Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wha...? A new post!? (Complete with interrobang...)

Yeah, yeah. I know it's been a while.

It's been a crazy semester.

I've lost track of the number of snow days (three?) and late starts (four? or five?) we've had...there was one point at which I met with each of my classes precisely once in the span of 14 days: in the week prior to Spring Break I'd canceled Monday's Calc II classes for some reason I've since forgotten, and Tuesday and Wednesday ended up both being snow days, so I met with my Topology class and one of the Calc II sections only on Thursday, and with the other Calc II section only on Friday...and then Spring Break came.

Needless to say, this threw everyone's trains of thought off the rails, and in the subsequent weeks (the last couple) we've all been running around like mad trying to pick up the pieces.

I've made a number of mid-course adjustments in order to try to compensate for the craziness. I've scrapped several "less critical" sections from the Calc II calendar, and I've changed up the syllabus for Topology: having found from several of the most dedicated students in that class that the textbook assignments were not proving to be an effective means of learning the material, I ditched those. Many of the concepts were proving very difficult for the students to paraphrase, so that only a handful of the students were producing textbook submissions which were anything more than reiterations of my own course notes. Moreover, the homework assignments have been difficult enough to demand substantial amounts of the students' attention. In return for scrubbing the textbook project, I've asked the students to redouble their efforts at revising their homework, and so far they've kept up their end of the bargain.

I feel strongly that flexibility, both on the part of the teacher and on the part of the students, is critical in designing an effective learning environment. I've never been able to fathom faculty members who use the same rigid note sets semester after semester, or who plan precisely which exercises they'll assign to their classes for the duration of the term on the term's very first day.

Yeah, Topology could be moving a bit more smoothly, but as this is the first time I've taught the course, a few fits and starts are inevitable, I suppose. I appreciate my students' patience as I figure out what works and what doesn't.

Calc II, on the other hand, is cruising over smooth seas.

What else is new?


...I'm still waiting to hear back from Jossey-Bass regarding my book proposal. I'm hopeful that the proposal will get picked up...although I'm not sure where I'm going to find the time to finish the two chapters I'd promised by May. I've got an outline for the first chapter worked up, but little more than that right now.

There's been little movement on the rhetorical analysis of REU students' writing I began several weeks ago with the Charleston folks. Last I knew, Bella was planning on making some revisions to the initial version I posted on our Google site a few weeks back. Nothin' new there, though.

The Writing Intensive Subcommittee's knocking off new proposals left and right...moving to the Google Docs platform has made our work dramatically simpler and more streamlined. And right now ILSOC's workload has been relatively light as we've all hunkered down in our respective subcommittees to put together faculty development workshops (WI's planning one on writing instruction for ESL students, based on a workshop run at this year's Meeting in the Middle, the Carolina Writing Program Administrators' spring conference) and hammer out assessment plans. WI's assessment plan's been in the works for over a year now, and many of the materials have been collected's just a matter of sitting down, establishing inter-rater reliability for the rubric (say that three times really quickly), and making our way through the students' writing samples.

What else?

Tomorrow I'm truckin' over to the 2010 MAA Southeast Sectional Meetings at Elon University with a boatload (well, a vanload, anyway) of our students. We've got 23 students attending, several of whom are giving talks or posters or serving on panels. Several first-year students are going (props, Iris, Ino! What's up, Ulysses?), and they're particularly stoked. I'm glad I put forth a strong recruiting effort...I don't mind saying that it's been a ridiculous amount of work to organize transportation, housing, special events, et cetera, but I think it'll be worth it. I'm particularly proud of my most recent research students, Siegfried and Tonio, who'll both be presenting their work in the undergraduate talk sessions; and Ulrich, Uriah, and LaDonna, whose presentation late on Saturday morning will showcase their views on the 280 textbook project.

Oh...oh...oh...OHHHHH! And after two weeks or so of intense paring and picking, my colleague Tip and I plowed through the 268 REU applications we received and came up with a list of participants for this year's program. Only three students to whom we offered positions turned us down, so we got most of our top choices. I'm excited to have them all on board. I've got a good feeling about this year.

What else?

The Tenth International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference is quickly coming closer...and plans are moving ahead for the celebration of Oulipo's 50th birthday I'm helping to put together in November. We've now got a tentative list of invited speakers, informal promises of financial support, and a rough schedule of activities. Once we've confirmed our speakers list we can begin to advertise to the campus and other communities.

I've got a few more trips coming up (two in April and two in May), but once those are over I'll be looking forward to settling in for the summer.

And I'm still waiting to find out the decision on my tenure application. Should come any day now. Fingers crossed.

That's about it, pedagogically speaking. I'll be sure to check in if anything noteworthy happens, maybe from Elon.

Fare thee well!


Scott said...

The student-authored textbook is an awesome project! For 280, the material we learned was very intuitive, at least for the most part. I think this made putting the material in our own words very natural, and these lay definitions were much easier to understand than formal definitions of these concepts. The process of doing this, however, requires that the author first understand the material, then say "oh, ok, well that makes since. so its just saying..." Then, getting creative with examples and exercises, it just doesnt get better than that.
On the other hand, I feel like the abstractness of topology is slightly (at least) more elusive than foundations of math. In many cases, the formal definition really is about the easiest way you can acurately describe a concept. Attempting to reword concepts enough to be original sometimes led to chaotic sentence structure and lack of fluidity.
Also, I think the 280 project was especially exciting because we did not already have a textbook for the class. We felt as if we were creating something we needed, a paper guide of the course. And, future student may use the texbook to guide them. On the other hand, professors and post-graduates alike have authored many topology textbooks. And, it just doesnt seem as fun to reword a textbook as to create one.

Brian said...

I second what Scott said about the textbook project. In 280 it was a great tool for solidifying what we were learning in the class, but topology was a different animal. In fact I believe it was Patrick that said that 280 was like a petting zoo of proofs, while topology was like going out to hunt your own proofs in the wild! ... and you can't write a tour guide for the wild. :)
In addition to all of that I find that the material in topology is simply more difficult to take in compared to 280. It's very definition heavy with super abstract ideas. This means more time spent on homework just figuring out how it all works. It's not impossible, just more involved. But that puts the textbook idea further out of reach.