Friday, July 25, 2008

So - last post was June 8, and it's now July 25. I'm averaging one every six weeks, which certainly beats my former record and therefore counts as a moral victory.

I'm currently sitting in Midway Airport waiting for my 2:20 flight to Detroit metro. I'm on my way home from a Higher Learning Commission Assessment Workshop. For the reader (since I'm sure I'm down to one, or maybe even into the negative numbers -- does writing a post mean that readers go away when one does it only once every six weeks?) unfamiliar with the HLC, they are the primary accrediting body for post-secondary institutions in about 1/3 of the country, from roughly Ohio to Colorado on the E-W axis. I've done a few gigs with them over the past couple of years. I like working with them because I have a lot to learn from them, which is very cool. They see assessment as a process that should focus on the improvement of student learning. They are all about encouraging good assessment -- what we in the WPA world have been calling discipline-based assessment that is used to improve teaching and learning. They have some very nifty resources to encourage this kind of work, and the creds -- one might even call it the power -- to have people pay attention to what they say. It's very interesting to hear how institutions really believe that assessment should engage people, should be used for improvement, can be fun and interesting, etc. when it comes from their accreditor (and not, say, from a faculty committee).

Doing these workshops are really interesting because I get to see elements of the academic work I don't encounter often. I worked with four community colleges in this session -- I do see community college people, but mostly writing instructors. These were people from across the spectrum - administrators, student affairs folks, instructors of technical things and trades, and so on. I also get to see people from for-profit institutions, which is a whole different ball of wax entirely. That's a wild world, one that I'm not sure how I feel about. Or to put it differently, one I have some strong feelings about, but I'm trying to distance myself from those feelings and hear about their experiences and challenges. It's another learning piece -- pretty interesting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


It's FINALLY summer-like weather and that SO works for me. As the reader(s) know/s, I hate hate hate hate hate hate cold. It was in the 80s with loads of humidity for the past few days, which works for me - but boy, oh boy were the family members whiny. So today, after buckets of rain, it's like 70-something (77, according to my Apple dashboard [which, btw, I finally got set to the right city - for a while it kept showing forecasts for Detroit, Alabama. I would like to live in that temperature zone during the winter, let me tell you - vastly preferable]). Puffy clouds are floating across the sky, and it's alllll good. Now, if I could make good headway - and I think that I might be, actually - on the latest project, great. More on that in a moment.

First, though, the subject is BIKING. Thanks to Dave Morris at the A2 YMCA, I learned about a new-to-me web site,, where people post bike routes. New ideas! New possibilities! This a.m., Ben Caldwell (also of the A2 YMCA, at least for this a.m.'s spinning class) also suggested some great new routes on dirt roads north of here. Exciting! The Friday spin class is riding outside this week, which should be great (Apple dashboard says the low will be in the high 50s/low 60s - lovely!). Weather this weekend is also predicted to be fab, so that means... yes... biking! More biking! I'm doing a lot more dirt road this summer than trail, but that's okay -- I see more, which is great. I still love the trails, of course.

And then, there's thinking. I still have to redo the fall class, but that's on hold while I work on this chapter for the new book and some work for another article. Thanks to thinking with James Carey and the public journalism literature (a lot of which is pre 9-11 - interesting to hear about changes with that...), I've been mulling over some issues connected to reframing. I think they're leading to some good ideas, but WHAT A PAIN it is to slog through! Ah, writing. Still hard. That's it, though, isn't it?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

It's BACK!

Having not written a post in almost a year, the tens of readers may now have dipped into the single digits. (Do RSS feeds unfeed themselves? Could be!) Nonetheless, I finally feel like I'm into summer work mode, which means that I can spend a few moments updating my reader(s) -- and that might be a singular, me -- on the many issues of interest here on BrownDogsBlog.


Issue #1: Eastern Michigan University. We have a president who will start July 1; that's good. Our college has a new dean, also starting July 1; also good. If you happen to be reading this blog and are considering enrolling in EMU for the fall, DO IT!!! It's a great place! And take English 120, for pete's sake, will you? As always, EMU (like all institutions) has challenges an opportunities -- a BIG one right now around admissions and advising.

Issue #2: The world of public policy and assessment. Whoo! It's been quite a year around that. There was a story in today's Inside Higher Ed about what one can only hope is Ed Department's last attempt to monkey with the accreditation process. Let's hope the story is accurate. Meanwhile, check out the editorial by Margaret Spellings linked in the IHE piece, which captures the problem with the Ed Department so beautifully (in a hideous, car wreck kind of way). The problem: for Spellings and her ilk, the purpose of ed is to help individuals develop their talents and abilities so that they can advocate for themselves in the (corporate capitalist) culture. Education isn't doing a good job teaching to this, so "investors" (taxpayers) are not receiving the "benefits of their investments" (employees who can magically do everything). The solution is to cultivate that individual growth. Of course, this is a very problematic way to frame education and completely elides any notion that education is a place to think through the problems with/purposes of a democratic culture. It's just not good.

