This Should Probably Be Two Different Posts

Holy hell, how did the term get this far along and who is responsible for all this garbage to be graded?

Still thinking about multidisciplinary departments. Somewhere, I've got notes on it for a longer blog post so expect that someday there will be more on it. It seems to me that this is part of a longer historical trend in (at least American) education. I think the "studies" departments (ethnic, gender, global, American, etc) probably are some good examples of them, and how they've coped with the nature of juggling multiple disciplines is something other departments are having to start thinking about.


Is it wrong that I'm finding all the enjoyment I had of the band She & Him sucked away by Zooey Descanel's crooning in a commercial for the cotton industry?

Similarly, what's with all the angst towards latte drinkers lately? As a non-coffee drinker, I'm usually glad to see smug java drinkers taken reminded that a beverage won't make you cool. I mean, how man conferences have I been at where there was nothing for me to drink at breaks but six kinds of java? I've choked down the rage, and that's tough when your through is parched. Even so, I find it interesting that coffee drinking has become a sign of fiscal irresponsibility. I'm intrigued to see that idea starting to crop up in commercials from Denny's to Jeep. Am I really meant to believe that somehow drinking a latte makes you more of a twit than running out and buying a new Jeep so you can get groceries?

"Nobody exploded" - on Classroom Observations

Middle of the week, office hours, too many colleagues ducking their head in to focus on a music post - maybe that was a bad idea. Just to be nice, though, I'll toss you a little border radio sounding gem that I've been enjoying lately: "My Sugar Blue" as performed by the Texas Tornados.

For as little as I'm trying to get done today, it feels like things are pretty hopping. Maybe that's because I just printed up paper copies of my Google calendar so that I could make notes.

This post picks up the thread of evaluation related worry started here and continued here.

My class observation is done; I don't ever have a sense of how they went, and when people ask, my response is usually something like the title of this post. We'll see what happens when the written report comes my way. The one comment we did get to after the initial observation came down to the question about class discussion. I felt like I had a lot of it, while trying to balance making sure that the students got a good springboard for how some of the big ideas have been used and defined. I suppose, at the end of the day, it'll all be fine. It's not like I haven't done this before - or been doing it for years now before this job.

Still these observations feel like a big deal.

What's been good in the observation process here - so far, at least - is that there's been the opportunity to talk about what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of the class and of my teaching style. One of the things that was a little frustrating at previous institutions was Navy SEALS approach to observations: observer parachutes in, observes, and reports back all under the cover of night and with as little record of their passing as possible. Sure, there was the option to respond, but it wasn't a discussion so much as a deposition. And it was an option that always felt a bit of a danger to actually exercise: are you being combative if you respond?

What I'd really like is for someone to come in and see how I set up a class and then to check in later in the term to see whether what's happening fits the model I gave. I try to be up front with students about who I am and how I teach, and it seems like in the consumer/contract model of universities and course design that we see today, that needs to be factored in somehow.

I try to couch student evals in a similar way. When it comes time for them to be completed, I let the students know, up front, that I assume they feel like there is too much reading and that it's a difference of opinion I'll always have with students. In the current class, I warned them there was going to be a heavy reading load, in part because the course needed some legitimizing externally: it's bad enough students look at the title and see "CAKE;" I can't afford administrators doing the same. But it would be interesting to hear how evals might be weighed differently if the third party considering them knew the set-up of the course rather than just the repetitive student refrains we all know and love.

Evaluation in a multi-discipline department

The day's pretty miserable here, though that's alright. It's been ages since I've posted two days in a row, but today seems like a good time for it. I've got my second in-class evaluation happening next week, and I need to prep for it.

One of the things that is making life interesting here is the realization that I'm one of a few folks who recognizes that this is actually a multi-disciplinary department. That realization, if it happens, is going to be horrifying for some folks (most notably some of the tenured folks who were here back in the day). I knew it coming in - it was part of the attraction - but I also thought everyone here knew it, too. More than once this year - and I'm sure I've commented on it in the blog at some point - I've found myself thinking "didn't they read my CV?"

I've been thinking about this multi-discipline problem as a sort of theme that would likely guide my posts for a bit, because now that I feel like I've got some grasp on the day-to-day here, I feel a bit more comfortable writing about it. The big point, aside from thinking about what's goes into evaluating teaching in such an environment, is that it seems to me that multi-discipline departments are going to become more and more prominent.

