Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 2 Student Input and Interactions

Last semester I made serious changes to my classroom, mainly centered around the fact that I just stopped policing things. Just stopped.
The effects were amazing.

This semester I'm just teaching the online early Shakespeare class of roughly 75 students, which was new for me, so I thought a lot about the pieces I used to construct the class.
So this semester, while I spent a lot of time and thought on LOTS of pieces of the course, like last semester, I've come to a decision about a single focus- student interactions.

I think how we respond to student questions, how we treat our students when they ask questions, is key to letting our students know we care, we're a resource, and that their participation matters. I also think that especially at the beginning of a course, it's vital to establishing class culture.

For me responding to questions is also related to tailoring class to student input. I think here tone and approach is key. If you assume right off the bat that students are willfully not learning, not doing, being lazy then 1) that's a crappy attitude please stop teaching and 2) that's going to influence how you respond. That then becomes a cycle where you're snippy, they're offended, then they don't produce, then you feel justified in your initial response.
If instead, rather than assume these awful things about your students you take the stance that either your presentation/explanation wasn't clear and/or your students are genuinely confused, then you can work to help them through it. Maybe you need to rewrite/clarify the assignment (especially true of first time classes or assignments). A lot of times I don't know when something is unclear or a problem until a student points it out. Maybe your student needs more help. Maybe it's simply a matter of letting a student talk something through.

Now I'm not saying that you won't get questions that could have been answered by reading the assignment guidelines. But I will say that these are the minority. And even for these cases, I think a rude, snarky response does a lot more harm. I don't think it's an exaggeration that those types of responses can seriously impact a student's mental health, their future performance in your class, other classes, how they view education in general, and even whether or not they finish and graduate.
On the flip side, a kindly worded response. One that attempts to explain, asks whether or not that's clear, and ending with "please let me know if that doesn't explain what you need, and I'll try to clarify" costs you nothing. And can have a huge impact.
And none of that lowers the rigor of your class. Or your expectations. But with student interactions, I like to err on the side that they genuinely need help.

I've written before on how in other classes I've used check in surveys to get student input in order to improve the class. Most of the time these are informal affairs but the goal is always to ask students about things that are unclear, that I can help with, and go from there.
I've put in my syllabus this semester that I recommend students watch movies of the plays. Not as replacement for reading, but because plays were meant to be SEEN, and especially if you don't have a familiarity with live theatre, or reading plays, this can be enormously helpful to comprehension.
The library has lots of versions, so does Amazon and Netflix. I don't have a preference, although I tell them which version I'll be watching when I host optional class viewings of the play we're covering. It's just an added resource, if students want to participate, it's not a requirement.
This past Monday, for our viewing of Midsummer, no one came. It was just me and my TA. I live tweeted the movie, which was fun.

The next day I asked Twitter for suggestions about how to increase participation.
I got a lot of "if you don't require it they won't come."
Okay, but that wasn't really what I asked.
I specifically DID NOT require it because that's an issue of access. Students take online classes because they are out of the state. Out of the country. Work and have kids and can't attend evening viewings.
I did get one good suggestion, to allow live tweets of the movies to replace a low participation/discussion board grade. So I've made that adjustment.

Since I wanted more suggestions, I put a survey in the class asking why they hadn't attended, what we could do to make them want to participate, and asking if they would live tweet.
  • Many said they forgot
  • Many said it wasn't practical to attend (night classes, work, family obligations) but if they could follow along from home they would
  • One suggestion was to make sure I provided links for online/free versions rather than Amazon or Netflix
    • Because of this I changed the versions of most of the movies to ones available through the library as streaming as this is an issue of access
  • I also posted a Doodle, where they could choose the next night
  • But most said they did plan on attending future nights
    • But they don't want to live tweet
    • But one suggestion was to post a discussion board where they could share thoughts
We'll see how this works out, but I think this combination of approaches, asking the students what makes this better, and then acting on what they've said, will be successful.
If nothing else they know this is important to me, that I want to help them out, and that I am willing to ask them how best to serve them, make the changes I can, and explain what I can't and why.
In my class students have to give a presentation on a play. Specifically, they have to choose a topic or theme to explore in the play.
We cover five plays, and they can choose whichever one they want. I encourage them to choose both a play and topic/theme that they are interested in.
This choice is paralyzing for some (as I've encountered in my other classes). They want a detailed checklist of what it needs to include.

I give them this instead. I'd rather give them nothing, and have them bring ME things. Not to be mean, but because I honestly want them to think through what satisfies what I'm asking, critically think through WHY those things would satisfy the end goal, why presentations are important to the class, how this assignment functions as prep for future papers and projects.

