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Showing posts from May, 2020

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

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