Tag Archive for teaching

Storying Your Education through an Artifact

“What object would you use to tell the story of your education?”

This ques­tion was posed to me by Jenn Fish­man, an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor at Mar­quette Uni­ver­sity, who is today’s speaker at the Sum­mer Sem­i­nar in Rhetoric and Com­po­si­tion that I am attend­ing. Jenn asked us before­hand to bring with us an arti­fact that would help us tell the story of our education.

I thought about this prompt for at least a few weeks before com­ing to the con­fer­ence (Isn’t it such a provoca­tive thing to con­sider?). I even posed this ques­tion to my friends on Face­book, who responded with cre­ative and inter­est­ing arti­facts, includ­ing a flute, library, teach­ers, a spread­sheet, a human skull, and a lap­top. Notice that these items were not lim­ited to school­ing; instead, these (smart) peo­ple looked at edu­ca­tion from many dif­fer­ent van­tage points, includ­ing school­ing, of course, but also extracur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ties, hob­bies, places, peo­ple, and extra­or­di­nary objects.

When I began think­ing about how I would answer Jenn’s ques­tion, the object that first popped to my mind was a Bible. But this was not the story I wanted to tell about myself. I didn’t want to be one of those peo­ple who, at least in acad­e­mia, are often viewed as narrow-minded, pre­dictable, igno­rant, judg­men­tal, and hate­ful. I didn’t want to be char­ac­ter­ized, stereo­typed, or judged because of this arti­fact that I might bring.

So I began to pon­der other artifacts.

I looked around my office. I noticed the three diplo­mas hang­ing on the wall. I con­sid­ered bring­ing one of those. I even took a pic­ture of my Ph.D. diploma–just in case I chose to use it. This diploma holds great mean­ing to me, and not just in ways you might think (but that’s another story).

I con­sid­ered telling the story about how I over­came a speech imped­i­ment when I was young. I couldn’t pro­nounce my els, rs, or esses. I couldn’t even say my own name cor­rectly. This story has defined me in ways that I can­not fully artic­u­late, that no one else quite under­stands even when I try to explain. It is con­nected to why I try so hard at things, why being a vale­dic­to­rian and get­ting a Ph.D. mean so much to me. But I couldn’t think of an object to bring. I thought of My Fair Lady but decided against it. I thought of bring­ing a pic­ture of my speech teacher whose name I can’t remem­ber but who, in the sec­ond grade, showed me how, though six months preg­nant, mater­nity pants worked. I couldn’t find a picture.

I also thought about bring­ing a bas­ket­ball. Bas­ket­ball was not the first sport I ever played or the first sport I was good at, but it was the sport to teach me about dis­ci­pline, team­work, ded­i­ca­tion, and hard work. It was also the sport I loved the most, the sport I excelled at most, a sport I now play today with my own chil­dren. I learned about my strengths, my weak­nesses. I noticed that some of my strengths and weak­nesses were innate (I had a log­i­cal mind and could pre­dict where a player would throw the ball and inter­cept it; I was short and could not block a shot); oth­ers were devel­oped in life (I could nail three point­ers from all over the arc; I could throw a ball poorly to a team­mate and get it intercepted).

I learned so much about myself through play­ing basketball.

I learned about life and peo­ple and love.
I learned about good teach­ing through both good and bad coaches.
I learned about pas­sion and prac­tice and per­for­mance.
I learned how to have a good atti­tude, not be self­ish, how to lose, how to win, how to be a good team­mate, how to be a leader, how to for­give other’s mis­takes.
Bas­ket­ball taught me how to expe­ri­ence and live life.

I also thought about bring­ing one of my all-time favorite nov­els, The Grapes of Wrath (To Kill a Mock­ing­bird is another favorite of mine.). I read this book my senior year of col­lege. It was in “The Amer­i­can Novel,” the first upper-level Eng­lish course I took after switch­ing majors my junior year. This book changed me. It changed how I viewed the world. It changed the way I approached peo­ple and story. It expanded my under­stand­ing of lis­ten­ing, emphathiz­ing, under­stand­ing. I iden­ti­fied with the Joads and Tom and the pain and suf­fer­ing and loss this fam­ily expe­ri­enced. The sto­ries within this book broke my heart. I quickly bought and read as many John Stein­beck books as I could, includ­ing Of Mice and Men, Can­nery Row, East of Eden, and Trav­els with Charley.

John Stein­beck, I might argue, made me more socially aware.

More aware of injus­tice.
More aware of the ter­ri­ble ways peo­ple treat each other.
More aware that the idea of pulling one­self up by the boot­straps is a myth.
More aware of sys­temic poverty, racism, clas­sism, and sex­ism.
More aware of priv­i­lege.
More aware of my own sub­ject posi­tion.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me rea­son to be angry. To be rav­ing mad. But it also allowed me to under­stand the dig­nity of wrath. It led me to want to fight injus­tice. It changed me.

