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the grid

Sunday 17 May 2020

Summer Session Week 2

What a wonderful collection of magical assistants we saw last week! It cheered me up considerably just thinking about using the lovely potions and elixirs and devices we all imagined! Clearly the placebo effect works even for imaginary medicine, the thought of the Polyanna Elixir made me smile so mission accomplished.

It was a week that definitely needed cheering up, as many of us mentioned we are officially staring at a fully online Fall semester, a terrifying prospect in many ways. Even though I had already decided to make my giant courses into online versions regardless of the official plan it was still a shock – seeing it in black and white definitely squashed the tiny bit of hope for a different outcome. But that said, it was absolutely the right decision to make and I’m grateful my university made it now instead of stringing us along until August as I expected them to do.

So, now we turn to coping… Our summers already look very different from the ones we imagined in January, and now there is this giant additional task in front of us. I’m imagining it as a large mythical beast of some kind, stomping closer and closer… I would love to know, what are you thinking about ways to keep the beast from wrecking an entire summer? How will we keep chipping away at the large tasks of converting courses etc. while still making time for the important things we love? How will the poor little research tasks (imagining a fairly fragile fairy here) survive the presence of the monster, who is right now a bigger and meaner version of the regular term-time ones we're pretty good at defeating?

What concrete steps can we take to tame the monster and make it possible to live with it?


  1. Well, the monster is pretty scary. I had already decided to shift my giant courses online, but now the smaller three will go too. So I’m starting to think about planning how to handle the shift. Of course the faculty morale was not helped by the fact that a few days before announcing the shift to online the university also put out the official notice that they are opening the “lay-off clause” of our contract and can now actually fire people… How to motivate by fear perhaps? Anyway, can’t do anything about that. So…

    Reading and literature: I will read but only a reasonable amount. I’ve picked two books about online teaching (Small Teaching Online by James Lang because I liked his other one a lot, and Teaching Online by Claire Howell Major, available free online) and I am going to read those, and not much else. Reading everything might sound good, but there are limits, and I’m going to be very strict on not falling down every possible literature rabbit hole to trying and be an expert. I chose those two books because they synthesize a lot of research and give a really decent overview of the critical components of the process.

    Thinking: I love JaneB’s comment last week about the online shift being an instructional design thing. Reframing it this way is helpful for me. I hate everything about online teaching but I’m not going to think about the mechanics of that part at all until it has to happen because I cannot know how it will unfold so until September I will treat it as a design challenge.

    Scheduling: I will NOT work on teaching stuff every day. I will schedule 2 days a week for that, no more, and on weeks where papers are being revised or research meetings need to happen and when research students need me I will be ok with 1 day a week. And if I have to drop something out of my week, I will drop the teaching prep. Over a summer I think that is sustainable and will get a lot of work done. I’m in the weird position that I will be prepping one course I will not be teaching, it is normally mine, but it will be done by someone else (term position) this year and I just cannot drop them in it with no help, that would be horrible, so I’m doing the major prep for the lecture parts (hoping to get official teaching credit for that but unlikely and beside the point really).

    Help: I will learn to delegate the preparation of labs to the term instructors who are still here and will be doing the labs with me next year. It may not be exactly what I would do, but I will not stress about this! We will all meet regularly and chat, but I will not micromanage and I will not feel obliged to do it all myself.

    Escape: When I’m just too fed-up and sad to do anything useful I spend a little bit of time on twitter, but only on two accounts: swear_trek and EffinBirds Just add an @ in front and enjoy some excellent cursing. I find them terribly therapeutic, and in keeping with the placebo effect, just imagining sending a few of them to selected administrators cheers me right up!

    1. So after that monster essay that would not fit in one comment... Last week was kind of a rough week, admin wanted everyone’s online plans “right now” and there was much emailing and meetings about staffing and hiring (actually, more like the refusal of university to hire adequate staff), and a stupid admin task of working on a “plan” that will never happen because every component of the plan needs resources and we don’t have that… I did get a nice new data set polished up, that was fun!

      Last week’s goals:
      1) Finish all accounting submissions for term HAVE NOT STARTED
      3) Read and comment on student thesis – iterative project DONE and ONGOING
      4) Make progress on neglected paper, I had some great days a few weeks ago but then it stalled again so it needs to be a priority UGH, STALL AND FAIL…
      5) This week’s fun thing – take-out sushi to celebrate child’s report card arrival DONE AND EXCELLENT!