On the up side, I think there's a lot of movement around creating alternative stories and working from positive frames, which is good. I can't point to anything specific (except my book, but that doesn't count), but I've heard of a lot. So yay to that.

Issue #3: The OMB (that's oft-mentioned book, for new reader[s]). It's done! Now I'm working on a new project (with friend and colleague Peggy O'N) that is taking me in some very interesting directions. In case reader(s) is/are interested, the new book is called Reframing Writing Assessment. Working on the "reframing" chapter, I think I've gotten to some cool new stuff about the ways we need to shape discussion and our personas as researchers within/around that shaping. In some ways, the literature on objectivity and public journalism is really useful/important here, so that's cool. More on this as it develops.

Issue #4: Biking. Doing a ton of it. Loving it. It's all I want to do. I'm going shortly.

Issue #5: Flowering trees. A great year for this. And today, finally, it's hot.

That's it! For now. More in less than a year.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The poster photo for not mixing substances and driving

I'll get to the subject line in a second. First, though, this: my last post was on July 11. It's now like August 25 or so. Very patient, tens of readers. Nice waiting. It's been a little hectic, actually. I finally caught up on the administrative stuff (pretty much, kind of). This included working with *load* of fabulous people from the FYWP on restructuring our courses (visible in our revised wiki), I started an article on the dreadful ACT National Curriculum Survey, I did various other things. Then I got the comments back on the OMB, and I had to attend to those ... and go to the WPA conference, and do the day-to-day planning for ENGL 596 (which started last week), and go to Beaver Island, and, and, and, ... so, not that I'm complaining, but the end of the summer was INCREDIBLY busy.

But back to the subject at hand - the poster photo. Here is why you don't want to mix substances and driving:

In case you can't tell, that's a car. And it's stuck in that house, a house which is across the street from my house. Here's the deal: at 3am last Saturday morning, we heard a loud BANG! I thought it was thunder, but then I realized it wasn't raining. Looking out the window, I thought, "there's no driveway there." The fire trucks and cops arrived pretty shortly afterward, and the guy driving the car was eventually brought out by a cop (after he tried to deck that same cop). A closer examination of that self-same yard revealed that, in fact, the flowers were still standing up *behind* the car - in other words, it sailed over the lawn and into the house. Nice!

I'm pretty zombified at this point - I'm teaching all day, every day right now - so I won't even attempt to summarize all that's happened in the last month, much less where things stand at my current teaching institution right now. Suffice to say that the things we keep thinking of as the icing on the current situation cake just keep getting buried under more icing. The latest: our e-mail was out for SIX DAYS, from last Friday until this morning. Oy. I will say this: it's very fun and terrific to be back in the classroom with the knowledge that I'm not leaving in a week, as I did last year. Sabbatical was fun and I loved it; I also love this. So that's a GOOD thing!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Le Show and EMU + other news (plus a photo)

This is the flower of a Century Plant, a kind of agave. I took this photo outside of Silver City, NM, where I am now. The flower grows from the plant (and the leaves are about 7 feet tall), and then the plant dies after the flower comes up. We saw a whole hillside of these plants as we were driving toward the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Super fabulous and cool.

It's good that I can enjoy moments like these in my life, because there are many other moments right now that are not quite so fabulous. Not bad, but ... mmmm... shall we say, lively. I've not written on this blog about EMU's recent forays with the Education Department (I've been thinking about them in other contexts, as the tens of readers know), but the administration has also had many interactions with them over the Cleary Amendment, which requires universities to notify faculty, staff, students, etc. when something occurs that poses a clear danger to the campus - say, a murder. I have made every effort to essentially take the moral high ground here, continue to do an excellent job, try to pretend it will be resolved (which I guess it will be), etc.

But then, this. Every week, I listen to Le Show, one of the many things that helps me keep my sanity given my proclivity toward, shall we say, long term depressing (in terms of policy) thinking. I especially enjoy segments like "Dick Cheney: Confidential." I heartily recommend this program to all of the tens of readers. Another of the regular segments of Le Show is The Apologies of the Week. Last week, Scott (the spousal unit, for the tens who don't know) and I were listening to Le Show on the way to pick up the young thing at camp. "Apologies" came on ... and one was from John Fallon, EMU's president, re: the current campus situation.
Sigh. I can run, but I clearly (or, should I say, Cleary, ha ha) can't hide.

But enough about that. We'll get through this. One of my friends/colleagues from EMU saw another colleague from EMU at the gym; this second colleague told the first that she's come up with a new slogan for EMU faculty: "We Didn't F*** Up." And it's true. EMU's faculty remains first rate, which is why it's ultimately still a good place to be, despite the current crapola. So there it is.

Meanwhile, for those of you keeping score re: the OMB, I got smart comments from reviewers. Goal is to have revisions done by the time I start teaching on August 20. I should start a countdown clock to that ... but won't.

