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2020

 

Listening, as I do almost every week, to StoryCorps on NPR, I have been struck by how quickly that organization has adapted to the new pandemic conditions, shifting from two people face to face in a booth recording their story to an online system that allows the project to continue—at a distance—through StoryCorps Connect. As I listened to some of the stories posted there, I thought of what a valuable trove of oral histories are being recorded and preserved through this project and what a valuable teaching tool the archive is.

 

I started browsing around the Internet, looking for other oral history projects and found many that beckoned to me. The University of Illinois has a very large collection called Voices of Illinois, and I spent a couple of very rich hours reading the words of women in the 1930s talking about their lives, their education (or lack of it), and their experiences during the Great Depression. And by coincidence, I have been in touch with a Navajo student—a fabulous writer now in college-at-home—who is part of a project to collect oral histories from Navajo elders.

 

This combination of coincidences makes me think that this time of coronavirus might well be a very good time indeed for oral histories. Students working from home will usually have access to parents, grandparents, or other adult relatives as well as to siblings. And most will have access to a phone for recording too. While sheltering in place and keeping social distance, they have a great opportunity—and the time—to gather family stories and to capture the voices of family members talking about their experiences living through these very difficult times as well as about their important memories of the past and hopes for the future. Fifty years from now—even ten years from now—these stories will have great resonance; they might even start a family tradition of gathering oral histories over the years.

 

I am certain there are teachers out there who are doing oral history projects with their students. I would so love to hear about them and to read or listen to some of them if they are available. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can encourage the young students I know to get busy on their own oral history projects!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 541192 by Satermedia, used under the Pixabay License

Morgellons, the controversial disease at the heart of Leslie Jamison’s essay “Devil’s Bait,” differs from COVID-19 in significant ways. And yet Jamison’s central question seems usefully relevant to the current pandemic and its concomitant quarantine measures. She writes:

This isn’t an essay about whether or not Morgellons disease is real. That’s probably obvious by now. It’s an essay about what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion. It’s about this strange sympathetic limbo: Is it wrong to call it empathy when you trust the fact of suffering, but not the source? 

I’ve been thinking about empathy quite a bit in relation to social distancing. On the one hand, social distancing is a selfish act: it keeps me safe from infection. On the other hand, though, social distancing is an ethical duty. It’s as much about protecting others—others I may not even know—as it is about protecting myself. Part of what enables me to make the sacrifices required of social distancing is empathy, much like the empathy Jamison comes to feel for the sufferers of Morgellons disease. And empathy hasn’t simply enabled social distancing; it’s also engendered prolific acts of kindness in response to the pandemic.

 

What I like about using Jamison in this context is that her essay offers a kind of limit case for empathy. With COVID-19, the suffering is all too real, all too visible. But Morgellons is a disease that may not be a disease. As the quotation above makes clear, Jamison works from the reality of suffering to formulate an empathetic response and that’s a useful maneuver for students to consider.

 

There are, too, some other interesting connections between Jamison’s discussion of Morgellons and the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Like Morgellons, some still insist that COVID-19 is a hoax or caused by 5G cellular towers.
  • Like Morgellons, there currently is no cure for COVID-19
  • Like Morgellons, the pandemic has prompted dangerous bogus treatments, including zinc and tonic water, colloidal silver, and, sadly, fish tank cleaner. Jamison’s experience with sufferers of Morgellons, like so many people in the pandemic today, reminds us that fear and desperation are themselves contagious and deadly.

 

Here are some writing assignments you might consider:

  • Using Jamison and one other reading (from class or that you have located on your own), write an essay about the role of empathy in mitigating epidemics and pandemics.
  • Considering the ambivalent report about Morgellons from the Centers for Disease Control and the self-activism of those with Morgellons, write a paper about the respective responsibilities of governments and individuals in response to disease.
  • What are the best strategies for distributing reliable information about a disease? Use Jamison and any research you might want to do on COVID-19 to support your response.
  • How is the experience of dealing with a chronic disease different from other kinds of disease? Use Jamison, and if you have a chronic disease yourself, your own experience.

 

Empathy is one of the core concepts in this edition of Emerging. It’s times like these that really demonstrate the value of thinking and writing about it.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 4939288 by geralt, used under the Pixabay License

 

One of the key principles of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. is the critical role that cultural mythologies play in shaping human consciousness and the way we experience our world. So, as we face a pandemic disease that is disrupting, and will, for the foreseeable future, disrupt our lives in ways that are likely to confront us with new and unexpected challenges in the months and years to come, an understanding of how cultural mythologies work has become more important than ever before. This is because one of America's most fundamental mythologies—the belief known as "American exceptionalism"—is now being starkly challenged by the realities of living in the shadow of COVID-19. This belief is that America has always been the exception to human history—that America, alone among the nations, is immune from tragedy, from unmitigated disaster, from decline. A corollary to this belief is the conviction that America has always been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of history, a City on a Hill that will lead the rest of the world to freedom and prosperity. The pandemic, and America's response to it, is challenging that confidence.

