Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2020

Mask Under Your Nose

This style of mask-wearing seems especially popular among young men. I have to assume one of two things when I see you doing this: You don't know that you breathe through your nose too. You think that the only point of wearing a mask is to keep authorities from yelling at you. So, for your information (because you apparently don't know): The purpose of a face mask is not to hide your teeth. We wear masks to prevent the spread of airborne virus. And if you protest that you are a mouth-breather, I present this Google definition: Mouth-breather: a stupid person

A friendly note about reading responses

First, yes they are required. One of the key strategies for getting good grades in any class is to submit every assignment, large or small, on time. Second, the questions for our reading responses are quite specific. If you didn't bother to read the article (or the question) and just grab one or two major words from the assignment and run, you aren't likely to get a very good grade. The prompt for this Friday is: Does Niman understand and accept the journalists' confusion about and reaction to what happened to the Columbus statue? How do you know? To do this one, you will need to know: What happened to the statue? What was the journalists' confusion and reaction? What evidence do you see that Niman "got it" (or didn't)? A generic discussion of the value of statues in public places isn't going to answer this question.

Cannot See the Video

Students keep having trouble with the little "talking head" video that begins each week. The problem seems to be with Apple users, so here is an instruction sheet from another college for fixing the problem: Safari, Firefox: Enable Third Party Cookies One of the simplest ways to fix the problem is to download and install Google Chrome browser. Here's the link for that: Download Google Chrome

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,

The Student and the iPhone

Nearly every student has one of these things, and it's impossible to imagine a time without them. (Trust me—there really was a day when you couldn't instantly send Tweets to your friends, look at pictures of kittens, play games, or browse for porn 24/7.) Smart phones cause student trouble in three ways: The phone is not a computer Well OK—literally it is. The modern smart phone can do things that the full desktop computer of fifteen years ago only dreamed of, but that's not what I mean. It's a poor tool for typing a paper. The screen is smaller than your hand, so you cannot see a whole page of typing, and writing a paper with that tiny on-screen keyboard will make you crazy when you do a five-page paper. It's OK for Tweets, but those are only 280 characters. They cannot do Blackboard. Most of our course is on the Blackboard LMS, and yes, there is a way to see Blackboard on a phone, but learning how to do it and fighting the machine is a major challenge. Best

Quick Thoughts about This Blog

Now that the course is beginning to roll, I have a few reminders about this website. This will continue to be an informal "advice and reminders" site, and it's really part of the course. I will probably post things here every week (and at the start of the course, every day), so you should keep coming back. The website isn't part of the Ashland University internet environment, and it's completely public, so it will keep going even if there's trouble with AU's server. It's also available to anyone with an Internet connection, so go ahead and refer your friends to this site if you like. (In the last 30 days, we've had readers from Belgium, Philippines, and Japan. The reader from Portugal seems especially faithful.) There's more to the site than the seven items you see on the first page. In the black banner at the top, you'll see the words "The rest of the blog." Click that to learn how to see more. If you click the thing that looks l

Working from Home

  One of the things we lose in a distance education course is a sense of "going to work." It's really easy to fall into a pattern of doing all your schoolwork in bed, wearing a bathrobe, and balancing a cup of coffee. I've done it myself. It's a poor idea. Your emotional health You really need a sense of separation between your work life and your home life. When we had classes three times a week and you could do your writing in the library or a computer lab, you could go back to your own room and be sort of done for the day, but when your office is your bed, you are always in your office. More to the point, if your office is your bed, you never have a sense of going TO work. Schoolwork becomes one of those annoying tasks like cleaning the bathroom or hanging up your shirts. You lose the "I am a student" identity. Your scholastic health During this whole Corona virus thing (beginning about March 10) I had to work from home—my Ashland office was off l

When You Can't Get Into Blackboard

Blackboard is the Ashland University Learning Management System (LMS) which we will be using to deliver a LOT of the content in this course. Here is a direct link to Blackboard . Your Username is the part of your campus email address before the @ sign. Your Password is the same password you use to get into your email. If your name is not on the official roster for our course, you cannot get into our part of Blackboard. If you are registered for our course and cannot get in, the Registrar's office and/or the Information Technology people in Patterson Hall should be able to help. Blackboard sometimes has trouble, especially in the first week because of the enormous amount of traffic. If you cannot get in, our course has an alternate web site , where you can find the syllabus (with all of the reading assignments) and assignments for all of the essays. Some advice Be patient. If Blackboard or your Internet connection don

How to Take Our Hybrid Course

  English 100 will be a bit like Harry Potter's hippogriff—neither horse nor eagle. It's neither a 100% distance education course nor 100% face-to-face, so we will need some special strategies to make it go. What you will see when you open Blackboard On the left of the Blackboard screen, you will see folders, one for each week. When you open a folder, you will see: A link which takes you to the assignment schedule for the week (really just a section of the syllabus) A link to a "Face-to-Face" video of me introducing the week One or more links to a narrated PowerPoint lesson on how to write a paper Links to web pages for the week A drop box for the week's writing A grammar quiz What you won't see on Blackboard Specific reading assignments in America Now or Writer's Reference (You will have to open the assignment schedule link or look at your printed syllabus for those.) The

Personal Interaction - What we lost

  I guess the whole point of all these Covid-19 regulations is to minimize (or eliminate) personal interaction so we don't infect one another. I understand that and I support it, but we humans were not built to live isolated in caves (or in bedrooms, looking at computer screens). College education, at its best, had a lot of personal interaction: professor/student and student/student. Here are some ideas for working around the restrictions: Weekly cohort meetings. Yes, they are required. The group will be you plus me plus four or five other students, and I will come in with an agenda, but this is also a time when we can chat as a small group (wearing masks and sitting six feet apart) about what you are doing. Office hours. My office is so incredibly tiny that there is no way for us to maintain social distancing, so I put "by appointment" in the syllabus. That's because I don't know yet where we can meet, but there is sure to be some place. I'll be on campus

The Basic Set-up of Our Course

This Fall, English 100 will be a hybrid course. This means that about 1/3 of our instruction time will be on campus in a classroom and 2/3 will be online. We are doing this to minimize the risks of transmitting the Covid-19 virus, while still giving you the advantage of a college campus course. Dividing the class into groups During the last week before class, you will receive an email telling you which group (cohort) you are in. Each cohort will have five or six students. The class meets in Dauch, where the classrooms have a normal capacity of 20-25 students, so you should have no trouble maintaining social distancing. Each cohort is assigned a day (Monday, Wednesday, or Friday) for your on‑campus session. Your class schedule should give you the room number and time. Attendance at these sessions is required. Important Note #1: These are assigned days! I don't want the entire crowd from one day drifting in on another day because you forgot or overslept. The idea is to ke

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

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 issues First 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 do First, 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 c

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 diggin

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 course English 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. Anoth

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 o

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 discussio

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 w

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&quo

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 w

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

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 guara

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 college Back 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 Goog

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 avoid Big, 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. Beside


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

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

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 ho

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 mic

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 bef