And now, I'm off - with my mom, for today - to the WPA annual conference in Phoenix. Today's high, 111. It's a dry heat, though. It will be great to see friends and colleagues.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

early-mid summer in A2

I've started to write a post about my experiences at the U.S. Education Department regional hearing on the Spellings Commission report (lively, I suppose) and recent goings-on at EMU (not very uplifting), but I decided that both were too complicated to put here. Suffice to say that I'm learning a lot. I've been far, far busier than I imagined a summer-after-sabbatical would be, which is to say I'm working like a fiend, but it's all interesting.

But now, it's time to talk about something else: reasons why it's great to live in A2 in the summertime. The first reason is mountain biking. Thanks to my friend Maria, the most naturally gifted athlete I've ever seen, I have taken up mountain biking (which, given that there are no mountains, here, is more trail biking). There are many great courses around Ann Arbor and in Michigan, many of which are mapped out on the Michigan Mountain Bike Association web page. I bought my bike with money from doing the WAC and advanced WAC workshops with Ann Blakeslee, which I think is a pretty good tradeoff - I liked doing the workshops, I get a new bike. I have to say that I have never loved a piece of exercise equipment like I love this bike. It's a Trek 4300, 16" frame. Trek (and many other bike companies) are making women's specific design bikes now, so this bike has a shorter distance between the seat and the handlebars and a great seat. (The photo I've linked to doesn't include the pattern on the seat that mine has - sort of flames. I figure they make me go faster.) I can't quite say why mountain biking is so fab, but here are some reasons:
*It's very technical and requires a lot of concentration
*There's no traffic through the woods
*Cadence is WAY more important than resistance
*It's just basically awesomely fun

We're in the midst of a drought here in SE Michigan, which is such an unusual experience I can't begin to say, so the trails have been GREAT - hard packed and dry. Yesterday Scott (the spousal unit) and I went through this place called Olson Park, and it felt like the grass was actually cutting my legs a little. But no matter. Scott also did a header over his handlebars, but he's fine. Just one of the elements of mountain biking that makes it exciting, that little possibility of danger.

So - accessible mountain biking is one great thing about summer in A2, which is really the theme (such as it is) of this post. Another great thing is the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, which is going on now. Last night we went to see a group called Strange Fruit, Australian aerialists (?) who perform on poles. My friends/colleagues Steve Krause and Annette Wannamaker were also there (we didn't see the Krausemakers, but they saw us), but Steve took some video and put it on YouTube/his blog. Check it out. It was a BEAUTIFUL night, and it was super cool to see these people on top of poles swinging back and forth against the Rackham Grad School building (which is a lovely building) and the blue sky with high cirrus clouds, etc. Really lovely.

Number three great thing about Ann Arbor is its relative accessibility to Michigan's #1, no holds barred, absolutely best feature of all - Lake Michigan. This side of the lake, in case any of the tens of you are on the other (Illinois/Wisconsin) side, is SO much better - it's incredible. Like the ocean without the salt and the biting fish. (Of course, also no great snorkeling, but whatever.) Today will be our first summer visit - very tinily brief - to the lake. We're taking Nora to camp. Her camp (Crystalaire) is on Crystal Lake, which connects to Lake Michigan via the Crystal River, which goes into the Betsie Bay. In about a month, we'll go on our annual yearly vacation to Beaver Island, which is a fantastic place - much swimming, biking, sitting on the beach and reading books... lovely.

So - those are some things about summer and Michigan. It still makes it worth enduring the crummy November-March stretch, so that's good...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Flowers, cont.

This a shrub called wygelia, though I'm not sure that's how it's spelled. (I could check, but hey - that would be wrong, right?)

This is a shrub, of course. It has LOADS of flowers, and they're quite vivid. (The colors aren't as vivid on the web.)

Finally, not a flower, but one of our gigantic hostas. I love these. The leaves are huge, as you tens of readers can see in the contrast between my (admitedly very, very small) hand and the leaf.

Lovely plants.

Eventually I'll get back to that ed stuff ... but these are such nice plants.

More flowering plants

I neglected to mention that the reason my last entry was late was because the flowering trees pictured had actually bloomed a couple of weeks ago - I just didn't get them up. The flowers here, though, are from today - they're current flowers. I'm sure you tens of readers will appreciate that.
So: Here

and here:

are two horse chestnuts. They have different color flowers, as you can see. I took these from the car - pretty good, huh? They're on the east end of our street, Washington St., by the U of Michigan.

Here are some more flowering things from our yard.

I know this is kind of out of focus, but I wanted to show how the flowers are actually different colors. Some are more purple, some are more pink. Cool! Here's an in-focus, but not as close up, view.

This is a tree at our neighbor's house.
It's very cool. The leaves are sort of edged in pink, as below. I like that these very colorful trees grow here.

I have other pictures from our backyard, but for some reason blogger has pooped out on letting me put more photos in here - perhaps too many in this post. So will put those in another post, right away... because I'm sure people are DYING to see them.