      This week’s goals
      1) Try Again: Finish all accounting submissions for term
      2) Open neglected paper and start over with the figures
      3) Help student with defense presentation, yay!!
      4) Write late report for internal grant
      5) Practice keeping teaching stuff in its scheduled place
      6) This week’s fun thing: outdoor trip outside of neighbourhood, we’re allowed to go to trails or local beaches under some conditions now

    2. Thanks for the reading suggestions! I do plan to do some uni-sponsored online-teaching course, but/and would also like to do my own exploration.

      And congrats on getting your student to the defense stage!

  2. Well, this is a great prompt! It's waking up my scout/sniper from a year ago, who seems to be in a right stroppy mood.

    I'm already dealing with the woolly Mammoth of Moving; what do you mean, I now need to wrangle some large mythical beast on top of that? Because I can get on with the Talking Cats, I'm now your go-to keeper of all beasties, magical, mythological, or merely extinct? Let me tell you, this mammoth is not exactly happy about being loosed in a world a long way from the one it evolved in, and it's taking all my energy right now to deal with it. I'm not managing to do any mapping, and rather than blowing up bridges, I'm just getting the mammoth to smash up a few things. I wish a single one of the god-forgotten top brass would come out here in the field for five minutes. Not that I would dream of fragging a superior officer, but if you're getting in between a mammoth and a hippogriff, accidents will happen, you know what I mean? I'm pretty quick on my feet (clumsy scouts don't last long), but I'm definitely looking out for number one before I worry about any precious armchair general whose daddy bought him a captaincy when he was a pretty mustachio'd young stud. Some days, I dream of deserting. But I have a nice lot of back pay promised me, and the talking cats and I still need to eat, so here I am. Different campaign, same shit. Plus mammoth droppings.

    1. How I did: last week was Zone I, "relax and start sleeping better." Oooooof was that a week. Tons of life stuff related to buying a house was accomplished, and we are now under contract and movers are scheduled, but sleep was a casualty.

      New goals:
      2 hours academic work per day.
      Order fall books; other admin tasks; take notes on an ILL book; 15 min/day dead language.
      Life stuff: bills, med forms, lists, packing.

    2. You are brilliant!!!!!! That paragraph made me laugh/cry so hard I spit up my tea.
      Thank you for totally making my day and providing a template for visions for the week!!!
      We'll be cheering on Scout for the WIN! And now my keyboard gets the long-overdue cleaning...

    3. Thank you! That was really fun and cathartic to write. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

  3. My campus is still hoping to be IRP in the fall- not sure how this will happen but they are exploring lots of options. Many of our classes are small to medium size, so it might be that large lecture courses go online but the rest do not. Having had the virus, I do not really see anyway we could have on campus courses without a vaccine, so I'm not that optimistic. So for the time being I am going to ignore the beast of teaching online, although I am lucky that my courses are all small discussion based ones that do not require lots of changes. Right now I am really grappling with the monster of trying to finish my book without good access to library materials or ILL. My hope is that, if the ms is finished by the end of the summer, I can submit something with the note to the editors that fact checking in the primary sources will have to await access to those. Not sure if anyone has any thoughts.

    1. How I did last week:
      1. Finish grading- Yes
      2. Start data crunching for next section of CH 7- started
      3. Develop calender of writing/tasks for the summer- NO
      4. Exercise x 3 Yes
      5. Get my taxes and my aunt's taxes in Mine yes, aunt's NO
      This week:
      1. Number crunch for section of Ch 7 and write 1,000 words
      2. Meet with three research students via ZOOM about summer research, meet with postdoc
      3. Exercise x 3
      4. Aunt's taxes
      5. Look for Tahitian teacher- Daisy to respond to your question about why Tahitian? I do my fieldwork mainly in French Polynesia. Tahitian is the native lingua franca there. I keep putting off learning Tahitian until my French is better, but I am resigned to the fact that my French is not going to get better. I am fluent, but I learned in the field so have bad grammer but a great vocab. It does not work for me to take clases, because in terms of grammer I am intro but in terms of everything else I am advanced. So I think its time to turn to learning Tahitian. Its easier than French in some ways: no fem/masculine- thank god!, no verb conjugations, you just use a word marker for tense changes. But in other ways its harder: it has an r that is different than our r and different than the french r which took me ages to master (I am not a natural language picker upper), it is uber vowel focused so all the words sound similar, and it has inclusive/exclusive subj/obj (us two but not you who are present, us three but not them who are not present)- these are hard to wrap your head around but they certainly make alot of sense for small communities living on islands.

