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Tag: Weeknotes

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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Weeknote 7

Happy March! We were granted another sunny weekend with temperatures in the 50s. February did not feel nearly as long as endless January, but it didn’t fly by, either. But I think we are out of the bitter cold days, finally.

WORK

It’s grading time! Papers in Privacy and an exam in Political Protest. I am blessed with excellent graduate assistants, though, so I am very fortunate. And I have a couple of guest lecturers in protest, so I am easing into spring break. I’m on a law school panel about the Hong Kong protests this week, and there are a couple of committees for which I have to do some work, but otherwise it’s pretty quiet. Now that I’m not part of the governance apparatus for my department I can actually catch my breath and do things I want to do.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

On Sirius’s recommendation we also started watching the British TV series Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn, and were immediately hooked. The show is based on a series by Ann Cleeves and is set in northern England (the Angel of the North appears in the opening credit sequence). Vera is the stereotypical gruff loner detective but gender-switched. She doesn’t like children, has few friends, drinks, and is devoted to her job. But she cares deeply about the people around her, she just can’t/won’t show it. Blethyn is just as good as you’d expect. She plays the role with warmth and depth, and I love that she’s not playing her as the more common tough-as-nails type. There are several season so we have plenty of episodes to look forward to.

We also watched a very enjoyable independent film starring Keanu Reeves, called Henry’s Crime. Reeves is a highway tollbooth attendant who is tricked into driving a bunch of acquaintances to a bank robbery and is convicted of the ensuing crime. In prison he meets James Caan, who’s been in for years and is avoiding parole. When Reeves gets out he meets Vera Farmiga, an actress, and starts to have the first real adventure of his life. It’s entirely unbelievable and very low-key (to the point of being comatose, according to some reviewers), but the acting and Buffalo setting work well. If you’re a Keanu fan, check this out (we found it on Hoopla); you’ll get to see him performing scenes from The Cherry Orchard as a special bonus. He’s pretty good!

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Weeknote 6

It’s still February. It’s still winter, with the occasional warm day to suggest spring might show up eventually and the regular single-digit-degree morning to suggest otherwise.

WORK

We’re halfway through the semester, so time for midterms and papers. The poor students have been felled by one of the worse flu seasons we’ve seen in a while, so I’m just impressed when they show up to class and participate. Which they’ve been doing admirably, in both classes. In the Privacy class we watched and discussed CitizenFour, the documentary about Edward Snowden. Many of the students weren’t aware of the extent to which the government was hoovering up data on not just supposed terrorists but also citizens. And when your surveillance list comprises over 1.3 million names, that “supposed” is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished The Hobbit and will post my TBR Challenge review on it in the next couple of days. I enjoyed it a lot, and I probably would have adored it as a young person. The writing is occasionally quite lovely, although there are also sentences which I had to read two or three times to make sense of. It’s the ultimate Quest story, of course, and it’s very episodic. It isn’t really clear why each of the encounters and episodes needs to be in the story, except to introduce another part of the world and another set of interesting non-human characters. I also don’t understand at all why the film adaptation required three separate installments, except for the obvious motivation of that sweet, sweet financial return. I appreciated that in contrast to Peter Jackson, JRR Tolkien didn’t consider battles worthy of long descriptions. I got a good sense of what was going on and the characteristics of the participants in the amount of space he accorded them. I will move on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but after a break with some human literary companions.

We’ve been listening to music in the evenings rather than watching movies or TV shows. I know we watched something this week, but it must have been very timepass because I can’t remember what it was. I got back from a work function Friday night and enforced socializing left me fit only for a Midsomer Murders episode, which turned out to be one of the ones where the people are particularly unpleasant. And the policeman sidekick was the middle one who never clicked with Barnaby and was gone after a couple of seasons.

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