This is a paradigm shift for many. It's hard. I respond to a lot of emails and questions by asking questions. Again, not to be difficult, but to guide their thinking.
  • What are you interested in?
  • For example, if you like .... maybe try...
  • You're a teacher, a lot of these programs are used in both online and face to face teaching, so maybe make something you can use later...
I have a lot of teachers this semester, so I'm trying to steer them towards thinking through things in that lens. And for all my students encouraging them to pursue interests, whether or not they conform to their majors.

I also encourage them to play with the Web 2.0 tools, play to their strengths.
But it's also okay to just make a PowerPoint.
Or a PowerPoint with narration. And videos.

The lesson of choosing a medium to suit audience and purpose I think is as valuable a lesson as the research and presentation on Shakespeare.
These first presentations will inform how I move forward.
These presenters will get detailed feedback. I'll make note of misunderstandings or missteps so I can provide help and guidance to future presentations. I also allow students to revise, so if these first presenters (who often become inevitable guinea pigs because they're first) misunderstood, or need clarification, they can revise and resubmit.

Choice can still be scary. But I think listening to students, actively asking for their input, making changes when you can, and explain when you can't, all help create a good class culture. I think too that how I respond to questions does as well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#DevilDiss2 Halfway through Round 3 Revisions

The last couple of weeks have not been kind.
Last week when I still hadn't gotten my financial aid refund, I called, was told I was "over need" and wouldn't be getting my money.
Cue complete freak out.
So I emailed and called last week.
To no avail.
This week I went down to campus. Turns out my TAship puts in a placeholder of how much tuition they WILL pay, which is not what GETS paid, and this on paper appeared as though I was getting help I wasn't.

Financial aid said it was the Office of Graduate Studies issue. And vice versa.
Yesterday's visit resulted in a "we'll sort it" issue, an assurance that part of my money would post soon, the Bursar's office telling me that I might (or might not) get money this week, and if I didn't call back.
The rest of the money should be released once FA and OGS sort things out.

I have spent the last week panicking because rent is due. And I like to eat, and at one point was facing possibility of not getting any of my student loan money. And I know what it's like to be poor, that things don't work out, and that worry is completely justified.

I wrote in depth on this earlier, but mention it again here because dissertation and revising does not happen in a vaccuum. These economic issues affect how we write. Whether we CAN write. I had drafting the introduction on last week's planner. I had drafting the conclusion on this week's plan. I managed to get both done, and sent off to my director but I don't hold a lot of hope that they're good, because I've been stressed, worried, and in my own head.

This past week I also heard that I would NOT be able to attend graduation, as it falls when I'm presenting at Kzoo. Which upset me, because I've worked really hard, and I wanted to be celebrated on that day.
Then I thought, well, celebrating the actual defense makes more sense, so that will be cool. Except my family won't come.
So it has just seemed like one hit after the other. Like I just could not catch a break.

So I admit, it's been hard to focus on drafting the introduction and conclusion, and hard to focus on revisions.

In fact this is pretty much how I'm feeling about revisions:
Well, that, and I've decided revisions are Purgatory.
Not in a bad way (well, depending on the day). More in the "they go on forever and you never know when or if they'll end until well, they do" way.
Everything is so close.
And yet so far away.

I had already submitted the third round of chapter two and three but had put off addressing my director's chapter one notes because I  was waiting for feedback on it from another.
This week I heard I wouldn't be getting it.
 Which I admit felt a little like COME ON...
And while I've written a lot about dissertating single with no support, these last couple of weeks felt like no one was helping. That I didn't have ANY support.
I do have my Twitter support network, which I am very grateful for.

But I do very much feel like I'm in limbo.
I'm at the point where I get draft notes, I fix them, I send them back, I wait.
At some point this ends right?
Someone asked me about my timeline and I explained I was working on round 3 revisions, was hoping this round I could get approved to send to committee members, and then would start on round 4 (and hopefully the final) round of revisions. They asked why four rounds.
I didn't understand the question.
Um, because I don't have room for five with a summer defense?
I don't know.

I will say that working on chapter one round three revisions today I tried to focus on the positives. That there were pages, and pages, and pages of the 50+ page chapter with no notes at all. A lot of the notes were minor. This is a pretty big deal.
While I'm not sure what the feedback will be, the introduction and conclusion are drafted and sent off.
Chapters 1-3 round three revisions are finished, and off to director.

I should have chapter 4-6 notes by mid February and will have a check in meeting then with my director.