    2. This is so interesting. As someone who does really well in the early stages of language (rules) but less well as it gets more complex, I'm always intrigued at how others learn languages!

    3. Fascinating!! Thank you for indulging my curiosity. So cool to hear about different language structures and customs.
      Good luck with book monster!

    4. Oh, my eyes . . . I read "small discussion based ones that do not require lots of champagne."

      My question was, for the students, or for the prof?

      Never mind.

  4. Topic: Although my monster is much smaller than those of you whose teaching is center stage, I was supposed to work with the professor teaching rare books this summer. The course may well be moved to the fall, but if we are still online then, I will have to wrangle a monster, too. There are some steps I can take. Despite the obvious downsides of working wholly from digital copies (thinking of my earlier stated sympathy with Susan on having to work from Early English Books Online), there are topics that can be taught from those sources -- catchwords, signatures, marginal annotations. There are also many manuscripts that have been digitized in glorious color, so there are possibilities there for a session on illumination/illustration. I even have a picture from a 1540 text that shows a child, later in that century, learning how to write his name on the bottom of a random leaf. So, with a large quaff of Pollyanna Elixir, I can set up something that will alleviate a bit of my disappointment at showing off the gorgeous paper, beautiful engravings, and fore-edge paintings that I had in mind.

    Last week’s goals:
    Update team paper for submission to professor. DONE
    Do R&R for team paper, which has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal (Insert happy dance here) Partly.
    Finish review of article for the journal where I am on the editorial board). Also partly.
    Post the three presentations I uncovered on the repository for feedback. Not yet finished.
    Be kind, reach out. Slightly.

    Well, the final submission of the team paper was a bit of a cheat, since it was verging on TRQ. We did get an A+, which is nice.

    I am behind on the reviews. I blush to admit, but I find it very hard to proofread off the computer screen - - well, small edits are fine, but when revising structure and adding sections, I fail miserably. I've been spoiled by having a high speed, very nice, printer down the hall at work for eight years, so I never replaced the one at home when it gave up the ghost five years ago. I had to bite the bullet and buy a new one for these revisions, and got it set up this morning. So, revisions stay on the list.

    I found the presentations, and paired them with my illustrations, but need help getting them actually mounted on the site, since I'm unfamiliar with the platform software.

    As for reaching out, I had a couple of writing sessions with friends, and talked (from more than six feet away) to two of my neighbors the other day.

    Next week's goals:
    Finish R&R for team paper.
    Finish review of journal article.
    Schedule time for help posting the presentations.
    Schedule time for bibliography, footnotes and glossary.
    Be kind, reach out.

    All the best engaging with your monsters, everyone. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

    1. There are some amazing digitized mss. out there -- the BL has done some gorgeous ones. There are great collections of marginalia, too. But I wish we had rare books so I could give students a sense of the materiality of the books. It changed my life when I first worked with old books, and I do think the physical object matters. Sigh.

    2. I agree completely, Susan. I'm at a heavy-STEM university now, but I used to do special sessions with History, Classics, and literature students, and loved showing them the texts. The freshmen Honors students were the most fun--stunned out of their gourds. A couple of them actually pursued that fascination later on, for which I'd like to think I can take a little bit of credit.

      Thanks for the suggestions. I'll have to track down the marginalia collections. Those sound fun.

    3. There's nothing quite like seeing an old manuscript or object like that in person! Disappointment about what we cannot offer is a totally valid feeling...
      Good for in-progress revisions, hope the rest go easily! Then celebrate!

    4. I have to teach bibliography this fall, and I'm going through a similar process of trying to work out how I can do this online, particularly when LRU doesn't even have (can't afford) an EEBO subscription.

