December 17, 2007


to the guy who hung up on me today:

YOU SUCK. "we don't do proofreading or editing" means just that. and no, smart learning commons is NOT going to help you do that either. so good luck, you jerk.


December 8, 2007

i <3 grammar

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December 6, 2007

Tom Scopus Revealed, Reviled, and Reveiled

I am very interested in your responses to "Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper," as Kirsten summarized them for me yesterday. When I conceived and wrote this piece, my first aim was to be provocative. That it provoked any reactions from you at all is deeply gratifying. That they were so smart and insightful is really overwhelming. Here in this blog post I just want to engage some of your questions and comments. I am very aware that this is yet another virtual encounter with the mysterious lanky man who sporadically sits in the Nicholson 10 side of C4W (the first being my pre-recorded presentation at our previous staff meeting). And thus I perceive this weird way in which our knowing of each other is heavily mediated. Perhaps that is just perfect for a discussion of Tom Scopus and his infected—or effective?—ways.

. . . Traces of Me
It sounds like of you wondered whether or not there was autobiographical truth in what I wrote. Most good fiction writers bristle at such a question and usually refuse to indulge a response. Fortunately, I'm not a good fiction writer, so I'll gladly reveal where Tom's life crosses my own.

I'm a bus rider—not presently because I'm trying to make a go of biking through a Minnesota winter, but I love the bus. And I will admit that it was probably on the city bus that I noticed my proclivity for "surreptitious reading." It compels me (but not to the extremes of Tom's pathology) for some of the ways that the narrative outlines. But I also see it as a way of trying to break the abnormal silence of bus culture. Short of knowing what people are thinking, I'm curious to know what they're reading—what words are passing through their mind. As someone stuck in academic literary studies, I'm interested in what the everyman is reading, and how fast, and with what level of attention as expressed by some noticeable reaction (I've perceived very little reaction on people's faces or in their bodies to what they are reading. Stoics, all of them). I try hard not to do it, but if a book or newspaper is open, I'm drawn to it like moth to flame. And I try to imagine that I am so stealthy and skillful that no one notices. I think that is laughable. I'm probably known to the regulars on my bus as "that creepy guy who stares." When I was thinking about and writing this piece, I started to indulge more frequently, justifying it as "research."

But I wonder if this voyeuristic impulse doesn't linger in most of us. To what extent are you intensely curious about what others are reading? I presume you have an interest in language and stories similar to my own. Aren't you fascinated by the tattered pulp novel in the weathered hands of your neighboring passenger? Don't you want to know something about the relationship between him and the book? Of course, I could always strike up a conversation and ask him what he thought of his book, but that would be rude. Instead, I go Scopus on him instead.

And I'll admit that I am a reluctant reader. When I read, I become deeply immersed in what I'm reading. Reading is such an intense activity for me, that I often become withdrawn and sullen when I am still in process of reading something. I don't snap out of it until I am done with whatever novel, article, or memoir has drawn me in. That withdrawal is often socially inconvenient, so I find that I sometimes resist reading deeply so that my "normal life" (that outside of academia) isn't disturbed. Surreptitious reading is one way to stay safely on the surface of the water filled chasm of reading.

Having worked for several years as a writing consultant, I have reflected many times—as I think we all should—on my relationship to the papers that I read. I recognize that we are entrusted with very sacred texts, and when we are working face-to-face, a personal text is compounded with the personal intimacy of sitting and talking about it with a relative stranger. Having never patronized the writing center as an undergraduate student, I feel a profound respect for the writers that seek us—and a strong sense of obligation to do right by them. Since sharing your writing is always such an exposure of our vulnerability, I have wondered about the potential exploitation of that trust. So I created Tom as a vehicle to explore just how it would happen. I didn't realize until after I wrote it that I was also trying to justify or contextualize its happening. That is, how a seemingly ordinary and well adjusted person (like me?) could end up in ethically ambiguous—or blatantly egregious—situations.

