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Internet Woes

Yesterday was a bad day on the Internet. My connection went down in the middle of the day and stayed that way for about an hour. It's been doing that, off and on, for some time now. You can imagine the result: no email (thank goodness!), no Facebook (a plus for my productivity), and no searching the Internet for cool items like that logo above. The real problem, though, was that some applications (like Microsoft Word) wouldn't open because they need to verify with headquarters that they are not pirate copies. (OK—I know that I could use a copy on a phone because it can get Internet even if the local WiFi is down. But have you ever tried editing a large piece of writing on a smartphone?)
Well that just threw a wrench into my machinery.We might have similar problems when school opens because EVERYONE on campus is trying to use the same electronic resources at the same time. (And some of you who live in rural areas with your parents never did have good Internet.) So here are my re…

Handling Textbooks

In a lot of ways, the college attitude toward textbooks is totally opposite to the attitude in high school. When you were in high school, the school district owned the books, and marking them was a very serious offense; in college, you own the book, and marking it is a good strategy for learning.When you were in high school, you did the reading assignments after the class session; in college, you are expected to do the reading before you show up.In high school, relatively few people actually read things because the teacher would tell you everything that the book contained. (That might have been due to the teacher's frustration with students who refused to read anything.) In college, nobody babies you like that. You have to do the reading. Housekeeping details for textbooks Each teacher/section has a unique book list. If you are taking an English course from Allen and your roommate is taking a the same course from someone else, you will have different books. (Note: When you buy the …

Leveling the Playing Field

When you think about it, most of us have disabilities of some sort or another. I've worn glasses since I was eight years old, and this summer was the time for my cataract surgery. (My pre-surgery view of the world looked like a Monet painting.) Like you, I'm no stranger to physical problems with a classroom.

Dealing with your issuesFirst of all, nobody is going to chase you down and demand that you find help. They probably don't know that you are having trouble reading or hearing, so you must take initiative to deal with your issues. What you can doFirst, you need to figure out what kind of problem you have and how severe it is. Did you have an IEP in high school? Have you always had trouble seeing things from a distance? Here are some places to begin: Get an eye exam. There's nothing shameful or nerdy about wearing glasses. (Harry Potter wore them, and he saved the world.)Get your hearing checked. A family doctor can recommend specialists who do this.Get the computer to …

Late Preparations

During this last month Look carefully at your class schedule. Mistakes happen, and you will find it much easier to correct them in the week or two before classes start. Do a campus walk-through. We are a small campus, but we are still big enough to be confusing. Some buildings are known by more than one name (a great example is the building our class is in: commonly called Dauch, it's also called COBE, which stands for the College of Business and Economics). Your Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule is different from your Tuesday-Thursday schedule. Walk both of them and actually find the rooms.Get an eye exam. Don't laugh. At least one student in every section I teach sits in the back, squinting and struggling to see the board. If you need glasses, get them. Wear them. They don't look weird.Go shopping. I assume you'll buy new clothes and such, but don't go overboard. What you wore in high school will probably work in college. Do be aware, though, that your class sched…

Paper Textbook or E-book?

I have to admit that my mind is not settled on this question. I own a Barnes & Noble nook and love to read murder mysteries on it, but my apartment is also filled with paper books. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Here are some things to think about as you decide which format to buy. Paper hard copy Advantages You can use it when the power goes out. You don't need a great computer or Internet connection to read the book. (My home Internet connection, through CenturyLink, has days when it simply stops working—several times for half an hour or so. I could still be reading a paper book when that happens.)
You can underline things and write in the margins.1It's yours forever (unless you have rented it).A paper book just feels more like reading to some people.Disadvantages Paper books do cost more.If you tend to lose things or leave them lying around for people to steal, books are vulnerable.E-book Advantages CheaperYou can search the text electronically.The computer can read the …

Buying Textbooks

Yes, you do have to buy textbooks for college courses. The school doesn't hand them out.
The usual college pattern (which is very different from high school) is that you read the assignment before you get to class, and the teacher assumes you have that information inside your head by the time you arrive. In high school, the teacher told you what the book would say, then you were supposed to go home and read it, and finally, the teacher would tell you (again) what the book said. In college, none of that happens—often the lecture is material in addition to what was in the textbook. In our course, the written assignments usually are some sort of response to the reading you have been assigned.

