Teaching Technologies and Android

As part of my technologies series I would like to discuss the apps I use on my Android tablet to make my life as a teacher easier and more enjoyable. I won’t mention apps for iPad users because I have no experience with Apple products. Plenty of more useful and extensive guides exist for iPad users. I will make a note of the applications that are cross-platform (available for iOS and Android devices) by marking them with an asterisk (*). What I look for in a good application:

  • Usability
  • Cost (preferably free)
  • Compatibility (with Word and other common programs)

As a graduate student, I don’ t have the luxury of buying extra programs on a whim, especially if I might find that they don’t serve my purposes. The multitude of free, high-quality apps to choose from in the Google Play store makes owning an Android tablet a dream for me. I will say that I usually download 3-6 apps that all do essentially the same thing, try them each out, and then uninstall the ones that were not up to par.

A few of my favorites:

1. Kingsoft Office (Free)

This application has been a game changer for me. My students submit all of their papers electronically into the cloud. From there I download their file onto my computer at home and then provide feedback through margin comments. Until recently, I was unable to do this on my tablet because it doesn’t support Microsoft Word. I tried Splashtop Streamer 2 as a remote desktop to solve this issue (see below) but this is an even easier to use and smoother option.

A dream come true.

2. Splashtop Streamer 2 (Free or $9.99/year)*

Splashtop Streamer is a remote desktop app. It allows me to access my home computer from my tablet on any wireless connection! This features costs around $10/year but if you primarily use your tablet and computer in the same place/same wireless connection you can use the free version.

Android users will delight to see this: Microsoft Word!

3. Mindjet (Free)*

This app works with Box.com and is fantastic for brainstorming. Have students create a mind map for their projects as an assignment directly in the Box.com interface, and upload it from there!

It’s even easier than pen and paper!

4. Box (Free)*

A nifty app to keep your Box.com files easily accessible.

Nifty!

Do you feel slighted because I forgot your pet app? Please, share them in the comments!

Teaching Technologies and WordPress

I’ve spent the last few days focusing on online resources for teaching ENGL 101. My course this semester uses Colorado State’s Writing Studio for their course management site and although I like many of the features of this website (including their fantastic guides) I feel like I could be doing more with technology to make my class accessible, engaging, and multimodal. Some of my colleagues use WordPress as their course website and because I have years of experience with WordPress, I figured I might give it a try.

I chose the ever so corny URL http://englishoneohone.wordpress.com. I know it’s goofy, but so am I, and I feel like that’s a vital part of keeping open lines of communication with your students. I set up the basics: menus with my assignment descriptions (still in progress), my contact info, links to other websites with resources they need, etc. I always feel somewhat limited in what I can do with a wordpress.com blog due to the javascript restrictions, however, in this process I discovered a few key tools that WordPress offers that might be useful to other teacher/bloggers out there.

1. Milestone

Available in the widgets menu, this tool allows you to display a countdown to an important date or deadline (mine is the due date of their first assignment) in the side column of your blog. This can offer a little visual reminder of how much time they have to work on their papers before the due date without me verbally nagging them every day.

2. Box

I explored Box because it too has been added as a standard WordPress widget. Because I know that WordPress is selective in which widgets they add, I decided to check this service out. Much to my delight, I found that Box offers many of the features we’re used to with Dropbox, but with 5 GB of free storage and tons of apps to make the service more usable. These apps include not only the standard Windows/Mac/Android/iOS applications, but also multiple apps to allow you to annotate PDFs, apps that allow you to print directly from Box, and above all, InstallFree Nexus. This app works in the Box platform and allows any user with a web browser to utilize the full capabilities of Microsoft Word . . . for free! This is a game changer for teachers who often run into the issue of students not owning a copy of Word and therefore finding it hard to get to a computer lab to write. Now they can read our comments and even compose directly from this web-based app! Above all, WordPress had the insight to add it as a widget where students can directly access files or click on the Box link to upload their assignments to a class folder.

3. Scribd

Scribd is a fantastic service that allows you upload files and then integrate them into your website or blog. If you click on my CV link, you will find that Scribd is hosting my CV and allowing this aesthetically pleasing alternative to download links right on WordPress. After you upload a file, you simply choose how you want to embed it, in this case you select “WordPress” and they provide you with a WordPress-ready code. Voila!

4. Google Calendar

I’ve long been a fan of Google Calendar (and all Google services) but only recently tried implementing it into a blog. This is another simple process in which you locate the embed link on your Google Calendar page, copy and paste it into the page you choose, and WordPress does the rest for you. I plan to keep a Google Calendar updated with all of the assignment deadlines for my upcoming ENGL 101 course.

These are just the few that excited me. If you have others, please share in the comments section!

The Home Stretch

Compulsory Space Needle image.

Today I signed up for my last semester of classes as a master’s student. I am taking a course entitled Regionalism, Race, and Nationalism in Late 19th and Early 20th c. American Fiction taught by Dr. Donna Campbell. I am looking forward to this class as well as an opportunity to shadow Dr. Leeann Hunter‘s Women Writers course. What an exciting spring!

Earlier this fall I presented at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association‘s conference in Seattle. I had a fantastic time exploring the city and presenting my paper. My presentation employed Judith Halberstam’s theory of Queer Temporality on the Victorian prostitute and explored the ways in which women of the time could have used prostitution as a means to agency. My paper was very well-received. I was lucky enough to present on one of three Women and Work panels, led by Dr. Susanne Weil. I love presenting my work and this was perhaps the most supportive and fun conference I’ve attended. The keynote was Sandra Cisneros who put on a spectacular reading of some of her poems and her most recent work Have You Seen Marie? Her spirit and energy had the whole crowd in tears and was personally moving and inspirational.

Image
In our hotel before my presentation at PAMLA.

The primary theme of this semester has been self-motivation. I have started waking up around 6AM every morning in order to take full advantage of each and every day. Through this I have been able to integrate a daily writing regime, better time management skills, and a more self-reliant and affordable daily routine (making my own breakfast, lunch, coffee, and tea.) This leaves me with more time in the evenings to do the things I love like knitting, baking, and mindlessly watching television with my partner.

The primary motivation for this new schedule is my thesis. I am two chapters in at this point and I feel confident that I will finish by my self-imposed February 1st deadline. My committee is made up of three wonderful WSU faculty members and I am excited to hear more feedback as my writing progresses. My thesis is about Virginia Woolf’s use of  écriture féminine mecanique, my thoroughly modernist reinvention of Cixous and Kristeva’s paramount theory of bodily women’s writing. I am tentatively using To the Lighthouse, The Waves, and Orlando as my textual foundations. I’ll keep the blog up to date with further developments!

Conferences, Composition, and Conversation, oh my!

What a whirlwind of a semester!

Daniela, Me, Aree, Sarah, and Owen after our presentation at LSU’s Mardi Gras Conference.

Since my last update I presented at LSU’s Mardi Gras Conference with several of my colleagues. We formed a panel entitled BAM! POW! CRASH!: The Under-Appreciated Power of Comics as Social Texts. My paper was on David B.’s Epileptic and discussed his work as applied to disability studies. My paper title was “Seizures, Samurai, and Saving the Family: Epileptic’s Reappropriation of Disability Stereotypes” and I feel like the panel was well-received. I enjoyed attending this graduate level conference, but look forward to pursuing larger and more prominent conferences in the upcoming semesters.

My ENGL 101 course is going well. I have been struggling to keep up with my grading, but that pain is self-inflicted. Seven writing assignments in a semester? Never again! The students seem to have enjoyed the format of the course otherwise, so I will be integrating some of my original ideas into my next syllabus with much more sensible applications. I have loved teaching Composition this semester and cannot wait to be able to focus my energies exclusively on teaching.

I received word today that I was accepted to a position at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID this summer working for their Institute of Intensive English where I will be tutoring and monitoring the language lab as well as teaching a Conversation course. This will be a fantastic opportunity to work with international students and experience an ELL classroom. Wonderful professional development and well worth the hour commute.

Additionally, I will be participating in the grading positions the university offers to 101 instructors. In this position I will be reading entrance exams and placing the students into an introductory composition course. This job will be sporadic and I will only be able to attend about a session a week due to conflicts with my IIE job, but it seems like a great way to experience the testing side of college composition.

