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John Carlos and Tommie Smith

"The Silent Protest: Open Hands, Closed Fists, and Composition's Political Turn"

Why run in Mexico and crawl at home?

In 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith each raised a gloved, clenched fist during the Olympic medals ceremony as the national anthem played. Gold and silver medalists, the two African-American runners were frustrated by prejudice and racism at home at the same time they were "representing" the US in the Olympics.

John Carlos spoke at the 2013 CCCC. He shared his memories of black-white relations, and his interactions growing up in New York. From neighborhoods full of bars and liquor stores to mistreatment by others. He recounted the time he went to see Malcolm X speak and approached him after his speech. Malcolm X invited John Carlos to follow him around, if he could keep up. And he credits his parents and relatively stable home for much of his character. As he put it, his parents taught him to be "honest and faithful."

His conundrum: To whom should he be honest and faithful? Man or God? A major theme in his talk was the way that man's law is sometimes (often?) in opposition to God's law. Which law does one follow? This is a fascinating perspective on the challenge of following the laws one perceives as unjust. It provides a person with a critical perspective on the laws of the state. At the same time, though, it potentially leads down the path to anarchy.

"When I got on the plane to go from Harlem to Texas, I was John Carlos. The minute I got off the plane my name changed to boy." As he put it, people in Texas had never seen someone with his talent, and they tried to tell him what he could do. This tension brought out the frustration in a man unaccustomed to the kind of full-bore segregation he experienced in Texas and culminated in the events in Mexico City.

Carlos' talk was fascinating precisely because he talked about how he used the celebrity of his athleticism as a "springboard" to advance the cause of social justice and was prepared to suffer the negative reaction to his gesture. I had not realized it, but Carlos explained that he and Tommie Smith thought a great deal about their actions before they did it. They thought through the possible repercussions, considered how to protest, and made a decision about the timing. His "platform" for a statement came from his success as a gold medal runner. The question was whether to use that platform to make a statement or to use it celebrate his athletic achievement.

Would Carlos become just an example that shows that America is a land of opportunity? Or would he become a conduit for channeling African-Americans' frustration with prejudice, racism, and inequality in the US?

The last week has been a tech nightmare.

My university switched its email/calendar provider in the middle of the semester and in the middle of the week. On Tuesday night, IT moved students, administrators, and faculty from Google Apps for Education to Microsoft Office 365. But the move to MS has been limited to email/calendar - for now. The rest of the band-aid comes off at some unspecified future date. After spending nearly a year communicating to the community that we're moving to Google Apps for Education (from a woefully outdated and undersupported local solution that many still used), the leadership changed course almost instantly.

Impact on me: At least 10 hours of lost productivity as I worked to re-cobble together a unified solution to bring my mail and calendaring together into my mail and calendar clients in a way that enables me to share my availability with my wife. Did I mention this happened in the middle of the week and in the middle of the term!

More important than the email/calendar insanity is the impact of the switch on my department's student learning and assessment plans. After embracing Google Apps (because we're a Google Apps university) and planning to launch a major ePortfolio initiative in Google Sites, the whiplash-quick pivot from Google left me holding a bag of, well, nothing. With a colleague requiring ePortfolio in our pilot course, I could NOT in good conscience move forward with a platform I knew would be deprecated once the MS migration was complete. (Goodbye Google Sites template for student ePortfolios!) Result: Two crazy days trying to decide on another solution.

Enter WordPress! After pricing a non-university hosting solution, I was able to work out an arrangement with the university to host student ePortfolios in a WordPress Network installation on site.  This is, frankly, the best solution for us because it keeps the project in a .edu domain, it is a platform with which I'm familiar, and it has real portability for students after they graduate. And WordPress is much more than a blog tool these days. We're implementing a full-on CMS.  The whole thing would be ideal, but our rollout timeline is, unfortunately, quite compressed since we have ePortfolio running in a class right now!

As if this weren't enough for a week, today I received a "vulnerable script" warning from my own web host. After some digging, it turns out that my archived WordPress-based course websites now need to be upgraded to close some security loopholes in 2.x versions of WordPress.  This looming upgrade headache and CSS update has me pondering the value of maintaining live, visible course archives in the first place. Nice.

