Archive for June, 2009

There’s a debate going on in fandom right now about warnings. It’s fairly normal for people that write fanfiction to stick a warning onto a fanfic that features rape, sexual assault, etc. so that people who do not want to read something about their favorite characters undergoing those things (canon or not) can avoid them.

Furthermore, warning creates a safer space for people who have actually gone through those things in that it keeps them from being triggered. To be honest, even without being somebody that can be triggered by those things I appreciate knowing that they are coming so I can avoid reading something that is ooky or depressing–heck, I expect the backs of novels to serve much the same purpose.

But where such warnings don’t occur is in class readings–which has always worried me a bit. We end up talking about hard topics in English classes sometimes. We have our students read about abortion and anorexia and abuse. Our students present to one another about topics that others could find triggering.

I warn my students up front that they should not do paper topics that other students may find triggering when they do presentations. This seems to work pretty well, after all, it gets rid of all those papers about “abortion is bad!” when students have to consider that other people in the class may have had one (and I point out that making another student upset or making them cry will probably lose you all your professional behavior points for that week… if not longer!) So that part is relatively fixable.

But what about me? What about the school? What about their readings? Do we have a responsibility to warn students about material in their text that might be harmful?

Our composition text does this, a bit, with a brief summary in front of each reading. Our literature book does not. In fact, that literature book really doesn’t want the students to know jack about the readings ahead of time (thoguh they do offer a brief author bio) in hopes that they will interpret it on their own. The teachers’ guide lets me know that if I tell them what each piece is about (and some do obscure what characters are discussing) then I am keeping them from forming their own opinion, which might be more interesting.

Furthermore, there seems to be a “no spoilers” policy in effect–that knowing the end or what happens in the middle will make students care less. I’ve always loved spoilers and they make me want to read/watch/play more, but maybe I’m just weird that way.

Do we have a responsibility, regardless of all that, to protect our students from potentially damaging material in their readings?


Read Full Post »

Check this out: http://www.thrillnetwork.com/news/2788/hollywood-rip-ride-rockit-details-emerge.html#more-2788

A new rollercoaster to be built at Universal Studios Florida will, for all intents and purposes, be the first ever new media rollercoaster. People who ride the coaster will be able to choose from several different pieces of music to hear (that only they can hear) and switch them and interchange them during the ride, supposedly allowing for every ride to be different. Additionally, the entire ride will be captured on camera, and what music was playing at what points for each rider will be saved and added to that video, which can be purchased at the end of the ride.

Now, maybe that’s not real user-generated content, in the sense that you can’t bring your own music or insert your own video, but for a rollercoaster it’s pretty darn close. I don’t know that this will lead more people to purchase on-ride video, but whether it does or not the music part is certainly a cool concept. Although…. I wonder if you can just turn the music off and enjoy the ride without?

Read Full Post »

Both writing programs I have recently worked in (including the one I am currently in charge of, ah!) are highly concerned with grade inflation. In both cases, I sit in meetings about grade inflation with head on one hand, eyebrow politely raised, and either protest a lot (in School B where I have at least some degree of power) or grumble incoherently then complain later in the halls (in School A where I’m “just” a grad student).

Neither program’s answer to grade inflation is sufficient or reasonable in my mind. Maybe it’s the newly minted WPA in me going to my head, but I’m not convinced that this is a terribly difficult problem to solve–or at least it wouldnt’ be if there weren’t people involved.

School A has adopted a new grading scheme, wherein teachers should aim to have a certain percentage of their class fall into each grade range. This past term, according to this grade-scheme, about 5-6 of my students should have had A’s or A-‘s. A lot more than that had honest to God A’s, and their work represented some of the best I’ve ever seen as an instructor. More on this in a moment.

School B has decided that we in English must change what an A means. Rather than change this from the bottom up, we’ll be slapping new percentages down. I voted for 94 and up (previously having used 93 and up this seemed like the least horrifying possibility) but several people in the meeting really wanted an A to be 96 and up, with a C beginning somewhere in the mid-80s.

In general, when it has been discussed, we’ve been told that as faculty we’re just too easy when grading. We’ll slap an A on anything. Again, I’m not convinced. I certainly give my share of B’s, C’s, D’s and I fail students with flair. The papers that I give A’s to ROCK. Given a stack of papers from my class, other instructors agree.

So what’s the problem?

When looking at a lot of student papers here at School B (in preparation for opening a Writing Center) I’m astounded at how easy some of these classes are compared to my own. I witnessed the same thing in the Writing Center at School A, to a certain extent. A three to five page paper as a final document? What the heck were the other three papers that had to lead up to it? Only two sources needed? Paraphrase everything, no quotes allowed? Graded only on grammar and spelling, not content?

For their final essay, my students have to write a 9+ page research paper that includes a multi-paragraph introduction, literature review, synthesis, analysis, and longer than normal conclusion. Students who’ve done well all term and took all the steps I asked have been turning in 20+ page essays and while I’m leery of all the reading I have to do I’m thrilled at how many students are excited at how easy it was for them. I smile every time somebody tells me they didn’t think they were capable of a 10 page essay, and now they’ve done twice that.

In other words, I’m absolutely 100% against making my class easier–ever.

And yet, at every institution I’ve ever worked at, it seems like a lot of teachers think that their students aren’t very capable. They think they aren’t good writers, they think they’ll only succeed at easy assignments, and so they give them relatively easy assignments.

Now, not everybody does this. However, a lot of people do.

Most students can reach up to the level of the easy assignment, so a lot earn A’s. Everybody goes home happy, but the administrators go crazy and the students are upset when they do have to write something longer and more professional because they aren’t capable.

I’ve always felt like I was fighting for undergraduate’s intelligence. I started teaching college at 21, and I truly believed that they couldn’t be talking about me and my classmates when people came in during orientation to tell us how unmotivated and stupid (read: bad writers) we were. Puh-leeze. We weren’t bad writers, we just did what was asked and got A’s for it and called it good enough.

I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that today’s student is pretty much the same. I really like leaning on students and seeing how far they can go. I get all happy when I see students beginning to achieve above what I would consider undergraduate level writing (I’ve at least two students this term who are doing this–it keeps me going through those C’s and D’s).

But most importantly, at least this term, my grade spread looks about right.

Last term… things were weird. It was my last term teaching at School A, and I just sort of shot the moon and taught exactly the way I’d always wanted to, tried lots of new things, and it turns out that the students did really well. Huh. The writing was excellent, the projects were awesome, and I gave a lot of A’s.

But see, I don’t think that that is grade inflation. That does mean I could have asked for even harder work from those students, but I had no way at all of knowing that that would have been possible when I wrote my syllabus before the term began. This term approximately the same level of work is about right.

Come curriculum rollout this summer I’ll be talking non-stop about this–make it harder! make it harder! make it harder! I just hope that some of the instructors will listen given example papers from my class. Other than having a room for the Writing Center and this grant project wrapped up I think that’ll be my big “win” for this year.

Read Full Post »