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94 Posts authored by: Barclay Barrios Expert
Barclay Barrios

Teaching Online

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Mar 15, 2017

At my school there’s continued pressure to offer fully online classes. The state has issued a mandate that 40% of state university undergraduates be enrolled in online classes by 2025.  Our Center for eLearning is well-funded, we’ve moved to Canvas as our online learning management system, and we’ve started placing more and more degree programs fully online.  My own experience with online teaching has been decidedly mixed and the class I am teaching online this semester, an introduction to interdisciplinary studies, has only confirmed that.


I’ve always felt that the challenge in teaching writing online is that writing courses are process courses and not content courses, and the best way to teach process is a lot of guided practice.  When I hear about teaching writing online it sounds as challenging to me as teaching violin or painting online (though, of course, such courses exist).  Continued evolution in technologies will, no doubt, assist but I am wondering how people have faced the more fundamental process versus content challenge.  I know any number of writing programs offer classes online so I am also wondering how you do it.


If you have experience teaching writing online I’d love to hear about it.  We’re offering some small test sections online here at school but additional advice or insight would be great.  What’s your experience been?

I suppose many of us are grappling with the significant changes to MLA citation in the organization’s eighth handbook.  I know I am.


Change happens, particularly as our technologies of publication continue to evolve rapidly in a digital age.  That’s one of the reasons that increasingly I don’t teach the mechanics of citation per se, but instead a meta approach to citing sources.  I tell my students that there are only 4 things they need to know about citation.


  1.         It exists.
    The most critical thing to know about citation is that it exists. That means that writers are responsible for acknowledging there sources.

  2.         If it’s not absolutely right, it’s wrong.
    Every little bit of a citation is critical, since these systems are designed to accurately document sources used. Getting citations perfectly correct is essential to the integrity of the work.

  3.        Know what you’re citing.
    I spend time talking about the kinds of sources that could be cited, as students often don’t know the differences between an anthology, an edited collection, a book, a journal article, a website, and more. Before any source can be cited, it’s important to know the kind of source it is.

  4.         Know how to find the answer.
    This step is crucial since it encourages a kind of meta-literacy. Citation systems change all the time, so making sure students learn the eighth edition MLA formatting is of limited use.  What’s more, only a fraction of the students in my courses will move into disciplines that use MLA.  It’s not at all important that they master the intricacies of MLA, but it is assuredly important that they master sets of tools that will help them find the correct answer.  In class, we discuss the range of tools they might use: a good handbook, a reliable web resource (including ones provided by our school’s library), and a spectrum of software tools that will help them construct a citation.


Encouraging citation literacy is my solution to the ever-changing nature of all citation systems.  I know that, personally, I often have to research and review how to do citations of even the most basic sources.  I share the strategies I use in the hopes that students will adopt similar ones.

Barclay Barrios

On Grit

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Mar 1, 2017

Part of my work as Associate Dean for the college involves overseeing Student Academic Services, our advising office.  I meet regularly with Laura Mooney, the Director, to discuss issues and plan new initiatives.  Lately, we’ve been thinking about grit. Grit is an emerging approach to predicting and promoting student retention and success, and given that retention is a key metric in our state’s performance funding model, we’re very interested in exploring strategies that help our students stay in school and succeed.


“Grit” is defined in this context as “perseverance and passion for long term goals.”  Essentially, it’s a stick-to-it-ness that enables some students to push through challenges towards success. On the advising side, Laura is training her team to identify and recognize grit in students while also encourage that quality in her advising team, but I have started wondering how this same concept might be applied to the writing classroom.


Certainly, in my experience, grit is needed.  Across my teaching career I’ve found that the primary reason I fail students is because they stop showing up to class.  The challenge has always been figuring out what to do about that since reaching them after they have disappeared is a challenge in itself (they don’t tend to be super responsive to emails once they’ve made the decision to disappear).  I can’t say if students leave my classroom because the work is too challenging or too boring or if there are simply serious life issues that prevent them from achieving academic success.  But perhaps if I can find ways to promote grit from day one I might prevent some of these problems before they start.


