A Digital Research Project Outline

After an interesting conference panel on digital teaching ideas, discussion turned into a gripe-fest against giant corporate owners of journals and software and certain textbook companies, which then led to discussion of who owns online content created by professors, the professor who created it or the school (the answer is often the school). Intellectual property rights sound complex, and given how important such things are becoming, I was a little surprised at how little I knew.

The professional development workshop I went to a while back focusing on copyrights ended up being more on using digital sources (and citing them), not as much on creating your own; I admit, I may have dozed and thus could have missed something. While I recognize the importance of that aspect of law, I ended up mentally going back to students, and how much they might know or understand on the subject.

I ended up thinking back to the history professor who’d presented on the panel, talking about how to teach basic research techniques in an online class. The assignment he described that he’d developed to help students work with primary sources sounds like it would be easily adaptable to other subjects, like literature, especially the medieval. I’m not sure exactly when or how I’ll use this, but I do think this assignment would be really useful for helping students learn about primary sources, and some basic research techniques. NB: The following is based on a presentation titled “”Defining Good Research: Using Digital Resources in British and European History Surveys” by Dr. John Krenke, presented at the 64th Annual Midwest Conference on British Studies.

Step 1: Assign students a primary document. Have them analyze who the author was and consider any bias on the author’s part towards his or her subject.

Step 2: Have students consider the author’s goal and maybe do some general rhetorical analysis.

Step 3: Link the document and its details to the macro-context of the time, place, and situation of the subject. This final step would likely require students to do some research using tools provided by the instructor, including databases or textbooks or other reference sources pertinent to the subject.

This assignment would work with documents on a subject that covers multiple sides, such as the slave trade. Sources for documents include places like the Internet History Sourcebook, or on the literary side, any number of library digitization projects and Early English Books Online (if your institution has access- the free version only allows access to some documents).

In a more medieval option, questions like ‘should the Bible be translated into the vernacular?’ or ‘should women be allowed to own property?’ might work well.

Assignments like this have several benefits to my mind. First, they help students learn about digital resources. During that panel’s discussion segment, it was observed and universally agreed upon that most students, being of the Millenial generation, are perceived as tech-savvy, but really are not when it comes to learning how to navigate new (academic) tools, sites, and systems. I can personally attest to this. Not only does every fall involve a 2 week learning curve as new students learn how to navigate the D2L/Brightspace system, but even more advanced students can struggle with more specialized tools. For example, the online Middle English Dictionary requires some fairly detailed search knowledge to be able to navigate easily and efficiently. Boolean operators are a must-know, as are the different places one can search (head-words as opposed to entries, etc). The irony of all this is that while data suggest that online and technology based classes are where enrollment is keeping steady or rising in general, it’s harder for students and professors both to engage with each other and with the material.

Another benefit of this type of assignment is that it breaks down the process of primary based research into manageable pieces: focused background information research, close reading, and secondary research on the broader issue or context.

This assignment also presents the opportunity to blend digital tools and techniques with more traditional library and literary (or historical) methods. I maintain that no matter how good the digital catalogue of a library may be, it still can’t beat browsing the shelves of a decently-stocked research library for finding potential sources. That said, if students don’t have easy access to such a library then it’s all the more important for them to learn how to conduct focused and broad searches using digital resources with as much efficiency and efficacy as possible.

Going back to the original thought about intellectual property in the digital world, breaking down the assignment like this also makes it easier for students to keep track of their sources and citations in a way that makes sense. Students can get the idea that smaller assignments, like homework, don’t need the kind of attention to citation that larger, longer written work like essays require, and an assignment like this could be used to highlight the need to always cite any source that is outside of your own head..

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Irma instead of Sir Orfeo

I’m facing a preemptive weather day off school thanks to Hurricane Irma. The announcement was made Friday, for classes the following Monday. While Tuesday remains a question, my guess is there might be a delayed opening, but no full cancellation. Although given that both my classes Tuesday-Thursday are in the morning, it might effectively be a second day off. We’ll see. I bring this up because it got me thinking about how technology has changed the logistics of how these things work.