 

So, amid the profound distractions to life and learning that COVID-19 is presenting to your classroom, focusing on the ways in which cultural mythologies—especially American exceptionalism—not only shapes our consciousness but can also present barriers to a clear understanding of the challenges that face us as a society, is something you may want to do if you are using, or plan to use, Signs of Life in the U.S.A. in your class. You could begin this by assigning the introduction to the book, concentrating especially on the discussion of cultural mythologies, along with
the introduction to chapter 7, "American Paradox: Culture, Conflict and Interpretation in the U.S.A." (this will be Chapter 1 in the 10th edition), which goes into greater depth about American mythologies. After the principles explored in these introductions are clear to your students, assign Barbara Ehrenreich's reading selection, "Bright Sided," which explores in depth the effects of American exceptionalism in shaping America's fundamental optimism as a society and its concomitant tendency to be unprepared for disaster.

 

Take as much time as you need, for once these readings are mastered, your students will be ready for an essay assignment on how Ehrenreich's essay, generally, and the mythology of American exceptionalism, more particularly, pertain to America's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your assignment could direct your students to support, refute, or qualify the argument that American "bright-sidedness" left it unprepared for the full brunt of the disease and that our unenviable status as having the world's most cases of COVID-19, as well as deaths, is a sign that American exceptionalism is indeed a myth rather than a reality.

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1149896 by Free-Photos, used under Pixabay License

It’s Easter Sunday, it’s raining, and I’ve been in my house for almost a month. I was hoping this blog post would come together quickly, that I would have some technical trick or insightful advice to impart to all of us who have moved composition and IRW courses online. But I don’t have any wisdom or online teaching hacks to share, and the post hasn’t come together at all. This is a mess.

 

Last week, I intended to conference with each of my composition students individually to discuss the discourse community profiles they are composing for their final project—or at least the thesis and outline for these profiles. But I’ve only managed to connect with about half of the students, despite multiple attempts to contact them via email and our university-based online outreach program. I also have a couple of upper-level courses that were online even before the stay-at-home orders were given; one class was supposed to submit drafts of the literature review for their course projects on Friday. I got two drafts and a host of emails requesting more time—which I of course gave. What can I say? I am trying to finish an article by a self-imposed May 1 deadline, and my literature review has not emerged out of my research and early drafting, either. I’ve read it and re-written it a number of times. I look at the varied chunks of text I’ve written, texts that teeter precariously on top of each other like Jenga blocks. A few sections must be deleted, but I’m afraid the whole thing will topple when I pull them out. It’s a mess.

 

The first-year writers I have met with are, without exception, apologetic. “I’m sorry I haven’t done more. I can’t seem to focus very well. I keep getting stuck on the wording here, and nothing sounds right.”

 

“It’s a mess, Dr. Moore.”

 

I’ve been thinking about that word—mess. Growing up in the deep South, we used mess in the sense of casual clutter, temporary and rather normal disorder or dishevelment: “Have you been playin’ in the mud? Aren’t you a mess!” “You know we’re gon’ have to straighten up this mess before you can go outside, right, sugar?” “A little mess never hurt nobody…”

 

But mess also meant a portion—a meal’s worth of something. My accountant father loved to fish and garden. He’d come in on a Saturday afternoon in the late summer and announce he’d “caught a mess of fish,” or “picked a good mess o’ butterbeans.” 

 

That second use of mess—a portion of food—reflects the etymology of the word, from past participle of the Latin verb mittere, (missum), which meant “to put,” as in “to put on the table.” It also came to mean a place where food was shared by small groups, hence the notion of a mess-hall. That the food served might not always by appetizing, or that it might only be fit for animal feed, may have led to the idea that a mess is chaos.

 

Yep, this is a mess.

 

But it’s ok to be in a mess—even to be a mess. We can call it what it is, and neither I nor my students have to pretend otherwise. We don’t have to like it. 

 

Still, it’s ok. This mess isn’t going to last forever.  

 

And a little mess may be just what we need to sustain us in this moment—a mess of beans plus a mess of okra and a little pork may not be a gourmet dish, but with patience and imagination and a little effort, it will make a meal. 

 

When students tell me that their work is a mess, we can talk about what drew them to their topics to begin with, or what they hate about doing research, or why anxieties or tangents keep distracting them. Maybe as they talk through the mess, possibilities will arise; an outline will take shape. Maybe not—but we’ll keep talking.

 

Yes, we’ve got a mess right now—but it’s ok. We’ll muddle through the class, the semester, and the quarantine. The written mess we’re looking at together will eventually be discourse community profiles, literature reviews, a decent article, or maybe even a blog post.

 

It’s a mess. It’s still raining, and this blog post will not rank among my best. But having written it, I think I’m ready to take another stab at that literature review.

Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.

 

Since college classes have moved online, there’s been an uptick in plagiarism across the country. Professors are talking about it on social media and on listservs, providing different perspectives and advice on how to handle plagiarism in student writing. On a Facebook page that focuses on teaching college during this crisis, one professor says, “During a PANDEMIC, plagiarism is a non-issue. During the best of times, students cheat, and they will continue to cheat, but who cares?” Another instructor says, “…my plan is to deal with it as I always have. Plagiarism is theft and universities, like mine, have strict rules.” I thought I’d use this post to voice my own thoughts about plagiarism and how faculty might deal with it during this global health crisis.
 