This conception of this piece was also coincident to our move to the new Nicholson space. Surely you recognized the descriptions of our current digs, though you might not have an image of our old space. Tom could never have pulled off his tricks in Lind Hall, simply because the space was utterly closed and controlled. Another impetus for this piece was to explore the dynamics of our writing center spaces and the unforeseen consequences of the open and inviting design principles we espouse.

You also recognize the role of technology in Tom's addiction. That, too, was inspired by the march of technology in education, easily witnessed on our campus and in our center. It struck me that our flexible and permeable space was akin to the access to and accessibility of digital spaces and cyberspaces that colocate with our physical ones. And it struck me that the two might work together, despite our best security measures. Maybe this is the hacker that lurks inside of me. This post provides my first opportunity to publicly recognize Huy Hoang for his contributions to this piece. He talked through the practicalities of monitoring computer activity in the lab, and using VNC was his suggestion. Of course, we can trust that, being so aware of potential breaches, we are well protected under Huy's careful watch. Right? I can certainly assure you that I'm technically incapable of doing what Tom does, although it is practically possible.

Other semi-autobiographical facts:

Capella does have a mobile writing center, and I learned of it through one of C4W's former consultants, Jack Stack, who does stints with Capella's traveling writing center. The bloodmobile is my own invention (and a little jab at the for-profit world of higher education, which can be read as manifestation of my own insecurity and envy). Actually Capella's consultants travel to a location and set up shop in some arranged or leased space. It is a site that otherwise disembodied student writers become embodied and come into contact with other embodied instructors. Arguably, despite my insecurity, it is a good model for an online institution like Capella and its competitors. But I liked the bloodmobile for its symmetry with the city bus as well as its evocation of bloodletting, vampires, and invasive medical paradigms.

Tom's bus route is modeled after the #3 along Como Avenue towards campus. I drew upon my many bus rides throughout the MTC system for those details.

My fifth grade "girlfriend" was Megan Bailey. I haven't seen her for over 20 years, but, although she was a bit bookish and uptight, she didn't look homely to me back then. She was, in the parlance of grade school crushes, "cute."

. . . Creepy and Tingley
It sounds as if Tom's twinge and the tingle were fodder for conversation/concern as well. I think of it as something somewhat playful to help animate the story and something that gives a just a hint of psychological depth to Tom. But I also would like it to be another entry point for introspection. What sort of pleasure do we derive from our work? What "pleasure centers" does it trigger? In light of reading Russell's essay, Tom's twinge might appear rather sinister and sexual. I hope there is a range of human needs and impulses that might be signaled by the ambiguous twinge. I can't claim that this short piece provides a thorough (or even thoughtful) exploration of pathology, but that's where it tries to gesture. I wonder what pathologies we, the non-pathological, carry around with us each day. Things that we manage, suppress, or control sufficient to stay safe from scrutiny or exposure. And that's Tom's talent, isn't it? He's charismatic—not at all greasy or phony—and able to abide social conventions despite his fetish/obsession/perversion.

Once in a while, it is good to indulge the "I'm a phony" anxiety that dwells deep within us. It's good to reexamine our motives and assumptions. One of the disturbing features of the narration is its relative flatness and the absence of Tom's awareness, concern, or consideration of his condition. Although he may be exposed, he is not examined. And he's certainly not self-examined. With that flatness, we are only left to read Tom as exceptionally steely and mercenary in his obsession. That's the hyperbole. What about for each of us? Short of Tom's extremes, where is our motivation for this work driven by our own pleasure? Our own needs? And can we reconcile that fulfillment with the ethics of the work? In nearly every case, I think we can, but Tom reminds us that we shouldn't stop checking ourselves. Maybe we're really creepy, and we just haven't realized it yet.