    5. Daisy, I just sent my revisions to the publisher-yay!!

      Dame Eleanor, we only had the microfilm for decades, and got EEBO a couple of years ago. You have my sympathy--the microfilm is (searching for polite term) sub-par.

  5. I'm ignoring the monster because we haven't officially heard what's happening this fall; we'll probably be online, but I refuse to actually do anything about teaching until I know for sure. And even then, I'm half tempted to run my classes basically as usual (one is a lecture-lecture-discussion class, where I'd record the lectures ahead of time; the other is a smallish seminar of 15 students), but with more accountability work and mini-assignments to make the discussions go better. I hope. But we'll see what happens. What I *don't* want to do is a bunch of training sessions and a self-taught class on how to teach online. I just want this to be as easy as possible. There. I said it.

    Last week:
    1. Revise personal statement for promotion; scan remaining items for scholarship portfolio - Yes, mostly; personal statement is nearly ready
    2. Preliminary bibliography for NP and Nunnery; slot readings into summer syllabus - Yes, if by "slot readings into summer syllabus" I meant putting in things like, "Read 2 articles this week," "Read 2 articles that week," etc.
    3. Read grad student's work - Yes, FINALLY
    4. Every day: 1 good-habit-thing - 5 days, I think? Wrote in my journal twice, yoga twice, sat once. That's not spectacular, especially on the journal thing, but at least I'm easing back in.
    5. Pick a bucket o' bishop; buy plants and plant them!!! - YES

    This week:
    1. Read 2 Nunnery articles
    2. Finish training for first-year advising and submit my availability online. (Did I tell you that I agreed to do first-year advising again? I get paid, some, but it's SO NOT WORTH IT, and I'm filled with chagrin.)
    3. Bucket o' bishop
    4. Read two chapters of Big Honkin Book
    5. Write one paragraph about why my new project matters
    6. Do one of my Good Things every day

    1. I totally agree on the training sessions and the "how to teach online" brigade feeling... I don't want to do it and that feeling has only intensified after doing some... I did a couple of webinars and podcasts last week and frankly found them all useless and annoying... I can read much faster than anyone talks, and the stuff that might work for some fields definitely won't work in others so I've decided I'm better off talking/reading with people in my own field, and ignoring the rest. Easy and simple is an excellent goal for this!
      Sympathy on advising - it is a lot of work for very little reward (tangible or intangible!).
      Yay for buckets o'bishop and good things!

    2. I always have the same feeling about reading faster than anyone talks, and of course I'm teaching English lit so I hope that's the case for my students as well. But is there something to be said for seeing one's teacher?

      A tag from Angela Thirkell came back to me as I was weeding. In one of her books, a little girl (niece of a canon, I think) who likes composing verse makes up a set of verses about the bishop, who has removed a bell by a fishpond; the carp had once been trained to ring the bell and get fed. The repeating line about this horrid bell-removing bishop is "And now the Bishop is in Hell." May your bishopweed go the same way.

    3. The Bishop is in Hell--I love it! I've been thinking a lot about My Episcopal Foe (no connection to Episcopalians, of course).

      Thanks for the confirmation of my views re. online-teaching-fretting, Daisy; I feel mildly guilty, or like something of a slacker, for simply not fussing about the transition at this point. But what exactly would my fussing serve?

  6. I had already decided that as someone who is in the "at risk" category, I would teach remotely in the fall. I hope to meet individually with students (both of us masked etc) but not with a whole class for 3 hours. One class is pretty simple -- it was already mostly project oriented for grad students -- but the other one I'm totally rethinking. Since it's our methods class for majors, I'm trying to consult with colleagues a bit on this, but we'll see. I've spent a good bit of today fiddling with potential readings. Once I get the book orders in, I would like to spend 1 day a week on course preparation, including reading experts on online education. (I assume that all of next year is online, so I need to be ready for the spring, which is a large lecture course, and more of a challenge.) I know it can take over life, but I don't want it to.

    Last week's goals:
    1. Finish writing current chapter NO
    2. Keep walking NO
    3. Try to identify books for fall course Started
    4. Get regular sleep SOME
    5. Read for fun YES

    Well, that week was a washout. I think I just crashed - in all sorts of ways. I had a few bad nights sleep, then didn't walk, then didn't feel well, then .... And I think it's just the world that hit me. I made some progress on the chapter, but not enough, and I really didn't want to do anything but lie in bed and play solitaire. In the kindness department, I have not been mean to myself on this, and I did do a lot of baking (muffins, bread, failed focaccia ...) But I did a lot of little things none of which were particularly big but all seemed to take inordinate time.

