Another Early American class video, “What is Literature?”

As promised, here’s another video from my English 205, Early American Literature titled “What is Literature?”:

From the group:

“We focused our project around a central theme, “What is American literature?” we interviewed a diverse group of individuals ranging from an anthropology instructor and orientation director to college students our own age. We also asked our interviewees what they considered to be literature and if they thought it had changed over the past 20 years.”

They managed to capture a broad range of ideas. From a technical standpoint, what I like about placing this video as the second one in my postings is how their use of cutting back and forth between the interviewees contrasts so nicely with the first group’s video, “Uhhmerikuh”. These clips are much longer than the rapid ones from the first video. It’s not that one is better than the other, but they create an entirely different feel to the video as a whole. It’s interesting how much the students really know about this concept as well as their effectively employing it as a rhetorical strategy for the entire video. It’s also interesting to see/hear how including the questions also changes the feel to the interview.

It would be interesting to  teach a 101 freshman comp course using video essays at first to then try to translate their strategies to a written essay. I wonder if the visualization of videos, something which they know a great deal about because they have been watching movies their whole lives, would help the students to better understand the rhetorical moves within their own writing and how they might use similar strategies.

UPDATE: The next video…

edX reveals costs–er, revenue–oh, wait…

EdX is back in the news, so my outdated posting about their initial announcement still seems relevant which always makes me happy. This article  from the Chronicle of Higher Education website discusses how EdX will generate revenue for itself and the University–sort of. It sounds more like a Field of Dreams plan:  “If we build it, they will come. And then we will figure out how to make money.” That is, the EdX documents show how revenue could possibly be divided between universities and EdX according to two different “partnership models” (pricing structures),  but doesn’t quite get at from where that pool of revenue will come. The Chronicle does a great job of keeping that question “But How?” relevant.

I’m still waiting to see details on how these course will differ from other online courses. The article also mentions a pilot edX MOOC, “Circuits & Electronics” course, offered last Fall at San Jose State University, where “…60 percent of students passed the San Jose State course; 91 percent passed the edX-infused version.” While that sounds really encouraging, we don’t know what the basis of the comparison is–that is, did the San Jose State course and edX one have the exact same assignments and tests? And if so, were they graded by the same people? I’m guessing that the edX course used online tests. How did they account for ensuring that the people who took the exam were the same people enrolled in the course? Although the article says, “EdX has a deal with Pearson VUE…to hold proctored examinations for its MOOCs,”  it’s not clear from the article whether such proctoring services were used in this pilot course.

Don’t get me wrong. I am THRILLED by the possibilities that online courses hold. But I’m tired of all the hand waving and buzz words by different companies and universities. Even in my own university, there is a tendency to use Corporate-Speak when discussing distance learning. I’m guessing that besides the frontierness of such endeavors, the differing colleges must be mindful of the political climate where in budgets are debated in terms of bite-sized election ads, where for the political public, perception is more the focus than reality of circumstances.

a followup to an ealier post on Collaborative Learning and Teaching…

Finally, the follow up on my post from last March. (school really keeps me busy)

It’s going on 9 months since the students from my Early American Literature course completed their video essays on American literature for the class Final. To recap the project:

Given their own resistance to things new, I also decided to help them be creative for the Final. Instead of a written exam or essay, they are going to make a 10-15 minute video, interviewing people. That is, they are treating this as an experiment based on a question they have developed from our readings. I gave them a base question that I myself am interested in:  what makes American literature American? But they could also develop their own. For instance, one group is thinking about exploring the idea that, given we believe our country was founded on religious freedom (they could pull ideas from Winthrop, the Declaration, etc…),  are we really free to believe as much as we think we are? I think given the nature of the current Republican debates, it’s a great question. Some have already prepared a proposal and met with me to make sure they were clear on what the project was about as well as help them narrow down their question and possible methods for exploring it.  They are actually becoming excited (whereas at first, they let out a collective groan…).

On the day of the Final, each group introduced their video, trying to summarize it in the way that might appear on the back of the dvd case. The mood was palpably one of excitement–much like graduation. Not only did they surprise me with their different creative approaches, they surprised themselves even more so. It was one of my most favorite class moments ever.

I liked the results so much, that for my Technical Writing course this semester, I’m focusing the entire semester on collaborative work presented in a workshop style setting. We’re concentrating on the creative process and design choices. But I’ll (hopefully!) write more on their work later.

