Monday, May 22, 2017

Distrusting Technology

First, a few observations:
  • Dr. Gary Levine, who used to teach in our Department, had a saying: "Remember that technology will always fail you."
  • One of my English 101 students had a 5-page paper ready to submit last semester, then Microsoft Word ate it. Nothing was left except the first line.
  • I was teaching a Distance Education course for prisoners last Fall, and we had to give all the students a one-month course extension because the tablets they were writing on kept crashing.
  • Last Thursday, my desktop computer crashed, taking all of the files I had accumulated over three years. No, I didn't have a backup. (Big mistake)
  • And finally, several well-regarded academic studies have learned that college students learn more when taking notes with pen and paper than they do when taking notes on a computer.
So, even though college freshmen are all very certain that everything must be done electronically, here is my list of reasons to do all your rough drafting with paper and pen. (Full disclosure here: I'm in the early stages of writing a book, all with pen and paper. I am so glad my stuff wasn't on that computer which crashed.)

  1. A pad of paper is not too likely to crash and forget your essay.
  2. The battery in a pencil doesn't go dead.
  3. If you drop a pad of paper or a pencil, you probably have not destroyed it. Few pens or pads of paper cost $800.
  4. People are unlikely to steal a stack of written notes. Dishonest, lazy people would have to put a lot of work into plagiarizing from your handwritten notes, so they won't do it.
Your Work Strategy
  1. The paper/pen rough draft doesn't look finished, so you are not seduced into thinking that one trip through is enough. It doesn't look fine and wonderful. You assume you will need to revise it.
  2. If you handwrite, you are forced to take a second look at the project as you type up the final.
  3. Tablets and computer screens never show you the whole page. You can't take a step back and gaze at the product while you think.
  4. If your rough draft is on sheets of paper, you can spread them out on the floor and rearrange them into a sequence that makes sense. You are not committed to the first organization that crossed your mind.
  5. It takes zero time to figure out how to work a pencil and paper. Many people spend significant time struggling to make the computer work. (How do I make a numbered list? How do I get the accent above the last letter of José?)
Your Mind
  1. Handwriting slows you down and forces you to think.
  2. Handwriting feels more like writing. (I love the reaction I get when I'm sitting in a fast-food place, writing with a fountain pen and a sheet of paper, and some stranger asks what I'm doing. "Writing a book." They always act as if I'm performing brain surgery.)
  3. Handwriting disappears—you tend to forget that you're doing it and concentrate on the actual writing task. After a while you don't think too much about how you're holding the pencil or what kind of paper you're using.
  4. Computers always have other material waiting to distract you—email, Facebook, porn, things to buy on eBay—writing with a pen and paper helps you stay on task.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Adulting Skills

Business people talk about "hard skills" and "soft skills."

Hard skills can be taught with books of instructions—things such as driving a standard shift, using Microsoft Word, or analyzing a blood sample.

Soft skills are such things as showing up on time for work, giving the boss the proper respect, wearing appropriate clothing for the task, and keeping your work area tidy. Many college students figure that the hard skills are all they need, but the hard skills are relatively easy to teach; if you lack soft skills, you will struggle in college and have a lot of trouble finding and keeping a job.

Somewhere in the middle area between these are the adulting skills. People who lack these skills might be able to pass courses, but their time in college will be very difficult. Here are a few you will need—and now is a good time to begin working on them.

  • Doing laundry. Surprised that I put it first? The laundry room is a total mystery to most high school kids, but your mother isn't going to be here to do your laundry. Learn how to do your own. Ask someone.
  • Showering and brushing your teeth. This is mainly a problem for guys. If your hygiene habit is to wait until your mother or girlfriend yells at you, there's a reason people will start avoiding you in the second month of class. Let's put changing your socks and underwear on this list too. There's nothing unmanly about keeping clean, and no amount of body spray will compensate for a lack of hot water and soap.
  • Managing your calendar. You will have at least five different courses, taught by five different instructors who never consult with one another. They won't be yelling at you to get your work done on time either (and your mother isn't here to do the yelling). You need to be ahead of the calendar game, so that two papers due on the same day (which happens to be the day of the big game) will not cause panic.
  • Setting priorities. Everyone will want a piece of you: teachers, coaches, and your romantic partner. Your roommate will want to play cards until 4 AM. Friends will want to go drinking. You shouldn't ditch romance or friendship, but you need to remember that your first A number 1 priority here is being a successful student, and sometimes you need to tell the drinking buddies "Later."
  • Managing money. Invisible money such as the balance on your Eagle Card or the balance on a bank debit card is just too tempting for some students. Get a small notebook and use it to track your running balance. You do not want to run out of money in October just because you like to treat all your friends to pizza every week.
  • Keeping track of your stuff. If you are always losing things, you need to break the habit. When you lose your computer, textbook, Eagle Card, room key, etc., life gets very difficult and expensive. Your answer might be to simplify so there is less to lose. Your answer might be to organize your junk so things do not just land in a heap with all the rest of your possessions.
  • Organizing your living space. If your room at home is a pile of dirty socks, empty pizza boxes, and mysterious collections of grunge, you need to improve your game. You will be living with a roommate who might not appreciate your body odor. You will sometimes need to find—quickly—the assignment sheet and textbook for this afternoon's course. If you accidentally leave your ice cream on your computer keyboard when you go to sleep, disaster awaits you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

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.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

More summer reading

Here are three more in addition to the summer reading I have already suggested. (Notice that on Blogger the newest material is at the top.)
  1. Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw: True story of a 21-year-old man who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. You would think this is either grim or greeting-card-sappy, but it's neither. I think what attracted me first was the cover photo of Shane in a wheelchair and the speech balloon coming out of his mouth says "$hi#!" He's really funny, really interesting, and a good writer. I'd love to be his friend.
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: This is fiction set in a future time when the government burns all books (451° is the temperature at which book paper burns) and controls all intellectual content. Real readers and writers are the cultural outcasts, hiding in the forest. I read this when I was in high school. I never recovered.
  3. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome Jerome (Don't you love the name?): Set about 100 years ago, this is a classic. Three young men and their dog set off on a leisurely camping trip down the Thames River. There's no real plot, no moral to the story. It's just a long, fine summer vacation. If nothing else, you'll learn how to make a tea kettle boil when you are using a camp stove. (The trick is to make the kettle believe that nobody wants any hot water. You get over close to it and announce, "I don't want any tea. Does anyone else?" and immediately it will come to a boil.)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A bit of college vocabulary

Like any other group, colleges have a lot of specialized words, and if you don't know what they mean, you might get in trouble. I ran into this vocabulary list, and it's a good one. Some of the items on the list do not apply to us (for example "recitation/precept"), but many of these words are used at Ashland.

Don't be offended that it's a list from an LD resource; the material here is good general material. I am also impressed with the material in her "College Students" drop-down menu. Look it over. Here's the list: