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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Great File Purge of 2015

I completely filled one tall paper-recycling bin and came close to filling a second when I experienced a the usual moment of brain fry: I get to the point at which I no longer can make organizational sense of whatever it is I'm trying to accomplish and have to just stop. There is an enormous stack of folders now on my desk, which require further sorting, and two of my file drawers need a great deal more organizing--and I may even be able to completely empty a drawer and still have enough room for the stuff I actually feel compelled to keep.

That category--"stuff I feel compelled to keep"--is rather large and completely without rational foundation. I have operated a lot on the same two criteria my ex and I used to use in cleaning out closets (which we did annually--not, I might add, at my instigation): 1) if you haven't used it in two years, chances are pretty good you're not going to, and 2) if you had to relocate, would you take this or get rid of it? I have an entire drawer of photocopies of research I did for my dissertation--and another drawer (albeit a smaller one) of the same kind of photocopies at home--and although I can't say I haven't looked at them at all since my defense, I can say with absolute certainty that I haven't looked at them in the past ten years. And yet, I can't seem to bring myself to ditch them. And yes, I'd probably pack them into boxes and move them, if I had to relocate--though why I would is beyond me. Paul makes a case that there is value to hanging on to that stuff, but--while I am more than happy to concede that there is value in it to him--I'd be awfully hard pressed to say what value I find in having all that paper around. I wouldn't even want it all scanned and stored in some unlimited cyber something--as I'd be even less likely to remember its existence or find any use for it if it weren't periodically leaping out of a file drawer to insist on its right to be.

Clearly, this will be an ongoing task--but I would like to get to a point this summer at which I feel like I can say, "I have now been through all of this, even if only at a glance, and have opted to keep it" instead of "I really should go through my files one of these days."

Shifting gears rather radically to today's session relearning the online course platform--Blackboard, so I don't have to keep referring to it generically--it's starting to make sense. Because I've been "trained" before, all my classes are available for me to monkey around with--not just the classes for the fall but everything I've taught since that initial training session. I hid the vast majority of it (I now know how to do that), and I am actually working with real material in the course in which I want the material to be available. That makes a huge difference to me: I'm not "playing in the sandbox" but am figuring out how to do what I want to do.

Another difference is the instructor--who very openly said, right up front, that the best way for us to learn Blackboard would be to walk in and say, "I want to do this, this, and this" and be shown exactly those things, instead of being shown every possible bell and whistle. In fact, several times, the guy teaching us said, "You can ignore all that: this is the only bit you need." Perfect.

And I do have two very specific questions for tomorrow's session: two things I did before, in my "sandbox" but don't remember how to do any more. One is to set up discussion boards, so students can engage in conversation about the readings outside of class and as they're doing their own research and beginning their papers; the other is to set up a link to I don't know if I can make it so students are automatically registered, but even if they can access Turnitin from Blackboard, I can put the class ID and password up on Blackboard, so they can't lose it, along with brief instructions of how to get set up with Turnitin.

I'm getting pretty excited about the possibilities, as it turns out. Even though I'm teaching entirely face-to-face, having the back-up for everything on Blackboard eliminates a lot of the hand-holding: lost a reading? It's on Blackboard. Can't find that video again? It's on Blackboard.

That leads me to a rather awkward segue into talking about the female student from the fall 101 class who drove me insane with her refusal to engage in the work coupled with a refusal to withdraw, even though I told her repeatedly that if she stayed in the class, she'd fail. I've mentioned several times that I have been on the fence about whether to send back her paper with my comments (which she asked for) along with my response to her self-evaluation--and today I decided that, yes, I want to do that. However, I ended up softening my response to the self-evaluation. In the softened version, I speak more in sorrow than in anger--and I acknowledge what I didn't let myself admit before: her refusal to engage in the work of the class may not have been motivated by arrogance so much as by fear--even if she didn't/doesn't realize that's what was going on. If she's used to making good grades without effort, she's probably terrified to try anything new. She even said--I can't remember now if it was in person or in her self-evaluation--"if it ain't broke, don't fix it." What she didn't want to acknowledge is that nothing was broken: she has clearly mastered how to write a high school paper. She was instead being called upon to learn something completely new--and that's a point I intend to emphasize with my students this fall.

Along those lines, I'm going to show a video to class--and I'm posting it on Blackboard. It's been making the rounds on Facebook, and it's a brilliant metaphor about learning to do something you think you know a completely different way:

Of course, the narrator of the video conflates--or possibly doesn't know about--different kinds of memory: riding a bicycle requires "procedural" memory, which is unlike "explicit" or "declarative" memory. This is why people with certain forms of amnesia or dementia can sometimes still play a musical instrument--or, well, ride a bicycle. We're not "thinking in a rut" when we ride a bike: we're not thinking about riding a bike at all; we're just doing it. But as a metaphor for the challenge of, say, learning to write a paper for college when all you know is how to write papers for high school, it's brilliant.

Shifting gears yet again (no bicycle metaphor intended here), there is a special meeting of the Board of Trustees tonight--not the one at which I'm signed up to speak (which is next week) but one in which they're probably going to announce that the search for a new college president has "failed"--again--and what will happen next. It's about an hour from now, and if I were being gung-ho and rah-rah about politics here on campus, I'd stick around for it--but I figure speaking next week is plenty for now.

Oh! And I forgot to mention yesterday that part of the discussion in the seminar hours meeting was about faculty pairings for conferencing with students, and although Bruce and Cathy are adamant that we will never, ever, ever be able to persuade the Administration of the desirability of our working with our own students (I think we should at least try, but I bow to their understanding of the politics of the place), there is, in fact, a good chance we can get the pairings idea to fly after next year. Next year is going to be a hell of a bumpy year as we try to figure out who is responsible for what and how to get everything running, but the fact that we have just that glimmer of hope about faculty pairings is something to hold on to. And given that sense that there's a possibility of us getting something close to what we want, I will hold off on my plan to be snide and sarcastic at a BOT meeting in the fall, thanking them for rejecting a proposal that would have made me actually have to do meaningful work with my students and instead only asking that I have X number of students in my presence for X number of hours--while we play Parcheesi or Scrabble or something.

And one last bit of good news, just for me personally, but it's great: long story, but I finally got an memory upgrade to my computer so it isn't insanely, maddeningly slow any more. Squeaker-horns and confetti cannons!

Ack, that's it for now. I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done. More tomorrow, I bet, since I'll be here.

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