Dance Your Diss, Doodle Your Thesis

This post from BoingBoing about scientists dancing their dissertations reminded me that I really need to doodle my dissertation.

When I doodled my MA thesis in 2006 (see below), kind of as a joke, the doodle actually helped me develop the elevator-pitch version of my thesis (and then ultimately to write it). So, I plan to doodle my dissertation before I start working on it in earnest.

But for now, I challenge my current thesis- and diss-writing friends to doodle their work. Not illustrate, but doodle it. And then post it on your respective blogs/Facebook pages.

my MA thesis, doodle version
[click to embiggen]

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On Staying Politically Neutral in the Classroom

When I started teaching college students, nigh on two and a half years ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing (not that I especially know now). I wasn’t a particularly great college student as an undergrad, and that was 1989-1992 anyway (meaning: little recollection of specifics), so pedagogical examples to draw upon were limited to those profs in my MA program. Luckily, I had quickly learned just who I wanted to emulate and who I very specifically did not. Those in the “do not emulate” list were those who were hell-bent on pushing their own scholarly agenda to the detriment of our own scholarly development, or who wanted to lead us toward “the right answer” with little regard for students gaining or practicing the skills to determine “the right answer” or to realize that there isn’t really a “right answer” anyway. Not a big fan of that.

Although at SJSU I was only teaching the first semester of a two-semester Freshman composition sequence, in which students wrote eight essays in various rhetorical modes (narrative, descriptive, compare-and-contrast, etc.), I still didn’t want to be That Instructor—the one who “made” students write on certain topics or in a certain style or with a certain point of view (unless that was the assignment, like “argue the side of X, then argue the side of Y”). For each essay, students had two or three prompts to choose from and could argue for one of their own if they so chose. I didn’t feel the need to bring hot-button issues into the classroom just for the sake of doing so. What would have been the point of discussing, say, gay marriage during the unit on description? This is not to say that if conversation strayed toward controversial issues I stopped it—I didn’t—but we didn’t really stray into that territory. Everyone was focused on mastering pesky things like thesis statements and commas.

I started teaching around the same time that Michael Bérubé’s What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?: Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education was published, and I snapped that up immediately because a) it sounded good and useful, b) I’ve always liked Bérubé’s blog and c) he’s Michael Bérubé. I mean, come on. We should all know a little bit about “Dangeral Studies,” shouldn’t we? Anyway, between the profs I trusted, and examples of classroom interaction seen throughout Bérubé’s book, I felt confident that my gut instinct wasn’t a wrong one—if I was to be a decent teacher, I had to be as politically noncommittal in the classroom as possible, and it would be possible because what exactly do my personal politics have to do with thesis statements and essay organization? Nothing.

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Why Comment on Blogs?

Let me be the first to note that in the last year or so I’ve been a lousy commenter on blogs. I read many, and I bookmark a bunch of stuff to write about later (which I never do), but taking a moment to write a thoughtful comment? Or even a not-so-thoughtful one? Yeah, not so much. This is a sad state of affairs for me (which I aim to remedy), because I firmly believe in the blog comment as an integral part of creating a community, expanding that community, and furthering discussion on topics of interest to said community.

This topic is especially important for me now, as I am co-teaching a course with Dr. Kristin Arola called Electronic Research and the Rhetoric of Information. While instructing students in the ways in which the self and society shape and are shaped by the information networks we use, obviously we have to teach them how to use those networks. As you might expect, our students are blogging, and are supposed to be commenting on classmates’ blog posts. This is all well and good. But what I see in their work—and the other blogging work I’ve seen students (here) do, is a disjointed and disconnected sort of blogging. I’m putting that on the list of things to write about next—ways in which I see blogging used and misused in the classroom—but in this post I’m going to address the feature (for I do see it as a feature) of commenting on blogs.

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FYE, FYC, and why I was really busy in Fall '08

NOTE: I use the first person plural throughout this post. I am not schizophrenic. Instead, I am referring to myself and my teaching partner, T. Best. teaching. partner. ever.

At WSU, approximately half of the English 101 (Introductory Writing) sections in the Fall semester are designated as “Freshmen Focus” sections. In the Freshman Focus (FF) program, approximately 80% (or more…I am not sure of the exact number, but I recall hearing it was a very high number) of the incoming freshmen were placed into living-learning communities in which they shared at least two classes with other students in their dorm. The individual clusters themselves were typically like ours: four sections of English 101 (26 students each) matched up with two sections of World Civ (60+ students each). Specifically, my two sections of English 101 made up one section of World Civ, and T’s two sections of English 101 made up another section of World Civ (both World Civ sections also had students not in the FF program).

After we learned that our four sections of English 101 were to be part of a FF cluster, we set out to design a course that would integrate everything we possibly could and to produce for our students the sort of living-learning experience that we both had during our undergraduate years at small liberal arts colleges. As successful products of that sort of environment, we seized the opportunity to create a similar environment within the large research institution that is WSU. To that end, from the outset we wanted to coordinate and collaborate not only with each other but with our World Civ, Residence Life, and Library partners. Additionally, we planned to integrate the Common Reading and Common Reading Lecture Series and related programming into our course, and in the end did just that.

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Advice for Newbie Bloggers

NOTE: This is a (slightly edited) re-post of a blog entry I wrote way back in 2005, that actually comes from a few pages in ye olde blogging book. I decided to re-post this because although you might think everyone is hip with the blogging, that isn’t really the case. In fact, the majority of students in my (half mine) class are new bloggers. I know this will be useful for them. Maybe others.

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