Posts Tagged ‘university’

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Rhetoric and Writing Studies: How Can We Keep the Global Conversation Going?

posted: 10.18.11 by Andrea Lunsford

I have just returned from a symposium on “Our Best Alternative to Violence: a Global Rhetoric” held at the University of Ӧrebro in Sweden.  The symposium honored the life and work of  Dr. Eva Magnusson, who was savagely murdered late last year, and scholars from five Swedish universities and two American ones gathered to consider the role of rhetoric and writing in resisting violence and building alternative models for human interaction.

Speakers and organizers of the symposium honoring the spirit and the work of Dr. Eva Magnusson

Speakers and organizers of the symposium honoring the spirit and the work of Dr. Eva Magnusson.

The paper I gave traced the strong links between rhetoric, literacy, and violence (most often against women) from ancient times to the present.  These links are depressingly familiar:  rhetoric’s near total focus on success and winning at all cost, I argued, led “naturally” to exclusion, oppression, and even violence.  Literacy, for all its liberational potential, has been too often used to keep certain people or groups in their places and as a sometimes violent punishment for those who resisted its tyranny.  As I said in Ӧrebro, fully recognizing these links was traumatic for me, as one who has professed rhetoric and literacy for over forty years now.  So in addition to detailing the history of those links, I also spent some time reviewing how women have resisted violence and war, how they have worked to build connections among people rather than accept division and disidentification.  I surveyed a number of groups worldwide, including Code Pink, Women in Black, Unreasonable Women for the Earth, and the “women in white” who brought together Muslim and Christian women in Libera to protest—and eventually end—the civil war there (and to oust Charles Taylor’s dictatorship in the process).  By a beautiful coincidence, as I gave my talk, the woman who spearheaded the Liberian movement, Leymah Gbowee, was announced as the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize (along with Liberia’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Yemen’s Talwakkul Karman).  We stood and applauded and shouted for joy. (PBS will air a chapter of the documentary Women, War and Peace on the women’s peace movement in Liberia this evening, Tuesday, October 18.) [read more]

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Categories: Professional Development & Service
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WAWriting Center

posted: 3.31.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for Bits


We should think more about Writing Centers and WAW.

This is not something I would have expected to hear myself saying even a couple years ago: I am not a “writing center guy.” They’re not my specialty, despite my recognition of them as a unique and useful site of writing instruction. I have not tutored in a writing center in close to fifteen years, and I usually have too much to read in my own areas to keep up with WC theory and praxis. Yet, my job as interim director of composition at Montana State University this year led me to a couple of new-to-me ideas about how WAW comp courses can impact a writing center, and the too-long-in-coming suggestion that writing centers might be a focal point for WAW work on campus.

In my last post, I offered an example of poor writing assignments. Tutors in a WC see these all the time, and in my limited observation, some of the worst come from first-year composition courses:

  • “Read ‘To Light a Fire’ and consider how you might make the best use of a pet in a similar situation.”
  • “In a three-page essay, compare and contrast the ideals in Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with those of Wolfe’s Electric Koolaid Acid Test.
  • “Identify a value in contemporary America that’s important to you and explain why.”
  • “Make an argument about an article of personal faith.”

Assignments such as these still seem to represent much of the status quo in composition courses.  [read more]

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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Three Things Teachers Should Never Do

posted: 9.28.10 by Traci Gardner

scream and shout by mdanys, on FlickrTeachers should definitely use social media tools like Twitter, Wikipedia, and social bookmarking in and out of the classroom. But sometimes, I read a post that makes me want to SCREAM.

Why? Because in that post the teacher sends the wrong message to students and colleagues.

If you want students and colleagues to respect you as an educator, please never do these three things:

  1. Grumble about grading.
    Posts like these undermine the teacher-student relationship: “Dreading having to grade these research papers” or “Still grading. Will this horrible pile of papers ever end?”

    Students who read that kind of message will know you have a bad attitude about their work before you even look at it. Worse, some colleagues and potential employers will wonder why you’ve taken up teaching if you hate grading so much.

