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Category: Weeknotes

Weeknote 12

I just realized that the Weeknote number corresponds to the number of weeks since we entered self-isolation, which turned into stay-at-home, which has turned into The Way We Live Now.

I feel as if I should say something about the protests, riots, police brutality, etc., but there are so many people talking about it. Yes, it is my line of work, that is, I teach, research, and write about it, but I’m not sure I have much to say that is original at the moment, certainly not off the top of my head. I’ve been reading and thinking about it all the time, though, so maybe I’ll write something when I’ve worked through some of my thoughts.

In terms of our immediate situation, St. Louis and its suburbs have seen a lot of protest events and a few riots. We have been under curfew (9pm-6am) since Tuesday night, and there is no set end date. Nonviolent protests continue, scattered throughout the city neighborhoods as well as in various suburbs. Some of the protests have been organized by high-school students and teachers, which is heartening. The day protests have blocked roads for brief times, but there hasn’t been a lot of conflict. Our closest commercial neighborhood, which was the site of major protests and conflict in 2017, has most of its windows boarded over, which makes for an even more dystopian feel that its emptiness did before. It’s not a fun time, that’s for sure.

WORK

Administrative work is winding down. I’m writing copious notes for the memo I’ve been working on. It’s more than I need but I’m seeing patterns and ways to edit, trim, and produce something that is readable. I hate long memos, but there’s a lot to cover, between concrete information and suggestions for improvement. And they don’t have to take my advice, I just have the responsibility to give it.

We had an Arts & Sciences Town Hall meeting on the new timetable. I will indeed be teaching in the law school (as I have for the last four years), which means I’ll start teaching in August and finishing final grading in January. At least it’s only two small-ish grad classes. Still. I really would like to know what people were smoking when they came up with the schedule. No other university is using this approach. On the other hand, the deans did finally say that we should plan our courses as if they could be taught fully online, so the default I’ve been planning is now the official one.

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Weeknote 11

The rain is supposed to stop this week, the temperatures are supposed to dip a bit into the 70s, and the humidity is supposed to subside. I’ll believe it when I see it.

WORK

I am down to one major administrative task left (the memo) before I hand over the DUS role, but there are still a number of small ones. We have had more requests for summer transfer credits (getting credit in the major for classes taken elsewhere) in the last month than the last few years. Some of these are case-specific, some of them are because internships and other summer activities for students have dried up. But we have a fairly restrictive major (it’s a tradeoff of fewer total credits but fewer options on where to take them), so this is causing a bit of a headache, with lots of emails.

The university announced the first of its changes to the coming academic year. Some units will keep to the original timetable, but the majority will be starting in mid-September and finishing finals after New Year’s. The spring semester will start a week late, so there will be a break between the end of fall classes in mid-December and finals. Our usual winter break will be split into two parts, more or less. Unfortunately for me, the law school and A&S aren’t on the same timetable, which means that I have the prospect of starting one class on August 24 and ending the other in mid-January. In addition, they’re still committed to having students on campus and in class to some extent, and we won’t know the exact mix for another two months. Which means we can’t really plan classes right now unless we want to map out three strategies. I’ve had discussions with the incoming chair and we agree that it makes no sense to coordinate teaching resources and activities until we have a bit more clarity. The administration has told us they’ll give us more information no later than July 31, but that’s two months away.

I’ve said repeatedly that I’m planning to set up the classes as if they’ll be totally online, but I’m coming to realize that even that decision is affected by the range of software options available. Right now our online course management system is only integrated with two video options and no non-native chat options. There’s a possibility that we’ll have integration with other systems, but once again, this is not something that has been discussed publicly, let alone decided upon.

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Weeknote 10

Summer has officially started around here. It’s supposed to be in the high 80s this weekend and the tomato plants have teeny tiny fruit coming. The basil and mint have been purchased and potted. The coriander gets to live out in the yard. The kale is growing like crazy. And I’m reading. Our city and county are opening up, but I doubt we’ll change much of what we’re doing, at least not until we see how people behave.

WORK

Our department recognition ceremony went off pretty well, as well as we could have hoped for. We had about 150 logins (we had 135 graduating majors, second majors, and minors) and except for an inevitable sound glitch which I eventually corrected, everything worked. It was exhausting and stressful but it’s done.

I also had a dissertation defense on Zoom, my first but probably not my last. I did a Skype defense last summer which I don’t remember being particularly draining, but 90 minutes of a Zoom defense is pretty close to 90 minutes of a Zoom class. For whatever reason, an all-video Zoom teaching/exam session is harder than any other format I’ve used. You get all the energy drain with much less of the adrenaline rush to offset it.

We are still waiting to hear what the fall is going to look like, but we are preparing for at best hybrid courses and at worst fully online courses. The administration is sending out individual and department surveys to find out what instructors need and what their competencies are. They promise to provide more comprehensive hardware, software, and instructional support than they did this spring, which is good. I’m just hoping that they can integrate Office 365 into Canvas, which they still haven’t done. And our lecture-capture software is not good. There are better options out there but I doubt we’ll get them unless we buy them ourselves.