I imagine I would start by discussing the concept from the first day and I might even try a grit assessment.  Then I would help them situate the work of the first year writing class in the context of goals that matter to them, helping them understand how success in the class will help them move towards their goals.  I might try early interventions the moment I see someone discouraged, interventions designed to promote greater tenacity.  And I would acknowledge and reward perseverance in the course. There are some additional recommendations in a draft report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.


Have any of you tried tracking and nurturing grit in your classes? I’d be curious to hear what’s worked and what hasn’t.

Barclay Barrios

Teaching Fake News

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Mar 1, 2017

There’s a lot of news out there now about fake news.  I think the topic offers a wonderful opportunity for the writing classroom, particular for any class that involves research.  Not only can students learn how to do rigorous research, but they also can learn how to spot a fake story on Facebook or Twitter.


I would probably start such an activity by bringing in some fake news posts.  BuzzFeed has a nice collection, or you might also try the archive at Snopes.  As a class, students can analyze these stories and look for clues that indicate they’re fake. has a great article on how to spot fake news and NPR has a good introduction to the topic as well.


The class as a whole can develop a guide for finding fake news and then students can bring in other examples, explaining how they used the guide to locate the fake articles.  As they move into research, the class can invert the fake news guide to create a guide for finding solid and reliable sources.


Given the suspected impact those fake news stories had in recent events, I think this is a great exercise and a great way to think about research.  Hope you give it a try.

Barclay Barrios

Teaching Censorship

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Feb 22, 2017

As I write, there’s a lot in the news about gagging.  USDA scientists were put on “lockdown” and ordered not to release any public-facing documents or social media posts (a rule quickly reversed).  The reinstatement of the “global gag” will stop foreign organizations that receive US aid from discussing abortion with women, even in countries where those abortions are legal.  All of this has me thinking about censorship.


Torie Rose DeGhett, in “The War Photo No One Would Publish,” focuses specifically on issues of censorship by tracing the publication history (and lack thereof) of a very graphic war photo.  It’s a great primer on these issues, particularly as it is nuanced in its exploration.  Peter Singer’s “Visible Man: Ethics in a World Without Secrets” is a good complement for DeGhett ,since Singer moves towards avenues of action in his exploration of “sousveillance.”  Both would work well in a sequence on the consequences of restricting information.

As I write this post, a series of presidential directives have already touched on the always-sensitive areas of abortion and reproductive rights.  This is something I don’t usually teach because it is so charged and so polarized, but I am not sure it’s something I can continue to avoid.  I’m wondering if and how others have broached the topic in the writing classroom.


My avoidance of the topic is manifold.  For starters, I find that it’s the kind of topic that fosters debate rather than discussion, and the kind of debate that allows for only two sides with no middle ground.  It’s that lack of middle ground, of subtlety and complexity, that most concerns me since it also suggests it’s the kind of topic that’s extra challenging for students to think about critically, as they have collapsed an enormous issues into a singular stance they all too often are unwilling to examine.


The political and religious dimensions are tricky, too, though not in themselves reasons for me to avoid the topic.  Ultimately, it’s the difficulty of getting students to think about the issue that has historically prevented me from bringing into the classroom.


But perhaps I have been wrong along.  What strategies do you use to discuss abortion or reproductive rights in the classroom?  How do you keep it from being a divisive and polarizing issue?

How do you balance the need for students to offer anonymous feedback on courses with the need to protect faculty from hate speech?


One of my colleagues in English received some extremely disturbing comments on his course evaluations for one of his classes this past fall.  Here at Florida Atlantic University, as at many schools, I imagine, students complete these evaluations anonymously in order to protect them from any possible grade reprisals; the evaluations are also only released the next semester once all the grades are in and done.  Just recently, we’ve also moved to online evaluations, an uneasy transition, but one which makes it even easier for students to offer feedback unconnected to anything recognizable like handwriting.


We don’t have any specific policies regarding hate speech, though the Student Code of Conduct does prohibit “Acts of verbal, written (including electronic communications) or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.”  We also have an Anti-Harassment regulation.  The comments on the course evaluation clearly violated both.


The matter has been referred to Student Affairs for review and investigation.  I don’t know that they are able to identify the student who made the comments.  I don’t know if they should be able to.