So that means I have the next couple weeks off.
Kind of. I need to draft my PCA/ACA conference paper on Cinderella revisions. I need to draft my ACLA paper on Constantine. But I'm not worried about those.
An Anglo-Saxonist Twitter connection offered to read chapter one for content issues, so that will help.

It's hard when the hits just keep coming, to focus on or even see a lifeline, the positive.
But I'm trying.

I emailed extended family and friends and updated them on the no graduation, but asked if they wanted to come to the defense. I'm going to focus on that and not that my family won't come.

I will focus on the fact that I continue to apply for jobs, got my NM high school teaching license, and got a great teaching focused letter written for me.

I will continue to remind myself that I am graduating.

I will try to focus on solutions instead of being overwhelmed with the negative.

I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the work in front of me, until there's nothing else to be done.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 1 Getting off on the right foot

The first week of class is done, and I think we're off to a good start.
There are a couple of things I designed the first week to help ensure this.
The first is that while I normally only post weekly announcements on Saturday, prep and tips and resources for the coming week, this first week I ended up posting announcements just about every day as questions from students came up.
I keep a Google Doc of the announcements, which not only lets me keep it for future reference, but lets me plan announcements in advance.
These announcements have several key purposes:
  • Inform: students of information/corrections/clarifications they need
  • Connect: be sure that students know there's a real person on the other end of the course. Someone who wants them to do well, is a resource, and will post silly memes, gifs, and pictures of her dog
  • Model: I like to use these announcements and the rest of the course to model certain strategies, and Web 2.0 tools

Knowing My Students
I've a firm belief that we should teach students where they are.
In order to do this, you have to know where they are.
I design two assignments for this first week to help.
  • A skills information sheet that asks them what programs they feel comfortable using
    • This lets me know what I need to front load in the course.
    • I also print each of these out, hole punch them, and keep them in a notebook as a way of keeping track of anecdotes, notes that come up, accommodations, etc.
    • Addition: I also make sure I ask them what name they prefer to be called, which also addresses pronoun usage. I use either gender neutral pronouns for the class as a whole, and just refer to students by the name they say they prefer.
  • A discussion board where they introduce themselves to me and the class
    • I encourage them to play with the WYSIWYG tool bar, changing the color of the fonts, adding images, etc. so by the time they first post for an assignment, they feel comfortable doing this.
    • I make sure I respond individually, and personally, to each and every one. With 75+ students this takes time, and this first week I work a little every day to keep up with the work versus my just grading on Saturday normal routine. 
    • But it's worth it to make sure that personal connections are made, and that we get off to a good start.
    • I direct them too how to change their avatar, so we can all put a face to the name and I also copy and paste the students' avatar images into my Excel gradebook so I can put faces to names. In such a big class, this helps me a lot. 
With such a big class, I have a pretty diverse group of students. I have a lot of English majors, a lot of theatre majors, a lot of future teachers. I'll tailor the course and resources to these interests. I'm posting resources for the teachers that they might want to use. I'm letting them create lesson plans as part of their presentations, or projects. I'm encouraging theatre majors to look at the acting or production of the plays, and encouraging my other students to pursue their interests.
I have students across the state, in different states, and in different countries, so I'm looking forward on moving forward as everyone shares their perspectives.

I set my announcements to also email blast out to students, so they get the information. And I advise them to make sure their email is correct in Blackboard so they get the announcements.
In addition to this, I try to check in as much as possible.
Yesterday, I went into my gradebook to see what students hadn't logged in/submitted work yet. I sent a bcc email to all of them reminding them of the first deadline of work, and what they needed to do. This is the only time I'll do this en masse, although if a student who has been working drops out I will always check in on them.

I am also using Twitter, and a class hashtag #E352ES again this semester. I still don't require it, it's an extra resource.
Even though it's an online class, for every play I'm holding an on campus movie night, and encouraging students who can't attend to watch with us virtually and live tweet. This is a new thing, but a lot of the media professors I know do this with their viewings so I think it could be fun.

A pretty common issue in online courses is that sometimes students think that they are correspondence courses, where they just race ahead, complete all the work in a couple of weeks and then take the rest of the semester off.
I know that students often take online courses for the flexibility, but also know that I'm their best resource. While there are movies, lectures, and assignments built into the course that I made last semester, each Saturday, when I build announcements, I also add items that address needs/questions I noticed the week before that my students needed.
So I try to strike a balance. Each play module is two weeks, and I encourage students to work on their own within the module, but not to work more than a week ahead. They can, there's no penalty, but in my experience, students who do don't do as well. They don't use the feedback on each assignment to improve, and they don't see how each assignment builds on the previous one. They earn lower grades. But it's a choice they can make.
If I notice a student doing it, I email them once, warn them about the possible consequences, but that's it. It's part of that "not policing" attitude I've adopted.