On the plus side, the announcement went through quickly, as opposed to ye olden dayes when a phone tree might have been used to ensure the message got out. I got both an alert on my phone and an email. The cancellation also features prominently on the university website, and you can’t even go to the email log-in without the red banner near the top of the page informing you of no class Monday. Similarly, through digital technology I can quickly and with relative certainty notify students of both the cancellation and of what to do instead of class. In this case, I posted on class D2L/Brightspace pages an alternative online assignment. It’s not ideal, but it ensures that we can keep moving on with the calendar instead of having to rewrite it or move everything back a day. I also sent out an email alert to the classes telling them where to go for further information.

In the downside, if power goes out, as it certainly will in some areas, then students may lose the ability to see further communications and access certain materials. No power of course equals no wi-fi, and while it’s possible a smart phone might still work, doing a full class assignment on one strikes me as unreasonably difficult. Unless the student does the assignment by hand, takes a picture, and then uploads it onto the D2L dropbox, but I doubt anyone will be thinking that creatively. This does not solve the problem of accessing online lecture outlines or in the case of my British Literature class, the annotated TEAMS version of Sir Orfeo. Most people should have it in the textbook, but a few students with older editions may have to use the online version, which, again, may be difficult to not possible without power.

It’s also a little disappointing that I won’t be doing my manuscript demo in class, since that involves being in person and having access to a digitized pages of Ashmole 61, and pages of the Auchinleck manuscript. The Ashmole manuscript is especially fun to bring up in class because of the scribal signatures, both the name and doodle of the fishy that show up after most of the texts. Students usually have some fun speculating what the fish means and why the scribe draws it. It doesn’t fit to push this back until Wednesday because we’re doing Chaucer that day, which is a whole new set of manuscripts and related issues which don’t’ really lend themselves well to brief class presentations or discussions. If I ever get the chance to teach a full Chaucer course, then heck yes, we’re going there, but this is a Brit Lit 1 survey; it’s just not really feasible. I might have to wait until two weeks from now when we get to the Second Shepherd’s Play (our representation of medieval drama) to bring in manuscript context, and by that point, there’s no guarantee anyone will remember the courtly romances in enough depth. Plus, the questions and manuscript situation for the mystery plays is just plain different.

The final possible inconvenience that technology might cause is not entirely a bad thing. If there are widespread losses of power and therefore access to digital resources, I would guess that students will email questions using their phones. This means I either have to use phone battery life or wait for a backup of emails when I next get into my office. The downside is getting behind in email and students potentially getting worried or frustrated; the plus side here is the forced unplug. While I recognize it just means putting things off in some ways and facing more work when tech is back up and running, for the while it lasts, going old school with paper and pen/pencil is good for a person, or at least for me. Then again, I have the benefit of being from the window of people who experienced a childhood without digital technology, but experienced it early enough in life to be relatively at ease with it now. It’s possible that students, most of whom are from the first generations to grow up with digital technology, may not share this sentiment, but who knows? I’ve seen reports and studies suggesting that even later Millenials recognize the value of getting away from tech every now and again.

 

Challenges of Research and Teaching It

July means 2 things for me: conference presentations and starting to think about fall syllabus prep.

Prepping a conference paper is its own unique academic exercise. It’s a research paper but at the same time, it’s not. Often, one leads to other, sometimes both. There are challenges every step of the way, which isn’t surprising, but what is interesting to me is that many of the issues are very similar to what students run into, just at different levels. My thinking is that by considering the same difficulties and challenges that professional academic scholars face and how we solve or address them, maybe that’s where more useful or promising possibilities for helping students can come from.

The first step is generally the same, whether you’re drafting a researched paper or article, and a conference paper. The research reading and drafting comes first. Two common issues here are getting hands on sources, be they digital or paper. It’s not just getting sources you know you need though; this is also when finding all the sources that you should look at. This is as much a process as the developing of ideas and writing. You have to maintain and build a list of titles and authors to find, so that you cover previous scholarship as thoroughly as possible.