You need to buy the books.
The campus bookstore I have told the campus bookstore what to order and how many of them, so the books should be waiting for you when you arrive. You don't need to go scampering around to online stores if you don't want to.

Once you get to the campus bookstore, …

Two weeks to go

For teachers, August always feels like summer is over. Yes, the weather is still hot and the trees are still green, but most of us are finally buckling down to the work of lesson planning. A couple of weeks ago, we had a one-hour online meeting of the English Department to attempt to find the shape of the coming semester.
Nobody has ever had to run a university with the threat of Covid-19, so we will need to remain flexible and ready to try different strategies, especially if the infection rate goes up again and we must all stay home. We do have a few advantages, though: Ashland University never came back from Spring Break, so we have been doing distance education since March 16. The first few weeks were very rocky, but we're learning, and this fall should be a lot more graceful.The companies that provide our Internet services were overwhelmed when we shut down in March, but they have been working to upgrade their equipment, and we should have an easier time in September.I've be…

Summer Reading III

These are all very available, but all cost money. You can certainly get them from your local public library, though, and both Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble nook carry them.
Almost anything by Ray Bradbury is worth a read. I never quite recovered from reading Fahrenheit 451 when I was a boy—it's about a time in the future when the government has banned books and firemen have the job of finding books in people's houses and burning them. (The title refers to the temperature at which book paper begins to burn.) Bradbury has written a lot of short stories (which I like because I don't have much of an attention span). I really enjoyed The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man.
The Bradbury novel brings to mind three other dystopian novels: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, and Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell. All written in the 1930s and 1940s, and all predicting a dire future.
On a lighter note, you should consider digging into bot…

Yes you can vote

If you will be 18 years old by November 3, 2020, you can vote in the next presidential election. Here's how: First you must register. Registrations don't expire, so if you have registered recently, you don't need to do it again. Your "residence address" is not your dorm at Ashland; it's where you go home to at Christmas Break (and probably where you are living right now).

You have many options for registering (often people at public events are registering voters), but here's a link for Ohio voter registration.
If you don't know whether you are registered, or suspect that the registration is incorrect, you can check your registration with this link. Getting an absentee ballot. Covid-19 is giving all of us good reasons to vote by mail. Here is the link to request an absentee ballot. A couple of things to remember: It takes time to request a ballot, receive the ballot, and get the ballot back to your home county. You can vote early, but if you ballot is late i…

Halfway through the summer

We're about halfway through the summer (or a little more), and if you are just joining us, I hope you've had a good vacation so far. 
It wasn't quite what we expected. I hope you have been able to navigate around the quarantines, etc., and find some space to relax and have some fun.

I put this blog together to help you get ready for English 100, and to cut down on the "FUD Factor" (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).
A few details about our courseEnglish 100 will be a hybrid course this Fall. That means you will be in class one day every week, and doing the equivalent of two days per week (plus homework time) as a distance education course. Watch your email to learn which day is your class day—oddly, there will never be a time when you actually see all the other members of our class. Your daily cohort will be about six people.

We are doing everything we can to minimize the risk from Covid-19, and one strategy is to keep people in small groups, all wearing masks. Another…

The Writing Teacher in Summer II

That picture isn't too accurate. Sunglasses, yes, but mountains, beaches and/or deserts? Nope. Like you, I had hoped this would be a summer with some freedom (art museums? long drives along scenic highways? pizza with friends? time with grandchildren at big city festivals?). Instead, we got quarantine. And instead, I needed some eye surgery. (It went very well, but it means that I couldn't really see much of anything for a week, and we're planning on another week of the same in a little while. Couldn't do much in the way of exercise either.) 
Last fall I really liked the way my 100 class went, so obviously the plan was to do much the same thing this fall. Nope. Covid-19. So now I have to figure out how to set up a class so it works well for you but with a lot less physical closeness (and a lot less sneezing and coughing on one another).
So what have I been doing? Setting up English 101 and 102 distance education courses for the CCP (College Credit Plus) program.Lots of lo…