With so many students, it's a lot of grading. And a lot of discussion boards. The assignments I grade as I'm in the course during the week. Discussion boards require a posting plus two comments, so I wait until the deadline midnight Friday for posting to pass (I grade Saturday morning). Students get a 77 for posting, 85 for posting plus one comment, 100 for posting plus two comments. I make hash marks on my spreadsheet to track, then put the grades in manually.

I do have a TA, but they've never taught online. I was taught to observe the first few weeks, ask questions about approach and design, then norm, then was able to start grading. So this is the model I'm following. I know professors who teach but make their TAs do all the grading. I have never understood this. How do you know your students this way? How do you know what they need? How do you tailor instruction? While I appreciate the TA, especially as we get into longer papers further in the course, it's important for my students to know I am grading their work, I am giving them feedback.

So that's my for week, my tips for getting off on the right foot.
What do you do in your classroom, online and face to face, to set the right tone?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Drowning as a Grad Student

Yesterday I met with our Chair of Graduate Studies as prep before meeting with my director mid-February, I wanted to make sure I was correct with the dates, and see if there were any potential pitfalls I needed to be aware of. Our Chair has been here a while, and worked with a lot of grad students, so knew they would have the information I needed.
I had to make some tweaks to my #DevilDiss timeline, but nothing major, which is good.

As anyone reading my blog is aware, I'm very concerned about money. I am self-identified poor, always have been.
Particularly, lately I've been concerned about how I am going to pay my bills in June and July because my TAship is over in May, and I will have to pay $594 in tuition to defend this summer in addition to my rent and bills.
Both the Chair of Graduate Studies and Department Chair have talked about possible solutions. And I appreciate it. But possible still means I'm stressing.

While I have felt that my head was barely above water. It was at least above water.
This changed today.
As of today, I had still not received my student loan refund, and in previous years it disbursed on the 8th and 13th January so I went online and used their chat feature.
They told me that I was shown as an over need- as in I was getting too much money from the university, so my loan was being held.
Let's skip the fact that anyone in grad school could be classified as "over need."
The issue appears to be that grad studies puts in a placeholder for tuition payments, and according to that, I'm getting too much money. So they're lowering the student loan refund I'm getting. By roughly $871.
That's a lot. But let's skip the fact that's a month and a half of rent and bills.
Financial aid says they should have this fixed the next couple of days and disburse my money.
But no one can tell me why this is an issue this semester and wasn't last when I don't think anything's changed. Or why they're lowering my payment.
At least I'm getting money.
I was advised by my Twitter support group to be sure I was asking for departmental help.
So I sent a long, detailed email to them.

And was told, sorry, but not our issue, contact X...

And I gotta tell you guys, I'm having a hard time.
This feels a whole lot like the straw that broke the camel's back.
You wouldn't think asking for $6841 to pay rent, cover house bills, books, grad school expenses for five-six months would be a big deal. But it apparently is.

I hope the nice financial aid lady I spoke to was right, that I get the whole (albeit now lessened) amount, and it's resolved in the next couple of days.
But here's what will happen if not:
  • I will possibly have to pull out of conferences I've committed to. Because that's expenses I can't justify, regardless of what it does reputation wise.
  • I will immediately have to find a job to cover rent. Any job. 
  • Having to get a job will impact my writing/dissertation schedule. I will have to juggle it. But I cannot delay graduating because I STILL can't afford to not graduate this summer. So this will just mean longer days, and weekends.
And I cannot stress this enough- these are REAL concerns with REAL consequences. Being worried and stressed about being unable to pay rent is not a pie in the sky worry, it's an ACTUAL worry. The same with paying other bills and groceries.
I am single. I do not have a spouse who can cover things until I sort things out.
I do not have a family that can pay my bills until I get a job.
There's just me. And me is freaking out.
These last couple of months I have heard a lot about how the first time on the job market is a "trial run" and no one gets a job the first time out. That committees want that PhD in hand.
And I completely get that. I did not honestly think I'd be a unicorn.
But that does not change the fact that I need help with how to pay rent and bills NOW.
And I'm sorry guys, but I'm not getting any help with that.
I'm getting...Second year on the market is often successful.
Keep applying.
Stuff comes up late spring semester.
Just get a job at a private school.

And I'm doing everything I can. And IF I can afford it I WILL go on the market again. But that's not my worry right now.

