Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Me and my big mouth...

It's been a while since I updated here, and I'm afraid it'll be a bit longer, since I've written several pages related to administrivia today and am in no state of mind to write much more that's job-related.

I did want to mention my latest bout of "another fine mess I've gotten me into": I managed to get myself appointed to the General Education Council, the UNC system-wide body of faculty who are charged with designing the system's general education practices in response to the Strategic Plan. That's what I get for bragging about my experience in program development, assessment, etc. Me and my big mouth, indeed.

My reward so far: reading 200-300 pages of documents related to the plan and sitting through an hour-and-a-half-long advertisement ("this isn't a sales pitch," they felt the need to inform us every few minutes or so, it seemed) delivered by several representatives from the Educational Testing Service, proud makers of ACT, GRE, TOEFL, CLA, and other standardized assessment instruments (or "products," as they seem to be fond of calling them).


To be continued. We're tasked with identifying system-wide core competencies for the various UNC schools' gen ed programs, deliverable by January 2014. "Seamless transfer" is the mantra-like shibboleth. "Individual campuses will retain their core identities," they promise us, even as they move toward curricular homogenization. "This is a faculty-driven process," they insist, herding us into the abattoir.

Buckle in: this is going to be a long and bumpy ride.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Lie to me

It's been a while since I've written here; it's taking a particularly fun exercise I tried out in my Oulipo class to get me back.

Today we played a game I called "Lie to me." Inspired by the byzantine yet convincing fictions Georges Perec creates in Life: A user's manual, I asked my students to spend ten or twelve minutes in crafting the beginnings of a bit of fiction in which they lie their asses off, given the following generic set-up: "You are a _______________ , with a(n) _______________ who hopes to _______________ while in _______________ ." For each blank the students drew cards: the first card gave them a character ("heroin-addicted airline pilot," "one-armed race car driver," etc.), the second accoutred them with an object ("a shard of the cross Jesus hung on," "an ounce of unrefined uranium ore," etc.), the third gave them a purpose ("publish a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama," "escape persecution by political rivals," etc.), and the fourth gave them a location ("Jakarta," "Prague," etc.). I joined in, writing as a homeless classically-trained violinist with a blind Bengal tiger cub who was living in New York and trying to solve the Riemann Hypothesis.

In the spirit of March Madness, the students advanced their stories through quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, ending with a competition between an expert on 17th-century Russian history and a deposed Latin American president. "It's like the darkest ever episode of Dora the Explorer," one of the students said about the latter story, written largely in Spanglish.

Fun times! I'm definitely going to have to try this constraint out again in a future class.