Hopefully, this set of three significant headaches will mean the pox has moved on to someone else.

Last year I embraced Google Docs for student peer review and document submission in composition courses. I've been pleased with the way the sharing of documents helps me better track and support the peer review process in my writing classes. Peer review reading/marking becomes homework, class time is spent on discussing revision options, and everyone involved can see the comments as they emerge. And the addition of offline commenting and access through Google Drive really enables me to do my own commenting even when I lack internet access. All good!

But I remain flummoxed by the print limitations embedded within the app. I cannot understand why Google has not implemented a "print with comments" feature for its tool.  I worked around that problem in Spring 2012, but I really expected Google to add the feature by now. Amazing that Google Docs drives users through MS to make full use of a central feature of its tool.

How to print a Google Doc with comments?

It's easy, if you have MS Word: Simply download the document as a .doc file, open in Word, and print. That's great for a one-off print job.  Now, multiply that by 50-75 papers, the number of papers one might print if one teaches 2-3 sections of writing.

Here's the workflow:

  1. Receive shared document from each student in the class.
  2. Move each document into a Google Drive folder to organize the class papers.
  3. Open each paper in Google Apps, make comments.
  4. Download paper to hard drive as .doc file.
  5. Open in MS. Word.
  6. Print.

Insane. I recently printed marked papers for two sections of composition and spent about an hour just getting the shared docs (wtih comments) to print. And if one uses Google Drive's offline access, this workflow effectively means doubling the copies of the student paper on one's harddrive.

Why Not Just Use MS Word?

Great question! I have several key reasons for avoiding MS Word:

  • Not every student has MS Word. (Yes, there are workarounds - Open Office, for example.)
  • I don't like the idea of moving progressively more "marked up" papers around a peer group via email attachments. The Cloud is key because of the simultaneous editing features and all comments appear on one document.
  • Ease of "accepting changes" in Word bothers me.
  • I really like the versioning history in Google Docs.

The real question here is whether the cloud-based Office 365 tool would radically simplify my workflow here.  I don't know, really, but reviews of that tool suggest that autosave may be problematic in Office 365.

Why Print Docs in the Cloud?

This is the $64,000 question.  Can't we simply avoid the whole doc print thing here? After all, papers are submitted electronically, students comment electronically, and I comment electronically. Writers have ready access to the original, marked document. Why bother to print?

Read just about any study of screen vs. print reading and you'll quickly find that we read more carefully when a document is printed. We skim web texts.  Make no mistake about it: A Google Doc may be akin to a printed paper in terms of content, but keep it on the screen and most of us fail to read as carefully.  In a writing class, where evaluation of claims, evidence, organization, and proofreading are central elements of the revision process, there's real value in retaining the "print" output.

I have already ceded so much to the cloud by putting the drafting, peer review, and revision processes online. For some strange reason, I want to retain the easy ability to hand my students printed, marked comments on their final drafts.  We spend class time reading the comments, considering areas of strength and weakness, and focusing on the writing without the distractions of social media, the email inbox, etc.

Plea to Google: Activate the "print with comments" feature in Google Docs.  If I'm not mistaken, you used to have that feature in an earlier version of the tool. It's essential in the Google Apps for Education suite!

After living for more than 20 years without cable, I was "forced" to sign on with Time Warner when I relocated to Maine. I'm exaggerating about the lack of cable: I spent years with Dish Network, and later adopted AT&T's uVerse service when it hit my neighborhood and bundling meant a savings fo $50/month.

It's funny, but I loved the Dish UI, and the uVerse UI was also reasonably decent. (Where Dish simply hid unsubscribed channels, uVerse gave me visual cues that showed channels I didn't get.) TWC's UI is just awful! They tease you by showing you the entire package of programs, and many of them are not really available without significant subscription charges. And, oddly, the entire system has a time lag in the UI - try scrolling through a channels menu and the system can't keep up. This from a company that advertises super high speeds.  (My guess is that Dish and AT&T DL channel menus to a HDD, but TWC prefers to serve it all up over and over.