Even­tu­ally this book led me back to the first book I con­sid­ered as my arti­fact: the Bible. And, in the end, the Bible is the arti­fact I chose. I thought the risk was worth it.

Holy Bible Pink Cover


Inventing a Winning Machine

Ear­lier this week, I was look­ing through my 1st grade daughter’s back­pack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writ­ing. Eliz­a­beth wrote the following:

My inven­tion is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image cour­tesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr’s Cre­ative Com­mons License.

Two sen­tences. Two sen­tences that reveal a lot about my daugh­ter. Eliz­a­beth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the oppor­tu­nity to imag­ine a machine to invent that would make life bet­ter, eas­ier, she chose a tech­nol­ogy that would make win­ning at every­thing pos­si­ble. (Of course, there are prob­lems with such a tool, because some­one has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her inven­tion already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Eliz­a­beth comes by this desire hon­estly (just like she does her stub­born­ness, inde­pen­dence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the oppo­site of her; I would want some­thing that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Ken­tucky (we had prob­a­bly been mar­ried 4 months), my dad was mak­ing a speech in Indi­anapo­lis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the air­port and walked around down­town for a while, vis­it­ing the stat­ues, parks, and other out­door sights. Indi­anapo­lis has such a lovely feel. We ate din­ner and then were head­ing back to the car (after sev­eral hours of walk­ing around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was argu­ing with me about the route we were tak­ing back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direc­tion. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insist­ing that we were going the com­plete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direc­tion (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep fol­low­ing her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I dis­agree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laugh­ter. It was a les­son from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walk­ing the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from lik­ing to play games, just like Eliz­a­beth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m com­pet­i­tive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t cel­e­brate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for ath­letes when they start gal­li­vant­ing down the court after mak­ing a bas­ket or a touch­down, espe­cially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such cel­e­bra­tion!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that mat­ter. Things that don’t. Things that had major con­se­quences for me in terms of schol­ar­ships, pres­tige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One side­note: It is inter­est­ing when I play games with other peo­ple, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They tar­get me (in Hearts, Double-9 domi­noes, Monop­oly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They cel­e­brate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being com­pet­i­tive and win­ning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But win­ning isn’t what moti­vates me; what moti­vates me is NOT los­ing. I’m sure there’s a lot of com­plex­i­ties going on in this state­ment, but let me just say that los­ing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an arti­cle I’ve writ­ten gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sab­bat­i­cal for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a posi­tion for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of neg­a­tive teacher evaluations.

When some­one says some­thing neg­a­tive about me.

When I com­pare myself to other moms. 

When my chil­dren mis­be­have and dis­obey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My iden­tity is wrapped up in NOT los­ing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Eliz­a­beth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to con­front the under­ly­ing inse­cu­ri­ties of losing.

 


Teaching Writing in a Digital Age

This semes­ter I designed and taught a new course, “Writ­ing in a Dig­i­tal Age.” This course will soon become required for all Pro­fes­sional Writ­ing majors, and I am thank­ful to have been the first to teach it.It tops the list as one of my all-time favorites.

The stu­dents were engaged, ded­i­cated, and flex­i­ble.
The mate­r­ial was stim­u­lat­ing, new, and excit­ing.
The topic was rel­e­vant, inter­est­ing, and prac­ti­cal.
The clients were involved, atten­tive, and grate­ful. 

I learned. The stu­dents learned. The clients learned. And we all did so with atti­tudes of open­ness to the process, which is impor­tant when you’re teach­ing with and using technology.

My stu­dents pre­sented their final projects yes­ter­day. They showed us the web­site they had cre­ated for a local small busi­ness, and they reflected on the process of writ­ing for the web, work­ing with a client, and tran­si­tion­ing the web­site and social media pages over to the client. I was fas­ci­nated by what they did in six weeks. I am amazed at my students.

A few of the clients were able to come as well. I really enjoyed hear­ing their per­spec­tive about how dig­i­tal writ­ing mat­ters in small busi­ness. A few men­tioned that they did not know how much an online pres­ence would mat­ter for their busi­ness, but that, in just a few weeks, they can already see how use­ful it will be for their busi­ness. Awesome.

Here are some of the web­sites my stu­dents created:

In the future, I plan to expand this Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing project to the entire semes­ter. I think stu­dents and the client will ben­e­fit from doing so, and I can envi­sion many ways to expand the assignment.

Thanks for a great semes­ter, #DW4375!


Why I Like the End of the Semester

The last week of the semes­ter is upon us at Bay­lor and at many col­leges all over the coun­try. Next week is finals week, and then comes grad­u­a­tion. And, then, the semes­ter is over.

This time of year is one of my favorites. Yes, sum­mer is com­ing and stu­dents and teach­ers alike will soon get a much needed break. We don’t have to come back until August. But what I like just as much as antic­i­pat­ing the sum­mer hia­tus is get­ting to see what my stu­dents have learned. This is the time of the semes­ter when stu­dents sub­mit their work, work that high­lights what they have learned, accom­plished, and achieved through my course. I enjoy look­ing through stu­dent  projects and reflect­ing on what we have done over the course of 16 weeks and all that we have accom­plished together.