And I appreciate the sentiment behind the platitudes at the same time I wish someone was ACTUALLY helping me.
This is the reality I am now facing:
  • I have gone from worrying about how to pay bills in June to how to pay my end of month bills that are due next week.
  • I am worried my rent check won't clear.
  • I have applied to the two part time, one full time teaching job listed in Albuquerque. The full time one has since been pulled, I haven't heard from the other. The private schools aren't hiring. 
    • High schools generally don't post jobs until April and May when they know who is retiring and quitting. So I'll continue to look. But again, that's months away. And hiring a PhD might be a budget breaker for a lot of schools.
  • Tomorrow initial notices for first round cuts for Teach For America go out. If I get an offer, I'm taking it. I believe in the program, that's not an issue. But a minimum two year commitment means at least a year off the market.
The last few months have involved not only stress about finishing the dissertation, but paying summer bills, and making ends meet to get to the summer defense. Add to this the stress of no job prospects and it's a lot.
Reconciling myself to not having a job in higher ed has been something else I've dealt with the past few months.

Ironically at a time social media is talking about how important getting younger scholars involved and speaking up, I'm considering the irony that my voice will not be part of this conversation. Because I cannot even look forward to the next job market cycle. I can't see past all this.

I have started to prepare myself for returning to a high school teaching job, what that means for what my day to day life with Nehi looks like, as well as financially and professionally. It would be a big change. The bonuses of course are that I would have a steady paycheck and could stop being completely freaked out about money. And I loved my twelve years of teaching high school, so that's not an issue. It's a big change, but it's one I'd be happy with. BUT...

But there's no guarantee I'll GET a high school teaching job.

12 years of high school teaching plus 3 years back at school for PhD means I am completely and totally unqualified for a "real" job. The last time I worked in a restaurant or retail was 1998. There are plenty of people with actual recent experience that qualify above me.

My uni *may* be able to help with summer work. Or work next year. But those will be last minute and still don't help me know how bills are getting paid now or next month, or come June.

I've been mitigating a lot of this panic by just focusing on what was in front of me, and what I could control.
I knew I had student loan money to get me through this semester. I was hoping to get some help with conferences with grant applications.
I was staying optimistic by continuing to apply for jobs as they come in, particularly community college jobs that are starting to post. And by knowing I'd applied to every higher ed and high school job that had come up that I was even REMOTELY qualified for or could make an argument for. And by applying to Teach for America. I'd have to move, but I can justify that cost knowing I would have a salary.

But today, I'm not feeling optimistic.
I'm feeling like I have no way to pay bills this month, this semester.
I'm feeling like there's no one helping me and a whole lot of pass the buck, not understanding my economic situation.
I'm feeling like forget hoping for a higher ed job, I'm hoping I can get ANY job.

I feel like I'm drowning.

There are lots of issues grad students face. There's the misogyny of the academy. Concerns about publishing. Concerns about time to degree. Concerns about juggling teaching and course work. Concerns about networking, and getting into conferences.
But it's hard to focus on any of these when you're not sure how rent gets paid. Or groceries. Or heat or phone.

I say it all the time... IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT CLASS.

And everyone from graduate chairs to advisors to directors need to understand these realities.

I admit to starting this year hopeful.
I was looking forward to finally earning that Harry Potter's outfit.
I was looking forward to graduating. To defending. To being Doctor Devil.

I'm not worried about finishing the dissertation.
I'm worried about getting a job. Paying bills.
Right now my ideal, my dream isn't landing a tenure track job.
It's any job that allows me to cover my monthly expenses.
Any situation that takes away this daily stress and worrying.
It's not feeling like I'm drowning on a regular basis.

I'm smart, and I've always been poor, so this is not new to me. My godmother mentioned the other week that I'm almost 40 and haven't been homeless as an adult yet. I'll figure it out.
But man, oh man do I wish I had some help, or something to hold onto.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Writing the #DevilDiss Intro- Reflection and Looking Back

I have finished and sent off round three revisions on two chapters of #DevilDiss2, and am waiting on notes from the other four chapters, so have scheduled this week and next to draft the introduction and conclusion. I was advised to not draft them before now, to wait until the argument of the dissertation was more solid.
In prepping to write these pieces I've looked at my defended prospectus from March 2015,  I've also read back through the Storify of #DevilDiss (comps, prospectus, first complete draft of the dissertation), and #DevilDiss 2 (round two revisions and beyond). These Storifies are interesting because it's the entire process as it unfolds in real time. It's been useful for identifying questions that came up, larger themes, the big picture.
Sitting down to prep these writings, and given where I am, and my research topic, it seems fitting that I am at the proverbial crossroads- when there are multiple paths laid out before me and I have no idea where I will be in five months. Where I'll be living, what my life will look like, what job I'll have.