I tried uploading one of the videos (250MB) to this site, but ran into file size issues. Since all the students signed forms giving me permission to use their work for educational purposes, I’m trying to see how this will work if I upload it to YouTube first and link off of that in this post… So go ahead and give them a view–they did a fantastic job of cutting back and forth between the interviewees:  (be a little patient, they have a fun opening but it takes them a little over a minute to get to the interviews)

UPDATE: The next video…

Hey, Microsoft! Over here! Pick me!

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new Microsoft Surface Pro (after the disappointing introduction of the lesser Surface RT) and so have been doing my due diligence by looking at its reviews since its recent release. It seems that many reviews have claimed the Surface Pro as an innovative design but complain about storage, battery life and weight. Okay, I get the battery life complaint–it’s too short. But not because my friends’ iPads or Android tablets get upwards to 10 hours, but because as a laptop, I want longer life. As a laptop–not an iPad or Android Tablet. Having said that, though, my current Toshiba Satellite tops out at about 4 hours, so even there, the Pro is an improvement. Weight is the other factor that these reviews seem to like to compare to the tablet devices–that since it’s heavier than the iPad, its use as a tablet is questionable. Since when did 2 pounds become “too heavy”? I’m sorry, but I’ve played around with an iPad as well as Android Tablets. Just because they are lighter doesn’t make them more useful. I’ve seen some nice apps on these devices, don’t get me wrong (reading an ebook on the Kindle Fire HD is beautiful), but as far as productivity apps like word processing or spreadsheets go, no thanks; I need a device that works with my workflow habits rather than forcing me to conform to it. It’s the software and the hardware. And so far, although I know a number of people who have really made a go at using tablets as primary devices, none of them have succeeded.That is, they still have their Mac or Windows desktops and laptops. And admit it:  how many of us, during that time just before the iPad first came out, dreamed longingly of a world where we could do everything on a tablet?  Though the iPad iterations as well as the host of Android tablets continue to be beautiful,  they have yet to come even close to fulfilling this dream.

Although this reviewer does talk up some of the good points about the Pro, it’s a great example of how many of the reviewers are not quite getting the desire for such a device by people like myself:

“The Surface Pro “suffers from trying to be too many things and not being good at any of them,” commented Carl Howe, a research vice president at the Yankee Group.”

Oh really?

I teach in a university and tote my laptop around with me everywhere I go. I receive student assignments as well as send feedback via Moodle. However, I would also like to handwrite on the documents rather than highlighting my comments or using Microsoft’s comment tools (handwritten notes tend to be much shorter, thereby helping me spend much less time on a single student’s assignment). Tablet mode to the rescue! Typing up assignments and papers or doing research, all using a real keyboard? Laptop mode to the rescue!

The fact that I can use the Surface Pro as a tablet as a more friendly way to consume media such as video or ebooks, or use it as a fully functional and powered laptop to do actual work, gives me great joy.

It seems to me that it’s not that Microsoft doesn’t know who the Surface Pro’s audience is, but that the reviewers don’t. If the reviewers want to really give an accurate comparison, they should be looking at the PC Tablets that have been around since around 2000. I was ecstatic when these first came out. However, they never became cheaper nor did their specs come close to a “real” laptop’s specs (meaning underpowered and little storage). The Surface Pro on the other hand, seems like it could change that. Although it’s battery life is dismal, it’s more than on par compared to the PC Tablets.

One review, from the Verge, did point out a problem with the kickstand not being adjustable nor good on one’s actual lap. How many people actually use their laptops directly on their laps, though? Though there have been one or two occasions in recent memory where I had to do this, I almost always use either a laptop cooling pad, or a clip-board that fits easily in my backpack with my laptop. But an adjustable kickstand would be smart–after all, even when sitting at a desk, I want to adjust my device rather than my chair or desk.’s review was one of the more honest with itself when it came to what they made of the different  device:  “CONCLUSION: We’re mixed”

I’m not saying that this is the perfect device (yet), but it’s a whole lot closer to the machine I want for my work and personal life than any other device currently out there. So Microsoft, here I am:  your audience! I’ve been waiting for this device a long time. Although I may wait a little longer just because I typically don’t buy first generation devices, I hope you will wait for me!


I noticed this post sitting in my Draft box since May of last year… Although it’s outdated, I think it’s still worth calling attention to given the Gold Rush to Online education climate we’re currently experiencing… If anyone knows how how well it’s been working since Last year or has personally taken one of their courses, please post about your experience within the comments.