    Updates and facts are fine: “One set of papers graded! One set to go!” Praise and encouragement is even better: “These documentary videos are amazing. Great work everyone!” Just don’t complain. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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Summer Perks

posted: 7.29.09 by archived

Nearly five years ago, Keith Hoeller described many of the problems associated with adjuncts and summer teaching.  Unfortunately, very little has changed.  In contrast to the problems that Hoeller points out, the student population is one of summer school’s biggest perks because of their general dedication, focus, and work ethic.  Most students realize quickly that we have to work through a semester’s worth of learning in eight weeks, thus summer courses are high-pressure and highly focused. Once students discover this, some leave. Those who do remain are often more motivated and driven, I have found, than students in the fall and spring semesters. Obviously this is a generalization, but I rarely have attendance or turning-in-work problems common in the other semesters.

This student population enables me to experiment with my pedagogy; I can push the class as a whole to try out more advanced tricks or focused analyses of their own writing, and I can allow them to operate more autonomously than I do in regular classes. This benefits them, I think, because it offers them the chance to work hard and excel with less outside control or restraint. If they are disciplined, they can potentially accomplish more than in a normal class. If they are not disciplined, they and I see it quickly.

As an instructor, I benefit because I am able to test and learn just how much independence students can operate with and succeed and how much will trip them up. This varies from student to student and class to class; however, the more experience I have in providing independent or self-directed work and seeing the results, the better my judgment will be about how to do this or use this in the future.

Similarly, given the disciplined and assertive nature of these students, if an assignment truly is awful, they will let me know. During the normal school semesters, there aren’t many students who will speak up–in summer classes, there are usually at least four or five who will voice their doubts about the value of an assignment. Thus, instead of wasting their time and mine, I develop my teaching skills, avoid inflicting suffering, and the students can engage in a more useful activity.

Summer students are not the “perfect” class, but the limited size and time frame combined with an unusually driven population provides quick and efficient feedback on how on or off the mark my teaching, pedagogy, and class observations are.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel, Teaching Advice
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Summer Pay Perk

posted: 7.21.09 by archived

As I recently wrote, students are the best part of summer teaching. Another perk to summer teaching is the pay.  Because it is quite hard to exist on unemployment — especially if your state, like my state California, has no budget and is issuing IOUs — the stress of summer sessions can be well worth the reward.  While I know a number of adjuncts who do not want summer work, in economic times like these, it’s nice to have all the paying work you can get.  This summer, I have two FYC courses. I receive a term’s pay in half the time.  The only problem is, the majority of my check comes in one lump sum several days after I finish the course. This makes planning an essential part of surviving summer.

The first time I taught during summer, I only had one course.  While it helped develop my confidence in the classroom, the pay did little more than reduce my unemployment check and take up a lot of travel time.  Still, it was a great experience as a first year teacher.  This term, I decided I wanted as full of a load as possible to make it worth my time in terms of pay and experience.  Teaching two sections of the same course enables me to more effectively plan my classes, grade work, and test out class plans and exercises. The intense and daily nature of the work controls most of my attention.

Planning financially for this summer has been hard.  I knew that unemployment was unreliable, so I did not count on it.  Knowing this, I was able to plan ahead for my rent and credit card and loan issues.  A missed payment or overdraft fee can completely destabilize an adjunct’s tight budget — especially when the paycheck is twenty days away.  What was a tight budget at one moment can easily devolve into a huge panic or crisis.  Having gone through this several times, I have learned just how much preparation I need — as well as the kinds of resources I require — in order to make it through summer effectively and efficiently with minimal trauma.

Having figured this out, I knew that I could plan for and accept an offer of a full teaching load even though I have little money until the end of summer.  I can only teach these courses because I planned ahead and am driven to teach.  Fortunately, the big pay out at the end of summer — big to me, at least! — will help pay debts and loans.  Sure, that is not exciting or sexy, but I know that I am working towards generating a more balanced and stable financial future.

I know that many adjuncts around the U.S. are struggling to find or get work.  If you have the opportunity to snag work this summer or next, it’s wise to not pass it by: this kind of work can make the difference between building stress and debt or enjoying a little bit of relative comfort. An additional benefit is that summer work may contribute to your seniority within the adjunct pool or your department, thereby potentially securing a more stable and reliable income.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Collaboration, Gregory Zobel
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Tutoring as Part-Time Adjunct Work

posted: 7.15.09 by archived

Adjunct work is, by its very nature, part-time work.  As such, it rarely has benefits or decent pay.  Still, many of us continue to teach regardless.  In order to make ends meet, we need to make more money.  This money usually comes from other part-time sources. While none of this is news to adjuncts, what may be news to newer adjuncts is the ability to tutor for money.