I’m wondering if anyone out there has dealt with something similar.  If so, what happened and what was the result?

Michael Clark, our guest blogger this week, is currently an MA student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University, having completed a BA in English and a minor in psychology while working as a hairstylist.  His research focuses on the application of queer theory and gender analyses to film, literature, and popular culture.  His thesis explores gay men’s spectatorship and identification with female protagonists in the “women’s film” genre, specifically focusing upon films directed by Todd Haynes, a self-identified gay man.


I asked Michael, who teaches in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, about how he teaches with writing.  At first he didn’t think he taught with writing at all, but the more we talked the more he realized (and I learned) how writing works in a non-writing class.  I asked him to write up something to share his insights.


Even though I’m currently teaching Introduction to Sexuality and Gender Studies, I often find written assignments useful to assess students’ understanding of course concepts.  Without these assignments, I find it difficult to evaluate students based solely on exams since memorizing and identifying definitions, significant names, and important dates doesn’t give me a sense of a student’s growth in knowledge.  I like using class reflections, current event reflections, and essays to reach these goals and to give me a better sense of how students are progressing in class. 


Since half of the students’ final grades is determined by the midterm and final essays, the remaining assignments serve to assess both participation and critical thinking. For example, current event reflections are meant to allow students to find very real-world applications independently, demonstrating critical thinking.


I frequently use the last ten minutes of class to have students complete a quick response paper pertaining to the class discussions of the readings. These end-of-class reflections tell me a lot about the individual student (I can see if that student is following the discussion), the class as a whole (I can see if there are any concepts that many people still find confusing), and myself as an instructor (I can see if there’s something I just didn’t explain clearly in class).  But the reflections aren’t meant to be just a summary of the class discussion or a test for a comprehension; they’re also meant to demonstrate the application of critical thinking. 


These writing assessments can also help me see the difference between an individual that’s struggling and one that’s resistant to the material (given the sensitive nature of this particular course with its focus on sexuality).  I can ask struggling students to meet with me to clarify terminology while opening a dialogue between myself and the student.  For those that are resistant but understand the material, I often attempt to meet them halfway by finding readings where the author may have had beliefs similar to the student’s in the past but found ways to become more accepting or tolerant.  I find resistant students are more open to such readings. For example when I see a response paper with a student struggling with course concepts because of religious beliefs, I bring in excerpts from Prayers for Bobby


I also like the way these reflections show my effectiveness as an instructor immediately.  When a majority of the class struggles with a reflection assignment, there’s obviously something more I need to clarify, which helps me in that class and also helps me figure out how to approach that topic more successfully next time I teach it.


These small writing assignments also allow me to provide students feedback on multiple occasions.  I follow that with a proposal for the final paper, which gives me another opportunity to offer feedback. Each assignment throughout the course is structured to allow for incremental improvements based upon considerable feedback; in the end, I feel as though this is the best way to assess students’ growth.


At the course’s conclusion, students should ideally be able recognize and identify how the material covered within this course applies to real-world events and cultures; they should be able to arrive at their own informed opinions, and, no matter what their opinion is, they should be open to the idea that differing opinions exist, accepting that opinions differing from their own are not necessarily wrong, and willing to listen to others with an open mind. I find using writing in my class, even if it’s not a writing class, helps me to do that.


Our school also has a Writing Across the Curriculum program that uses writing assignments more extensively, but I find it interesting to think about how small writing assignments can serve multiple purposes in a non-writing class (while also reinforcing the connections between writing and critical thinking).  Do you have a sense of where else writing happens at your school?



Oh wow, how amazing.  I am writing this just shortly after women marched not only in DC, but around the world.  Some of our students and faculty participated in local marches, returning renewed and re-energized and ready to continue the fight for basic human rights for all women everywhere.  What began as a response to a particularly difficult election cycle ended up echoing around the world.  What a great event to bring into the classroom.  Emerging is full of essays for teaching these issues.


Roxane Gay’s “Good Feminist?” challenges the stereotypical notions of what a feminist is, broadening the realm of feminism while debunking notions of what makes a feminist “good” or “bad.”  Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs” is similarly complex.  In exploring raunch culture, Levy asks important questions about gender and feminism.  Students will have to dig a little to find it all, which makes for good critical reading.  Julia Serano’s “Why Nice Guys Finish Last” takes on questions of masculinity while interrogating rape culture.