First, a little background on plagiarism.
 
Plagiarism policies in higher education are often positioned in moral terms. Students who plagiarize are often described as dishonest, sneaky, lazy, or just simply unethical. Yes, plagiarism can be intentional. Students might buy a paper off the internet because they don’t feel like writing it. Or they may go to Wikipedia and cut and paste information into a paper because they don’t have time to find resources or read them. Or they might be struggling with personal issues (like many students are right now) and think plagiarizing is the only option for passing a course.
 
Are there other reasons why people might plagiarize? Yes, and that’s an emphatic yes.
 
Many institutions and instructors do not recognize the plethora of other reasons why students copy directly from sources or patchwrite (a form of plagiarism defined by Dr. Rebecca Moore Howard as “copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one substitutes.”). Plagiarism can be unintentional. Students might not understand what they’re reading, or they may be unfamiliar with discipline-specific terms and language. If students lack critical reading abilities or feel incapable of navigating a foreign discourse community, they will certainly have a difficult time summarizing or paraphrasing a source without appropriating its language. Students might not have a good grasp on citation practices or how to work within certain citation systems. They may have never learned how to effectively summarize, paraphrase, or cite sources, or they may not even understand what plagiarism is or constitutes (especially students who did not grow up and attend schools in the US).
 
Whatever the reason, we should try to remember that students are learners and developing writers. They’re not bad people. They’re not thieves or criminals. There’s a reason why they are plagiarizing. In the midst of this global health crisis, we can transform instances of plagiarism into pedagogical opportunities. Below are some guidelines for how you might do so.

  • Rather than immediately report students to the institution or automatically give them an F in the class, consider talking to them first. Ask them if they know what plagiarism is. Ask them if they know they plagiarized. Ask them why they plagiarized. 
  • Remember they are humans living in an extraordinarily difficult moment. Consider giving them an opportunity to revise their papers.
  • Point them to resources that will help them work with sources. (Purdue OWL is a great resource)
  • Suggest they work with a tutor in the writing center.
  • Provide them with specific feedback on how they might work with sources in their papers.
  • Provide them with guidance on how to better understand the sources with which they are engaging.
    At this moment in time, teaching with compassion is critical; I hope these guidelines provide one way professors might enact such a pedagogy.
     

 

 

 

I am thinking every single day of all the teachers of writing across the country who are now teaching their classes online, and wondering how it is going, how difficult it is to prepare for these classes, how the students are responding, and most of all what everyone is learning from what is for many a different mode of interacting with students and of creating knowledge together.

 

Sometimes I feel grateful that I am retired, watching from a distance and checking in with my Stanford Program in Writing and Rhetoric colleagues, who are doing brilliant work. (That group of instructors—always exploring, always innovating—are clearly up to the challenge and they are helped enormously by the inimitable Christine Alfano, our Associate Director and leader in all things technological.) But other times I am a little sad to be on the sidelines: like so many others, I want to be helping out and doing something productive—especially something helpful for students.

 

I wrote two weeks ago about the writers’ club I have going with a second-grade and fourth-grade friend: these back-and-forth poems, stories, and drawings have kept me engaged and looking forward to what may appear in my email inbox next. In the last week, however, I’ve been spending a lot of time on FaceTime with my beloved 10th-grade grandniece, who is working away daily on “homework” (isn’t it all homework now?). She has assignments from all of her classes and she doesn’t seem to always know the teachers who are assigning this work, but she is trying hard to keep up. I think she likes the control she can exert in working from home, and I’ve felt privileged to join her some days (“It’s more fun with company, Aunt A”).

 

One day last week she wrote an entire essay on why the electoral college should be abolished—talking through ideas, writing some, then reading aloud, then stopping to look up some information, then reading to me, then writing more. She didn’t seem to want or need any help, and it was a joy to watch her mind at work as she puzzled through the reasons backing up her position and came up with a convincing argument. All together it took two and a half hours. Another day she created a 15-slide presentation called “A Snapshot of My Life” for her psychology class that involved working through Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson’s stages of development and illustrating them with examples from her own life. Working systematically, she crafted her examples, illustrating them with photographs of her at various points in her life and then using open source photos to illustrate later stages of development—her in five years, her in twenty-five years. Asked to summarize part of a novel from one character’s point of view for another assignment, she drew a 22-panel comic that went far beyond what she was asked to do.

 

These assignments—and others; yesterday she was working on a civics assignment asking her to assume she was president of the United States and describe a day’s activities that would include all of the functions of the president—seem well suited for work at home, and my grandniece is clearly stepping up. Indeed, she seems to me very much engaged in this work (though she complains sometimes and “just wants to get it done.”) And she has lots of online resources to turn to, both from her school and from her own online experience. She introduced me to a “super cool” site, iCivics, that she said was amazingly helpful and clear. She was consulting it as she did her civics homework and praising it so much that I decided to take a look. And what a site it is! It was founded by Sandra Day O’Connor, who calls it her best legacy: “The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens,” she explains. Started in 2009, iCivics now reaches over 5 million students in elementary, middle, and high school and engages them in role-playing and other games through which they embody governmental practices, such as assuming they can be president of the U.S. and carry out the president’s functions for a day.

