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/