Bibliographies and annotations are a step in this direction, but I’m still working on finding a method that gets students to actively research what fits their topic or thesis best, not just what they find first and seems to work.

Near the end of this part, comes the usual struggle with introductions and-or conclusions. It’s not only coming up with the concise and precise statements of argument and intention that can be difficult here; it’s also about making sure that the ideas match without repeating. These issues are a struggle for introductory composition students on up, and they don’t seem to go away.

The standard advice seems to be to work out a good strong thesis, and build the introduction around that. Generally, this seems to work. The conclusion though is another story, and the question becomes how to review your key ideas without copying and pasting your introduction with a few minor vocabulary changes, as seems to be a favorite technique. I’m planning to try the following prompt: what did you learn in the process of creating your argument and why might it be useful or valuable to know? We’ll see how this goes.

With conference presentations, or presentations in general, there’s the usual time and visual restrictions to consider, but also the audience. When teaching composition using rhetoric as a major factor, audience analysis is something students need to do, but the question is how to get them to really consider their target audience. This is more a problem in a composition class than a conference though, because you already know what kind of person will likely be at the conference. I was recently at the combined meeting of the John Gower Society and the Early Books Society, and someone joked how nice it was to be at a conference where you didn’t need to summarize the Confessio Amantis as a part of your presentation. Another benefit of this level of presentation is that arguments need not be fully developed or even complete, as many scholars use these gatherings as places to get feedback and advice on how to proceed or improve.

Since a presentation based paper from a student needs to be fully developed and polished at the time of presentation, and doing dress rehearsals or peer review of presentations can get boring for students who then get stuck seeing the same or very similar talks given twice, I’m thinking I might do small group presentations with mandatory Q & A as peer review, and then have the final version be turned in as a standard essay. This idea needs more work, so we’ll see what ends up happening.

Even at the professional level, feedback can get tricky. It seems like, on a standard panel of 3-4 papers, 1 or 2 almost always get more questions and attention than the rest. It’s also often the case that certain people ask the questions almost every time. These are factors I’m going to try and circumvent with presentation peer review, but again, to be continued…

With professional conferences and even with advanced student project/presentations, the final challenge comes when you’re faced with adapting a 5-8 page essay into a full scale research project, or vice versa. The challenge of re-finding sources and citations, or choosing what to keep and take out as the case may be, is more one of time than anything else, and time management is a tricky thing to teach well. Even I sometimes forget to cite as I go, and I almost always regret it later; but no matter how much I remind students and tell them my own horror stories, it doesn’t seem to get through. Finding new sources to include is also a reality, though one more for the advanced student or scholar than an introductory type composition course.

Extending the time frame for a major research assignment, and breaking it down into a series of smaller steps seems to be the best option, but keeping students interested and challenged as they go becomes harder.

Coming at the challenges facing introductory composition from the perspective of a writer and researcher seems promising, but for now as there are more questions than answers, I’ll leave things with one final to becontinued….

Reminders Related to Teaching Middle English

I’m in the middle of teaching an upper-level English course on Middle English Language, Literature, and Culture. It’s a 5-week session, which means 12 3-hour class periods (we lose one day off for Memorial Day), some in-person, some online, and 1 needed for a mid-term, and a second needed for a final exam. More on how things went later.

What I mean to consider today is what preparing for this class has reminded me about studying language. It has been nearly a decade since I taught anything that could be labeled ‘foreign language’, and in some senses Middle English qualifies; a native speaker of modern, current English needs considerable help on grammar, syntax, and vocabulary to work with texts in most any form of Middle English.

Reminder 1: Just because a word looks familiar does not mean it is, aka beware the false cognate. I remembered this myself, but when I started to review some of the texts I was planning to use for class, I was surprised at how often,  when I looked something up, it didn’t mean what I was expecting. This of course makes me paranoid, and I spend possibly longer than I need to double checking vocabulary. I don’t regret that though, because I do find difficult forms or unusual vocabulary with enough advance warning to know it’s coming in class and therefore be able to explain the origin of the form or word.