There are several tutoring options open to composition adjuncts.  This can be appealing since the current economy and status of universities’ budgets are up in the air.  One option is private tutoring.  While this probably does not have the same pay scale per hour as teaching a room full of students, tutoring usually focuses on just one student.  Or, if you would like to try, group tutoring is an option as well.  Whether the students are high school or college students, tutoring offers you the chance to try out your skills in working with private clients, running your own business, and earning a bit of extra cash on the side. There is an emotional and creative investment in this kind of project, but, if times are tight, it is worth investigating.

When I look at trying to earn income in a new way, I often review competitors’ sites. There are also online how-to sites and wikis. Many colleges offer tutor training and tutoring services.  Reviewing their sites for training tips, policies, and general guidance can be helpful.  This is one good example. [read more]

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel
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Cut the High-Priced Coffee Break

posted: 6.17.09 by archived

The economy is in rugged shape, no? In California, we are seeing some of the most brutal and drastic cuts imaginable, and we still do not have a budget. It is stunning, it hurts, and there is no doubt that thousands of adjuncts are directly suffering from these decisions. It’s easy to want to escape the anxiety or worry, so you leave home or the office and go grab a cup of coffee.  (Or a specialty tea or an espresso drink.)

How much is that drink?
How many times per week or month do you buy one?

My favorite mug

My favorite mug

Sure, I know–I have my own drinks as well.  I paid just over two bucks for my current cup of coffee so I didn’t have to write this at home. Why would I want to change? I don’t like to do the same thing everyday or week–even if I am feeling broke. It feels like a cheap luxury. But is it really that cheap?

To get a better grip on my finances and feel in control, I track my coffee expenditures. When I smoked cigarettes, I tracked how many I smoked. Rather than have an idea of what I was smoking or spending, I wanted to know exactly how much I was spending.  Usually my estimations of what I spent were far less than what I actually paid for my habit.  The very act of observing and tracking what I smoked and spent slowed me down.

Tracking expenditures is a great way to see where your money is going. This means that you can budget your money more effectively. And if you budget your money, then you know that you are taking active and engaged steps to maintain control of your finances and your life. [read more]

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Six Points for Sanity if Anxious

posted: 6.11.09 by archived

In a rugged economy, it is easy to feel nervous or intimidated.  As adjuncts, we know that we have virtually no legal recourse if our courses are taken from us or if we are let go for no apparent reason. Given all the current upheavals in virtually every state and the unstable nature of the states’ budgets–not to mention that education usually ends up on the chopping block–it is very easy to feel nervous, paranoid, or worried about money and work.

It is reasonable to be concerned, but it is not reasonable–and I’d argue it is counterproductive–to be overly paranoid or concerned about jobs and the job market.  In the end, you either have the work or you don’t.  If administration is going to take it from you, that is what they will do.  If they are going to leave you alone, they will leave you alone.  No amount of fretting will change that.  Easy to say; hard to put into practice.

As adjuncts, we have heard this kind of advice quite a bit–usually from people who are not adjuncts or people who have not been part-timers for some years. Given their lack of immediate or relevant experience, it is hard to trust them or give them any credibility.  In spite of this, the advice is still relevant.

Rather than worry about whether or not you’ll teach this summer or fall, you can productively redirect your attention in a variety of ways.

1. Make sure your vita is up to date–that means this month.  In addition to adding your recent coursework and publications, be sure to triple check for clarity and errors.  This is always useful, and it helps remind you of exactly how qualified you are and just how much work and dedication you have put into your career.

2. Sketch out your calendar for the coming six months or year.  Figure out when conferences are taking place, deadlines for CFPs, required portfolio readings, and so on.  Figure out roughly what the multiple markers are in the coming year.  Not only does this help construct a sense of what you may or may not be doing, it makes you consciously aware of just how many things you may have going on.

3.  Revisit your syllabi, your course descriptions, your teaching philosophy, and so on.  Review them.  Are they current? Do they express who and what you are at this particular moment in time?  Rather than worry about a position, why not make sure that your documents most accurately and powerfully reflect your abilities and skills?

