inside, next to the fire, watching it rain. Again. Now my biggest fear is that it will switch from this cold, miserable weather straight into hot and humid, miserable weather. It's a very distinct possibility!

Anyway, so Keith stopped by some old railroad tracks today on his way home from work to get his "tracks" shot.


It's a very literal interpretation of the word, but I also think that it's unique, because how many people know of old, unused tracks that they can photograph so closely? Every week, he debates how literal to be with the inspiration word, and how to compose the picture. Sometimes he veers towards abstract, and other weeks he tends to create pictures that tell a story. One of the elements of his photography that I like is the versatility. He's open to trying so many new ways to compose and edit the shots that they all turn out very differently.

Speaking of other pictures, with the end of the semester, I never got around to posting about last week's Photo Challenge, which was Artificial. I think it does a pretty good job of speaking for itself!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Read! (part 2)

I thought the comments on my post about reading the other day were very interesting, and they brought up some corollary questions of my own.

RevJeremy pointed out, “Unfortunately for there isn't a well paying job that I know of that doesn't require the skills acquired through reading.” I don't know about the “unfortunately” part. I think communication is a good thing! But it is very unfortunate that it's so hard to get students to believe this, and to feel like it's worth investing any of their time in developing these skills. On the other hand, so many people with job experience say the same thing as Jeremy: You must be able to communicate effectively to be good at your job, no matter what that job is. You don't have to love writing just for the sake of writing. But you have to know how to get your ideas across and make sure everyone is on the same page.

If that's so important, and so many employers and employees agree, then why is it so hard to get students on board?

Jeremy also pointed out that I might be drawing a false conclusion, equating the bookstores closing with less reading. He suggests, “It could be a sign that the marketplace is changing and that expensive brick and mortar stores are downsizing because they no longer have the luxury of smashing out their smaller competitors because of their lack of a distribution network.” As a solution, he also offers the idea that “Maybe there is a niche to be filled here, a way to marry social media and literature.”

I think Jeremy brings up a very real shortcoming in my own argument: Do I think that reading only counts if it's ink on paper? What about online literary journals and newspapers and magazines? What about blogs?!? What about Tweets? Do those count?

This question relates to Steve's sympathetic comment, “It is sad that young people don't read. It's impacted the newspaper business. Circulation among the major dailies has dropped in many [cities] here in the USA. This leads to an uninformed citizenry. They have themselves to blame with the leaders they choose.” Can we automatically equate lower newspaper circulation with an uninformed citizenry? Or are those two distinct issues? I will be honest: I never buy newspapers. I get my news online or on the radio. Could I be better informed? Quite probably? Am I uninformed? I wouldn't go that far … but of course, who would be willing to admit to such a state?

A student just turned in a research paper last week about the pros and cons of social media. On the one hand, he said that research shows kids who use social media are more literate and better writers. On the other hand, they're more at risk for ADHD and other ill effects of too much screen time (lack of exercise, etc). So, which is more important?

When I encourage students (or anyone) to read … I have to be honest. I imagine browsing in a bookstore or library, picking out a book that catches my eye, and curling up on the couch with it. Beckett's snuggled at my feet, if I'm really lucky the cat is in my lap, and I'm turning pages, engrossed in the story.

But even though that's my ideal situation, that really isn't my focus. I'm not trying to make everyone read Books. But I do want everyone to see the pleasure of reading, particularly the mind-expanding joys of challenging reading. Reading articles or short stories or weighty tomes that make you really think. That make you re-examine your feelings about life, love, happiness, relationships, responsibility, and more. Texts that clarify your own thoughts, that help you know yourself better and be able to articulate your beliefs.

Literacy—reading and writing—should be about communication. It should be about enjoyment. It should be about provoking thought. My concern is that, right now, many of my students and others don't see literacy as doing any of these things. They just see it as an unwelcome, worthless chore. And that's what concerns me much more than the state of big chain bookstores or newspaper circulation.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


The news of large bookstore chains selling off numerous stores (Barnes & Noble) or declaring bankruptcy (Borders) is, to me, only an expanding backdrop of what I see all the time on campus. My students don't read. They don't like to read, they don't think it's relevant to their lives, and they feel like people only do it because they're old and not really connected to social media.