Reminder 2: Inflections can be important. Middle English is not as inflected as something like Old English, and it is less inflected than modern English. But still, sometimes those spelling variations can matter. This is proving confusing for students sometimes, since they also have to try and deal with the lack of standardized spelling.

Reminder 3: I remember hearing once that a basic rule of thumb for designing a test was to take it yourself (a good idea for proofreading purposes anyways) and then double that time for your students. This rule doesn’t quite work so well with translations, at least not in the first half of the course, when students are still getting used to the textbook, resources, and the language itself. The first full day of class, we barely finished the text with me taking some of the translating to speed things up, and ended up with less than 5 minutes to discuss interpretive possibilities. I don’t regret the length or the text, as I do believe that the more exposure you get to something, the easier it gets to understand and work with.

Reminder 4: The problem with using lots of exposure to learn something, as I did with Middle English, is that you don’t always get a strong grasp of the intricacies of grammar, syntax, morphology, etc. This means that I had to learn the basics rules of Middle English inflection in order to teach it. Similarly, I never really formally studied the syntactic or metrical rules for poetry, and therefore had to learn some of that as well. This is not a bad thing, but it does illustrate the difference between learning a language by the grammar and learning it by exposure.

Reminder 5: Pronunciation and reading aloud are at the same time important and troublesome. Troublesome because if you want to correct most (not even all) mistakes, it takes a very long time to get through a short segment of text. Important because it provides another means of exposure to the language. Plus, when dealing a language that survives in a lot of poetry, you need pronunciation to understand rhyme, and stress to help understand meter. Speaking is one of the best practices for learning these elements.

Reminder 6: Just because a rule makes sense to you, doesn’t mean students will always agree. I’ve long thought that Middle English sounded more familiar in many cases than it looks on paper. However, some students have directly said that for them, the opposite has been true so far.  Part of me wonders whether this was a ploy to lessen the amount of reading aloud, but still it remains true that different people have different learning styles, and every teacher needs a reminder of that once and a while.

Reminder 7: No matter how much you plan, things will go their own ways. I’m a fan of over-planning, because it’s better to have too much than not enough to do, but it can be a little frustrating to not get to something you know/hope would be interesting or fun. This is especially sad when you had a really cool way to tie the literature into something related to the history or culture of the time.

Reminder 8: Technology has a mind of its own. I was assigned a new classroom for this class. This is a good thing in that the room the class is in is considerably nicer than the one I had first though. But the tech is touchy. The computer restarted on its own in the middle of class, the smart-board doesn’t always like all the markers, a key website proved uncooperative during a demo, etc.

Reminder 9: There’s always a student or few who is hard to integrate into the rest of the class. It’s not that a student may not want to participate, but maybe they are shy, or learn better on their own, or have lower confidence. When the class is small though, as many summer and major-level courses can be, it’s hard to let someone hide.

Reminder 10: Teaching a class for the first time is hard work. There’s a lot more advance planning with lectures and lesson plans, and there’s more trial and error with assignments. On the other hand, it’s also pretty rewarding when students actually seem to enjoy the material, and it’s easier to remember to ask for feedback about reading assignments, in class work, or pretty much anything else.

New Year’s Goals 2017

I find goal setting useful, and doing so in a somewhat public way even better for self-accountability. I have found that setting goals for different things regularly actually helps me get more realistic about it, especially in how to build in flexibility. So on that note, here’s my Goals for 2017:

Teaching

I’m going to be able to teach a course in my specialty area over the summer, assuming it meets registration minimums that is. I want to be careful to write this one well, and plan ahead to make sure I don’t over-do it. It’s totally true of first time teachers, both in the sense of being new to the classroom (which I am not) and in terms of building a new course from scratch (which I am), that the temptation is to be too ambitious. I’m going to follow the general technique I used last summer of building the course thematically, because that worked out very well (see my earlier post “English Renaissance Lit: The 5 Week Edition” for details).  The difference though is that this upcoming class isn’t quite as period centered like last year (Literature of the English Renaissance); it’s Middle English Language and Culture. I haven’t taught a full-scale language course in a few years, so this will be a welcome but challenging return and review. It’s also going to be a challenge to combine grammar and vocabulary building with literature and material culture, all in a 6 week hybrid course. I’m looking forward to this.