 

For students who are fairly self-directed, who have computers and access to rich resources like iCivics, and who have teachers who are providing engaging and meaningful assignments, this pandemic-induced, at-home schooling may be working very well, as it seems to be (so far) for my grandniece. But I worry about students who are not so self-directed, who do not have computers or access to online resources, or who thrive best in the presence of their teachers and others. Just today, my governor, Gavin Newsom, announced a new round of funding intended to get a computer or tablet into the hands of every child in California who lacks one. That seems a good first step, and I’m grateful for it. In the meantime, I need to find more ways to connect with students out there—from kindergarten through graduate school—who think that learning is “more fun with company.”

 

Please let me hear ideas for how I can do more, even while I’m sheltering in place.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3038994 by khamkhor, used under the Pixabay License

Many instructors who began the semester in face-to-face classes have spent the last weeks breathlessly surfing all seven waves of grief. It started with shock, if not denial, as we helped our students adjust to the reality that our classes will conclude in a transformed and virtual world. Then came the pedagogical pain and guilt, induced by the tsunami of emails about online teaching resources. Some missives were well-meant, from our heroic campus teaching centers, for example. Some were purely predatory, as for-profit agencies flooded our inboxes with “tips and tricks that all the best online instructors” were supposedly using – for a price, of course.

 

Wherever you are in the timeline of reorienting yourself to pandemic-era teaching, you might be comforted, as I have been, by the more recent posts about focusing modestly on our essential course goals rather than imagining that technological bells and whistles will replace the embodied experiences of in-person teaching.

 

Because my students are writing about sustainability topics, a theme of the semester has been on the value of relationships, whether through biodiversity, interdisciplinarity, or rich interconnections between classmates. In pre-pandemic times, we began each class period with quick community-building exercises, including a student-generated question of the day for lightning “get to know you” rounds (“Are you a cake or a pie person?” “What’s your favorite plant?” “What’s your dream travel destination?”). Early on, we took the time to do a version of this Danish “All that We Share” exercise, in which students were randomly sorted into groups of three and asked to find three things they had in common – the more unusual, the better. The earnest conversation and laughter bubbling from these groups of near-strangers in January was heartening as they discovered their shared love of particular condiments, favorite flavors of Takis, or numbers of tattoos.

 

Why use precious class time for such exercises? Because investing in trust and emotional safety in the classroom community fosters deeper meaning-making all semester. Kathy Molloy and Diego Navarro’s ideas on the power of “affective learning” have bolstered my belief in these practices, including their reminder, “Slow down your tempo; become curious; listen beyond words to student needs, concerns, or aspirations to understand their struggles.” These practices are all the more timely during these traumatizing weeks.

 

I sure do miss the in-person snap, crackle, and pop of my students. In the last few weeks, I have simplified aspects of my syllabus and have mourned some of the “lost” opportunities to learn with them. The foundation we built together, though, is visible everywhere, despite our physical separation. I see their investment in one another in their thoughtful engagement on discussion threads and in their assignments, as they consider texts through the newly estranging and enlightening lens of pandemic worries. Some students have described discussing class ideas with family members, inspiring conversations that wouldn’t have happened when they lived apart.

 

I invited students to share, optionally, little videos of their pandemic experiences, after offering my awkward contribution with my favorite coffee mug and the ukulele I’m practicing more often these days. They have responded with aplomb, and I’ve been moved by their video selfies of a quiet corner in a basement or hilarious close-ups of the quivering nostrils of a favorite dog or cat. Some students have shared their worries about being laid off or being considered an “essential” worker, suddenly burdened with shifts that devour their study time. Some are frightened of handing money as they deliver food or terrified that as they sanitize grocery shelves for others they will sacrifice themselves to the virus. Some have more time, but less energy. All seem to feel unanchored and grateful to the kindness of the classroom community and the connections they actively built before our physical separation. I am right there with them.

 

I’m grateful, too, to know that I am part of a wise pedagogical community. I hope others chime in to Miriam Moore’s call to record our experiences so we can share our strategies.

 

More than ever, I know that my work – and my honor, really – is to be a steadying presence for these students in a profoundly unsteadying time, whether through Zoom, or phone calls, or discussion threads, or emails, or even texts. So, perhaps I’ve reached the grieving stage of acceptance and hope. Where are you?

 

Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

Emerging by Barclay Barrios - Fourth Edition, 2019 from Macmillan Student StoreLike all of us, we’ve been scrambling here at Florida Atlantic University, first to rapidly transition every course online, then to imagine all of summer online, then to work out and implement a Pass/Fail grading policy, and now to think about adjusting the various fees for summer classes. Change is the new constant, and so we adjust.

 

In the midst of all the madness, I’ve been thinking about how to use Emerging to teach issues connected to the current COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I would share these thoughts with you, in case you find them helpful as you think about summer or fall courses.

