May 2008 Archives

Hiccup-date

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Dr. T and I are trying to get into the habit of recording our impressions of the wines we try - mainly because we keep forgetting whether or not we like Wine X. Also, since the official tasting notes typically ignore us non-meat eaters, we figured we needed way to keep track of the vegetarian pairing possibilities.

All of which is to say that I've updated The Communal Kitchen, and I'll try to do so more regularly. Since we're doing the whole wine thing, I have created a new category, Wining & Dining, in which our "reviews" will be posted (I can't help the quotation marks - let's face it, most of these "reviews" will be written halfway into the bottle, so remarks may be occasionally incoherent).

Comments and suggestions more than welcome!

Reflections on Interdisciplinarity

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Constructing Knowledge Across the Disciplines, Journal 3

Constructing Knowledge Across the Disciplines is the last full course before I begin preparing my research project next fall. The ideas to which we’ve been exposed in this course have implications, for me, not only in terms of interdisciplinary studies, but also as fundamental precepts upon which we can build a stronger system. From the beginning of this course, I have felt at home with the idea of interdisciplinarity, not least because general education courses, such as English, fit so neatly into an interdisciplinary Cegep. In fact, in many ways, the best part of the course is the fresh ammunition (to expand on Klein’s geopolitical metaphor) I bring to the fight for general education courses. I sometimes feel that the powers that be have forgotten the importance of general education courses, despite the essential role of such courses in the epistemological framework within which the Cegep system operates. Every once in a while, a new ominous rumour circulates that “they” are toying with the idea of eliminating some or all general education requirements; naturally, such speculation worries me for personal job security reasons, but beyond that, I genuinely believe in the value of general education courses at the college level, and it concerns me that students may one day be without them.

A few semesters ago, when reflecting on the Assessment as Learning course, I realized I had been fundamentally changed as a teacher by the experience. That course made me rethink my approach not only to individual assessments, but to course design, program planning, and departmental alignment. The effect has been longstanding; in fact, I have convinced my department that rather than focusing on whether or not we give the same mark for an essay, we should be examining how consistent we are, as a group, when it comes to feedback. I sense the same profound change with this course. I have embraced the idea of interdisciplinarity, and in particular, the idea of collaborative curriculum planning.

Generally speaking, general education teachers in the English Cegep system are accustomed to a great degree of autonomy. Unlike our counterparts in the French system, or our colleagues in certain other departments, we have a great deal of freedom when it comes to course content and planning. Our MELS objectives and standards are relatively vague and flexible, so we can essentially do what we want as individual teachers. There are, obviously, certain parameters determined by our colleges and departments within which we develop our courses, but as long as our course outlines fulfil the given criteria, we are left to our own devices. As a result, students have many options when it comes to choosing their genre (102) and theme (103) courses – for example, according to the 2007-2008 course catalogue at Vanier, students could choose from 26 theme courses, and 31 genre courses. In short, there’s not a lot of collaborative course design happening.

As a direct result of my work in this course, I am now deliberately seeking out collaborations with teachers both within the English department and in other areas. For instance, next fall I will teach the third-semester Liberal Arts English course, and in preparing the course, I have been working with my departmental colleague who teaches the fourth-semester course. Not only has this teamwork helped me immensely in planning my course, but I feel that we have defined a coherent whole, so that our students will see connections between the work they do in the fall semester and new material in the winter. My colleague and I are planning assessment projects that span the two semesters, and are looking for ways to share on-line interactive resources, and we’re planning course material that reflects the connections we’ve identified. Although our courses might be considered quite different, once we thought about it in terms of Beane’s organizing centre, we realized that both courses share a desire to consider literature from unconventional perspectives. Now that we’ve had our “great idea,” things are falling into place, and we both feel very confident that in the next few years we’ll refine this package, and may even be able to engage in some team teaching in the classroom – and in the meantime, we can at least make it clear to our students that we’re working together to make two courses more rewarding for them.

