Blogging, Teaching, and Experimenting

I’m essentially running a large scale blogging experiment with my Novel studies class this semester, in effect blowing Carrie Leverenz’s advice to only try one new thing a semester out of the water. (I’ve also complete revamped the comp II course for a new book, so it’s pretty much a new teaching experience too for the moment.) I really do try to follow her sound and sanity keeping advice. Yet, the more I planned this novel studies class on Jane Austen, the more and more I realized that I didn’t want to use Blackboard for our course website. I have issues with its unwieldiness, and I am concerned about the intellectual property issues involved with using a corporate platform for course design. Do I own the course? Does Blackboard? Does the school? I decided to use WordPress to set up a course website, a decision that has lead me to a whole world of possibilities. The amount of information, websites, and fan sites devoted to Jane Austen is dizzying. I’d never be able to curate the wealth of information out there about Jane (I find myself thinking of her more and more as Jane and not Austen) by myself. WordPress allows me to give my students contributor access to the class blog, so they can do some of this work too. I’m sure there’s a pedagogical essay in here somewhere, and I admit, one of the other reasons I chose this route was because I wanted to be able to keep their writing in a more permanent way. Blackboard only archives things for six months.

And then, of course, they can blog. They can write and comment about their own experiences with the texts we’re reading, with their own conceptions of Jane Austen.  Nevertheless, I find that this experiment requires me to be more personal, more aware of my own reading habits and prejudices and scholarly persona. In some ways it’s almost too personal, too uncontrolled. I have no way, beyond my students’ awareness that most of the writing they do here is being assessed, to control what they choose to say or post. I can comment, I can edit and delete “troll” like comments, but that doesn’t mean that those comments won’t be out there for a time. Most of these students have never blogged before, and at least one seems to be excited about the possibility. (Signing up for WordPress account means you also get your own blog.) I’ve never been part of a group blog before. This is truly a teaching experiment, and I’m more nervous about it than I’d care to admit. But, I’m also elated and excited. I don’t know how the course blog will evolve. I don’t know what it’ll turn into at all. I like that aspect.

Note: I’m not going to share the course blog/website here just yet. I’m not sure how public I want it to be, and I want them to get comfortable with the blog before they consider the fact that they may have readers outside their own classmates.

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The Daily Dish for a Decade

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish is celebrating 10 years of blogging. His reflections here. Sullivan was one of the first bloggers my brother made me read. (I think Jordan considers it his duty to make me read things that interest him ever since I paid him $20 to read Catcher in the Rye.) I’ve been hooked on the medium one way or another ever since. I most certainly don’t always agree with Sullivan; there are times I tune him out or get annoyed with him. But, I’m still reading.

Letters

I got an honest to god letter in the mail last week, the address printed in the neat block print of my friend Walter.  I got it at the end of a long day where I had to think and make some decisions about a couple of things.  Not bad decisions, just decisions that position me in certain ways that I had to think through before I went forward.  I was tired and running late for meeting a friend for dinner when I got my mail on my way in from work.  There, nestled in among the junk mail flyers, was my letter.  I immediately went to beaming, and I was even later than I intended because I sat down to read it the moment I got in the door.

I love letters, and Walter and I, in particular, have a relationship defined by the written word.  We met in high school, and almost from the start, we wrote notes to each other.  (Note passing being cool in 1991; not that we had cell phones with text messaging capabilities either.)  I got so good at passing and writing notes that I could do it and take class notes at the same time, for the most part.  (I still feel bad for the amount I tuned out my Spanish teacher writing notes and schoolgirl poetry; I liked him tons.  I still have the book on existentialism he lent me after I made him read Out of Africa.  I just wasn’t all that into Spanish.)  Letters, notes, handmade cards, yearbook white spaces, and ICAP (the school creative arts publication) all became part of the fabric of TAG relationships when I went there.  It wasn’t just notes from Walter, although I have lots of those.  I still have the first note a boy wrote telling me he loved me.  I have the notes I exchanged with my girl friends about boys, life, and wax paper.  I have the letters I exchanged with people at the start of undergraduate, discussing our fears, our new lives.  They’re nestled in the same hat box as my air mail letters from home when I lived in London.

Gradually, as email became the preferred mode of communication, our collective letter writing tapered off.  Yet, I still have all of these letters.  Admittedly, I come from a long and proud line of pack rats, but I do clean out stuff with military like precision every six months.  Clothes, books, old handouts, etc. all get donated or recycled or sold.  But not these letters.  I add to my collection too.  I keep birthday cards, Christmas letters, and odd notes people send me.  I still send out more than thirty Christmas cards each year.  Adding an address to the Christmas card list makes me smile.  (So does adding a baby name as my friends grow their families.)  It’s a small point of connection, even if I don’t get a card back.

I also have all the letters and cards from when my father died, tucked away into their own special box.  I haven’t looked back through it yet, but I know I want these things, these words of solace and love.  I think I received more letters that summer than I have since undergrad.  It seemed that the letter was the preferred mode of telling me how much my extended family grieved with me.  And I preferred it.  The letters gave me space; they kindly didn’t demand a response that I was okay.  They let me be.

One of the things Walter told me in my letter that he felt like my blog was like getting letters from an old friend.  I never told him when his blog was up and running that I too felt that way about the Quiet Bubble.  Blogging is sort of like letter writing in a sense, perhaps more so than I realized at first.  As I discussed previously, I feel like my blog, at least, is more akin to a commonplace book, but I can see this mode as a form of letter writing.  Still, it’s not as personal in some ways or as exciting as getting a letter in the mail, partly because this medium constantly shifts and transmutes and partly because I know I’m writing for an audience of more than one person.  I still like the real thing sitting in my mail box, beckoning me into the thoughts and world of the people I love.  Send me more letters people.

Collector collectors

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about William Randolph Hurst and Teddy Roosevelt on this trip. Both were eccentric, larger than life men that were shaped by late nineteenth century American life. They dreamed big and we’re well educated about the things they cared about. And they both we’re collectors of sorts. Hurst collected newspapers, magazines, art, and famous people. Roosevelt collected nature. And both made it possible for later generations to enjoy their collections. Hearst castle still stands, a perfect replica of its gilded age self. Roosevelt established the national Parks service, protecting these spaces. They aren’t the only history I’ve been mulling through. I bought postcards at the Grand Canyon specifically because they were WPA replicas. I’ve been fascinated by the tragedy of the Donner party. But I’ve spent the most time thinking about Hearst and Roosevelt and the nature of collecting. After all, what is a blog if not a collection of images, impressions, and eccentricities. It’s a bricolage of texts, forming an idiosyncratic collection. In effect, Hearst’s and Roosevelt’s collections have become part of mine. 

South Korea v. Uruguay

So I’m trying out posting from my phone while hanging out with my brother and watching the first round of 16 game. He’s giving me advice on doing songs of the day for the travel blog. I don’t have a “dog in this hunt” for this game. I kind of want South Korea to win. They’re one of two Asian nations that made it this far, and Brazil is the South American nation to beat in this tournament. We’re meeting a friend later at Varsity to watch the USA v. Ghana. I’m going to be on pins and needles the whole time. That’s why you have a beer while watching.

Update: Okay, so my ability to pick the underdog winner is obviously flawed.  South Korea played well, but Uruguay made the plays when it counted.  The second goal was simply perfect.