I have submitted proposals to a few semi-local conferences for next semester including but not limited to PAMLA and Sirens.

I’ll try to keep the blog updated more frequently in the future.

Asterios Polyp & Fun Home: Two Critically Acclaimed Graphic Novels with Nothing in Common

Okay, they have some things in common, such as involving words and images, being bound into books, and being created by humans.

If you’re still waiting to be convinced that graphic novels are a valid form, I have two examples to convince the most skeptical reader and rebuttals to a few of the more common arguments against the 9th art.

Comics are for children. The graphic novel is just an extended form of the Sunday funnies.

Now that is funny.

I completely understand the common tendency to assume that all things comic-related are childish, easily digestible, and base. This is a long-held assumption in the Western world. The association is backed by the simplicity of images, the superhero association, and the 10-year-old male audience base for newspaper comics we all know so well. The graphic novel certainly can take on this form, but many of the biggest names in the field work against these associations. Take a look at David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp for a moment and reconsider.

CMYK Sophistication

Mazzucchelli uses CMYK to make meaning in his text, giving the two main characters more dimension through colorization. He uses drawing styles to denote conflict between characters. He uses images to say something about the subtleties of romance that words fail to convey. A master both of word and image, Mazzucchelli’s masterpiece could be broken up into individual images and praised page for page, but as a medium to tell a moving and devastating story, it is more than just a sequence of breathtaking imagery. It is likewise more than a moving written story.

Simplistic?
For children?

Graphic novels are dumbed down and too simple. They’re for people who can’t read and need images to help them understand what’s going on.

Wow, anonymous critic, you’ve led me to my next point perfectly! If Asterios Polyp disproves the misconception that the images in graphic novels are simplistic, Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home does the same for the words between those images.

Key Term: Tragicomic

In Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic we see the boundaries of comics simultaneously upheld and crossed. Detailing the events of Bechdel’s unusual childhood and strained relations with both of her parents, Fun Home is meticulously pieced together, producing something more archival and literary than one might expect. While maintaining traditional panel layouts throughout most of the comic, the content is often text-based and life-like. The reader feels like a voyeur pouring over every suspect detail of Bechdel’s life. Unlike the autobiographical comic that one might expect in which an explicit chronological narrative unfolds by illustrating those events which make for a good story, Bechdel includes painstakingly recreated pages from her diary entries, from her father’s letters, from literary texts, maps and even her family’s behemoth dictionary to create a non-chronological masterpiece that reads more like a novel, interwoven with literary parallels than a standard autobiography.

Text overpowers image

The text so predominates the image that I’ve heard others say that they found it difficult to read. I don’t necessarily agree. I found it wildly engaging and well-written, riddled with references to classic literature (both of Bechdel’s parents are English teachers. How could she resist?) and effectively convincing the reader to stay captivated. It is her obsessive nature which makes Fun Home such a hit. If Bechdel had lost her childhood diaries, had not found her father’s police records, posed for each image in the novel (proof below), the novel would not have the precision which makes it so impossible to put down.

Let's just pause here for a moment.

Without the images, Bechdel’s story would still be phenomenal. She would still be a gifted writer and I would probably still appreciate her work. When juxtaposed with her simple yet explicit images (clearer and more exact images representing archival recreations and classic comic style representing elements of the story) it is another masterpiece of its own right.

You’re very convincing, Courtney. Where should I look for more graphic novels?

Well, anywhere books are sold, my dear lady! There are so many choices out there! I’ve introduced you to two of my favorites, but you might also consider two others, Craig Thompson’s Blankets or Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World. In the upcoming weeks I’ll have a review of David B.’s Epileptic on this very blog. Here’s a list of the basics if you’re interested in diving in!

 

Book Review: Comp Tales: An Introduction to College Composition through Its Stories

My edition of Comp Tales

Update: This post has been published in Truman State University’s Master’s level publication, The Wide Net!

Let me preface this review by saying that I am not anti-transparency. I do not think that the academy should keep secrets, that there should be inside information that the public cannot attain. My primary issue with this text is a small one: the misleading subtitle. Let me know if you think I am reading too much into this, or if  you disagree and think that Comp Tales is a good way to introduce an “outsider” to the world of composition.