Anyway, I've just completed my one year "teaser" rate on the bundled TV, Phone, Internet service.  (It's really about the only game in town, or in the woods where I live.) When I called to secure a continued discount I learned that I'd be getting the "step" rate. I get a discount over full retail pricing, but it's less than the teaser.  This is like getting the second bag of dope at half price. Why the discount? To lock you even longer so you really feel the pain of loss (withdrawal?) should you cancel.

So we're cutting the cable! Think cold turkey.  OK, not quite.  I'm implementing a hodgepodge setup for media.  Netflix streaming and a DVD plan, something we've had for nearly a decade.  I've spent a whopping $79 on the refurbished high end Roku box, with the bonus of a HD Netflix stream that far exceeds the quality we've been getting through our Wii.  And now I'm working up a set of channels on the Roku that will get us some of what we'll lose by cutting cable. Plex is going to be an awesome way to stream our own media to the TV without putting a computer in the room. And I'm likely to subscribe to Hulu Plus to get some network programming.  For the networks, I'm toying with the OTA HD reception we can pull in from the Portland stations.  That's a project, but I can already see it working reasonably well.We'll end up saving about $40/month, so it will take a couple months to recoup the Roku investment. And a decent HD antenna will run me close to $100.  Of course, that's all equipment I get to keep, unlike that cable box I rent for about $100/year.

We'll lose Disney, and the kids do watch 2-3 of their shows pretty regularly. And Cartoon Network is a favorite for the Clone Wars animated series.  I'm working on solutions for those challenges. I'm hoping that I might use Plex, iTunes, and possibly Hulu Plus to assist here. And I don't have a DVR solution in the mix - yet.

And we're also talking about dropping the landline for another $30 savings.  I'm still feeling too old fashioned to be without a phone, but we're already getting a VOIP phone setup through TWC. We don't get the old phone system that works in power outages anyway, making the security of a landline a kind a mental fiction. There's no reason I can't implement a third party VOIP solution at a fraction of the TWC price, and I've looked into it. My real hesitation: TWC has my number and won't allow another VOIP provider to port it out.  We'd need to get a new phone number! Local calling only is my fall back option here. Save money, but keep the phone number. Our cell plan could easily handle our national calling, particularly if mostly restricted to cell-to-cell and evening calling.

 

 

We're a "Groupwise" institution that is also a Google Apps for Education school. Over the last two years, I have been forwarding Groupwise email and calendar data over to a personal/professional Google account not associated with my school. On top of that, I actually like to use my mail and calendar clients to handle most of my reading and scheduling. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I really like the off-line access.

This has been quite clunky, mostly because it has meant that I need to manage multiple data streams and not all of them clearly line up. And sometimes my outgoing mail gets sent "from" the wrong account and I get what amounts to peanut butter in my chocolate. But I recently learned that we're going to move off Groupwise and simply embrace GMail and Google Calendar. Time to act!

Email

Adding the requisite "GMail" account information to Mail has been fairly simple. I just added a new account. I'll need to do a whole lot of pruning as I complete my migration since I have now effectively doubled my inbound email traffic with the migration. (Not fun, but straightforward.)

Calendars

I already use iCal to manage multiple calendars, and the family uses sharing to help keep the various work, child activities, and social events in what amounts to a single place. It seemed like it would be easy to set up the new Google calendar. Not so fast.

It turns out that one has to use the correct server information in order to get the Apps for Education calendar to play nice with iCal. IT couldn't help me because "iCal isn't supported" by IT at this time. Google to the rescue. If you're struggling to get your Google Calendar to talk to iCal, check out the instructions: http://edutraining.googleapps.com/Training-Home/module-3-calendar/chapter-9/3-2.

I've done this set up with a couple other Google calendars, so I'm not sure why I couldn't remember the "special" instructions.

Now it's onto tweaking forwarding options within Groupwise.