    I managed to get going earlier today, so that may be the start of changing directions. I've got at least one meeting every day this week, and that may be useful in providing structure. The cat goes back to the vet tomorrow, and there's a parade that will go by my mother's assisted living facility on Friday, with a decorated car!

    GOals for this week:
    1. Finish chapter, start next chapter
    2. Get book orders in
    3. Get back to walking, other exercise
    4. Read for fun
    5. Go to bed at a regular time

    We'll see!

    1. Some weeks should just be chalked up as a loss and then ignored! Sorry to hear you had one of those. Some progress is better than none, and given everything going on I think it is critical to accept those when they happen, and to be ok with the idea that they will require some recovery time.
      Hope walking and sleeping and reading provides some of the recovery!

    2. Agree: any progress is good, and incremental bits will add up.

      I also hope we'll be allowed to meet with students individually, and that students will be willing to meet with me. I miss them.

  7. My university has NOT made a decision yet, but they are consulting on switching from semester-long modules to intensive blocks (so for example students do 3 x 5 week classes one after the other rather than 3x15 week classes which run in parallel). They've asked us to consider 11 different block options, including some really special ones like having 1 10 week block and then at the same time 2x5 week blocks one after the other and then all the assessment for all the blocks in a kind of end of trimester assessment fest, or having ALL the theory for everything taught in first semester and all the practicals in second semester (because clearly Covid-19 is afraid of 2021 and will be over by then). They haven't even decided what we should be teaching IN - our VLE has many built in remote learning tools but for various reasons we might be using something else on top of it, not the one the university made us all install in January because that is rubbish, even they have admitted that, but also not the one we've all pretty much settled on because it works well, because that one costs more in the non-free version or something? I'm alternating between impotently furious and somewhat despairing, but... well, I keep trying to tell myself not to worry about it for the next couple of weeks... because we are still trying to mop up a complete chaos of different extensions and assessments and special circumstances around marking from the semester that is finishing this week, which will go on into early June, and. Ugh. So I don't even know what the monster looks like. It's huge and echoy-rumbley-loud and has an unreasonable number of viney stony stompy limbs but we can't quite tell what direction it's coming from yet never mind whether we need to deal with it with fire or water or luring it over the old mine shafts where it might fall in.

    The week that was:
    My bench is a win. Lunch in the garden with the bees and the breeze, even if its just fifteen minutes, is both Good For Me and actually enjoyable, unlike many of the other things one ought to do.

    It was a Headless Chicken week which led to a really down weekend with a lot of lying/sitting around scrolling twitter and eating rubbish. Which at least got rid of (nearly) all the not so healthy food until my next online grocery order arrives. Although I'm not sure if baked oatmeal counts as healthy because it's really tasty (but has no refined sugar and very little fat and lots of fruit and oats so it probably is).

    The on-line workshop was three days, it was exhausting (especially as one of the team hadn't managed to completely get priority on the internet/"good computer" at her house (teenage son, working husband, rural internet means only one person can be on anything complex at a time) so we did a lot of reorganising on the fly. We're writing a "how to" so if anyone wants it let me know - Twitter seems to think it went really well, and even though it was an online conference so really easy for people to just slip away we had over 80% of attendees still there in the final session.

    And the community effort to collate and prepare teaching materials for one of my subject areas is taking off at speed.

    I did keep up with my email, just about, but I haven't yet expanded on my goals for the session. I think I'm going to take a leaf out of DEH's book and call the period up to let's say 13-14 June Zone 1, where the priorities are coping and planning, and set Summer Goals then.

    Goals for this week:
    1) self care whilst
    2) mopping up from last week's workshop, planning the outputs, and attending a meeting of the Learned Society
    3) sorting out plans for the launch of the community effort (next Wednesday)
    4) completing all the marking of second and third year work which has been submitted by now (I think that's just 5 project plans and 10 extended essays...).
    5) Make More Lists

    1. Yay for the bench! I often sit on my deck at the end of the day with a drink, and it's lovely and relaxing.

      I think one way of coping with the beast (which as you say we don't know the shape of) is working in smaller chunks, so that we are better able to adjust as THINGS HAPPEN. As they do.

