Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — August 2005

Reasons to fear Canada….

Just when you thought Canada was a nice and friendly place, here is McSweeney’s list of “Reasons to Fear Canada”

August 29, 2005   No Comments

English 005 podcast now available at iTunes!

The first podcast for my English 005 class is now available at iTunes. It’s a short test podcast that I did to make certain the feed was working, but I’ll be following it up in a day or two with a longer podcast describing the course. I’m hoping to make that podcast a chaptered one with a few images. I also hope to post the syllabus as a PDF so that people subscribing to the podcast can download that as well.

August 29, 2005   Comments Off on English 005 podcast now available at iTunes!

Paris is my kind of town….

Caught the link to this AP story over at the Quill and Quire blog. How great is this?

PARIS – Readers craving Homer, Baudelaire or Lewis Carroll in the middle of the night can get a quick fix at one of the French capital’s five newly installed book vending machines.

[. . .] Stocked with 25 of Maxi-Livres best-selling titles, the machines cover the gamut of literary genres and tastes. Classics like “The Odyssey” by Homer and Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” share the limited shelf space with such practical must-haves as “100 Delicious Couscous” and “Verb Conjugations.”

“Our biggest vending machine sellers are ‘The Wok Cookbook’ and a French-English dictionary,” said Chambon, who added that poet Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal” — “The Flowers of Evil” — also is “very popular.”

Regardless of whether they fall into the category of high culture or low, all books cost a modest $2.45.

Of course, I have more than enough books waiting to be read on my shelf if I ever need a late-night reading fix, but wouldn’t it be cool to be able to grab a cheap copy of Les Fleurs du mal on the run?

August 24, 2005   1 Comment

Here’s the book I’m hoping they don’t choose to read this fall

One of the things I’m doing this fall in my contemporary Canadian literature course is having the students propose and, by election, select the final book that we will study in the course.

The great thing about this exercise is that it will oblige them to start looking to see what’s out there. The other fun thing about it is that they and I will likely be discovering this book simultaneously. I’m looking forward to going along with whatever they choose.

That said, here’s the book I’m hoping they won’t pick, even if it is written by a fellow Albertan. I’m looking forward to reading it eventually, though. The website for the book has some great features.

If you’re interested in reading Paul Anderson’s Hunger’s Brides: A Novel of the Baroque, you can buy the Canadian edition right now from Northwest Passages.

August 24, 2005   3 Comments

“Technology and the Pseudo-Intimacy of the Classroom”: online versus face-to-face teaching

Via a link on someone else’s blog that I forgot to note, I came across this interesting interview with Gerald Graff, author of Professing Literature (1987), a book I like a great deal, and Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind (2003), a book I’ve been meaning to take a look at for some time now. The most interesting part of this interview for me is what he says about the “pseudo-intimacy of the classroom”:

I have long thought that there is something infantilizing about the standard classroom situation, where the very face-to-face intimacy that is so valued actually encourages sloppy and imprecise habits of communication. That is, the intimate classroom is very different from–and therefore poor training for–the most powerful kinds of real-world communication, where we are constantly trying to reach and influence audiences we do not know and will probably never meet. We should be using online technologies to go beyond the cozy pseudo-intimacy of the classroom, to put students in situations that force them to communicate at a distance and therefore learn the more demanding rhetorical habits of constructing and reaching an anonymous audience. We have begun to do this to some extent, but our habit of idealizing presence and “being there,” the face-to-face encounter between teachers and students, blinds us to the educational advantages of the very impersonality and distancing of online communication. Indeed, online communication makes it possible for schools and colleges to create real intellectual communities rather than the fragmented and disconnected simulation of such communities that “the classroom” produces.

I’ve been in discussions over the last couple of years with people who tell me that online communication can never replace the intimacy of the classroom. I like how Graff questions that here. That is something we don’t spend enough time thinking about. How much attention do we pay to what kind of learning occurs in the classroom. I’ve now taught two courses fully online and in both cases I’ve wound up thinking that the students in the online course have had a much better command of the material than the students in the classroom. That may, of course, be simply an illusion generated by the comments every student has to write in an online class. Those students who never say a thing in class may well have as nuanced an understanding of a particular work as those who are very articulate in the course. The problem is that as instructors we don’t have the same way of measuring what they know and don’t know when they are not obliged to comment regularly.