It also calls to mind devil's deals at crossroads.
I believe reflection is good for the soul so...
My dissertation journey began with two courses, two Bread Loaf summers. In 2008 I took a Milton and Paradise Lost in Context course and in 2010 I took a Southwest Film and Literature course that focused on folk heroes.
These two classes proved foundational for me.
After the 2008 summer I proposed an independent reading project that would trace the history of the character of Satan. That was the first step towards my dissertation. It was rejected, but this became the basis of work I did in another English Studies class in the Spring 2010.
The 2010 Southwest class exposed me to folklore studies as a field.

I finished my MA in English literature in July 2010.
My Mom died 14 February 2011. And it seemed like a time for change. So I spent a year presenting at conferences, getting some things published while still teaching at my high school full time and job hunting, applying to community colleges to see if two Master's degrees would get me a job. I was not happy, but I was hoping to expand my horizons.
Because I'm a firm believer if you're not happy you get off your ass and do something about it.
In my kitchen I had a six foot whiteboard where I planned out ideas for my eventual dissertation.

After a year of not securing a community college job I decided that I needed a PhD in order to compete, and so I applied, got in, and quit my job, moving 1,951 miles into the high desert to start my program.

I knew coming into my program what I wanted my dissertation to be about and so was able to tailor my coursework and be laser focused.
When I started I had several key ideas in my head:
  • Loki and Norse mythology would figure prominently
  • Milton's Paradise Lost was the central text for me
  • I had several key chapters planned out:
    • Chapter 1 would focus on the physical devil
    • Chapter 2 would focus on his personality and actions
    • Chapter 3 would focus on Milton
By the second year in my program, I realized several things:
  • While I still think Loki and Norse mythology was influential on the creation of the English Folkloric Devil (EFD as I abbreviate in my notes) there's no way to prove this, so it's pretty much moved from central to a footnote.
  • I've added a chapter to address the absence (not really) of devils in Shakespeare
    • This was originally CH 2B, but over that second year moved to the second half of the dissertation
  • I've added a chapter to look at the devil in pamphlets
At my prospectus defense in March 2015, the comment was made that either I needed to work Milton more into the rest of my dissertation, or I needed to make it clear this was not a Milton dissertation.

In May 2015 I attempted to fix this by framing each of my chapters with Milton close readings. This was as I started the first full draft of the dissertation. This was awkward, and a square peg/round whole fix. I wasn't happy with it but lacking any other solution, I kept it.
I spent May, June, July 2015 drafting all the chapters of the dissertation.
  • Chapter 1 was in rough form as a seminar paper from my Anglo-Saxon course
  • Chapter 2 the physical and Chapter 3 the personality and actions were rough as in close readings pulled from summer before while reading for comps rough
  • Chapter 4 the absence of devils in Shakespeare was in conference paper form
  • Chapter 5 on the pamphlets was the only chapter not written in any form
  • Chapter 6 was in rough form as a final paper from my spring 2015 Milton course
As I sat down to write it all down, what ultimately helped me realize the true focus of the dissertation was how I tweeted about my project. I have always used #DevilDiss which helped me realize that my dissertation was about tracing the EFD, of which Milton's characterization in Paradise Lost is the culmination. My main concern is the devil and how he is used as the vehicle to express the fears, anxieties, and desires of the common people.

By 1 August 2015 I had sent off draft chapters of all chapters to my director.
They were awful, but I had reached the point where it'd been in my head so long I could no longer see/judge/edit anything by myself and needed someone else to give notes.

I'm a visual person (initial rounds of work on the dissertation were all color coded) so each time I've revised sections of the dissertation my whiteboard in my office got erased, rewritten, thought out.
The first round of revisions on CH 1-3 pointed out some serious flaws:
  • I was depending on inserted images to make arguments for me
  • The Milton framing didn't work, so I needed to move those close readings into the Milton chapter
  • I needed to historicize CH 2 and 3 more and make it work more as a modified survey
    • But I also needed to balance this with making an actual argument
  • In CH 6 I needed to expand how I was thinking, it couldn't just be a Paradise Lost chapter but had to consider Milton's other examinations of the EFD
  • I had to fix the serious flaws with my approach and argument. 
    • I didn't use secondary sources enough
      • This mean A LOT of extra reading before the next round of revisions
    • I didn't explain my argument enough
    • The chapters lacked a framework, a structure
August 2015 Notes
Round 2 notes were better. While the chapters as a whole got better, the notes were more specific. Chapters 1-3 still needed a lot more work. I feel like I've overhauled these chapters radically EVERY time I've revised them. So it's a little hard to see the progress, because it feels like with such major changes every time it's hard to see whether or not it's an improvement or just a completely different thing.
The other side of this is CH 1-3 act as a survey of all appearances of the devil in popular literature from Anglo-Saxons all the way up through the early modern period but they also have to argue specific stances. This is a hard balance as well as just a lot of material to cover.
September 2015 Notes
I still don't know why, but the notes on CH 4-6 seem more tweaking and less overhaul. I think in part this is because while Part I (CH 1-3) is a survey, Part II (CH 4-6) focuses on how the figure is used so it seems easier to grasp what the argument is.
By December 2015 I was finishing my final revisions on the second round. And I hit my goal of finishing and sending them off by 1 January 2016.
December 2015 Notes
It's hard when revising to see the progress, to see how much work has been done. It's easier to think- man, this must really still suck if I'm making so many changes.
It's easy to see notes, and just want to fling them all into the sea.