My handwriting is poor. For years I have joked that I can get away with this because I'm a doctor.  And I have absolutely no trouble reading my own brand of shorthand. What's the problem? As a writing teacher, I am always commenting on my students' texts, mostly in marginal notes on papers and in an end comment letter. I work very hard to write legibly on my students' texts. But the fact remains that my poor handwriting always makes its way into those comments. I offer a translation "service" to my students when I hand back papers and dedicate class time to a reading of my comments before we work to put common writing challenges on the board. And over the term my students do become better interpreters of my shorthand.

Commenting on student texts has always seemed more personalized when I'm hunched over a desk with a pencil in hand, making decisions about where and when to mark the text. And space limitations of the margins help reduce the likelihood that I'll overwhelm the student with feedback, though that's always a real possibility.

Back around 2001, when I taught freshman writing as an asynchronous online course, I experimented with digital markup using Acrobat. I found it time consuming and clunky, and while I could write more text quite quickly - and legibly - I disliked the distance the process put between the printed page and myself.

MS Word's comment tools and track changes have always bugged me for some reason. Perhaps it's the ease with which one can simply "accept all changes," effectively allowing a student to let me revise the paper. (I feel this way even though I almost never actually rephrase or rewrite a student's sentence.) This is already a challenge in teaching revision: students often revise only those moments we mark in a text, thinking that will "fix" the paper.

Strange. For all I've done to embrace emergent digital writing technologies over the last dozen years, I have resisted what is perhaps the most basic tool the writing teacher might adopt in working with student texts. Until now.

Enter Google Docs

I feel like a luddite for not getting serious with Google Docs. My institution uses Google Apps for Education, effectively putting all of my students on the Google network. This is quite exciting for a number of reasons that go way beyond Docs. But that's another story.

Students write their papers directly into a Doc they create on their account, copy-paste a text document from their computer into a Doc, or upload a text doc to Docs. Once they have the paper appropriately formatted (double-spaced, block quotes, page numbers, etc.), they "share" the document with me. I comment on the document and they get immediate feedback.

It's a bit like MS Office, making it less than beautiful, only I don't need to have the files on my machine or worry about file compatibility. (Until this term, I regularly received attachments in .pages, .doc, .docx, .txt, .odt, and even - yes - .wpd formats.) I have four different word processing programs on my computer so that I can handle this variety!

I do have an issue with "shared" documents and marking texts. The real-time nature of Docs means that my comments show up immediately. I prefer to distribute final, marked papers at the same time, particularly since it can take several days to work through a (virtual) stack of papers. The workaround I'm using involves copying the shared document, pasting it into a new document I own, and making my comments. I can then share the comments to each student at roughly the same time.

Peer Review

More important than the way this tool enables me to comment on texts is its potential in the peer review process.  My approach to peer review has always involved in-class reading and discussion of student texts. Everyone brings multiple copies, small groups do read-arounds and discuss each text in the group, and I sit in on groups to offer guidance and encouragement.

New this term, I'm putting the reading of drafts onto homework, with the class period reserved for discussion of the ideas and suggestions for revision. Students share their draft Doc with designated peers; commenting happens on the Doc.

I can quickly and easily see the character of the students' comments, flag and echo some of the best comments by peers, and add my own to the mix. Gone are the days when I would have to collect 3 copies of a draft to see the "layers" of peer feedback on a student's text, or rely on some other elaborate, paper-heavy mechanism to evaluate the peer review in my classes.

I do worry that the marked document may overwhelm novice writers who can easily become overwhelmed by the quantity of feedback on a single document. (It would be very, very cool if the author could choose to view one set of comments or another.)

Problem - MS Office is Inescapable

In terms of workflow, I have found that the current version of Docs is very limiting when one wants to print comments. Print your Doc and the comments get stripped out before printing. Docs has a full portfolio of export/download options (.doc, .pdf, .html, and more). But only .doc preserves the comments though the export. Frankly, this stinks to high heaven!

Here's the workflow:

  1. Open Doc with comments that you want to print to bring to class, perhaps to reduce laptop multi-tasking during peer review.
  2. Download .doc file to computer. Open in Word, Pages, Open Office, or another editor. Print.
  3. Bring to class.

This approach isn't too cumbersome if you're only printing one Doc. Now multiply the process by 20, 40, 60 to hand back papers with comments.

