Category Archives: Writing is Beautiful

MOOCing for my students… as it turns out

The MOOC I’m in at the moment, E-Learning and Digital Cultures, has had an impact on my freshman composition class. I wasn’t expecting that. I sort of kind of really believed that the MOOC and my students were two separate entities.

In the interest of remembering this first MOOC experience and the way it connects to my teaching, I want to record some of the things I “discovered” in this first week and how this translated to my freshman class. (Who woulda thunk this could happen? But it did. And it seemed so natural and easy and right.)

After week one in the MOOC, I found these things:

  • 40,000 people is too many for me–my semi-loathing of huge crowds in physical space translates to online. It gives me the willies to even think about getting into Twitter with 1,000s of people involved.
  • The same for Facebook. Now that there are over 4,600 members of our group, I’m freaked out a bit. I like what everyone is doing–helping each other and being thoughtful–but it’s too big. Or I’m a big ol’ chicken and I need to get over myself. (It’s probably that last.)
  • I love what happened pre-course and am so happy I set myself up to learn as I wanted to–with a small group of amazing thinkers, that is:
  • Quad-blogging as we’ve adapted it. Early on someone introduced this concept and we adapted it for this experience–having picked a group of 4 or so bloggers to connect with through the course.
  • Now we have done the Google+ Hangout twice (once with three of the four, once with two of the four–recorded!) with plans to do it again each week of the course.
  • I’m very happy to feel connected to these brilliant people.
  • Four is a very fine number. It’s .01 percent of 40,000. Nice.
  • I love the decentralized feel of the course–no talking heads to direct me too much. I thought there would be more teacherly guidance. But I like this free-form learning. I like the incredibly low-stress learning environment.
  • I even don’t care that I’m not totally getting everything the professors might have intended for me to “get”–I’m doing this for me: to learn more about how MOOCs work, to play with and learn more about digital tools for teaching, and to see what happens.
  • I enjoyed the videos and readings (though the one article from 2001 is ancient by digital standards).

And this is where the overlap to my own teaching has happened–in doing the actual work of the course. As I watched the videos, I thought: we’re talking about this very thing in my freshman comp class. We are only creating digital/online writing the whole year (and honors comp sequence that runs through both fall and spring semesters). We are focused on public memory, memorials, and monuments (this spring in Montgomery, AL and New York City), but everything we do is online–we are connected at the hip to the machine. OH MY WORD. So I did this:

  • We watched Bendito Machine III and then The Machine is Us/ing Us.
  • I asked the students to particularly pay attention to connections between the two.
  • After some discussion we re-watched them (they’re short), and then talked about subtleties we missed the first time around.
  • THEN we talked some more about how we are training ourselves AND the machines in various ways… and student said something that triggered our watching of Eli Pariser’s TED talk on filter bubbles. It was just so appropriate that the “machine” is also being trained by algorithms of some kind or another that give us specific information tailored to our searches, but also by what the machine learns about us regarding our choices, our location, our socioeconomic status perhaps. Who knows? Google could be sending us different search results based on our shoe size for all I know.
  • Students learning about information literacy and writing online must be also thinking about what that MEANS not just how to do it.
  • Having a larger context for this sort of existence online is crucial, but I hadn’t thought of putting it in terms that these short films did, and frankly, I wouldn’t have come up with this combination alone. I needed the “crowd-sourcing” of this MOOC to help me think in this way.
  • The students were terrific about this unexpected twist in our learning–they always are. I thank my lucky stars that I’m blessed with the best of the best in disposition and determination to learn and think and keep blowing up the box (we don’t even think outside the box–when we encounter a box, we blast it to smithereens).
  • Next class period, we might watch the other films and another TED talk and think more about our digital culture that we’re creating. NEVER dreamed that the crossover from MOOC to comp classroom might work so well.

But, then, I am a firm believer in Serendipity and let it wash over and wave (crashing sometimes) through my life at will. It’s my way. Frank Sinatra has his way, or rather “My Way“–I have mine. And I don’t think I could be happier doing it differently. Actually, my way looks and sounds just a bit more like this: Judas Priest’s “You Got Another Thing Coming.” If it weren’t for my semi-loathing of huge crowds, I’d have said my way looks exactly like this, in a stadium with 80,000 MOOCers, I mean, rock and rollers:

If I had a rock and roll way--it would be like this. I hope.

If I had a rock and roll way–it would be like this. Judas Priest–still proud and loud.