I also want to plan to re-focus the writing 101 course that I’ll likely teach in the fall to center more on the actual craft of writing. I’m considering using the trivium to help do that, and I also want to find a reader that students might actually read. I’ve finally found a handbook I like and a way to get students to actually use it, but I still need that reader and possibly something on the trivium itself.

I also want to work on the research components of all writing and literature classes to develop a basic guide/review to use in all levels of both composition and literature courses. I have such a set of notes for basic composition, but I am realizing the need for one concerning research and citation as well. I was grading the first set of homework in a sophomore level literature course yesterday afternoon and I found myself thinking “We’re going to have to go over in-text citation”. I then had almost the exact same thought going through the homework for a section of composition 102 (intro to lit).

Scholarship

Once I again, I resolve to post once a month, or 12 posts this year. I may not be exactly on time each month, but I found last year that making myself come up with something each month, even though sometimes thinking of a topic was hard, was good way to keep myself reminded of the need to make time for non-teaching related work.

On that note, I am setting myself a schedule for scholarly time. This practice is recommended in “how to survive academia” articles all the time, and it’s a good point.  I’m undecided whether it’s better to do 1 hour a day or 1 day a week. I’m leaning towards the former as more productive, especially since I think the best writing advice I’ve heard from an author (Joann Fluke writes fiction but her advice is still applicable) was to always stop before you’re fully done with a thought, so you have a place to go when you pick up again.  I’ve tried the one day a week, and I’m not sure that way was as productive as it could have been for me. I’m going to try the one hour a day most days, and see how that goes for a while.

As of now, I have 2 things to work on. First, I am starting to get into new project. I presented the first part at a conference last summer (NCS 2016), and I’m going to present the second part at a conference this coming summer (Gower Society 2017).  As I do the research for this second part, I need to keep developing and writing the first part while also keeping an eye on an outline for the article version.

My second project is to go back to my dissertation to see what I might do about converting it into a book. This year I think it’ll be a do-able goal to set up a plan for what to fix, remove, and add to turn it into a book manuscript. I haven’t really looked at it in almost 2 years, and I think the time away will be good for a change in perspective.

Personal

If someone told me a few years ago that I would have to make an active effort to do fun, non-work reading, I’d have thought they were crazy. Then, candidacy and dissertating happened. I built up quite a pile of future personal reading over the two years it took to complete my dissertation, and I’m still working on it, although admittedly I also keep adding to it. Something I’ve found motivating, helpful, and just fun is that I’ve joined a book review blog group; this will be my 3rd year there. The basic premise of Cannonball Reads is to read and review 52 books per year; that’s called a Cannonball. The first and second year I thought it would be more realistic to do a half-Cannonball (i.e. 26 read and reviews). This was manageable the first time, but last year (2016) I actually managed a full 52. This year, I plan to repeat that effort. For me, I’ve noticed that it’s less the reading time than the reviewing time that causes more time management problems. I’ve noticed that the reviewing really forces me to evaluate why I react to a book the way I did, and that’s useful, since part of my job is to help my students figure out how express such things. I also like the social, community aspect of the whole thing, and it raises money for cancer research.

In addition, I intend to be more active on Goodreads. I’ve been pretty good about updating what I read, but not much in the way of reviews. I don’t think I’ll be able to present full reviews of everything I read, but I plan to at least comment briefly on most things I read and rate this upcoming year.

 

Medieval with Social Media

I’m a little late with my December post, but better late than never. I decided to look back at the past year and consider what kind of social media and digital things have been most useful to me during 2016.

There are certainly plenty of specialized academic and popular subject websites and pages, but finding the right ones for a given purpose is hit or miss. Many of the best are sponsored by academics via universities or libraries (eChaucer, DIMEV, Fordham Sourcebooks, etc) but even so, you need to get lucky with the right search at the right time to find them. Increasingly, it seems that web searching may not always be the best way to keep track of useful sources. Instead, using other digital resources like social media are becoming more useful for finding and following academic and popular resources.