 

Emerging doesn’t have any readings on pandemics but it does have one on epidemics: Andrew Cohen’s essay “Race and the Opioid Epidemic.” Cohen’s piece has a simple message: the crack cocaine epidemic, racialized as a black epidemic, resulted in severe sentencing guidelines; the current opioid epidemic, perceived as a white epidemic, is resulting in an emphasis on treatment. Cohen thus connects politics, health, law, epidemiology, and the complex undercurrents of race and class in America.

 

There are a number of ways one might use this reading to invite students to examine the reaction to COVID-19 in the United States:

 

  1. First, let’s keep in mind that while the COVID-19 pandemic rages, the opioid epidemic hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re tallying a terrifying number of deaths from the pandemic, both here in the United States and around the world, but COVID-19 and the essential social distancing and isolation we are practicing to fight it has and will lead to even more deaths from other factors, including opioid addiction. So, you might have students look into the current state of that The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a page of statistics on the crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a useful page as well.
  2. Given that 12-step programs represent a proven treatment for addiction and then also given the requirements of social isolation, you might have students explore how addicts in recovery are coping in the pandemic. Virtual meetings are central to that response, and thinking about how connection is facilitated through technology can then set up interesting counterpoints to other readings in Emerging which suggest that instead that technology disconnects us (Sherry Turkle’s essay, for example).
  3. Addressing the pandemic more directly, you might ask students to explore the intersections of epidemiology and politics as they are happening today. You might have student research some of the details of the recent two trillion dollar relief bill. Here in Florida, the pandemic has prompted suspicions that the state’s unemployment benefit website was designed to fail by Republicans.
  4. COVID-19 has also been racialized, leading to increased attacks against Asian-Americans. You could ask students to investigate this racialization in the context of broader racism in the United States or the deployment of race as a fear-based reaction. Students might also consider the intersection of race, health guidelines, and personal safety that has led to some people of color deciding not to wear face masks.
  5. One of the consequences of the harsh sentencing guidelines in response to the crack cocaine epidemic is a burgeoning prison population. Prisons represent the very opposite of social distancing, leading to concerns of outbreaks in these populations. Students could investigate how governments are responding to this threat and how that response relates to broader issues of a culture of incarceration.

 

Of course, the pandemic may be the last thing you or your students want to talk, think, and write about. But sometimes critical thinking is, well, critical in response to a crisis. Everything has changed with COVID-19 and some of it has changed forever. Engaging reasoned thinking in the midst of these changes may be the very thing we all need.

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: Acts of Composition.

 

Inside, looking out -- Image-a-Day Challenge, April 2020

Inside, looking out -- Image-a-Day Challenge, April 2020

 

Overview
None of us could have imagined that we would be living the lives we are now. For teachers, the Corona Pandemic means moving our instruction online in record time. The impact has quickly and dramatically reshaped the ways we view education or, as Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD reminds us, that “Real change takes place in deep crisis,” he says. “You will not stop the momentum that will build.” Luckily, we have many resources as teachers come together to ask important questions and share ideas such as the journal, Hybrid Pedagogy or the Facebook group, Pandemic Pedagogy (with close to 30,000 members and contributors) where “Educators, students, and others share insights, best (and worst) practices, advice, successes, challenges, and research about converting to fully online instruction during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.” Despite the isolation, anxiety, and frustration, the pandemic has engaged us in teacher-talk and forced us to take a close look at our teaching practices. I have found renewed opportunities to brainstorm with teacher-friends and colleagues about new assignments and activities and the ways we might modify existing assignments to fit within our current context and cultural moment. Although we all feel a bit overwhelmed, it is a time for deep reflection on our teaching as we rethink our roles in this new instructional environment where everything is digital and . . . potentially multimodal. It is in this spirit that I decided to reflect upon and share some of my previous Multimodal Monday posts and offer a roundup of some assignments and activities to consider as we shape our classes for these new contexts.


Synchronous Virtual Gatherings – Zoom meetings, teamwork, class discussions – oh my! Although I already had many components of my class online, I had never tried to create virtual, synchronous classes. It is a challenge, but I was determined to maintain interactive discussions in this online environment. Thankfully, my students were already practiced in meaningful class discussions, productive teamwork, and peer response, so the shift to an online format was easier. I had my doubts, but we have managed to maintain the class vibe in these virtual settings. I have continued community building activities like Class Playlists and Digital Tools for Critical Reading that help students prepare for lively, connected discussion.

 

Community Engagement – I regularly incorporate community engagement projects in many of my classes. Those partnerships fell away as news from the pandemic spread. We had to regroup. I gave students opportunities to take ownership and create their own assignments to address community awareness and career preparedness. My Digital Storytelling class decided to create community awareness stories of the cultural and personal impact of the pandemic. My Careers in Writing class (who were originally going to engage in a professional writing and editing project) decided on Free Range Writing or Choose your Own Writing Adventure assignments in which they curated publication opportunities and went through the professional processes involved with submitting content for publication in digital spaces.