Many other essays would be useful for this discussion, include Kwame Anthony Appiah (focused on how to get along in a complex world), Kenji Yoshino (discussing how to build a new model of civil rights), and Charles Duhigg (on peer pressure and the connections that enable social change).


It’s a shame the march was needed at all; it’s a reminder that we all have a long way to go.  Perhaps bringing this issue into the classroom will add to the momentum of change.

Barclay Barrios

Fostering Failure

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Jan 25, 2017

I’ve been reflecting on my recent experience chairing our department of Visual Arts and Art History, and in particular the work I was able to do on a thesis committee for one of our MFA students.  I found it deeply intellectually rewarding (and also a bit of a luxury) to think about his work and the way it engaged the world, and it was stimulating to have conversations about the ideas behind that work (many pieces connected to issues of queer identity) with colleagues from another discipline.  One of the most surprising and interesting things the other committee members repeatedly suggested was that the student try to fail more.  And that’s the suggestion I’m contemplating now.


Indeed, from chats I’ve had with colleagues in the Studio Arts, failure is one of the primary goals of graduate study towards the MFA, and with good reason.  Failure means that an artist is trying something new, stepping beyond the safe boundaries of already-mastered practices.  Failure means finding out what works by finding out what doesn’t work.  Failure means exploration and experimentation.  By failing and by making mistakes (sometimes on purpose) graduate studio artists often make surprising discoveries they can then bring back to their body of work.


I’ve been thinking how truly wonderful it would be to use this approach to failure in the writing classroom.  Failure in my classes has a completely different valence, mostly because FYC is a requirement for students at my school and failing anything in the class means risking failing the class as a whole, means a delay in progressing into their majors or a delay in graduation even.  The truth is, we don’t really have time or space in our class to fail playfully.  Writing is due every week, most of which is graded and all of which contributes to the final grade.  When we would have time to fail on purpose?  And how could I encourage students to take that kind of risk?


Still, I would love to have an assignment that asks students to write a really bad paper.  Not only would it encourage them to take risks, but in demonstrating they know what “bad” is when it comes to papers, they also reveal that they know what “good” is as well.  I suppose this could be scaled down a bit to some in-class work (maybe even group work) asking students to write a really bad argument.  And I often like pairing this work with discussions of readings so I suppose I could also ask students to locate the argument of the current reading and then make it a bad argument.


I guess I would call this an exploration of micro-failure.  It’s rather contained though, isn’t it?  I think what’s missing is the free-flowing invitation to dangerous experimentation that comes in the studio arts.  I’m just not sure how to promote that in the writing classroom.

Any ideas?

As I write this post, the situation around the live video of four young black people attacking and torturing a special needs white teen continues to develop.  When I first heard about the video, I thought of another Facebook live video that made headlines, the police shooting of Philando Castile, streamed to the world by his fiancée Diamond Reynolds.  Both are powerfully disturbing and quite frankly difficult to watch.  Both also suggest a potent intersection between technology and social media and race.  I’ve been thinking about how to teach these issues using Emerging, and here are some essays I would suggest.


Peter Singer’s “Visible Man: Ethics in a World without Secrets” is the logical starting point, since Singer explores not only our willingness to sacrifice privacy for panoptic security but also (and crucially for examining the Castile shooting) Singer discusses “sousveillance,” or the ways in which the watched watch the watchers, precisely what Diamond Reynolds was able to do.


Nick Paumgarten’s “We Are a Camera” is useful, too.  His discussion of the GoPro phenomenon isn’t just about the ubiquity of video technology, but also about the ways in which our experience of life changes by looking at it through a video lens.  It might be a way for students to think about the consequences of ubiquitous live video.


Bill Wasik’s “My Crowd Experiment: The Mob Project” is a great essay for thinking about the viral nature of digital media and Torie Rose DeGhett’s “The War Photo No One Would Publish” considers the power of images by examining a case of censorship.  Both of these offer additional ideas that students can use to think about the power and circulation of digital images.