In an effort to collect some of the predominant lore of the composition academy, Richard H. Haswell and Min-Zhan Lu sent out a call for tales. They asked for diverse stories dealing with any element of the field, told to anyone involved (or not) about any and all things comp-related. In their call which was sent out to instructors and institutions in the field, they asked for “the whole range of professional tales. But they must be tales that you actually tell and pass on” (227). What was received and published was a wide-range of tales both praising and admonishing the academy, some standing up for composition and some putting it down. These tales feel authentic and heartfelt, offering some insight into the range of experiences in composition instruction. What was not included, however, was the voice of the student, the administrator, professors outside of the field, or the public. This collection is told from a singular perspective and intended for the same audience that created it: composition instructors.

This simple fact is not meant to demean the collection or its merit. It is certainly an entertaining and interesting resource for members of the field. Perhaps what I find most problematic is its misleading title, or more specifically its subtitle. No one can argue with Comp Tales, because the book contains just that. I do object, however, to the implication that this book can provide a sufficient or productive introduction to the field. If I had picked this book up in an effort to familiarize myself with the study of composition, I would be horrified. I would want nothing to do with the field as a student, administrator, or instructor. It reveals the overwhelming biases, conflicts, and injustices that dominate the field. It showcases some of the worst cases of instructor laziness and negligence (see tales 14, and 42 for prime examples) and highlights the petty disagreements and institutional misgivings that go on behind the scenes (tales 81, 91, 93, and most of the Professionalism chapter contain evidence of this.) This is information that members of the field are privy to. Few composition instructors will be surprised to hear that a department formed a boys’ club (tale 93). Fewer will read tale 92 in which a GTA treats his students with condescension and cruelty and not relate it to their own similar experience. This is what makes Comp Tales enjoyable and validating for us. But it is not the face of composition that we want to show the public.

As a newcomer to the field I have been flooded with tales of all kinds. The horror stories are always more engaging and build the teller’s ethos as a tough and capable member of the department. One must successfully deal with plagiarism, ignorance, and outright insolence before being awarded with the worthy instructor badge, and most graduate students are eager to tell you about how they’ve conquered all three. This compilation of tales includes plenty of stories along these lines, but also some disturbingly self-important tales which reveal the privileged position of the academy.

The section entitled “The Public” was particularly disturbing at times, when considering that an actual member of this “public” might pick up Comp Tales. In tale 85, for example, the conference bus driver, an often criticized member of the public who comes into contact with members of the academy is the star of this comical tale because he asks the storyteller if he uses “The Palmer Method” (a common method for teaching proper handwriting) in his classroom. Readers will guffaw at this silly man for not understanding how very important composition is and how irrelevant handwriting is to today’s classroom. This tale redeems itself in its explanation, the author stating “I sometimes tell this story to colleagues to illustrate how we need to do a better job of explaining our work to the general public” (104). Tale 83 features the patented position of superiority some teachers of composition take in order to combat the ignorance the public has about their careers. The teller of the tale responds to those outsiders who assume that composition instructors have an excess of free time and a simple, easy life by asking “How easy do you think it is to teach someone else how to think, and express their thoughts in a cohesive manner on a page?” (103). This sort of response, implying that we teach our students how to think, will not sit well with the public, especially those members of our public who see academia as a liberal propaganda machine. Tales like these reinforce the negative ideas that others hold about our profession.

What all of this really comes down to is an awareness of perceived and actual audience. Even a haphazard reading of Comp Tales will lead the reader to think that this book was intended exclusively for the academic elite*. It is a private discourse, one that might better be shared as a set of pamphlets, on a blog, or in its original form, as oral stories. Of course, this book is not a top-seller. It is not prominently sold at bookstores, nor is it something that might catch the eye of a passerby. It does, however, feature a misleading title that might intrigue someone with curiosities about the field. This discrepancy should have been at the forefront of these editors minds who clearly have quite a stake in valuing and upholding the legitimacy of their oft-chastised field of composition.

*If you can call composition the elite of the academy. Many in its ranks would argue it is far from it.