The blog shifts emphasis

I rather like that clipart I found: a telescope at one end and a fountain pen at the other. It seems to take in what we're about here.
Most of the earlier material was about long-term preparation for the Fall semester, things like getting your computer ready and such. (If you're new to the blog, go to the upper right of your screen and click the three lines thing (☰). Then click the "Labels" item to get a collection of how-to items.
The computer material is behind us now. I put it at the beginning because organizing all that stuff might be time-consuming, and it will give you something to do which feels like you are a student.
Because of the Covid-19 problems, the University is still working out the details of our coming semester. It's not as easy as you might think. Any change they make (for example, how often we have face-to-face class meetings) has implications for school accreditation, finances, and a host of other areas. We have been promised a full discussion …

Keep all those documents

Right now you are signing a lot of documents—loan papers and such. Get one of those accordion file folders, and keep your copy of everything you sign. At tax time you will thank me. You will thank me again and again in five or ten years when you really need to know what those documents said.

By the way, you will want to keep your textbook receipts so you can return the book if you bought the wrong one or your schedule changes.

The Demon in Your Computer

Some folks are convinced that there's an evil demon hiding in their computer, making decisions on its own and fighting against them every step of the way.

Probably not true. Computers are just not that smart.

What's probably true is that the user (yes, that's you) either got sloppy or didn't learn how to use the equipment correctly in the first place. The machine is just as smart (or stupid) as a tape recorder hooked up to a bunch of light switches. It only does what it is told to do.
Full disclosure: I'm lazy too. When I first began using the software for this blog, I didn't really learn it, so several things I did took four or five steps every time instead of the one neat step the company provided. And there are a lot of times when I get angry when I mis-type instructions and don't get what I expected. Defeating the Demon You have some time this summer, and you will be using the computer a LOT in the Fall, so spend some time learning. If we were at Hogwarts…

Avuncular Advice

Isn't that a great word—"avuncular"? It means "pertaining to an uncle" and Merriam-Webster goes a bit further: "suggestive of an uncle, especially in kindliness or geniality."
So here's some avuncular advice concerning the coronavirus and Covid-19. We closed the college down in mid-March (actually, we just never came back from Spring Break), and I spent weeks hiding in my tiny apartment, teaching my courses as Distance Ed projects. I almost never went out the front door—about once every two weeks to buy an enormous load of groceries. I got pretty sick of that lifestyle. I suspect your lifestyle was similar to mine, and I suspect you got pretty tired of it too.
Somehow, on Memorial Day, we all got the feeling that the siege was over and the problem behind us.
It's not.
None of us built immunity by staying indoors; the most we gained was a set of strategies for avoiding infection. One of my Facebook friends commented that the "reopening" j…

Learning the Software

It's a rule in my life. Every time I need to start using a new piece of technology, whether it's a computer program or something more mechanical, I always postpone learning how to use it until I'm faced with a big project and a tight deadline.

Don't be like me. Figure out how to use your computer and all its programs before school starts. Make some fake academic papers and save them just to see if you can get the computer to do what you want.
Those "For Dummies" books aren't bad—just don't get put off by the dummies part. If you can get to a bookstore or order from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you can find good help there.There's a LOT of good help available on the Internet, and the more specific your question, the more likely you are to get a good answer. (I recently found what I needed by searching for "Apple Pages hide sidebar.")Here is a link to our course computer help directory. I set up the help files for the specific word process…