Twitter is very useful for finding out about academic sources and news. I’ve found more CFPs and useful sites here than any other social media or list-serve. I came to Twitter late. I was at a conference over the summer (NCS July 2016) and ran into someone I knew from graduate school who told me that I should be on Twitter because he’d found some good professional opportunities there. I sign up and within a few weeks I find a promising CFP and a few websites I wouldn’t have known about otherwise (an open access edition of Chaucer for example). Following academic specialist publishers is also quite handy for keeping up with new publications but not getting stuck with a disorganized and overloaded email or mail inbox. I don’t feel at all bad about checking my Twitter account at work, as I use it mostly for professional, academic purposes, although I do follow some entertainment and non-medieval or literary sorts of things.

Facebook is less useful for professional news, but is good for keeping in touch with specific people, and for posing questions-problems to a specific group without the hassle of putting together an email group. I admit I use this more for personal and entertainment purposes than anything else.

Blogs {Blogspot, WordPress, etc} are also proving useful for following the state of the field. A lot of academics are blogging about project ideas or progress, and these are often posted by or re-posted by professional organizations like the Medieval Academy of America or the British Library.

Youtube is useful for in-class demo stuff, but not as much for academic sources. Movie clips and recitations are useful tools, but I haven’t found a good use for the informational videos that are there (and some of them look pretty good).

Google+: I haven’t checked this in a long time, and I don’t know anyone who really uses it for anything other than personal social media interests. Does anyone use Google+ for scholarly or educational networking or resources?

I don’t do Instagram or Pinterest, but I would imagine that these have some limited uses for a medieval literary scholar, particularly for images, and material culture and/or reproduction.

I also am not on Reddit. I suspect it is the least useful for specialist interests, as it relies on user feedback to drive what stories and discussions show up more or less prominently.

Tumblr is also not a site I use. As a multi-media blog site, I suspect this one might be the one that has the most potential of the sites I don’t use. I follow some authors (fiction) through other sites (Twitter and Goodreads mostly) who use Tumblr, but I don’t know of much of an academic presence on this one.

The last 3 social media/ web tools seem to have a greater focus on networking and professional uses.

Skype/Snapchat: I’ve only used Skype twice, and those for professional purposes. Once was during my dissertation defense when one of my committee members was in Norway on a Fulbright that semester, and the other was a first round job interview for the position that I now have. I’ve heard the Skype interview is becoming more the norm, at least for first round interviews as it gives the hiring committee a chance to see the person and interact/react a bit more directly. I also read that when technology problems arise (and they will-there were all sorts of techy issues during my interview) it gives the hiring committee a chance to see the candidate react under pressure. I’ve also seen Skype used during a conference presentation when, due to special circumstances, a presenter was allowed to give her paper via Skype. I was told by an advisor that one of the keys to presenting yourself well in one of these interviews (since first impressions can be important) is to be sure that you are not looking at the screen straight one, because this means that given the likely placement of the camera, that you will be seen as actually looking down at the hiring committee, which is not a flattering angle and also has some associations a candidate would want to avoid. Instead, you want to have the computer or camera above your head a little so it looks like you’re looking at or up to the people you’re talking to.  I’ve never used Snapchat, but I suspect it does not have the same professional type uses. It strikes me as more of an IM or texting app.

Academia.edu: I heard someone describe this as Facebook for academics. I only half agree with that. It’s accurate in that you post your thoughts and ideas, although in this platform they’re articles, publications, teaching ideas, etc, and people can see and comment, or download what you post. This site can be a good way to see what people are up to in terms of publishing and also to get yourself out in public, but then there’s the risk of if you put it on Academia, you may not be able to submit it for publication with a journal. Most journals have pretty strict rules about not taking previously published work. Where I disagree with the Facebook comparison is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion or sharing surrounding posts. It’s possible to comment, but seems to be rarely done. The most interesting feature is that Academia alerts you when someone searches you name on Google. This becomes a little annoying around registration time when students try to research possible instructors using Google.