Image Assignments and Visual Rhetorics – I love multimodal image assignments, and they work well in online contexts. Students can curate for the Image-a-Day Challenge in which they capture daily images and perspectives for critical reflection. I also like the Digital Visual Series Assignment in which they create a series that represents the connections between artifacts and ideas. The pandemic has also brought with it memes and a slew of other digital content. Students can create their own memes that capture their cultural observations as they combine text and image to produce artifacts of cultural critique. We share these assignments during our virtual class meetings and create collaborative Grab and Go Galleries.


Time for Podcasts – What a great time for students to engage with podcasts in this Podcast Review Assignment. This multimodal assignment asks students to select and create a podcast series of at least five related episodes of a subject of their choosing. They listen and review a self-designed series in an interactive blog post in which they present an overview, review each episode, and connect to larger ideas through the lens of their own perspectives. They present their ideas in our virtual classroom for response and discussion.

 

Reflection on the Activities
If there is one thing we have come to understand through this struggle, it is that we are in the middle of a massive paradigm shift. We are pressed to look at our pedagogies and what we value in so many ways. Although we all want to return to normal, the reality is that we are creating a new normal that will be influenced by this defining time in our culture. Even though we have been dropped unprepared in unknown territory, we can embrace innovation and the freedom to experiment – to complicate, to reflect, and to share ideas with others during this time. Schleicher sees the potential value for students who “will take ownership over their learning, understanding more about how they learn, what they like, and what support they need. They will personalize their learning, even if the systems around them won’t. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle” (Anderson). It is clearly time for us to revisit our ideas on education and learning and to use these lessons to continue to provide meaningful experiences for our students. As teachers and students, we need to develop our digital literacies and multimodal skills to effectively communicate in these new rhetorical contexts and in our new world.

 

Anderson, Jenny. “The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Reshaping Education.” Quartz, Quartz, 31 Mar. 2020,

qz.com/1826369/how-coronavirus-is-changing-education/.

 

Well, I'm trying at any rate. Right now that means moving along with the 10th edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. We're in the copyediting stage, which can be (and is being) conducted entirely through digital technology. I remember the old days when we had to paste up every page of the text and mail everything in to Bedford Books. This was before the Internet changed everything—when researching new readings meant going in person to the library and photocopying every selection. An era of post-it notes on copyedited pages and endless back-and-forth FedEx or UPS deliveries, of word processing but no email file attachments. At least we had a toll-free phone number we could use when talking to our editor.

 

And, no, I'm not nostalgic for that time. In fact, I don't know how we managed at all, especially when Sonia and I were also still composing editions of California Dreams and Realities, segueing directly from the completion of one text to the other in a continuous stream of textbook creation. And I presume that without these technologies, which we all take for granted now, there would have had to have been some sort of interruption to our work on the new edition of Signs of Life. But thanks to the Internet, we can all work from home (authors and publishing team alike), so “Number 10” will actually be wrapped up in record time.

 

That's a comfort in these troubled times, when the future is largely a giant question mark and the present is like a bewildering dream. And that is an experience that requires no semiotic exegesis.

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 683901 by Hermann, used under Pixabay License

 

I’ve always been a fan of NPR, and of Scott Simon’s Weekend Edition, but I haven’t usually had time to just sit and listen attentively to it. In this time of sheltering in place and social distancing, however—and on a cold, bleak, and rainy Saturday—I tuned in and followed the entire program. As usual, it was full of stories that intrigued and sometimes alarmed me, like one about the scarcity of clean water on the Navajo nation or one about a group promoting dark humor as a response to the coronavirus. But the day’s show also featured interviews with three authors: Terry McMillan, Julia Alvarez, and C. Pam Zhang. Now I have three new books on my “must read” list: McMillan’s It’s Not All Downhill from Here, Alvarez’s Afterlife, and Zhang’s How Much of these Hills is Gold. So I am ordering these books from my local independent bookstore, which is closed now but fulfilling online orders, and I hope to write about them in future posts. Today, though, I wanted to share parts of the Zhang and Alvarez interviews, which especially captivated me by calling for expanded or re-definitions of writing and reading.

 

I’ve written in the past about the difficulties of defining writing—and ended up with such a convoluted definition that I had to laugh out loud. I haven’t written for publication about defining reading, but I have thought for a long time about the word’s derivations and its relationship to closely related words that originally meant “to advise.”

 

So I like thinking about how we define these two words that are so central to the work that we do, and I was fascinated to hear two novelists suggesting expanded ways of thinking about and/or defining writing and reading. Scott Simon asked if Zhang was currently writing and Zhang first responded that she was not, but then went on to expand:

I think we have to expand our definition of writing. I’ve taken to saying in recent years that walking is writing. Crying is writing. Talking to your friend is writing. All these experiences help you give shape to what you’re thinking about the world, and that will come back to the page eventually, even if you’re not able to form words right now.

I like this expanded view of writing, which certainly fits with my own experience. And doesn’t it seem that such a definition would be reassuring to struggling writers or to multilingual writers trying to coax words in unfamiliar languages? I can imagine students making a list of all the activities they would include in their own definitions of “writing.” I bet cooking would be on those lists. And biking and running and so much more—all activities that free up thinking and lead to writing. So thank you, C. Pam Zhang!