. . . An Alternate Ending?
You might not be satisfied that Tom seems to get away with it. That was certainly essential to my purpose; I wanted to be sure that Tom wasn't relegated to the category of a miscreant, pervert, or deviant with all of the attending stigmas of social dysfunction and interpersonal failure. He needed to be able to get away with it, to pull it off, in order to give us pause to wonder about our practice, our colleagues, and our field. We might watch one another with greater suspicion now, or register certain comments from a particular consultant in a different way, but paranoia isn't the objective. I most hope to provoke a little critique of how we think about our craft and, importantly, the dynamic contexts of it, including physical space and technology, but institutional culture and educational fashion as well.

If Tom is discovered and dealt with, or worse (for the sake of the desired critique) if he rehabilitates himself, we lose some of the edge that makes us proceed with caution. We need to adopt technology in our teaching and learning and create spaces where we can effectively work, but we must attend to matters of pedagogy and privacy as we do so. We need to enjoy the intimacy of our work, but we must be aware of personal vulnerabilities and psychological nuances that are attendant to writing and writing consultancy.

And now you can see that I'm becoming preachy, which is one of the primary reasons that I wrote this piece—originally read at a conference where a conventional essay would have been typical—in a nondirective genre. So I'll end with a pedagogical move: if you were assigned to make one substantive revision to this short short story, what would you change? How would you change it? And why?

Thanks for reading the piece and discussing it so earnestly in class. That kind of attention to one's writing is rare and precious.

Thoughts on the readings, what an original title…

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Reflecting on my inquiry paper and movin’ on to my reflective essay…

Continue reading "Reflecting on my inquiry paper and movin’ on to my reflective essay…" »

December 5, 2007


i had a tough one today.

a client came in with a paper in which they read different articles and picked one to agree with, and argued why that viewpoint was legitimate and the others weren't. so this client came in with articles about torture of terrorism suspects. before i read through their paper, they made it very clear that they were concerned with their personal viewpoint coming across in the paper. so keeping an open mind, i dove find some really awful stuff. regardless of what their opinion was on the subject, i have a strong personal opinion on the subject as well, and i found what they had to say offensive. they basically picked the most extreme article of the three which stated that torture should be completely legal in the questioning of terrorism suspects. there were specifics in the paper that referred to torture being necessary on people even possibly connected to terrorism, regardless of solid proof of their guilt being available or not. the argument was that these people might be holding valuable information that will save many many american lives, and if it turns out that they were in fact innocent, then the outcome is better than the possibility of american lives being lost. while they have a right to have this opinion, by all means, this made me kind of sick.

the worst part was there were instances where their sentence structure and the content were very closely connected. to be completely honest with you, i half-assed this one, because i just didn't want to look at it anymore. i was afraid of telling this kid exactly why his viewpoint wasn't legitimate, not based on my opinion, but based on the fact that his arguments weren't stable. he also made clear very early in his paper that he would not refer to any of the events that were discussed in the articles. i think perhaps he should have; torture is not a subject to be taken so lightly, and maybe if he had taken the time to think about some of the things occuring, his viewpoint wouldn't have been so extremely in favor of it. the absolute worst part was where he mentioned that it is so important to torture suspects to get the information quickly, that the government should create an online system that allowed a judge of whether the suspect should be tortured or not to immediately give a decision, "to eliminate unnecessary paperwork".

i was worried about this one mostly because the line between my personal opinion and the structure of the arguments was starting to blur. so i focused on the other things he needed help with, which was reducing the length of his paragraphs (some were more than a page long). i told him he could split up paragraphs when a new train of thought is introduced, even if he is still writing on the same subject, and i also told him that paragraphs don't need to be at a certain length; some paragraphs are two sentences long and some are much longer, just based on the content and how he wanted to present it. immediately after, he went through his paragraphs and found where they looked like they would be an appropriate length. at that point, i was REALLY done with this. i knew that i would eventually come across a paper with a strong viewpoint different than my own, but i didn't realize that sometimes the argument and the opinions are very closely related, and you can't question one without questioning the other.

i hated it. i'm glad it's over.