The writing teacher has already spent 15-30 minutes marking each text. Putting two steps between "desire to print" and "actual print" seems ridiculous. And I'm not sure what technical hurdle would prevent comments from printing. I'm sure Google will address this in some upcoming update.

In an online or hybrid/blended writing course, I can see Docs as a wonderful tool. Printed text becomes irrelevant in an online environment.

 

Christensen, Clayton, M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

I should have read The Innovative University  last year. It is a book that seems to have penetrated fairly deeply into higher education management circles after the authors' central concepts of "disruptive innovation" and institutional "DNA" found an audience in the larger business world.

I should have read The Innovative University just so that I could better understand some of the ideas behind administrators' thinking these days. The incentive to read the book came this past month in the form of an invitation by the provost to join a discussion of the text and the possible implications for the future of my own university.

I find little to argue with in the authors' complaints about the hazards of attempting to transplant the "Harvard DNA" into colleges and universities that lack the resources, selectivity, and star power of a Harvard. And who but a member of a dying breed of nostalgic professors could claim that the tremors that currently rock higher education are just noise that will have little impact on his or her institution. Online education, careful consideration of the teaching-service-scholarship mix, and redefinitions of scholarship itself are clearly on the table for almost any college or university. And The Innovative University offers some food for thought in these areas. As always, I remain ready to engage with colleagues on just these issues.

But I found The Innovative University lacking a certain scholarly treatment of the issues. Early on, the authors claim that they will use "DNA" as a metaphor, and such a move is innocent enough.  One can employ metaphor to great effect.  But, of course, one can also push a metaphor so far that that it is no longer suitable. This, it seems to me, is where The Innovative University runs with its metaphor of DNA.

I'm no biologist, but my sense is that DNA changes through random mutation and combination in reproduction. Its expression in phenotype or perceived traits has something to do with dominant and recessive traits. Many elements of DNA have little or no impact on the functioning of an organism (or a species). Some weaken the organism's ability to survive and reproduce, to be sure, while others may offer the organism a competitive advantage in the quest for survival, a mate, and offspring. This kind of change is generally understood to be very slow, particularly for more complex organisms. (And, of course, an organization is not an organism.)

And this is a problem. If it's DNA that explains the "evolution" of Harvard University and efforts to replicate or transplant that DNA that are getting so many schools in trouble, why is the book chock full of decisions made by specific individuals responding to particular challenges/circumstances?  One doesn't will a change in DNA, unless one is a sort of deity who can go into an organism and perform miracles. Hmm. University presidents as nearly omnipotent beings capable of shaping DNA.

In a sense, perhaps the authors' use of DNA to describe what sociologists and students of organizational behavior might call an organization's culture or its institutions is actually a vehicle for signaling to leaders that they stand in this God-like position: "Yes, your university does have DNA.  It's important to 'know' that DNA so that you can mold and shape it to respond to perceived market forces. Institutional make-up is hard wired (DNA), and yet transformational leaders of the sort who move Harvard and other universities are powerful enough to change it."

That kind of power is generally seen as the province of Mother Nature, God, or natural selection. While this isn't the central message of The Innovative University, it may help explain why the ideas of disruptive innovation and organizational DNA are so appealing to CEOs, presidents, and others in positions of power and influence.

Changing an organization is so hard because it's encoded in the DNA of an institution. But the true leader is able to see the DNA and manipulate it to enable the organization to adapt in ways that make it better suited to its environment. Heady stuff, indeed!

It's taken a little while for me to take it up, but I finally broke down and upgraded my WordPress install to the latest version. I'm only just starting to get to know this version. Still, it's pretty clear that the WP team has made some good additions.

Drag and Drop Media Upload

Right away, I noticed a simplified media upload mechanism. WP is getting smarter. It can now detect the media type you want to upload and sort it appropriately. Even more interesting is the drag-and-drop functionality for media uploads. I gave the tool a quick test drive by uploading a header image, a shot of my backyard pond, below.

Header for Spring 2012 English Composition Course
Backyard Pond.