Getting Your Computer Organized

If your computer screen looks like the picture above, you need to organize your life. (Trust me—even some experienced teachers have screens like that one!) Here are some guiding principles you should follow concerning the care and feeding of your computer.
In college, you never have enough time. This means that any useless activity is your enemy—and in the "useless activity" category, I would instantly place "searching for that lost file." The hapless computer user of the screen above is really stuck if the question is "Where is that rough draft of the English paper I was working on two days ago?" This user needs a quick, slick way to instantly go to the piece—and to the brainstorm ideas from a month ago—and to the class notes typed in six weeks ago.
Spending a little time now saves a lot of time later. It's difficult to see on that tiny image, but many of the file names are things like IMG_1234.JPG. or unknown-3.txt. Spending just a little time on ren…

Sometimes you have to change

Back in 1995, when I began teaching college English, computers were quite a new thing. The Internet had been invented, but almost nobody had access. Just having an email address was a big deal, and (of course) nobody in any of my classes had ever tried to type a paper with a computer. The little Mac Classic above was the absolute cream of the crop (and I still think it was an excellent computer for its time). That's what we had in our classrooms.
When you think about it, the switch from a mechanical typewriter to a computer changed a lot about the way we write. Spell check was a new invention, not always reliable, but a big help. Many of us were still writing research papers in Turabian style, which requires footnotes—and suddenly inserting a footnote wasn't an agony.
The big change, though, was in the way we did revisions. In my own college days, revising a paper meant typing it out, marking it up with a red pen, then retyping it. If you were a poor typist, there was no guarant…

Getting Your Computer Ready for School

Back when I was a student, everyone packed up their portable typewriter for the move to campus. Lots of people got a new typewriter as a graduation gift, but I didn't. I ended up using one we bought when I was in high school.

The story is probably the same for you, except that it's a computer, not a mechanical typewriter.

Whether you just bought a new one or kept your old faithful companion with all of its stickers, you need to do a few things to get the machine ready for college. (As an added bonus, if you are still locked down when you are reading this, taking positive steps to get ready for the Fall semester will help you feel a lot better—and you'll start feeling like a college student.)
Getting Old Faithful ready for collegeBack up the really important stuff. (Your only picture of Uncle Ed, the school addresses of your buddies, and so forth.) A flash drive is a good place to store this kind of thing. If you have a Gmail account, you have space on Google Drive. That…

Quick Google Drive How-to

Because your Ashland University email is really a Gmail address, you have access through it to all (well, almost all) of the the Google programs. Ashland is the administrator, so one bonus is that the space on your Google Drive and your Gmail accounts is infinite. You'll never run out. The restrictions are that (1) A couple of the features (such as Blogger) are not available through this account, and (2) you must follow some obvious, common-sense rules (no porn, no harassment, etc.)
How to use it
Log into your usual Ashland university email account.Click the "waffle" thing between the question mark and the purple Ashland logo.Select Drive from the menu that pops up.
You're in! Now just follow the instructions from this Google help site. (You are already at Step 2.)

Buying a Computer for School

Here's a quick rule: You probably don't need to spend as much on a computer as you thought.

Of course, the launch into the new world of college makes you feel like you need a new, wonderful computer, and if you (or your rich uncle) want to spend a fortune, be my guest. But you don't have to. (Current financial hardships might make a $1000 computer very difficult for some families.) For English class (and for most classes except perhaps those where you make computer animations or art), you will be making text files. Those are quite small and don't demand much from the equipment, so if you could type and store a paper on your high school computer, it will work for college. (I'll have some advice later on getting your high school computer ready for college.)

What to avoidBig, heavy, expensive gaming computers. I assume we will be back on campus sooner or later, and you will want something you can reasonably slip into a backpack and carry to the library. Besides, you…

Handwriting

Everyone writes everything on a computer now, right? Wrong.

In high school, perhaps you got along without having any handwriting skills (and, sadly, nobody teaches people how to handle a pen any more), but in college, you should expect to do a lot of handwriting.
Classroom notes. You came to college to learn from teachers, and some of the things they say show up on tests. Computers are awkward for taking class notes, and phones are totally useless. Several studies show that people who hand-write class notes learn more about the content than people who take notes on computers.Notes on reading. You should be marking your textbooks and keeping a reading journal of your assignments. This just won't work with a computer. In-class tests and quizzes. There is often no way to print out a typed copy of a quiz, so you will be writing it. If your writing is slow and difficult, you are at a disadvantage. If your writing is incomprehensible, the teacher might not have the patience to decipher y…

What will happen in the Fall?