December 4, 2007


receiving my inquiry paper today reminded me of something i came across in the data i collected from you guys in class that i think deserves addressing. not everyone feels like they are a part of a subculture. i'm not singling anyone out either, i think there is definitely more than one person that feels this way. i only got back 5 surveys so i can't really say for sure what everyone is thinking or how they feel on the subject, but i think that it's something i should have explored in my paper. by the time i got to this interesting tidbit in my data it was too late to add something new into my paper, but hey, this research is on-going...right? yes. and no, i will NOT actually add this into my paper. pft.

for those who don't really feel like they are part of a subculture, rest assured, i did not forget you. while you didn't appear in my paper, i did consider you. but ho, my friends, i disagree with you. even as you feel separated from any kind of "main group" or subculture per se in our course, you are still contributing, simply by being involved at all. the things i was finding in my research showed a lot of interactions that i never even thought about occurring not only in 3751, but in the writing center in general. so, by gracing us with your presence, you did contribute to our subculture. and again, i think it's important to keep in mind what exactly a subculture is. a lot of things can fall under this category, and it's definition isn't exactly clear, even to those who study it in a lot more depth than i did. but the main, working definition of a subculture (and the one i applied to our course) is a group of people with characteristics that separate them from the larger culture. we have some pretty obvious ones, including being part of the course, being new consultants, being undergrads, etc.. and the important thing is that we are all these things...AT THE SAME TIME! (we're just that good!) i also explored some other things in the paper about the subculture, so if you wanted to you could read my paper. not that it's any dazzling, final piece of literature by any means, but i enjoyed writing it because it dealt with all of us on such a personal level. maybe somebody is interested in reading it, like i found in the comments of the last blog i wrote. (btw that made me really happy that i was intriguing enough in my post to get a question about it! thanks!)

i hope everyone made it home safe tonight! stay warm.


December 1, 2007

Why the University sucks at life, Reason #493

After neurotically checking to see if my books were available every day this week, I finally read the webpage and noticed this gem:

All orders placed after December 3, and charged to your U Card will appear on your spring semester statement.

SEE FOR DOUBLE YOU!!! (yaaaay!)

We have a band. Did you guys know that there's a band? Or, more importantly, did you guys know you're IN the band? This was decided on a fateful Friday afternoon (today), at Espresso 22, during an official meeting of the Let's Go to Espresso 22 After Work and Talk for Awhile and then Laugh Incessantly about a Crazy Fantastic Hypothetical Situation in which We Put Our Co-Workers into a BAND club (aka Meher, Emily S., and me).

Continue reading "SEE FOR DOUBLE YOU!!! (yaaaay!)" »

November 27, 2007

The C4W As a Subculture

When approaching the assignment for our inquiry papers, I decided that the relationships among employees of the C4W were interesting, and worth a closer look. I began thinking of the C4W in terms of it's own community, and that translated to the possibility that it is a subculture. Over time, this transformed into the question, "How is 3751W 2007 a subculture, and what does that mean for the C4W as a whole?" I felt that 3751W had more of a strong subcultural context within the C4W, so it became my focus.

In order to support my claim of the course being a subculture I surveyed my fellow consultants who are enrolled in the course, interviewed Kirsten Jamsen, our director, and made personal observations on the interactions of our group. I referred to secondary research to establish a stronger definition of subculture, which, as it turns out, is not so easy to define. I also found recorded reactions of peer tutors at a different writing center, which I used as a comparison when examining our own.

Of course, I was not looking for definite answers to the questions that came up in my research, but I found some interesting information nonetheless. Our group dynamic, both as a course and as co-workers, is complex and dynamic; it is most definitely a subculture, as I prove in my research. I also examined the effects of us being a subculture. There were a lot of positive things I found happening both in our course and in the C4W as a whole as a direct result of the interactions of 3751W students. This led to the examining of possible implications, ways to either maintain a positive atmosphere or improve the atmosphere in future 3751W courses. I also discovered some interesting tidbits about myself as a member of the subculture, which I feel many consultants at the C4W may be able to relate to.