 

Later in the show, Simon spoke with Julia Alvarez about her new book, which she says is her first written as an “elder.” I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with Alvarez in Vermont and listening to her talk about her commitment to students, to teachers, and to learning, so I leaned in especially close to this interview. Toward the end, she and Simon started talking about the current pandemic and the way it has utterly changed our everyday lives—social distancing; sheltering in place; staying home, often alone—and about reading during this time of forced isolation. Alvarez paused and then said,

It’s always been something that reading is about, you know? It’s about being together apart. I’ve thought a lot about that, because that phrase has been bandied about, and I thought, well, now that’s a definition of reading.

What a wonderful way to expand our understanding and definition of reading: being together, apart. Perhaps that’s why reading—and writing—are such a comfort to me during this time of national crisis, because they allow me to feel closely connected to others even though I am very much alone, apart. Thank you, Julia Alvarez.

 

And thanks to every teacher out there who is using writing and reading to connect to students and who is reaching out to assure them that their teachers are there—even when we are apart.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 690584 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

Santa Barbara, California /March 9 – 29, 2020

 

 

On Monday, March 9, in the year 2020, life as a community college English professor is still fairly normal, although the rapid spread of COVID-19 has everyone who’s paying attention on edge. Schools—and shops and restaurants and bars—are still open, but there is talk that soon they might be closing “for a while.”

 

I meet with three classes on Mondays. There are some absences, but this is Week 9 of our 15-week semester; absences are inevitable. Some students seem more aware of the virus than others: they have scooted their desks away from the center of the classroom. In general, though, we interact as we normally would, which means we are in close quarters.

* 

The next day, at home, I grade some late papers, take a walk around the neighborhood, and read the news, which is grim. Our Executive Vice President announces in an email: “Get Prepared to Continue Instruction in an Alternative Method.”

*

On the morning of Wednesday, March 11, I tell my hybrid English 110 class to be “really ready” to go online. I reassure them, as I had Monday’s section, that as a hybrid class we are already well-suited to make the transition to a fully online class.

 

Between the early morning and late morning’s classes, I read that the World Health Organization has officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. By the time I head off to teach my other two classes, word is spreading that this could be our final day of face-to-face classes “for a while.”

 

Students ask: “How long will this last?” “Are we going to be coming back later in the semester?” “What if I don’t have a Wi-Fi connection at home?” “Can we borrow computers from somebody?” “Will this affect summer school?”

 

My answer to every question is the same: “I don’t know.”

*

That evening the EVP emails: “We are moving as much instruction online as possible and as quickly as possible.”

*

On Thursday, things change quickly, sometimes by the hour. Our college president announces, “SBCC will not close our campuses unless directed to do so by the County Public Health Department.”

 

At home, I begin working on my two non-hybrid classes, sketching out ways that I can bring them online.

*

On Friday, March 13, President Trump declares “a public health emergency.”

 

The Chancellor of the California Community Colleges issues a blanket waiver allowing courses that do not have an “approved distance education component” to nevertheless move online as soon as possible.

 

Our EVP answers some FAQs via email, including “Is online instruction for the remainder of the semester?” Her answer: “We are planning in shorter increments as we move forward. Plan to be online for the foreseeable future. We are continually assessing this plan.”

 *

The weekend is full of rumor and uncertainty. Hospitalizations in California are beginning to rise. The number of deaths from the virus in Italy and Spain is terrifying.

 

My youngest daughter is a freshman at NYU, and like most college students around the country, she has been sent packing. I pick her up at the Santa Barbara airport on Saturday night. The situation being what it is, I don’t give her a hug.

*

On Sunday, March 15, SBCC’s president officially closes the campus. The EVP asks faculty and employees to stay away unless they are very briefly picking up “needed equipment, books, or other materials.”

*

My previous Bedford Bits post, written in the ancient days of February, was entitled “Self-Sufficiency in the Community College Classroom,” and lauded actions like meeting deadlines. Self-sufficiency is still going to be important for my students, but they are not going to make it without plenty of community help.

 

Fortunately, my school has gone into overdrive. Chromebooks are being loaned for the remainder of the semester. Counseling and financial aid have gone online. Indeed, everything is moving online.

*

Above all, there is a lot of Zooming going on. “If I never have to Zoom again, it will be too soon,” a colleague texts me, and I respond with the emoji with the exploding head.

*

Still, I feel extremely lucky that I spent a recent sabbatical converting face-to-face to online courses. While the work in front of me now is time-consuming, I know how to do it.

 

In contrast, one of my older colleagues doesn’t even have a computer at home: she does all her online work at the office.

 

She is given a loner Chromebook and reckons that she will teach the final five weeks of her classes via email.

*

On Thursday, March 19, our president confirms that “a currently enrolled credit student is positive for COVID-19.” Anyone who has come in contact with the student will be contacted by the Public Health Department.

 

We also learn that “Instruction will continue online for the remainder of the Spring term.”

 

That same day, Governor Gavin Newsome issues a statewide “Stay at Home” order.

*

Our spring break, which begins on Monday, March 23, doesn’t, of course, feel like a break at all, although I am glad that all the members of my family are healthy. I spend the first part of the week grading papers online, and the second part making sure that my two non-hybrid classes are ready to go when classes begin again on March 30.