LinkedIn: I think this site has more use for someone not interesting in pursuing an academic career. I only found one academic posting that I could go for, and most everyone else I know on this site is through non-academic affiliations (family, and some friends who are not looking to be university teachers/scholars). It looks like a good tool for pursuing connections in the professional world, but not as useful for a scholar or post-secondary teacher. The application-profile site that seems to be more popular in academic job searching would be Interfolio which is a for-profit service.

2015-2016 School Year in Review

It has now been one full school year since I started at my current teaching position. So this month, I am going to reflect on what I have learned about teaching and scholarship from this new start just over a year ago.

One of the things that goes along with a tenure track job is summer school teaching. I have never taught one of these, nor have I taught a night class. I have taken both, though not recently. Yet starting next week, I will be teaching a major level course on Renaissance literature sans Shakespeare two evenings a week, with a third evening online. The two weeks I have between the end of the spring semester and the start of the first summer school term are being split between preparing two conference papers to be given over the summer, and the rest of the time on preparing for class.

This is also my first hybrid course (part online, part in person).  I have taught classes with online components, but never regular class periods. I have noticed in other courses that when I assign reading from online sources, students either don’t do it (at a higher rate than with paper) or don’t have access to the text in class, which makes for difficult in class teaching. I have also frequently posted online supplementary material that students either don’t consult or don’t cite. It bothers me that most students would rather go to Shmoop or similar than check something out that has been vetted and recommended by me. I have lost track of how many times I’ve explained why Shmoop is not a good source to use, even though entries supposedly are authored by Ivy League graduate students. First, I don’t think students know that, and second even if authors were named, these kinds of things stop students from doing any kind of critical thinking about a text; instead, they just accept and use what the website says.

I am fairly certain that students at an upper level should know better, but we shall see. To set an example, I have cited all outside sources for all my lecture notes. I am hopeful this will encourage students to check out the sources themselves. I will likely have to wait until the end of term projects and evaluations where I ask students about the best and worst thing about class, and best and worst text (I do this in most classes) to whether or not this tactic will work. Given the subject matter, Luminarium.org will feature prominently as will the websites of several major research libraries, including the Folger Shakespeare Library and the British Library. If I can get all of my lecture notes set up before class starts I will be happy. The way things are going now, I might just make it.

On a different but related note, not too long ago I saw an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about work-life balance concentrating on publishing output. Among its conclusions and proposals were the idea that scholars who take time off for a life actually publish more, and of course the standard advice about planning and scheduling writing/research time. I didn’t know the first, but the second recommendation is pretty much ubiquitous in these kinds of articles. Even though it’s stuff I already know, sometimes a reminder is useful. I’m going to try a self-imposed rule for when class is in session: thou shalt write/research thine own stuff for at least 1 hour a day, with Sundays off. We will see how this turns out.

Something I promised myself at the beginning of this year was to make more time for personal, fun reading. I have managed to start making a dent in my to-read pile, but there is still plenty to go. I have found that public accountability like a reading goal is useful. For this, I am thankful to Goodreads (the book based social media site- it has a yearly reading challenge where you can set and track a goal for the number of books you read in a year) and Cannonball Reads, a review and discussion based site that uses its recommendations to raise money for the American Cancer Society. When you sign up at the beginning of the year, you commit to a certain number of reviews for the year.  For me, the problem is less the reading, but finding the time for the reviewing. This is my second year, and I think this time around, I am managing my time better.

This summer will be busy, not just because I’m teaching but also because I have two conferences and a good friend’s wedding to prepare for and attend, and then school starts in mid-August. I will also get to start learning more about the university bureaucracy, as I learn how to work the student advising system, prepare for my first year of committee work aka service, try to navigate funding proposals-procedures, and get ready for the fall semester.

I will sign off with a few observations about how medieval things fit into all of the above. I have yet to teach a strictly medieval literature course (this could happen next summer- fingers crossed) but I have managed to bring in the medieval to all but one class. Another goal for the summer is to figure out if there is a reasonable way to include medieval literature in a Composition 101 type class. Anybody got any ideas?