    2. So glad that the online workshop went well!
      I've been really impressed with the number of amazing community efforts that have sprung up to help with teaching resources and virtual field trips and other things.
      Good luck with grading and mopping! Mopping up is an underappreciated but very necessary thing... There's always so much of that around the end of terms especially when they drag on like this one...

    3. The block model is an interesting idea. I used to know someone who taught at a school that teaches like that normally, and it sounded like a horrific amount of work, especially in a writing-intensive field like English or history. It's hard to grade fast enough as it is.

      The PTB really need to think more about the situation of people like your colleague, when multiple users need to use one piece of equipment and don't have a robust connection. LRU is doing okay in this respect, but I have definitely heard from students who were having trouble getting work done because of similar situations.

  8. I’m with the camp that says the monster is still out in the hall so I will ignore it. Not to say that I’m not thinking about how I’m going to manage my Fall classes. One is already fully online, and one is a class I taught half of online last semester. Since the plan here is to try to be in the classroom, I’m going to keep my class times and plan to do a mix of synchronous Zoom discussions and online content. The other two classes I’m teaching are new preps so I feel like I have a lot of flexibility.

    I’m teaching two sections of that fully online class in July, so I am trying to put teaching-related stuff off until then and focus on other things. Like Tiny Project, which I still can’t seem to get started on. I need to find a way to commit to that.

    Last week:
    1 write and submit 2 overdue book reviews: one done, deadline moved for other
    2 submit 2 essay peer reviews: no
    3 submit short adapted article: no
    4 meet daily writing goals for Tiny Project: not a word!

    But I did submit an abstract for an online conference, well ahead of deadline, because I kept thinking about what I wanted to write.

    This week:
    1 write and submit book review
    2 submit 2 essay peer reviews
    3 meet daily writing goals for Tiny Project
    4 catch up on writing class and mooc (relevant to my secondary if somewhat obscure research trajectory)

    1. Tiny Project sounds sounds like a few of mine - what is it about some of them that makes the start such a challenge? Some definitely have a higher activation energy than others! Perhaps a small Tiny Project related reward for getting going?
      Yay for early abstract submission!

    2. Just do five minutes and make a note of what you did in the time. Then do something else if you'd rather, or do a bit more if you prefer to crack on with Tiny.

  9. So after reading through everyone's monsters... I've decided that there will be a special product release from the Department of Magical Critter Cures.

    Everyone will be issued a special, multi-use MAGICAL MONSTER FENCE! Your MMF will function as an enclosure for the Monster of your choosing. It comes in a number of themes, some popular ones are “hedgerow”, “stone castle wall”, “crocodile-infested moat”, and “fence of flaming arrows. It also comes with a special extension paddock for woolly mammoths of all stripes. You will be able to corral your Monster safely inside the fence and keep it out of your garden/house/neighbourhood and visit it when you choose to, whether that is in July, now, once a week, or only when you have to.
    The best part of the fencing system is that it will absorb all guilt on the perimeter, so you will not feel the slightest bit bad about putting your Monster in a safe, secure, enriching environment. Turns out they live on fresh air and uncertainty and their favourite hobby is watching the grass grow, so plenty of that to go around. Some might ask “won’t my Monster be lonely in its enclosure?” No, it will have regular video meetings with other Monsters. And also there is a good chance it will have lots of babies in the next few months so it will have company.
    Your shipment should arrive soon, set them up and enjoy the Monster-free views as much as you can!

    1. That . . . actually sounds useful. I was about to grouse about not being able to haul fencing materials around with me, but if you're going to deliver the paddock to where I am and let me fence off the mammoth instead of coaxing it along the road, then I could get on with things. The Top Brass say "no mapping necessary at this time," but they don't realize that if I don't have good, up-to-date intel about terrain, roads, farms and so on, I can't do anything, and neither can they.

      Speaking of Top Brass, you know they're going to reassign you if they realize you're managing to be useful and make other people's lives easier.

    2. I love imagining all of the monsters in a zoom meeting together. Fabulous.

    3. I love the MMF, Daisy! It's on my supplies list now.