Of course, race is even more central to both videos and so you might also consider Maureen O’Connor’s “Race, Ethnicity, Surgery” or Steve Olson’s “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples” or Jennifer Pozner’s “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas,” all of which consider the enduring persistence of race in America.


Since these videos also implicitly call us to action, inviting us to advocate for social justice, you could find Charles Duhigg’s “From Civil Rights to Megachurches” a valuable addition for thinking about the necessary elements that enabled the civil rights movement or Kenji Yoshino’s “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights” for exploring the future of civil rights and the kinds of actions that might be needed to bring new models of rights into being.


We’ve always wanted Emerging to be contemporary enough to engage with the world students live in.  I believe it offers ideas and concepts that can help them thinking critically about their world.  Facebook live certainly isn’t going away and our country’s racial tensions aren’t, either.  Hopefully students will gather the critical thinking skills they need to make that world a better, safer place by working with and through some of the readings in this text.


TAGS: social media, race, facebook, video, assignment idea, Peter Singer, Nick Paumgarten, Bill Wasik, Torie Rose DeGhett, Maureen O’Connor, Steve Olson, Jennifer Pozner, Charles Duhigg, Kenji Yoshino, Emerging, Barrios

In this series of posts, I am looking at what we can learn from peer feedback practices in other disciplines. Lynn McNutt talked to me about peer feedback in acting.


My chat with Lynn focused largely on the logistics of peer feedback in the acting classroom, but she did make one comment that continues to stick with me: “I feel like I have become better as an actor once I became a teacher, because I used to skip steps.”  She went on to explain that teaching brings it back to basics, and that process helps her as well.


I do know that I too have become a better writer from having taught writing.  I have a better sense of how to do what I do as an academic because I have spent so much time trying to explain it to people who have no idea how to do it.  I’ll end this semester by keeping this post brief, but I wonder - do you find the same?


Barclay Barrios

Acting: Emotion

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Dec 14, 2016

In this series of posts, I am looking at what we can learn from peer feedback practices in other disciplines. Lynn McNutt talked to me about peer feedback in acting.


Beyond the need to develop a vocabulary of technique, one of the common themes of my chat with Lynn was emotion.  I found that interesting given that it also popped up quite a bit in my chats with my creative writing and studio art colleagues.  But while those discussions discussed how to bracket emotion in the context of peer feedback and creative activities, removing emotion is far more challenging when it comes to teaching acting.  “They always want to emote all over the place,” Lynn shared, “Come in and cry.  But technique is trying to get something from somebody—that’s your action.”  It’s the combination of emotion and technique that makes acting a powerful craft.  The challenge then is how to negotiate those emotions in feedback practices.


Lynn approaches this challenge through a language of engagement, asking students in the class to pay attention to when they were most engaged and most disengaged while watching a scene.  Students then discuss those moments of engagement using the language of acting they’ve developed in the class.  Focusing on engagement moves the discussion away from student’s emotional response (particularly bored) and towards the effect of the scene, which is where technique offers the most insights.


I’ve noted before that this affective component feels very foreign to me but Lynn’s coupling of emotion and technique does have me thinking about the motivations behind really good academic writing.  In this model, I consider academic writing a function of technique, not simply at the level of language or citation but also in the certain habits of mind that produce arguments or that allow effective analysis of quotation.  And, while I don’t often see an emotional component to student writing, I do feel that passion plays some role.  After all, one has to care about what one is writing about.  At least, I know I have to care about this blog or about Emerging and that care—that emotion—coupled with technique, is what produces the result.  The question then becomes, of course, how to get students to invest in FYC writing.  I haven’t a clue how to go about that.  But thinking about these issues has given me one more avenue of approach, one I intend to explore.


What can we learn by exploring peer feedback practices in other disciplines?  That’s the central question driving this series of posts.  So far I’ve looked at creative writing and the studio arts.  In these next posts, I will consider acting.


Lynn McNutt is relatively new to Florida Atlantic University, but she’s already made quite an impression.  She’s energetic and enthusiastic, funny and approachable, and engaging - all qualities she brings to her classes, to the college, and to our football games (Go Owls!).  She’s also smart and a great director (I was entranced by her Lear). I had the chance to sit down with Lynn and talk about how peer feedback practices are developed in the acting classes she teaches for our department of Theatre and Dance, and one of the themes that first jumped out at me is the development of vocabulary.