This is where this reflection, this looking back before I write the introduction I think is so valuable given where I am in the process.
It took me four months to write drafts of  the above chapters for the initial complete drafts of CH 1-6.
It took me roughly a week each to revise each of these chapters this past fall, so roughly six weeks total.
Hard to see when in it, but that's some serious progress. Pages and pages of notes went down to a couple of pages. Which then went down to comments within the document.

My director's 3rd round of revision notes on CH 1-3 (but applying to all) asked me to write a one sentence statement that said what the argument of that chapter was (and not cheat and use the ones I wrote up for job market materials/dissertation abstract).
January 2016 Notes
Chapters 1-3 it seems still suffered from too much survey and not enough argument.
I think I have fixed this issue. I did what my director asked, summarizing and clarifying the argument on my board, but also writing these statements into my dissertation notebook, using it as my focal point when reorganizing and revising CH 2 and 3.
Chapter 2 Round 3 Revision Notes #DevilDiss notebook

One of the additions with this third round of revision was an expansion of the connection of fairies to devils. This is a really interesting piece, but I struggled to not get sidetracked.
This too is a pitfall of this point in the dissertating process. It's tempting to see things and want to add them when really it's something that needs to be a separate, future project. Distractions as a form of imposter panic- Have I forgotten something major? I think is probably normal at this stage. But I feel good about how I feel about the dissertation, authoritative enough to say "yes" to this and "no" to other things.
With CH 2, the biggest issue was again a complete reorganizing of the chapter. It works better now, as each incarnation has but it's also hard to *see* the progress when I'm overhauling so much in each revision. This is the type of doubt that can kill you- making a move and then doubting it.
Chapter 3 Round 3 Revision Notes #DevilDiss notebook
Chapter three had a TON of subtopics, that were all over the place. In this case, a complete reorganizing/reorder helped me identify the main subtopics, clear up their connections to each other, and tie them together explicitly in my writing. It's a lot more streamlined now.

I'm waiting to start on CH 1 until I get content notes back from our Anglo-Saxonist, in addition to my director's notes which I already have. My director says I should have CH 4-6 notes by mid February, hence the work now on the Intro and Conclusion.
I want to say I feel good about revisions. Because I do. But I have felt good about all of them. So I don't know if I trust my feelings anymore.
I can make some definitive statements though at this point:
  • The order of the chapters are done. The first and second half work well together. I am happy with how they build on each other and work together.
  • I think the subtopics, the organization within the chapters is done.
  • The reading, sources for the dissertation are done. While there may be a footnote to add here and there, I am no longer reading for the dissertation.
18 January 2016 Whiteboard
So this is my work the next couple of weeks on the intro and conclusion while I wait for the rest of the notes:
  • My director had me write a brief methodology/intro when I submitted my drafts back in August. This is the foundation I'm using for writing my intro.
    • I need to clarify what I mean when I say the devil is the vehicle of the folk
    • I need to make sure that the works that I treat as foundational in chapters are frontloaded here
  • One critique of the prospectus was my emphasis on psychoanalysis as a methodology. Reviewing my past work this morning, I realize I resolved this mainly by just doing the work instead of saying I was doing the work.
  • I need to, as the board above shows, also explain how this folkloric devil is different from the Biblical devil, and clarify my explanation for using only popular literature.
  • I think in the shift from a Milton dissertation to one about the EFD I've fixed this, but an initial note on the prospectus was why folklore was important to Milton's Satan.
  • My original prospectus was 11 pages minus the bibliography, the methodology/intro was 9. So I feel good about the foundation.
My goal is to finish a draft of the introduction this week, and if I don't have CH 1 notes by next week, move onto the conclusion which will look forward to why a folkloric examination of the devil is important, pointing towards my next project, Revising Milton which examines Milton's secular mythology as forwarded in popular culture.
If I get CH 1 notes I'll do those next week, then the conclusion the next.
No matter what, all the above will be done that first week in February.