It will be interesting to take all that I’ve learned teaching online this past summer back into the classroom this fall.

August 18, 2005   No Comments

How’s this for a national symbol?

Mona and I spent a great weekend in Ottawa so that I could do some research and preparation for my TAP class’ trip to Ottawa in October. We visited many of the most important sites and I snapped a bunch of digital photos that I’ll be using as part of a chaptered podcast about our upcoming class trip.

One of the things we saw at the Canadian Parliament that I’d never noticed before was one of the details at the peak of the archway surrounding the main entrance. Now we know that the beaver is Canada’s national animal. I’m sure many of us might think that’s a bit lame. A few weeks back, I saw a beaver scuttling across the road near our house here in Burlington. Not an animal that inspires admiration at first sight. Industrious? Sure. Clever? Maybe. Noble and awe-inspiring? Ummmmm… no.

Seeing this beaver at the Parliament, though, I realized that maybe whoever thought of using the beaver as our national symbol was thinking of it as a more fierce animal than we might think about today. Just look at this guy! Does he not make you tremble with fear?!


August 15, 2005   3 Comments

iPods in the classroom

I am happy to announce officially that in my TAP class this fall UVM will be lending all of the students 20g color iPods. This is the result of a $5000 Instructional Incentive Grant I received earlier this spring from the Center for Teaching and Learning, which is enough for iPods and iTalk microphones for 15 students. The College of Arts and Sciences recently came through with additional funding for me that will allow me to outfit all 21 students with iPods and iTalks.

This project will allow us to test this technology as a teaching tool that, hopefully, we will be able to deploy on a wider scale in coming years for courses that would most benefit from access to audio materials. I will be using the iPods in my TAP class on Canadian culture. In this class, which I’ve entitled The Great White North (a reference, of course, to cultural icons Bob and Doug McKenzie), we’ll be looking at Canadian literature, film, comedy, art, and media. Texts we will be using the iPods to access will include a wide variety of Canadian music, readings or lectures from important writers and thinkers, and excerpts from Canadian radio with a particular focus on comedy programs like The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour, the Vinyl Cafe, and the Vestibules. Because in Vermont we also get CBC television, my students will also be watching a lot of Canadian TV!

Of equal importance will be what the students do with the iPods themselves. As TAP classes are intended to be writing-intensive, first-year seminars, I will be having students write and record audio essays that we will make available on the web as podcasts. One of their assignments will see them podcasting about their experiences visiting Ottawa for the first time. We’ll be headed there on a field trip late in October and it will be interesting to hear their reactions.

I’ll soon be launching a separate blog for the course, that will have the syllabus, student comments and assignments, and a discussion area, all of which are open to the general public. I’ll be using this space on my own blog to reflect as regularly as possible on how this great experiment is going. It’s taken a lot of time and energy to get all the technology lined up and to figure out how we will be using it to distribute content. Now, as the start of classes is only two weeks away, I am suddenly scrambling to pull together the content itself. It’s going to be wild ride!

August 15, 2005   Comments Off on iPods in the classroom

The Dr. Is In….

If you’re looking for some help with blogging at UVM, I’m happy to help. In fact, later this week I’ll be putting in a few hours at the Center for Teaching and Learning offices in the Bailey/Howe Library to do exactly that.

Here are the times at which I will be there and the slots that are still open:

Wed. 8/17

1:30 with Charlie Rathbone

2:30 with Tim Fox

3:30 with Yuichi Motai

Thurs. 8/18

1:30 with Michele Patenaude

2:30 with Dennis Mahoney


If these times don’t work, or I’m all booked up by the time you check into this, just let me know and I’ll see if we can set up some more slots for Friday or during the following week.

August 15, 2005   No Comments