I am also hoping to take the preliminary course design that I developed with my simulation teammates and develop a complete course that can be offered at Vanier. I will be proposing this idea to our dean in the coming weeks, and if I get the green light, I’ll solicit input from teachers in our healthcare departments and computer programs. I don’t know that team teaching is likely at this stage, but perhaps if the course goes ahead and is well-received, the next logical step will be taken, and teachers from the disciplines will participate in the classroom. Ultimately, this course can indeed be a model for other Block B English courses, and perhaps be adapted for Humanities courses as well.

The CKAD course has been a very rewarding one for me. Now I need to take this new interdisciplinary perspective and change the system – after summer vacation, obviously Vacation!.

Another semester in the can

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As of noon today, my semester is done - every last essay corrected, every straggler accounted for, and every grade calculated. Yay!

It's been a strange semester. It began abruptly and unpleasantly, because the day after I learned that I had a full-time daytime course load, my grandmother passed away. This was less than a week before the term started, which means I was frantically getting course material together - and then the funeral happened on the second day of the semester. I taught my first course the day before the funeral with almost no preparation and while completely distracted, and had to call on a colleague to fill in for me on the day of the funeral, so I missed Day 1 with two of my classes.

I felt not quite on track for about a month, and I never really felt at ease with my first group.

On the other hand, my 101 course worked really well this term. In the winter term, the 101 groups tend to be volatile. The students are in an Intro course, but it's the second semester - which means either that they failed the first time around, or they're starting their first year halfway through. Either way, these groups often feel not quite right. In fact, although there were 27 students registered in my course right up to the end, nine or ten of them stopped coming to class altogether by the last month of the semester. The group that remained, however, was enthusiastic and did some great work.

Next fall, for the first time ever, I don't have a 101 course. I'll be teaching two sections of my genre course on Formula Fiction and one theme course for Liberal Arts. I'm pretty happy with this assignment, although I am a little concerned about the 2009 winter term, and whether or not I'll have enough CI (the calculation of my individual workload) to have a complete year. Not only does this CI matter in terms of salary - if I fall below a certain CI, I get paid rather a lot less - but also in terms of tenure. The 2007-2008 year is the first full year for me at this college, and I need another one to qualify for the next level up the ladder.

Wake up!

Anyway, right now I'm focusing on making some minor adjustments to the Formula Fiction course (I taught it this winter and it worked very well, so the adjustments are really very minor) and making some major ones to the Liberal Arts course. I've been collaborating with the teacher who gets the Liberal Arts group in the following semester*, and we're coming up with some really exciting ideas. We may also be plotting a coup, but that's the kind of thing that happens when you plan courses while under the influence.

If you made it this far in the post, you get a reward - my new favourite student essay typo: according to one student in my Formula Fiction course, Bridget Jones is "in a retaliation ship" with her boss.

Admit it - don't you sometimes feel that you're in a retaliation ship?

*Incidentally, this is the same angel who came to my rescue at the beginning of the term when I was in funereal dire straits. She is officially my favourite colleague EVER. :D

I [heart] Taylor Mali

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As a follow-up to the previous post, may I present:

Silver lining?

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So we're nearing the end of the semester, which means piles of correcting, as always. This semester I feel like I'm actually on top of things, which is a good feeling, let me tell you.

Of course, when you're on top of things, you have to be careful to stay balanced, lest you tumble off and get smothered...

As always, one of the minor joys of all this correcting is the inadvertent laughs provided by typos and other unintentional errors. For instance, I'm reading an essay now, written by one of my Intro students on Raymond Carver's 'Cathedral.' The student states that the lesson of the story is "don't be sterotypical or jugdemental."

Jug-de-mental... hee!

Now to master time...

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Last night Robert, wearing the red-and-blue glasses that came with a recent Bugs magazine, walked into the kitchen and informed that I was "now" 3D.

Phew.

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