Logistically these practices feel quite different, since Lynn doesn’t allow peer feedback until the end of the sophomore year.  The lack of a language with which to offer real feedback, a common theme in this post series, is a primary reason for waiting so long.  Students immediately want to say why a scene was good or bad, Lynn notes, without knowing why it was good or bad.  Thus, she spends a lot of time in the introductory classes instilling a vocabulary for talking about acting.  She’ll direct students’ attention by asking specific questions about a scene: “Do you see a difference between this way and that way?” Those questions direct responses, but also begin to introduce a vocabulary for talking about acting.  She then gives her feedback to the actor in front of the whole class so that they can see that vocabulary in action.  The development of such a vocabulary is a central pedagogical goal.  Acting is a result of a “soul connection to the technique” and while her students arrive with plenty of soul and emotion, what they need to develop is a way of talking about technique.


Lynn’s approach echoes a very common theme: students can’t give productive feedback without training on what is good and why it’s good.  I feel like we do a lot of that work in our own classrooms, and it’s one of the reasons I use peer revision sheets.  Often, I tie these sheets in to a particular element of writing that we’ve been discussing in the classroom.  For example, if we’ve been discussing how to make an argument, then I will ask students not only to identify the argument in a peer’s paper but then to also evaluate that argument using the language we’ve developed in class.  Vocabulary, in this sense, becomes a central goal of my classes, as well.


Lynn uses a host of handouts and worksheets about technique and also recognizes that students might arrive with a varied vocabulary of acting (some will have learned about “intentions,” while some would know about “goals” - and still others would be familiar with “goals”—all more or less the same thing).  I found that component familiar, too, as some of the students in my class will be used to thinking in terms of the “thesis” of a paper while some will know “argument.”  I prefer instead to talk about “project,” the thing they’re trying to accomplish in the paper.  But knowing the vocabulary students already have is a great way to transition them into the language of the classroom, a technique Lynn and I both share.


Chatting with Lynn helps me to recognize the importance of peer revision in developing a set of meta-skills around writing, skills that are centered around developing a language to talk about academic writing, both what it is and how it works and what makes it effective.  I plan on refining my focus there.


More from acting next time!



In this series of posts I am looking at what we can learn from peer feedback practices in other disciplines. Andy Brown and Sharon Hart talked to me about the studio art critique.


In my last post, I considered the history of critique in the art classroom.  In this one, I’d like to think about its future.


Sharon touched on this topic when she shared with me the challenges of photography in the digital age: “Images are ubiquitous,” she noted. “Why does anyone want to look at yours?” Indeed the rise of the digital is a big question for the Visual Arts and Art History department here at FAU.  In my time as Interim Chair, we wanted to engage with it directly so as to articulate a future trajectory for the department.  Andy suggested that critique needs a new trajectory as well. “Given the complexity and subject of art now the original model doesn’t work too well,” he observed, “We need to find new ways to approach art besides sit in front of it and chat about it.”  For me that also recalled Sharon’s investment in keeping approaches to technique new, fresh, and interesting to keep her and students both engaged in the process.


We might carry these same questions into the writing classroom. Huge swaths of the field are already considering the impact of digital technologies in how we write and in how we teach writing and any number of online peer revision products are available.  But the ones I have seen are simply electronic tools to do what we do in class: sit in front of writing and chat about it.  What it would mean to reconceive peer revision? How do new digital writing practices call forth new digital peer review practices?  I don’t have anything like an answer to that question but I do believe it’s a question worth asking.



Consider Facebook.  It constantly invites peer feedback with a single click and only recently moved past the singular “like” that so troubles art, creative writing, and composition students in the process.  What might it look like to do peer revision in such a context?  What if a paper were just a series of posts on Facebook?  What if it were an Instagram photo, which allows only a heart?


I may not have the answers but the questions aren’t going away.  As students come to our classrooms across the university with a muscle memory of the mind that suggests one click is all peer feedback is, how shall we challenge this reaction or harness it?