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Tag: teaching

Weeknote 15

It’s almost fall, and the weather is already there. Now if the mosquitoes and biting flies would just take a hike, it would be perfect.

It was a “normal” week. TheH has his teaching routine down and my second class finally got going, so where we are is where we’ll be until Thanksgiving week, at least we will be if we don’t get shut down again. So far, so good; our Covid dashboard is not exploding. But we’re only partway through testing all the students.

WORK

I thought that campus would be busier once all the students came back, but it still feels pretty empty. Not as bad as before classes started, but with so many classes online and all the requirements of distancing and spacing if you do come to campus, there aren’t a lot of incentives to be present. From what I can tell everyone is adhering to the rules when on campus. I’ve heard stories of parties and gatherings off-campus, like every other school, but if they cause infections to spike it will take a while to show up in the numbers.

Work is pretty routinized at this point. I go in twice a week and teach from my office, which is easier and quieter, but there’s not really much to report. Everything is done via video-conferencing, even meetings with people who are local, because we’re not supposed to meet in person except when necessary. If you want to hold meetings outside you have to sign up for one of the designated spaces. It’s all in aid of abundant caution and effective contact tracing, I imagine, but it discourages anything spontaneous.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

One of my new-release library holds came in and I managed to finish the book in less than a week. It was Red Pill by Hari Kunzru. I really enjoyed White Tears a couple of years ago, and this one was not quite as good but well worth reading. The narrator is a writer who goes to Berlin on a three-month residency at a center/retreat, but he still can’t find a way to write and he winds up becoming caught up in intrigues about privacy, stories about surveilled life in East Germany, and crackpot alt-right theories about how the world works. He slowly loses his grip and the novel spirals into something even less grounded in the last third or so, but then returns to reality at the end. It’s a hard book to describe without giving away the whole storyline. It doesn’t quite succeed in what it’s trying to do, and Kunzru has as hard a time writing about the alt-right as most non-alt-right authors, but he is so smart and writes so well and in such an interesting way that I was swept along on the ride. As with White Tears, I continued to think about the novel and its ideas after I had finished.

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Weeknote 14

Hello again. It’s been a while. Labor Day has come and gone, the university is fully starting back today, and we’re all holding our breaths to see if we can finish what we begin.

I spent most of my work time over the last two months preparing to teach my two classes. I took an online course to get more ideas on how to teach online courses, we drove to California without the dogs and spent three weeks, and we saw a handful of friends at a distance. Sometimes the days flew by and sometimes they took forever. But here we are.

WORK

I started my law school class three weeks ago. It’s fully remote, with at least half the students in different time zones, so I teach at 8am, which is the earliest I’ve ever met a class. I can’t say I enjoy teaching that early, but it does leave me with a lot of the teaching day free. So far it’s gone well. There was a lot of throat-clearing and introductory material in the first two weeks, because the students are new to the program and university and they’re missing the usual orientation activities. So we spend some time talking about non-class things. But they seem eager to get going and to learn.

I start my department grad class this week, finally, along with everyone else teaching in the parts of the university that were on the delayed timetable. The class is scheduled as a hybrid, with both in-person and remote attendance, but so far the majority of the students have informed me they’ll be remote. I have a feeling it’s going to wind up fully remote, but you never know. Both classes are synchronous, which means that while I have activities and assignments that try to compensate for not being in person, we’re still meeting as a class for the usual times. The main thing I want to figure out is how to get them to talk to each other outside class, since building cohort solidarity provides important resources in graduate school.

I had all kinds of plans for asynchronous pedagogy: narrated slides, podcasts, and of course the always recommended and mostly despised discussion boards. But the nature and purpose of my classes are such that student interaction is at least as important as what they learn individually. So I’m dialing back the out of class activities to focus on making the class a jumping off point for them to work together more.

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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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