I don’t know whether to feel excited by this announcement from Harvard and MIT’s new online education program, or sigh out a ho-hum–the way they talk, it’s as if no one has ever thought about online education before.(“Hey, there’s this new thing that’s going to revolutionize the world–it’s called “electronic mail!”).

Rather than the self-praise about innovation, I think what’s important to the rest of us is that two gorillas of education have made such a publicly formal declaration supporting online education. What they haven’t talked about however, is how what they are going to be doing is any different from anyone else–I’ve listened to a number of courses via Open Universities, YouTube in general,, Great Courses, as well as how my own university is approaching online education (asynchronously). What I would like to see is more discussion on different types of courses based on different subject matter (a physics course is/should work differently than a literature course online or in class). I would also like to see more discussion on costs–not only for the classes but also for the universities. In addition, I would like more discussion also on who “owns” the course content (or how it is determined).

One of the things this announcement kept focusing on was the numbers–they keep referencing thousands and millions. I can see their website now: “Over 1 billion served.”

evolution of emotions through perception of motion?

Virginia Hughes has a nice article on a study (Sievers, Polansky, Casey, and Wheatley 2012) suggesting “that our ancestors first learned to interpret emotion from movement“. There was a particular question of any universal application of the results, so the team also ran the experiment in a completely different culture. Very nice. The writing itself is worth the read, but Hughs also manages to clearly summarize the experiments and what’s at stake.

NEH 2012 Jefferson Lecture: Wendell Barry

Kudos to the NEH for making inspiring lectures like this available online (it also streamed this live)

(I would have embedded the video, but I’m having a devil of a time disabling the autostart. Their embed code has no autostart variable, but I tried adding one and setting it to not play (play=”false”) along with other variations but none of my attempts have worked…)

Wendell Barry is one of those rare individuals who tries to walk his talk, inspiring the rest of us to also try. A write-up of the lecture appears here.

National Poetry Month’s Sweet 16

Although March ushers in spring, April knows how to celebrate the true springliness of the season. Poets, too, know how to celebrate it with gifts of poetry. April was designated as National Poetry Month back in 1996–it’s hard to believe that it’s so young. It is fitting, though, that it was inaugurated on April 1st, for its mission to promote awareness and appreciation of poetry was a sort of Fool’s venture–a venture that creates no money, capital, or any other sort of tangible gain except that earned through the pleasure of play, say, like a tickle. The “success” of the venture can be seen in how it has spread beyond the original creators, those folks over at the Academy of American Poets, to many other institutions as well as individuals (just google “national poetry month events”  to see a sampling). What I like about the “campaign” (besides the mission itself) is the way in which the web has helped it along. I came across this tie-in between Alfred A. Knopf Press and Tumblr encouraging people to participate in the celebration by submitting their own poems via Tumblr. I realize it’s a simple idea that has been done a thousand times over by other groups/events. But these sorts of small ideas lead to others. For instance, part of that same blog displays images of the poems on the printed page which I find more satisfying than just the text reproduced. In a way, that imaged printed page provides a context, like the scratchiness of albums pre-CD era, that the mere informational text cannot. For artists who feel technology is trying to explain away or mass-produce the mysteries of life, this is a small example of how it actually can help continue to share that mystery with others.

Poem: The Sound of the Trees

Yet one more use for Word Clouds: job descriptions

I recently was using’s word cloud generator in my Early American Literature class as a demonstration of different ways of looking at text. They make it very easy to create and share.You can either click the “Create” link or tab, paste in your text, and hit “Go”. And then presto! They give you a number of layout and color schemes to work with. I suggest clicking around, trying them all out. I prefer the “mostly horizontal” layout and less cartoony colors. They also give you a number of ways to share it–creating a public link (and deleting it) is just as easy as creating the word cloud itself. Here’s an example Wordle of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Poet”  I used for the class (forgive the color settings–I went with the default).

I must have still had Wordles on the brain, because as I was looking at a new digital humanities job posting that was forwarded my way, I started to wonder what word clouds of two different job descriptions might show:

The first posting:


The second posting:

Although they are not the same sorts of positions overall, they have fairly similar general duties. Now, I would not want to make too much of this analytically; however, it’s still interesting to see the different emphases that the word clouds reveal.