The hiring of Undergrad Peer Tutors

About the Hiring of Undergrad Peer Tutors in University Writing Centers

For this inquiry I began by asking how writing center directors decide whom to hire.
What guides them in their search and decision making process? What do they value in a peer tutor? There is very little prior research of the subject in writing center discourse. To find out the answers to these questions I composed a survey directed at writing center directors. The survey consisted of 9 open answer questions and one question where they were asked to rank eight characteristics. The questions included where and when they post for applicants and whether they require a certain GPA, faculty recommendation, or a class for tutors. I also asked about anything else they require of a candidate and whether they think it is important that the tutors reflect the population of their school. I also interviewed the three directors of one university writing center. For the analysis I brought together the results, interview responses, and research. The results reflected the large variety of processes that writing centers use in their procedures. Writing centers must have flexibility while deciding whom to hire for their undergrad peer tutor staff.

Cultural Contexts of Commanding English Students

My work as an in-class writing consultant in the U of M’s Commanding English program gave me the chance to investigate the experiences of non-native English speakers. I've focused my inquiry on gathering CE students' opinions of university life, and on identifying some of the forces – linguistic, cultural, social, etc. – that affect their academic lives, and that the Center for Writing (and the university in general) ought to understand better. I held face-to-face interviews with four CE students, who talked about the support systems they rely on and the values, past experiences and future goals that motivate them. Participants also gave frank evaluations of their institutional experiences. Overall satisfaction with the CE program was high. Students appreciated the emphasis on academic writing development and the engagement and accessibility of the faculty, but expressed frustration with the limits CE imposes on their access to classes outside the program. The interviews also suggested some possibilities for improving the Center for Writing's support of the CE population. One concrete example: Wilson Library is a popular after-hours study area. Perhaps CE students would use SWS more often if it expanded its presence there or extended its hours.

Writing Outside the Margins: An Analysis of the Writing Experiences of Multilingual Individuals

Continue reading "Writing Outside the Margins: An Analysis of the Writing Experiences of Multilingual Individuals" »

Examining MotivationsAmong First-Year Writing Consultants

The purpose of this study is to examine the motivations of first-year writing consultants for pursuing this line of work. Three first-year writing consultants were subjected to tape-recorded interviews. Close-readings of the interview transcriptions were presented in order to provide an analysis of motivations. Finally, a reflection of the author's own motivations, in concert with those of his interview subjects, are offered. Previous studies on teacher motivation were analyzed in order to create a theoretical framework for a discussion of motivators. A primary conclusion of this inquiry paper is that there are several fundamental motivators common among writing consultants writ large. These motivators include pleasure with working in an intellectual environment, a strong sense of community, and a joy found in assisting people with writing.

The Place Where Theory and Practice Meet: Flexibility within a Writing Consultant

This paper attempts to make the theoretical demands of writing center gurus Steven North and Muriel Harris more accessible to novice writing consultants, ie, me. I felt like focusing on right or wrong methods in writing consulting was quite pointless, as methods can change and vary, but as long as they uphold the principles, is it ok? The main question I was attempting to answer was: To what extent do differences in consultees affect one writing center consultant's basic principles of consulting, as visible as [his methods] in three sessions? Even with varying methods, is the writing consultant still adhering to the same principles?

Through studying one experienced, thoughtful writing consultant, I wanted to see by what principles does this consultant abide, AND how flexibility acts within three sessions. First, I found that both Harris and North upheld four principles: one, consultations should be student centered; two, consultations should be collaborative; third, they should be flexible; and fourth, writing consultations should focus on the process of writing, and not the product. I then looked at Jack* (name changed), and found that he did indeed uphold all of these principles in his work, but first, focused on upholding the student as a person trying to become. I also found that Jack acted in directive ways, and gave sentence-level help. Though these methods may appear non-collaborative, etc, it is not. In these sessions that these methods were utilized, the student needed the help. Thus, Jack was acting on a hierarchy of principles, focusing first on the student's needs and then acting out with flexibility. Writing consultancy is about meeting the student's needs...and adapting the principles through flexibility.

The End.