This is, of course, the big question on everyone's mind. The problem is that the world has never seen Covid-19 until this year, and we just don't know how it will behave. So we try to make prudent choices.
After an English Department Zoom meeting yesterday, here's what I can tell you. (The rest isn't secret; it's just that we haven't finished making decisions.) Yes, college will happen. We're not cancelling anything.The credits you earn will be just as good as the credits people were earning five years ago.We want to keep all of us as safe as possible. (After all, many of our professors are old enough to be in the "high risk" category. We want everyone to be as healthy as possible.)The quarantines last March were unexpected, and we had to pull things together as quickly as possible. The transition was pretty rocky. For the Fall semester, we have an entire summer to plan, so your classes will go more smoothly.We need to comply with regulations from t…

Summer Reading II

More shade-tree reading from Project Gutenberg. These are all free downloads—free because they are old enough to have gone out of copyright and become public domain. Later I'll probably suggest some that you must pay for, but I really like the idea of something for nothing. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (This is the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey murder mysteries. I don't think the others are available in public domain, but if you like this one, you can certainly buy the rest online from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.)Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott (This is a very political science fiction about a world that only exists in two dimensions. There's no thickness to anything, only length and breadth. Yes, that really was the author's name.)Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (If "Flatland" was highly political, this is the opposite. It is simply the story of three young men who go on a summer holiday…

The Writing Teacher in Summer

This was supposed to be a fairly relaxed summer for me—probably a couple of road trips, an art museum or two—that sort of thing.

Life has a way of intervening. Like you, I've been pretty much confined to quarters since mid-March because of Covid-19. Fortunately, I've got a lot of work to do (thus preserving my sanity). The college has asked me to develop a couple of English courses for CCP students (that stands for College Credit Plus, a program which allows high school students to take college courses for dual credit). As I write this, I'm about a week away from finishing the 101 CCP, and the 102 is next on the list. These were always going to be Distance Education courses anyhow, so the coronavirus doesn't change anything.

When I don't have an on-campus day, I like to spend the quiet morning writing, so that's what I'm doing now.

This quarantine life has really changed the way I eat. For a long time, I had the bad habit of alternating between frozen micr…

Summer Reading I

Summer is a time for some relaxed reading—even more this year than normal because a lot of the typical summer things won't work this year. Hang out with friends? Go to the movies? Swimming pool? Shoot a few hoops? Expedition to the mall? Not going to happen this year. There's just so much Facebook and Twitter that a brain can stand, and the evening news is plain depressing.

I'm going to suggest a few books to read. I assume that your local library and bookstore are closed at the moment, so these are all computer downloads, and they are all free. These are all from Project Gutenberg, which is the home of an incredible number of great books, all free and legal.

Onward we go, in no particular order (these are just a few titles that came to mind as I threw this item together—I'm certain I will think of others later):
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (The original murder mystery author)Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (Long before there was …

Getting Ready to Launch

Hello and welcome to Ashland University English 100.

I am writing this on the last day of Spring semester final exam week, looking forward to a full summer and getting ready for the fall. Even in ordinary times, the summer between high school and college was confusing, frightening, and a little sad. After all, you have to leave a whole lifestyle behind and try to figure out how to become something (and someone) rather new. If you are uncertain whether it will all work, you're not alone.

The whole business with the coronavirus Covid-19 has made things even more strange and uncertain. The last day I saw my students was the day before Spring Break (March 6, 2020). We did the second half of the semester as a distance education course, with nobody on campus. I couldn't even visit my office to retrieve supplies. We really have no way of predicting how things will be in 3½ months—will we be together in class or not? I am just much in the dark as you are. So here is how we will deal w…