The plus side is, at this point chapter revisions are taking less than a week. So if CH 4-6 are in as good a shape as I think/hope they are, I should be able to turn them around by the end of February/beginning of March.
I've told my director that I'd like this round to be tentatively approved for me to send to other committee members.
With a end of June/beginning of July defense, I want to make sure they have time to read it.
  • I remember reading one month was enough for committee members once drafts were approved.
    • Someone else last week told me 2 weeks per chapter (which is 3 months with 6 chapters), which is why I'm a little concerned.
  • With the next round of notes, I will copy and paste them all into the already formatted One Doc that conforms to what the university requires. If I finish the intro and conclusion and still don't have notes I'll start shifting things to the One Doc, including the appendices and front matter.
  • I figure that IF I can get notes from everyone this next round this would enable me in March-June to work on incorporating EVERYONE'S notes.
    • I'd like to go into my defense with few/no notes as there's such a tight turn around to get it then submitted to the university by 8 July.
Whether it's because of how much drafting and revising I've done in the last year, or because of where I am/how I feel about #DevilDiss, I'm not worried about writing the intro or conclusion, they're just things to cross off the list, like organizing the One Doc, copying all the chapter bibliographies into a single document and deleting the duplicates.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare This Semester Step by Step: Prepping the First Week

It was fun watching so many of my professor friends and colleagues post this past week about classes starting. Their enthusiasm is great to watch.
We don't start until this upcoming week, and I'm excited to get started.

Saturdays are when I do my lesson planning and grading, so today I sat down with coffee in front of my computer and logged onto Blackboard.
I post weekly announcements on Saturday as well- reminders about due dates, things that are coming up that week, what they need to do.

I planned the first week as a soft start. For a lot of reasons- the first couple of weeks we tend to have a lot of turnover, and I didn't want to penalize students for that. Also, I can tell from emails I've already answered, I may have some drops as students realize this is an online only class, although my experience as an online teacher means that it's a very beginner friendly course.

I have two welcome announcements, a generic course one, and then my personal one:

I go out of my way in my online courses to personalize myself so students realize there's a real person on the other side of the computer. Nehi figures heavily in this.

You'll see this announcement clarifies some things I've been asked this past week, introduces me, then lays out for them the goals/assignments for the week. Because it's the beginning of the semester, I thought I'd share here my thoughts on the syllabus.

Complains by teachers and professors about the syllabus run the gamut, from amusing:

To condescending and mean:

And here's what bugs me about this- this is a horrible way to start your semester. It's a horrible tone to set with students. And I think this type of attitude and tone at the beginning taints your entire course.
There is a better way.

My heartfelt plea at the beginning of each semester is always before you make a complaint about students not reading your syllabus, that you ask yourself (or better them) WHY they're not reading it.
I have several thoughts on this.
  • Many professors present their syllabus as a "contract" between you and them. The problem with this is that most students have no experience with contracts and so the connotation of this is lost on them.
  • Many professors quiz students on the syllabus, but this becomes a search and destroy on the syllabus, not a deep reading.
  • Many professors read the syllabus in class, and students know this, and this is their only contact with it
Now, I too have been guilty of the above- both the complaining, and how I covered the syllabus. Then one day I stopped. I stopped and asked myself WHY they were not reading it. And I kept thinking that it was because they just didn't see the point. If the teacher was going to read it out loud, and hit/review high points all semester, why bother?
So I shifted how I presented it.
I introduce it as the "how to do well in my course" guide.
My syllabus is also a hyperlinked Google Doc. Something students love because it's all right there. The weekly calendar has their readings and assignments, and is updated each week with hyperlinked resources. Because it is their one stop shopping for the class they HAVE TO use it each week. And because of how I present its importance they use all of it.
I don't cover it in class. I don't read it. Instead, I make a short video that I tell them hits the highlights and pet peeves then point them to the "how to do well" syllabus guide.

Since I changed my approach on this over a year ago I have no answered a single "It's in the syllabus" question. I still answer plenty of email questions, but not on the syllabus. And the hyperlinked syllabus as Google Doc is one of the things students say they like best on end of semester evaluations.

So that's my prep for the first week.
I'm sure I'll answer a lot of questions this week as students new to online learning get acclimated- it's a big class (75 students) and a diverse group of students, I already know I have some older students and one overseas, but I'll bet you while I'll answer lots of questions as I get to know them and vice versa, they won't be about the syllabus.