Flyout Menus

Anyone who spends time with WP knows that the dashboard sidebar menu structure is a bit long.  On a laptop, it's not uncommon to see the menu run below the fold, forcing a scroll just to locate the settings options.

Flyout menus changes all that.  It's easy to see your menu options on hover, saving the extra click and streamlining the look of the text in the dashboard sidebar.

Why Update?

Good question. When is something good enough?  I can't really answer that question.  There are security issues to consider, of course, and the newest version closes some vulnerabilities. In all honesty, the security concerns weren't enough to move me to the upgrade.

I needed a little down time on my running sites to feel comfortable with an update.  The semester break created that down time for me.  (I didn't want to break course websites midstream.) But that wasn't even enough, really.

In the end, my desire to create an option for users to subscribe to Page updates through RSS led me down a path that required the update. RSS Pages for WordPress 3+ required an update to my WP 3.  That update went well, although the plugin page indicates that it had not yet been tested with 3.3.1.  Consider this a leapfrog moment.  I installed the plugin and it seems to be working just fine.

It's official. Xtranormal is a great little online tool for composition courses, particularly if your course emphasizes the conversational nature of academic writing.

After contemplating the use of Xtranormal in my composition course for about a year, I offered students the option of creating an Xtranormal script and video in lieu of two low stakes assignments. Working in groups, students who opted for the video project produced two-minute videos that put Malcolm Gladwell, Sherry Turkle, and Nathan Rott into conversation on the issue of social media and social action.

Writing effective source-based papers with a strong dose of argument is a tough task for college freshmen. Producing animated videos that put texts into conversation can actually reduce the level of complexity involved in getting the argument rolling. On top of figuring out the texts, locating moments of connection, and putting the texts together in the service of a position or view, students need to wrestle with effective integration of texts, a balance of quotation, paraphrase, and summary, documentation style, organization, and sentence construction. It takes a full term (or two) for students to become even somewhat proficient at juggling all these elements, and it can be frustrating for them. Their ideas and readings can quickly outpace their ability to represent their views in the structure of the academic paper. Here's where Xtranormal is a great tool.

Xtranormal uses Flash and text-to-speech technology to enable novice movie makers to produce animated videos online.

Students prepare a script that puts a couple characters in a scene and sets them in a conversation. When students have to use some of the language of the texts they're reading as they develop the script, they really begin to do some of the hard work of academic thinking. Xtranormal is fun because the author chooses characters, a voice, a background, camera angles, sound effects, and more.

The major drawback, really, is Xtranormal's revenue model. Rather than offer a free, ad-supported version for those unwilling to purchase the characters and sets, Xtranormal teases creators by providing seed money to make the first video. There is an education discount that puts the tool within some teachers' budgets, but it's likely that most students would have to work with a limited set and character selection to work in the budget of the teaser film. (Home economics for digital production?)

Xtranormal was optional this term. I think I'll require a project of this sort next term.

1971 Iverson Road Runner

Over the weekend I picked up a complete, original 1971 Iverson Road Runner, a classic rat rod bike style that brought me right back to my childhood days on a banana seat Schwinn my dad repainted and named "The Streaker."

This Maine barn find is the coolest thing. Stickers on the double-crown fork give it the look of a sprung front suspension. Ape hanger bars are each mounted in their own posts, affording maximum flexibility in positioning the bars. The chainguard is in great shape, and both fenders are solid, original, and nearly perfect.

Sure there's rust all over the chromed bars, the rims, and even the chainring. And the foam in the seat is, well, nonexistent. But the seat has no tears in it and the tires held air when we got it home and pumped them up for a test ride.

Why did I get this thing? Over a couple weeks, I had been eyeballing it beside a barn during my commute. It looked like it was going to the trash, but I couldn't tell for sure. Jess could tell that it pained me to see it out in the weather. When I saw the homeowner outside, I pulled over, made some inquiries, and loaded up the bike (and one more that isn't nearly as cool).

I'm not sure what I want to do with the bike.  It's an excellent resto candidate since it is, quite literally, complete. But I almost think it's just more fun the way it is. For now, it's just really cool to see my own kids taking a spin on the kind of bike I rode back in the day.

Oh, the Price? Free!