*

On Tuesday, March 24, our president reminds us that as we are now under a declaration of emergency, there are “implications for public employees.” Apparently, there is a government code stating “that all employees of the District are declared civil defense workers during emergencies, subject to such defense activities as may be assigned to them.” What, I wonder, might those duties be?

*

The vast majority of my students seem to be working hard and earnestly to adjust to these unprecedented circumstances in their schooling and their lives, so why am I so annoyed by the few angry and irrational emails I receive from students who have clearly not read my emails or Canvas announcements?

 

I have to remind myself how upsetting all this is for students, and that finger-pointing is just a way for them to deal with stress. Patience, I tell myself, although it is not my strongest quality.

*

On Friday, March 27, the Chancellor’s office issues Executive Order 2020-02 and Guidance Memo ES 20-10, which, among other provisions, extend late-drop deadlines, waive the pass/no pass deadline, and allow students retake any class they were enrolled in during the pandemic.

 

That same day, our president announces, with genuine sadness, that this year’s commencement will be virtual.

*

I spend Sunday, March 29, the final day of spring break, tinkering with Canvas assignments for the next day and typing up my notes for this blog post.

 

The windows are open as I work. Outside, it is a pleasant Southern California spring day. The air is lush with birdsong, and the hills are green from the recent rains. I can smell the smoke from my next-door neighbor’s barbecue.

 

You’d never know that the world had changed.

As we face another month of social distancing, online learning, and the realities imposed upon us by Covid-19, I am wondering how we might document our days—and capture what we are learning so that we will remember insights, perspective shifts, and innovations when we are once again teaching in our “normal” classroom settings.

 

There are some national efforts to document the impact of Coronavirus, including the WAC Clearinghouse’s Coronavirus Story Archive. The Conference on College Composition and Communication asked designated “documentarians” to keep daily diaries of their work during the scheduled convention in March, even though the event in Milwaukee was canceled. They will be sharing these reflections in various ways in the coming months. At an institutional and state level, I’ve seen several initiatives to share resources and solve problems—and to recognize the unexpected benefits found in novel platforms, media, and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

 

I hope that each of us as IRW, ALP, developmental, or FYC instructors will find a way to preserve our virtual classroom experiences as well—how we connect with students, how we manage peer review, what seems to be most challenging, and where we are discovering unanticipated success. I know the dedication and determination of my colleagues, and I suspect we will unearth some teaching treasures as we walk through this process; we will want to remember those riches when we are back together with students in shared physical spaces.

 

I have often told my students that writing involves discovering, making, shaping, and organizing meaning. Composing and arranging, particularly through language, allow us to make sense of the realities we have to confront at any given moment. When unfamiliar realities break over us in successive waves, we may lose footing. Sense-making activities can help us—as teachers and as students—find grounding again. 

 

Whatever your platform for documentation and reflection might be—from paper journals to video logs—I urge you to keep a record of teaching in the time of Coronavirus. We can share our evolving virtual pedagogy along the way, of course, but when all is said and done, I hope we will turn our memories into collaborations, into new research, into innovative ways of teaching ourselves and our students.   

 

How are you recording and reflecting on pedagogy during these days of social distancing? I’d love to hear from you.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Writer’s Club!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 2, 2020

 

I may be sheltering in place and social distancing, but like so many others I am lucky to be able to connect with friends, loved ones, students, and teachers online. Recently I have gotten inquiries from teachers who have been teaching with one or another of my textbooks, and I’ve been able to send additional materials and links that they can use with their students online. This reminds me that in many ways teachers are first responders too, and heroes to their students (and to me). I feel so fortunate to be in contact with them.

 

And I am VERY lucky to have two particular young friends—in 2nd and 4th grades—who have joined me in a Writer’s Club. I have known their dad since he was 2 years old and think of him, his wife, and the girls as family. Leah (2nd) and Maya (4th) have been in Japanese immersion classes but are now schooling at home and every day, or every other day, we write back and forth. Yesterday brought an even bigger treat when we got together on Facebook for half an hour and I could see projects they were working on (a space craft and a quite large airplane carrying loads of cotton candy and other sweets) and some of their drawings.

 

I hope their work will bring smiles to you, as it has certainly done to me.

 

Poems by Leah

Pets

Cats Dogs

Little and cute

Snuggly Sleepy

With cat paws

 

President

Trump bump

Pickerpump

Humph!

Humph! Humph!

 

Poems by Maya

To COVID19

Dear coronavirus aka COVID19,

Please go away to another galaxy

NEVER come back

We have way too many things going on and now schools are closed

Because of you.

We can only see our friends and family virtually.

And we can’t go out of our house!

We can only go out for food and maybe clothes!

And the restaurants are all closed

So now we have to be six feet apart if we do go outside!

So, please do not be such a pain!

 

Flower

Flowers are soft

Light as a feather

Outstandingly blue

Whenever you look

Every bright day

Right in front of you.

 

I have many more, of course, but hope these few will brighten your day. I am sending virtual hugs and wishes for keeping safe to teachers and students everywhere.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 865116 by picjumbo_com, used under the Pixabay License