Of course, this isn't applicable to every student. But it's true of enough of them to worry me.

On the other hand, in some circles, the popularity of the Twilight series and Harry Potter books is a cause for mockery. How could people read those?!? What happened to all the real books? With existential crises and true self-examination, following by meaningful epiphanies?

In my opinion, just Read! For the most part, I don't care what anyone is reading, as long as they're reading it. I even told my students (who were complaining about how incomprehensible they found Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), during grad school, I was either reading dense literary works and literary criticism .... or romance novels. There wasn't really a whole lot going on in between. When I wasn't required to really focus on and interpret these literary masterpieces, I just wanted some entertainment. Obviously I prefer books that are well-written, but that isn't always a requirement. I just wanted something that would be enjoyable to read, and I would know how it all is going to end, and if I miss a detail here or there, so what? It wasn't an intense, line-by-line breakdown of Shakespeare's tragedies, and it kept me happy.

But now, my students feel like the only things people read are Literature. And Literature is intimidating and hard and to be avoided at all costs. For the most part, they don't have any sense of reading for pleasure.

I have never really understood people who say that they don't like reading. What's not to like? The whole point of it is that you can pick ANYTHING and there will be many, many books about that topic. Just now, I did a keyword search at Amazon.com in the books section for "marmoset" and got 248 results. 138 titles were in the science section; one each in law, Manual of Animal Technology and romance, Nihilistic Foibles. (Sounds titillating!)

When we first met, Keith used to tell me that he was "not a reader." (And yet I'm married to him! Shocking!) Except he did change his mind. It came out that for Keith, like many, many people, he stopped enjoying reading once so much reading became assigned for homework that reading became a chore instead of a pleasure. I think he said it was around fifth or sixth grade. I kept encouraging him to give it another try—not very subtly, I'm sure—and now he probably has more books piled on his nightstand than I do. It was just a matter of finding out, as an adult, what types of reading he enjoyed and focusing on those.

I wish more children, from a very young age, were encouraged to see reading as a pleasurable, fun, independent activity related to their unique interests. Once they get to college, I feel like telling them "You have to read more!" goes in one ear and out the other. Unless their ears are filled with earbuds, in which case it never goes in at all. By the time I see them, they see reading as an archaic activity that's completely out-of-sync with their social media, tech-driven, multi-tasking lifestyles. And I don't know what it would take to convince them otherwise.

If I could assign them readings that they would all enjoy, would that help? But that's not an option; my whole point is that it's about individual taste. But when I generally tell them, "Trust me! You'll like it!" that doesn't matter.

I guess I'm not really sure which bothers me more: people who claim to not like reading, or people who choose to look down on certain reading material, instead of just being happy that kids are reading at all. Both attitudes are a serious cause for concern about the literacy of our society, and reading's future as an enjoyed, beloved pastime of the majority.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Photo Challenge: Red

Thank goodness for these weekly photo challenges! Some weeks, I have a really hard time blogging. The timeliness of the photo challenges forces me to write something, which always helps with the writer's block. It's a reminder that the hardest part is getting started, so just sit down and do it already!

I've also decided, when dithering over what to write about the photo challenge picture, that I need to stop even trying to address the technical aspects of it. If you want to know how these images are composed and manipulated, mention something in the comments and I'll pressure Keith into adding his own very technical explanation paragraph. But I don't really have any part in that, so I can really just speak to the thoughts and emotions inspired by the pictures.

First of all, on that note, these are actually Eleanor's rain boots and coat from last year. They're too small for her (see the sleeves?), but Keith broke them out just for this picture. Because how much cuter is a picture with her in it, instead of just the accessories? He also had to create the puddle, even thought it's been raining here for what seems like weeks on end. For a few hours on Monday evening, the puddles had dried up. So Keith and Eleanor trooped outside, armed with a pitcher of water to make their own puddle. And—bonus!—not as many worries about how dirty the water is.

This Spring has been very rainy and cold, so I'm very glad that Eleanor enjoys splashing in puddles. And don't worry—she has new rain boots and a jacket!