One of my remaining administrative tasks is to coordinate the writing up of a memo for the incoming Director of Undergraduate Studies. My fellow acting-DUS and our undergraduate administrator have both been keeping notes on policies that need to be updated, improved, or changed, and now of course we have all the Corona-related stuff to think about. It shouldn’t be too bad and it will be useful, but I am seriously burned out on writing reports, answering surveys, and soliciting information to pass on to the higher-ups. I had yet another memo and spreadsheet to deal with this week, which necessitated lots of email exchanges. I feel as if I’ve spent the last year writing memos, which I guess I have. Five weeks to go.

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Weeknote 9

Grading is done! Well, except for one laggard case and I’ll have that in later today. I still have commencement and a couple of reports to go, but then the semester will really be over. I’ll believe it when I see it, though, given everything.

We had not one, not two, but three Zoom Happy Hours this past week. It was a lot of fun to catch up with people. Two of the meetings are semi-regular and the other is one we promised each other we’d do again.

WORK

The university is having a series of events to substitute for commencement, and our department is of course participating. We are in the process of putting together the real-time session and accompanying materials. I am glad we’re doing something, but I am the worst at Big Events (I avoid them as much as possible) so it’s a mixed bag for me. I know it’s a good thing but I hate the process! But it will be over soon.

I have two undergraduate students who want to work with me on research projects this summer. The drying up of internships and the general inability to find ways to fill their summer productively has made them even more interested in working with faculty than they usually are.

I also plan to sit down and map out the next few weeks workwise. I know I need a bit of a break but I also need to make sure I don’t just sit around and do nothing, or the equivalent of nothing.

Like everyone else in academics, I’ve been thinking a lot about what teaching is going to look like in the fall. I’ve seen lots of advice from people who teach online regularly, and some of it is really helpful. But some of it is not applicable. What residential colleges and universities have to do (and all face-to-face institutions to some extent) is devise a way to integrate the online or non-physical instruction with the pedagogical goals we have to retain. A lot of online instruction assumes that students are operating as discrete, atomized learners, whereas traditional residential instruction is predicated not just on teacher-student interaction, but interactions among students. At least that’s the case in my classes. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the curriculum. Labs are different from seminars are different from lecture/discussion-section hybrids. And we still have to tackle the residential part of this.

There are a bunch of different options out there, from locked down, shorter but more intense semesters to two half-semesters to starting later. I know our committees are discussing all of these. Some schools have decided already. Those of us who are teaching in the fall can’t really plan our courses until we know what the overall format is going to be. So it will be interesting to see what the outcomes and recommendations of our various committees are.

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Weeknote 8

It’s time to stop titling posts LFH and go back to writing Weeknotes. Living from home is what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future, so I may as well accept it. Parts of my state, including neighboring counties, are opening up this week. This does not make me happy but at least as of now STL city and county are continuing their stay-at-home orders until mid-May.

WORK

Last week was reading period and the beginning of finals week, or what used to be finals week. I gave both classes until this week to turn in all their post-spring-break writing assignments, so I’m watching them trickle in as the deadline approaches. I have some work to do but it’s not too bad, thanks to my teaching assistants. Which is good, because the undergrad admin stuff has ramped up again. We are doing a virtual commencement ceremony for our majors, which requires coordination and coming up with something Zoom-focused. Nothing is going to replace the usual ceremonies, and students have said as much. But not doing anything is worse than doing something that we all agree isn’t what we wanted. I’m emailing with my counterparts in other departments to try and figure out what will work and what makes sense. I’ll keep you posted.

I have three pieces out for review. Who knows when they will come back from the editors. But we’ve done our part. On to the next paper on the list.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

It was such a pleasure to write a blog post on reading, because it signified that I’d done enough to warrant a post! TheH and I had a chat about Angela Thirkell over dinner. It occurred to me that since Thirkell published a book a year about everyday village life, the books she wrote during the war might have a special resonance for us right now. So much of what is written about past events is retrospective. The best novels integrate the past and the present (Swift’s Journal of the Plague Year draws on both the actual plague and the contemporaneous fears about a cholera epidemic, for example). But works that chronicle what is happening at the moment are rarer. TheH has never read Thirkell but enjoys midcentury UK fiction, so I’ve suggested some places to start (her oeuvre is large) and I’m going to reread some of the war years books with a new lens.

We’ve continued watching Vera and Maigret, but we’ve also been seeking out feel-good movies. To that end we watched The First Wives Club this past weekend. It is a total Hollywood vehicle and it doesn’t have a great IMDB rating, but we hadn’t seen it for a while and got a kick out of it. Part of the fun was watching extremely talented people deliver a highly competent, polished product. And it has three middle-aged women at its center, women who achieve their goals. How often does that happen? Yes it’s Hollywood schlock, but it’s extremely well executed schlock. Not just the star turns but the supporting roles are well done, as are the set decoration, the costumes, and the cinematography. And it’s still true, more than two decades later, that as Goldie Hawn proclaims, ”There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy.” No wonder I like revenge comedies.

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