Archive for February, 2007

brianand mike
Students take a lot of tests, but teachers don’t have much to go on to know how effective their class was. Yesterday was one of those rare and great moments for me when I got to see for myself what my students learned.

Last spring’s Composition Theory class was great–engaged students created a very successful final project where they gave a presentation and created a wiki for people who might want to start high school writing centers.

An observer of their presentation was Jonathan Morris from Henrico County, who got very interested. He got some people in the county excited and developed some materials of his own, and is now training the first set of middle school tutors! He invited my old students to come and talk to the trainees.

Mike and Brian looked apprehensive when we first walked into the school building. The whole idea of middle school apparently brought back bad memories. But as soon as we got with the class, they relaxed– and proceeded to blow my mind! I could see how thoroughly they understood all the theory we had worked on in spring as they described their experiences working in our writing center. They answered all the students’ questions much better than I could have, and the middle schoolers hung on every word. These students ask the same questions my new tutor trainees are asking: how do you get someone excited about their writing??

Often professors say “students won’t do anything that doesn’t have a grade attached.” Well, these guys weren’t in my class anymore and wouldn’t even let me buy them lunch. They volunteered because this grew out of a project they did, totally on their own. I have never seen a class take ownership of a project the way that class did. They were so proud when Jonathan Morris thanked them and said that because of their great presentation he learned so much and got so motivated that now an entire county is going to benefit. One high school has created a class to train tutors and they will be the next school to open a center, and then everyone else has an approved model to work from.

Can you tell how proud I am?


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The Privacy Myth?

My students now have their blogs set up and are starting to blog about their experiences as apprentices in the writing center, but we are struggling with some big issues. At first they were nervous about their own safety, but it was fairly easy to assure them anonymity with fake names, etc. But then we started talking about the rights of the students they tutor, and we broadened our discussion of identity and the internet.

When I first had students working on the net, to create a website, they were not as interested as I thought they would be. Instead of seeing it as a public forum, they just said “there are so many sites out there. How will anyone find this one?” And so, with there being so many new blogs created every day, I think that they are right that there is some privacy in anonymity. I think of it as finding “hay in a hay stack” (a phrase I learned from Stephen Colbert).

It would be easier to find a needle amid the hay than any one particular piece of hay. As one student pointed out, to find the needle, you only need a magnet! We started to interrogate some of our ideas about what was important to keep private. They were most concerned about their cell phone numbers. When I pointed out that stalkers could  physically find them through their very public home phone number, which is on the web and attached to their home address, whereas their cell phone was “addressless” they were stumped. They really did feel more protective of their cell phones.
So we are creating our own rules for safety and privacy, but in the end, to satisfy the university, I think we are going to have to make all the blogs “invitation only” too. This blocks the serendipity that makes web 2.0 so great, but serendipity is no match for the IRB. At least we can use the tools to create community among ourselves and our librarian who is helping with research.

Still, I have been shocked, and then changed by the ideas in this article.

Here is a piece of the radical part:

what we’re discussing is something more radical if only because it is more ordinary: the fact that we are in the sticky center of a vast psychological experiment, one that’s only just begun to show results. More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would—and yet they seem mysteriously healthy and normal, save for an entirely different definition of privacy. From their perspective, it’s the extreme caution of the earlier generation that’s the narcissistic thing. Or, as Kitty put it to me, “Why not? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Twenty years down the road, someone’s gonna find your picture? Just make sure it’s a great picture.”

And after all, there is another way to look at this shift. Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones

My students aren’t quite part of that generation. But in five years? What will they be like then? And how will institutions deal with new conceptualizations of “privacy.”

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I could watch this performance over and over–watch it now; you’ll be glad you did.

My Composition Theory students just had their first exposure to Second Life, and I wish I had taken photos of their stunned faces. They are expressing some really healthy fears about the addictive nature of virtual worlds and games, about the loss of person to person reality. And it made me think of Rives’ poem. Contrasted with the weird distancing I feel with avatars, his passionate performance and his vision of using the internet to fill our deepest desires (email with dead loved ones, auctioning your broken heart on Ebay) make me feel a connection with this guy. And yet, how weird is that? Isn’t a poem an alternate reality of its own? Is my feeling of connection with a poet who I have never met but only saw on the internet any more real than interacting with an avatar of a real person? We will have to start asking ourselves this question: what is real human connection?

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