4.  Review your finances, your bills, and your spending habits.  Are there things you spend money on–subscriptions, indulgences, or habits–that are not necessary or that are a bit over what they need to be?  Rather than look for things that make you feel guilty, why not try to find a twenty-dollar expenditure here and a thirty-dollar one there?  This is not the same as earning money for several months but it is a means to make sure that you maximize your economic efficiency.  It can be useful to revisit these points every couple of months because it is easy to overlook some habits.  Similarly, our habits often change over the months.

5.  Sort through your teaching files and throw out what you do not need.  Do you really need grade sheets from three years ago, students’ letters of introduction from five years ago, or some essays they wrote two years ago?  If you have not looked at them or used them in all this time, then you probably don’t need them filling up your files–at work or at home. Cleansing your files offers you a chance to be more effective, efficient, and to cut some dead weight.  Plus it gives you a chance to rediscover diamonds in your work and some impressive teaching ideas you have forgotten.

6.  Print up fresh, clean, and viable hard copies of all your important documents for teaching and class.  While you still have access to campus printers and copiers make sure that you are professionally ready to roll.

None of these six suggestions will keep you hired or prevent you from being fired–but as adjuncts, there are few things that can.  Honestly, the best thing that you can do is be the most prepared professionals possible.  Instead of taking all of the anxiety of the current economy and using it to rip yourself apart with stress, redirect some of that nervousness and worry into improving your teaching portfolio, cleaning up your professional environment, and ensuring that you are free of as much dead weight as possible. This way, if you are cut, there is less to take with you and you are prepared; and when you keep your job, you’ve toned up and trimmed some unnecessaries so that you can focus on your work.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Collaboration, Gregory Zobel
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Purging Your Library

posted: 6.8.09 by archived

I love my books, and I love to buy books.  I buy new books. I buy used books, but I cannot read every book I buy.  Sometimes, I do not even read a single page.  Instead, I see a paragraph or two that interest me, I pick the book up, and then I never look at it again.  But at least I have that book on my shelf.

Many composition instructors I know have similar approaches.  Some are extreme and others are controlled, but generally speaking, we all have a lot of books.  Few fully use and deploy all of the books they own.  Instead, they have a few core texts to employ and the rest are there just in case they need them.  Which they rarely do.

For many years, I told myself that I would actually use those books.  Yeah, right.  Instructors’ Editions sat uncracked for two years.  What was the point? Why did I order them?  Because I thought they might be of use.  Might.  At this point in time, I rarely order IE’s because I know that, in almost all cases, I won’t use them.  I know I won’t because I know my working and teaching habits.

When I walk through hallways at school and see texts other professors are throwing out, I stop and look at them.  If I see something of potential interest, I pick it up and scan it.  Sure, someone else has tossed it, but I can recycle their trash and avoid postage, money, or printing/paper costs.  In about three to five minutes I will know whether or not I want the new edition: if I can scalp enough useful material from that used text in my hand or if it is a waste of time.  Thus, rather than waste time, space and resources attempting to assemble a potential library full of unused texts, I am interested in building a small library of texts, used or new, that I can actually use.

In spite of my efforts to limit my library, books get past my guard—my half-hearted guard, that is.  Every three to six months, I reap my shelves and cut the dead weight so I can have shelf space.  Papers with article ideas and outlines for class plans fall on the floor every time I cull my books.  If I have not used a book in three months and if I can’t use it in my current class, I cull it.  If I can’t sell it for at least $15 online, I donate or dump it (depending on the condition).

Culling my library saves me from suffocating under a landslide of potential texts and forces me to make use of a limited number of texts that I know well enough to use and apply in class.  While the joy of potential, of I could use this or I could do this, is an exciting and a wonderful feeling, it does not last.  And it fills up my shelves.  There is little doubt in my mind that I am not alone.  There is little doubt that there are many books on your shelves that have not been used–and probably won’t ever be used–in the past six months or year.

All of these books take up shelf space, they require visual attention, and they are resources frozen in space and time.  No matter if they tie up attention, money, or space, they are freezing rather than facilitating flow.  Getting rid of dead weight frees attention and flow, and these things allow you to center your attention on more interesting things like students, classes, professional development, and eventually location of a full- or part-time job.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel
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Social Media in Plain English

posted: 5.21.09 by archived

Social media is a fact of life at this point. If you are unsure of just what social media is, watch Social Media in Plain English.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel, Popular Culture
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