From the standpoint of the teaching observation, I'm realizing just how different the assumptions from one discipline and, I suspect, from one generation of a discipline to another really are. There were shocked looks when, in a job talk someone was giving, I asked the more senior faculty to define a term they all using. But very quickly it was apparent that they all used it differently without realizing. There are similar assumptions here about teaching.

I'm a lecture guy in the classroom. I like a little discussion, but I recognize that I'm prone to tangents that way. And I think that if you're talking theory, it's best to provide a workable platform for students to work from rather than hope they'll get there in a 50 minute discussion. I don't think it's an invalid move to emphasize discussion; I just don't think it's the be-all/end-all of teaching. The view here, as it has been recently expressed to me (and as it was suggested in my first teaching evaluation), is that good teaching equates to discussion. In part, the justification is that discussion is what students indicate they prefer. It's a nice bit of vapid hocus-pocus: students also prefer not coming to classes or being told they've done something wrong. If we inch unthinkingly that way - the student as "always right" consumer - we're going to wind up doing a grave disservice to them and to ourselves.

So I'm struggling with what I'll be doing in the class, because there's a conflict between what I think I should do and what I think I'm expected to do.

Donna Haraway: Futurist of Old Age

[edit 3/13/2010 - thanks to that able proofreader for catching the misspelling of Haraway's name. It is truly appreciated and wasn't annoying at all. Much thanks.]

Most of my Spring Break has been spent plugging away on book edits that have been long overdue. I'd like to claim I made more progress - I've managed to get about 12,000 words edited and supplemented - but I'll take it. Still, it would've been nice to have done something truly enjoyable and different with the break.

Part of why the progress has been so slow, though, is that when I was away at the recent conference, I did something to my hand which seems to be the start of carpal tunnel syndrome. It's made getting through tons of edits a pain, because after about an hour or so of typing, my left hand gets pretty throbby. I know; "throbby" isn't a word. I'm an academic though, so at some point each year I have to make up a word and hope that it catches on.

And that has resulted in my second gadget purchase of the break, one much less fun than the guitar.

Yes, I'm becoming more and more the cyborg as I get older - glasses, hand braces, and when I run, it makes that noise that Steve Austin made on the "Six Million Dollar Man." That last one is the only cool bit of the bunch.

(And it isn't true. I'll never be cool-bionic! *SOB*)

I found myself wondering on the drive back from picking the little beauty up this evening what other gadgets I'll be adding to the "aging" collection. How long til bifocals? What gadgets don't I even know about? Is this the start of a mid-life crisis?

Johnny Guitar and other tales?

So it is Spring Break at last, and while I could be worrying about the reaming I'm currently getting as part of my 120,000 mile checkup, I'd rather focus on the positive. Making it halfway through the term certainly isn't a bad thing, though how we got here, I'll never know.

First up - and pictured to the right - is the treat I bought myself to make the new year seem a little brighter. I've always wanted to play an instrument. These days piano is just as intriguing, but it is completely unrealistic on a single person's budget (not to mention space questions), so guitar it is. I've taken guitar lessons before, though ages ago and not for very long. We'll see whether any of it comes back or not.

The other big news is that funding for the first of the summer conferences abroad has come through, so I'll manage some travel this summer even if car repairs keep me from doing anything fun between now and then. This trip will be sending me to England, and I think I'll be able to linger in London for a few extra days, so if you've spots to lobby for me to visit or any great recommendations, let me know.

Smooth Sailing

I haven't forgotten about you, dear blog. Let the first song off the iPod today be my apology for having so neglected you (not to mention the post title).

While I was away at the conference, I did something to my hand. It left two of the fingers on my left hand close to numb, and that's made typing more than a little bit of a pain. The caps-lock key is often much too close to the letter "a."

That said, things have been crazy. I've been working to drum up funding for an international conference, and I went through the first year review process required here (even though, I've only been around a term). That went well, though I'm still feeling a bit bothered by the student evals. But what are you going to do? I also put in for course releases for next year and received them, so as things go work-wise, things are smelling like roses.

When the finger feels better, I'll try to write more. Onward, towards Spring Break.