Filed under MOOC Journeys, Survival and Success, Writing is Beautiful

Might could be the case I’m into controlled chaos

In the American South, I have learned to say “might could” in a situation that is uncertain. And it might could be that I’ve put myself into a situation, the outcome of which is most certainly uncertain.

I’m taking a MOOC right now (E-learning and Digital Culture) and signed up for one after this (can’t even remember, but I know they’ll send me an email).

Then I signed up for another MOOC that I swore began May 18. I was so excited–that would have been after my spring term ended and just as summer began–perfect timing. I’d be finished with my spring MOOCs and starting my summer teaching (only one class this summer!). But not so. It starts March 18–smack into the middle of my spring term and not something I will be able to work into my routine in a reasonable way.

So. I’ll be unreasonable. I want to take this in a big way: a composition MOOC, “Composition 1: Achieving Expertise.” I’m just going to do it to the best of my ability. I’ll engage as I am with my current MOOC and invest early.

I’m dying to see how composition will be handled on such a large scale and how it might accommodate thousands of students and their writing. I know it’s going to be a terrific experience, because how could it be otherwise if I’m learning something? The instructor is an acquaintance, and I respect her thinking deeply. In fact, it was her article on performance and observation of writing instructors from a year or two ago that is changing the way I do that part of my job.

I know there are MOOCers who take a lot of classes at once, so I know I can do this. Partly, I know this because: 1) it’s free; 2) I don’t have to complete the thing. In fact, I may not have to do much work at all to get a lot from it. It’s not like I’m taking the course for freshman comp. I took freshman comp already (got a C and  a B in Comp 1&2, respectively). What I wonder is this: if such a course as this one might have made a huge difference in my writing life when I was starting college. I was a lousy writer, not because I was bad but because I’d had almost no training of any kind. Writing to me, upon high school graduation, was a mystery that only a few could figure out, or it was a gift that even fewer were given. Writing well was NOT something I could learn to do. In fact, these ideas were reinforced at nearly every step of my educational life.

I wasn’t taught to work on making my thinking clear then correcting for errors. I was encouraged to write it perfect the first time. Perfect. Oh. No pressure. Multiple drafts? What? Never. Multiple drafts were for the weak. We wrote and turned in what we wrote, all first drafts: good, bad or horrific. Spelling mattered right away–in the first and only drafts–and so did penmanship. I actually had a penmanship tutor for a whole school year because I was so lame at handwriting. (I did get to the point where I could write gorgeous cursive–but my “writing” was still crap.)

I was stunned when I finally learned the secrets of writing well (far into my college career): 1) writing can be learned; 2) thinking is more important than correct comma usage; 3) writing takes practice; 4) multiple drafts can be really deeply profoundly madly important; 5) proofreading can be learned and should be done last; 6) writing is collaborative; 7) writers need mentors (human mentors or mentor texts); 8) writers need to know the genres they are trying to write; 9) writers need to read a lot; and 10) writing is revision. This is not all I know about writing now, but MAN, if only I’d known about some of these sorts of things when I was younger.

Now, I try to teach writers these ideas (and more) by allowing a lot of freedom in the classroom. “Just write,” I say. I hope I haven’t swung too far the other way from: “Just write perfectly.” But I consider this chance I have to take a freshman comp class in my PJs for no cost but my time a wonder. Holy composition & rhetoric. What an opportunity. I can see what a colleague in my field is doing–get ideas, share my learning with my fellow students, and maybe even learn more about how to be a better writer. I know I do things in my blogging that might be confusing, so perhaps I need to learn something new/old to help. Why not? (Things I think I do as a writer, or habits, or tics I’m sure I have or suffer from: I write a lot of first drafts and don’t always revise–OMG–yes, I just said that; I overuse fragments by writing in phrases rather than independent clauses; I tend to write like I talk–totally; I think I abuse semi-colons; I write/type fast and make more typos than I care to admit; I will use a single word to make a statement. Nice. Right. Showoff.; I ramble around a topic and sometimes don’t always occasionally once-in-a-while frequently end up wrapping the whole thing up in a tidy bow at the end; I fool around a lot pretending to be a whole lot better than I am by using a $20 word when a $5 word might do (what a brat, right?); I’m pretty self-indulgent, too.

As a writer, I might could use some sustained thinking about writing and being a writer and achieving expertise. What is that anyway? Expertise? It might could be that I could polish off some of my expertise trophies I have shoved onto my shelves and left alone for too long.

