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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.


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.


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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Slouching toward HyFlex

In my part of the Coronavirus world, one of the biggest questions is how we are going to teach in the fall. Our Chancellor has assured us that we will have a fall semester. But what that semester is going to look like is still being hashed out by various committees. The ambiguity is not just hard on students but on faculty who teach (faculty research is already a mess but that’s a whole ‘nother post). We know we’re not going to be teaching Fall 2020 the way we started Spring 2020, but we also know that we have to be more prepared and put together more coherent instruction than most of us managed in the week and a half we had to pivot to emergency remote learning.

The Cal State system just announced that it would be fully online in the fall. But most colleges and universities, especially elite residential institutions, fear losing a substantial number of their fee-paying students if they do the same. The on-campus experience is a major part of the attraction they charge such high prices for, and the comprehensive undergraduate and professional experience depends on face-to-face interaction. This interaction is not just about classroom- and lab-based learning, but all kinds of extra-curricular and extended learning activities, from clubs to internships to clinical placements. And, though no one really wants to talk about it, housing and fees are lucrative for most institutions now. If it turns out that the health situation makes bringing students back to campus too risky, then we’ll have to go fully online. But as of now the administration is looking for ways to have something resembling campus life.

We have been told what is not happening. We are unlikely to begin earlier than usual; we aren’t going to shift to block scheduling; and the overall duration of the semesters is going to remain close to the same. What’s left is starting at the same time or later, but if it’s later then we’re essentially time-shifting and that’s it in terms of the schedule. I wondered about this, but then I realized that it would be very difficult to reschedule all the classes. You’d essentially have to make up the new timetable with course times and days, go back to the departments and have them reschedule all of their classes, then have the registrar assign classrooms on this new basis, and then run student registration all over again. It’s possible but becomes increasingly more difficult the larger your student enrollment is.

What will teaching look like (everything else is above my pay grade, thankfully)? Students and instructors in classrooms will have to practice social distancing, which means the number of students per room has to shrink considerably. Small seminars have to be moved into bigger rooms, medium-sized lectures into larger lecture halls (of which we only have a few), and so on. It’s probably not logistically possible to have everyone physically in class even if they’re in residence.

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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.


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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Reading Notes: Genre edition

I read a bunch of books! I’m not sure how I managed that, since I’ve been grading and DUS-ing. But I discovered I’d finished three books in about a week: two mysteries and a romance/WF.

First up was The Janus Stone, the second installment in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Ruth and Nelson go to Norwich, where bones have been discovered in the foundation of a large Victorian house that was most recently a children’s home. The property is now being turned into tiny but luxurious and expensive flats. The novel is set shortly after the previous one, and Ruth is experiencing the joys of first-trimester pregnancy, complete with morning sickness. Her born-again Christian parents are very upset that she is pregnant and refuses to name the father. At first she can hide her pregnancy but as the story progresses and time elapses that becomes more difficult.

I had mixed feelings about the pregnancy storyline at the end of the last book, but it is a good way of keeping Ruth and Nelson connected without turning them into an insta-couple. Nelson loves his wife and has no intention of breaking up his family, and Ruth doesn’t want him to. Nelson’s wife Michelle is an appealing character, and I’m not sure how this triangle is going to be resolved (by which I mean, Michelle is going to have to know at some point and what’s that going to do to their marriage and family?) but so far Griffiths has written it in a way that earns my trust.

As for the mystery itself, the bones turn out to be that of a child from decades ago rather than centuries. Are they those of the little girl who vanished from the home, or are they someone else’s? The story widens to include the former priest and nuns who ran the home, the past owners of the house, and others. Cathbad returns, and Ruth is in jeopardy once again. I didn’t see many of the twists although by the end the villain was fairly obvious. It took a while, though. And the Norfolk countryside was as well portrayed as before.

Next up was Death in Devon, the second installment of Ian Sansom’s County Guides mysteries. These are only nominally mysteries and mostly about Morley, Sefton, Miriam, and the people they encounter as they travel around England for Morley’s project. I found Miriam just as annoying as in the first book and unfortunately she’s around more, but Morley is definitely growing on me. The story is set at a minor public boys’ school in Devon, where Morley’s old friend is headmaster and has asked him to come and give a keynote address. A smashed car is found on the beach below the cliffs and solving this mystery (suicide or not) leads them to other weird happenings. There are plenty of characters and at times there is an air of real menace. And there are caves.

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