What is really excit­ing for me this semes­ter is that I designed and taught a new course, “Writ­ing in the Dig­i­tal Age.” This course has exceeded my expec­ta­tions, and I have really enjoyed the con­tent and the stu­dents who enrolled in it. We have had a great semes­ter together. Stu­dents cre­ated a pro­fes­sional blog and com­posed weekly blog posts on issues related to dig­i­tal writ­ing. They mar­keted them­selves and their work through Face­book and Twit­ter. They researched a topic related to dig­i­tal writ­ing, such as pod­casts in the class­room,e-books, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, and the Smart­Pen.

Stu­dents also cre­ated an audio or video Pub­lic Ser­vice Announce­ment. Ali­son cre­ated a video PSA on Lupus, and Ari­adne com­posed a provoca­tive PSA on body image.Other PSAs exam­ined child­hood lit­er­acy, hunger, and binge drinking.

The last project of the semes­ter, which we are cur­rently work­ing on, asked stu­dents to locate a local small busi­ness and work with them to develop an  online presence–to mar­ket them­selves dig­i­tally to their audi­ence. Stu­dents built a Web site for their client and then cre­ated or updated their client’s Face­book and Twit­ter pages. Next week, we will have a cel­e­bra­tion party where we will view the final web sites and cel­e­brate with the clients. I have really enjoyed this project and plan to expand it as a semester-long project next time.

The end of the semes­ter is excit­ing for stu­dents and teach­ers. Edu­ca­tion, in all its embod­i­ments, becomes evident.


Why I Created a Web Site

It is offi­cial. I have a Web site. This site has been many years in the mak­ing (at least in my mind plan­ning it). Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time work­ing with a vari­ety of soft­ware pro­grams (Dreamweaver, Front­Page, Netscape Composer–remember that one?). I have learned these pro­grams. I have even taught stu­dents how to use them. I have drawn by hand what I wanted my site to look like, includ­ing where to place the images, texts, and links. But I have never offi­cially cre­ated my own site. Now, I finally have. I bought my own domain name (kara­poealexan­der was taken!??). I paid for a host, and I now have site (I use Word­Press). Yea!

This site is intended for a vari­ety of pur­poses and audiences.

One pur­pose of this site is to develop an online pro­fes­sional iden­tity. An aca­d­e­mic, a scholar, a teacher. Audi­ences who are inter­ested in me as a pro­fes­sional per­haps want to see me blog about issues per­tain­ing to my teach­ing or my schol­ar­ship. They may want to look at my CV and see my back­ground. They may want to down­load a syl­labus or sam­ple assign­ments, which is per­fectly fine. They might want to see a pic­ture of me since they’ve never met me in per­son. This aca­d­e­mic audi­ence is pro­fes­sional, anti-religious (I assume), intel­lec­tual, and smart. I find them a bit intimidating.

A sec­ond pur­pose of this site is to con­nect with my stu­dents. model for stu­dents what it is like to have a pro­fes­sional online pres­ence. I teach stu­dents major­ing in Pro­fes­sional Writ­ing, and in our courses we often dis­cuss what it means to have a pro­fes­sional online pres­ence. It was all well and good, except I didn’t have a Web site. Yet I was requir­ing them to have one. That didn’t go together. This site, then, is intended to not only show stu­dents that I have an online pres­ence but also to model to them the numer­ous ways writ­ers can use tech­nol­ogy to write, blog, get jobs, find fol­low­ers, and con­nect to var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties and audi­ences. I also cre­ated a Web site so that my stu­dents could come here for course mate­ri­als. I have used Black­board in the past, but I find this open access a bit more in line with my own ped­a­gogy. I am glad to know that stu­dents will be uti­liz­ing this site.

The last–and per­haps main–purpose of this site is to write. I have blogged on and off since 2006, a year after my first child was born when I wanted to doc­u­ment her life. But I have not been a faith­ful blog­ger for a few years. In recent months, how­ever, I have been read­ing more and more blogs, and what first moti­vated me to finally cre­ate a Web site was because I wanted to enter the conversations.

The con­ver­sa­tions I am most inter­ested in per­tain to var­i­ous aspects of my iden­tity as a work­ing mother, a female aca­d­e­mic, a Chris­t­ian, and a preacher’s wife. Most of what I blog about will be about these issues of moth­er­hood, wom­an­hood, acad­e­mia, and faith. I rec­og­nize that my audi­ences are diverse and that some areas I write about will not always inter­est my read­ers. I do hope, how­ever, that I can find my niche in the conversation.

I’m always inter­ested in your com­ments and feed­back, so feel free to leave com­ments or to sub­scribe to my social media using the icon but­tons on the site.

And if you’re inter­ested, you can find my pre­vi­ous blogs at:

http://karapoealexander.blogspot.com/

http://readinganew.blogspot.com/