I have nothing to lose but time. And really, that’s the only gift I have that I can’t get more of. I’d like to use my time in a positively, forward-movement, open kind of way. Life-long learning–it’s been hip to me since 1990 and a personal philosophy.

Hurricane from space.

Hurricane from space.

So what if my life is chaos? I’ve been called a hurricane and a whirlwind. Okay. I’m down with that. But surely I have some control over when I create or participate in the stormy chaos. Or do I only wish I was in charge of me? Wouldn’t it be great if I was actually making forward progress while storming through life? Might could be the case.

In April, there’s a Writing II class that begins. Taking that would just be adding to the storm, the chaos, the madness. Nope. I’m not going to sign up for it. No way. Not gonna happen. Ain’t my thing. Can’t do it. Never. Shoot. Might could be I’m already signed up.

[Image source: here.]


Filed under Magic and Writing, MOOC Journeys, Open Educational Resources, Open Everything, Open All the Time, Writing is Beautiful

25 minutes to heaven

The Los Lonely Boys ask: “how far is heaven”? in their song: “Heaven.”

I say: 25 minutes. Heaven is 25 minutes from right here. That’s when my first class for the Spring 2013 starts. I love being a teacher. For me, teaching is heaven.

Today, we’re going to talk about storytelling and memory and place. And this spring term will utterly rock. It always does.




Filed under Heaven, Teach This, What I'm Thinking, Wholehearted Pedagogy, Writing is Beautiful

Here is what writing feels like today

“And after many days of nearly total non-productivity, she continued to sit in front of her computer and wept, for no words would come to her. However, she had made some killer playlists.”

Fortunately, that almost never happens to me. The weeping at the computer part. I am rarely at a loss for words. It’s a gift and brutally hard work, too. It’s not like I own stories or words or tales to tell whenever I feel like it. I have to sit down and work at it–think, plan, let the world come to me, be open, be scared, plan over, think some more. And sometimes the words come easily, and sometimes I have to drag them in a choke hold from deep within some hellish depth of my soul, fighting, scratching, biting, spitting, until I put them, and then hold them, on the screen.

To be honest, I do have some great playlists. I occasionally create one to procrastinate. But mostly, my playlist making is purposeful. One for leisurely writing. One of just women musical artists from the last sixty years. One of all jazz. One of just Bach. One for almost every season since 2005–spring, summer, fall, winter. One of ear-splitting, head-banging metal–for writing, too, when I really seriously deeply need to concentrate.

I have found that I like hard rock for some writing. Right now for instance. I’m tired. My mouse hand is sore. I’m hungry. I’m a little cranky. I had a long day of frustrations (system error, system error, system error). So in order to write and find some “inspiration,” I turn to a more strident form of music. I like a wide variety of metal: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Metallica (despite their very public airing of angst and violent opposition to open), Judas Priest, Pantera, Korn, Anthrax, Megadeth, Aerosmith, Uriah Heep, Iron Butterfly, The Who, Twisted Sister, Alice in Chains, and a few others I won’t mention at the moment–time constraints and all (I am hungry). (I know–how could I forget Mötley Crüe? I didn’t really, but I had to stop somewhere.) I can’t name all their albums, or key moments in metal history, but I collect what I will and make playlists with what I like. And that makes me a happy writer.

The era of owning a whole album for me is over. I can now cherry-pick what I want to listen to or own (thank you, iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify for all you have done to make me so musically glad). It’s such a heady feeling–listening to whatever I want to instead of being forced to listen only to what was chosen by DJs or VJs or available through physical acquisition. It’s a head-banging heady feeling. (I must admit that no head banging actually goes on anymore in my personal life. I have a bad neck–exacerbated, no doubt, by years of head banging when I had hair that was two and a half feet long.)

Sometimes when I’m listening to metal and writing along in a frantic thrilling manner, I do feel like a rock star. Sometimes I feel like a roadie. And sometimes I feel like roadkill. I can never predict. I used to try, but I gave up. Writing is what it is. It’s always hard work, but sometimes it’s glorious hard work, and every stone just falls into place, smoothly, perfectly, and I build a lovely sentence or two that sustains me through the roadkill times.

Right this minute, writing feels like this:

James Hetfield of Metallica playing The Garden in Boston, January 2009. Photo by Justine Hunt, Boston Globe Staff.

Like rock and roll. Like screaming. Therapeutic screaming heavy metal. Breathless. Like I’m just about to make an amazing connection with someone important. I wonder who that someone might be. Is is you?

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Filed under Writing and Heavy Metal, Writing hurts so good, Writing is Beautiful