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Trip Down Memory Lane

This week I’ve been trying to put some of my concerted effort into pushing through school projects. I want July to be a month where I can mostly focus on reading the 40-50 books about social justice that are lined up on my office shelves.

By the way, I said some of my concerted efforts instead ofallof them due to the unfortunate circumstance that I discovered thatThe Colony, Discovery channel’s reality TV show about an apocalypse disaster scenario is on Netflix. But, more on that later.

Working on a faculty development workshop and starting to redesign my Introduction to English Composition course were the projects of the week.

The course redesign is not ideal timing since I have my new course starting next spring, but the thought of reading one more research paper about a president or a first lady makes me nauseous. That means redesign has to happen. I had a breakthrough in the redesign of the course. I was going to base it on reading about social media. And, I was excited about that because I think students aren’t self-reflective enough about the ways that social media impacts their education, interpersonal skills, and concept of the world. However, I was also feeling anxious about developing the course because I knew it was going to take enormous amounts of time to track down essays for the students to read, develop critical reading exercises to help students get the most out of the essays, develop writing assignments to articulate their critical thinking, and so on and so on. I was skimming The College Writing Toolkit: Tried and Tested Ideas for Teaching College Writing to see if I could find an assignment or two to fit into the course, thus preventing reinventing the wheel entirely.

And, then, I found something better. I found an entire semester sequence based on an anthology of This I Believe essays. Though the author doesn’t outline her assignments in detail, she does already group the essays  thematically for the assignments, which saves me time. Plus, this author isn’t the only one using the book for her course. There are lesson plans online that I can scavenge ideas from, including a website where I can download the curriculum for an entire college class based on the book.

As I went to bed the night I had the lightbulb moment , I felt a little guilty. I usually design my courses from the ground up. I’m not a fan of relying on textbooks or other people to give me what I need. But, I think I’m also getting realistic. I have too many irons in the fire to plan the social media course now. Using This I Believe as the base text is going to provide students with the skills they need, so I’m not shortchanging them. And, I’m preserving my sanity and possibly my social life for the fall. This is a win-win situation.

Plus, get this. I already own the book! At the writing center conference this past spring, I won a door prize, which in my experience, I’m about as likely to win as I am likely to be struck by lightning. And, yet, I won it — the book I need for the class and its sequel.As Hannibal from the A-Team would say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

The blog is getting pretty long, so unless you’re an English teacher, you can probably stop here. I’m about to say some super dorky stuff about English because tonight I was also scrounging through archives ofThe Writing Lab Newsletter from the 70s and 80s. Logically, I knew that wasn’t the most efficient way to find training articles for my tutor training project (I needed a break from faculty development), but I’ve felt a compulsion ever since I became the writing center director to skim through these archives to get an idea of how the field has developed. Sure enough, much of the information was too outdated to use today though I did chuckle as I skimmed past explanations of floppy disks.

Three field development items stuck out to me as I read.

1) Today’s battle against technology encroaching on the center isn’t the first of its kind. In the February 1978 edition of the newsletter, I found a description of The Autotutor, a “individual viewing console into which a 35 mm film strip cassette is loaded.” Students could then answer questions and activate a branching sequence for individualized tutoring. Oh goodness, we’ve come a long way. I could set that sort of thing up in Moodle now (well, if I pestered our online ed people enough). However, apparently, Autotutors are still at work, and boy, are they creepy looking. What exactly is the tutor looking at while waiting for a student response? The machines from the dark ages (comparatively) were less creepy

2) Nancy Sommers at one point had to write her dissertation. What?!? To me, Nancy Sommers has always been Nancy Sommers. I envision her as just waking up one morning and saying, “Duh! Students have a process. Track with me people.” I though she was an English guru from birth. But, no, there she is putting a short blurb into the February 1978 WLN letting people know that she’s directing a writing center, finishing her dissertation, and will report back shortly on the revision process of students. Of course, an inquiry about PhD programs in Rhetoric and Composition didn’t hit the newsletter until May 1980, making Sommers’ work more amazing. Hats off to you, Nancy Sommers. I’ll pick my jaw up off the ground and make one last observation.

3) Thank goodness for listservs. When I needed some leads for my faculty development workshop, I put out a request on the listserv. Within a day, I had directors responding back with information that literally changed the direction of what I was going to do. When I was reading the newsletters, I saw people putting out a plea for info. Imagine that. You have to write your request for info, hope the editor of the newletter finds room to publish it, wait for the newsletter to be published and mailed (snail-mail style), and then wait for others to respond by snail mail. By then, I’d have moved on to other research interests altogether. I’m not into walking uphill both ways to get the information that I need.

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