Letter to the editor: Why our English department deserves more respect

I came very close to accepting an offer to Purdue’s Ph.D. program, so it’s heartbreaking to read about the recently announced cuts to the famous and influential writing program. (What English teacher or writing student hasn’t relied on resources from the Purdue OWL?) [A] university that is only good at STEM education is nothing more than a trade school. I came to Purdue to work in a university, and not in a trade school. The horror stories coming out of our English department — how else would you describe the stories when the department head feels compelled to use phrases…

A Note to My Remaining Students at the Close of the 2021 Fall Semester

Of course, the power outage meant that we missed three weeks of class, but when I was able to finally meet up again with the few of you who returned, I really felt we got a lot done. Until the fires. Who knew that plugging all of our electrical infrastructure into the same outlet would turn the entire west side into a giant ball of flame? Not me. But I enjoyed the essays that you turned in before we had to evacuate again. Really. I mean, if I had to offer criticism, I guess they could have been more cheerful.…

Into the depths of code. Algorithmic archaeologies and cave fantasies in video games

The full article (by Angelo Careriis) in French, but there is an English abstract, and Google Translate is just a few clicks away. By examining a mixed body composed of video games linked to the American hacker culture (Colossal Cave Adventure, Rogue, Dwarf Fortress), and some academic research that examine these objects with an experimental and transdisciplinary approach (speleology, archaeology), this paper deals with the metaphor of cave exploration applied to computer programing. Colossal Cave Adventure, a text-based game that was created by an experienced spelunker after a series of expeditions in the Mammoth Cave system, plays an important role…

I’m really enjoying seeing how my students are responding to Hamlet.

As part of a class assignment, one student took some friends to see the Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park all-female production of Hamlet. One of her friends is from Vietnam, and my student was very proud that she could answer his questions about what was going on. Many students, even the English majors, confess that in high school they never tried to read Shakespeare’s language, but instead depended totally on modern-language paraphrases. That means that from year to year, they never got any better at understanding Shakespeare’s original language. Early in the term, I usually walk students through the first…

What do you think… is it safe to throw out this to-do list from 1989?

As an undergrad, every morning before I headed out for the day, I would print my schedule (on a clackety dot-matrix printer that took fan-fold paper). At this point I don’t think I was using any fancy software, just keeping a list in a text editor. I had 9 credits of internships as an undergrad, and don’t remember what the noon interview was. It looks like I must have scheduled the 3pm event while I was on the road. I don’t remember who Ben was, but I took a lot of photos, for the school paper, for the Department of…

Trying to Tame Huck Finn

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most frequently banned books in America. I regularly teach it in my American Lit class. I never use “the n-word” in lectures, and I remind my (mostly white) students of the power of the word, but the version of the text I assign doesn’t edit that word out. I also have students listen to an audio interpretation of Pap’s tirade, in order to draw attention to how the author uses humor to mock the most openly racist character in the book. I think they recognize the stereotyping at the beginning of the…

I’m not a big fan of Disney’s corporate greed.

I’m not a huge fan of Disney, largely because as a grad student in the 1990s, I chose the 1920-1950 time period for my dissertation based on my expectation that the literary works I studied from that time period would fall out of copyright one by one during my career. I planned to mine my dissertation, using what I learned about the literary works in that time period to create free, annotated hypertext editions of those works. I’d schedule them so that they’d appear online as the copyright dates passed, and I could reap the intellectual rewards while wearing my…

Why I Left Academe to Become a Science Communicator: The pursuit of academic research was too narrow for me.

From explaining the effectiveness of social distancing for preventing the spread of COVID-19 to communicating earthquake preparedness plans to the public, scicomm efforts are vital for helping turn research into action. Yet despite scicomm’s importance, it remains a hugely overlooked, underdeveloped and unknown area in academia. Academics are trained to communicate with other academics, and jargon-filled research papers prevent broad audiences from engaging with and understanding impactful scientific discoveries.

In-person classes heighten age-related hearing problems (opinion)

My family tells me I’m starting to speak louder than I need to around the house. On my campus, all students are required to be vaccinated or masked. I can hear my students much better now that most students aren’t masked, rather than last term, when everyone was masked and practicing social distance. Today I got several emails alerting me that students are in quarantine or isolation, and that they should contact me about how to make up missed work. Four in-person students stayed after class today. One was having problems using his blog. Two had very good questions about…

Delightful interview with a former Setonian editor-in-chief who’s now doing SEO

As a student journalist, Jessie totally revamped the print publications and the website, unifying them with design elements from the Sisters of Charity (the religious order that founded our school) and rounded rectangles that echoed the interface of the iPads (which were at the time a brand new part of SHU’s student technology plan). The way she blended tradition and high-tech is a product of the flexibility of a liberal arts curriculum. She was also a great writer, a great mentor to younger students, and for some reason she kept coming back to take classes with me. When she was…

I studied philosophy and engineering at university: Here’s my verdict on ‘job relevant’ education

She double-majored in engineering and philosophy. Fifteen years later, which degree is more relevant to her success? She says that even with an engineering degree, she was criticized for not knowing specific skills that she never actually used (such as drafting by hand) or that she learned quickly on the job (such as the specific CAD software her company used). And after 15 years, most of those specific job-ready skills are out of date and useless. When I introduce students to a software package, my goal is not to make them “job-ready” experts with that tool; instead, I encourage them…

Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Elizabethan Theater

Somewhere during my education I picked upon the meme that “Shakespeare’s contemporaries referred to ‘hearing’ a play, not ‘seeing’ a play,” and I regularly trot it out to emphasize how growing up in an auditory culture meant that the average Elizabethan probably got a lot more out of casually attending a Shakespeare play than the average student gets from studying an annotated script. Practically speaking, I encourage students to listen to an audio adaptation while they read, but I also point out that our task in the classroom is to study Shakespeare’s words and the historical context in which he…

Make your case stronger – argue against yourself

Academic argument depends on being able to produce the best possible information, presented in a convincing sequence. But we are usually advised we also need to take account of counter points. We need to consider and deal with different positions and troubling information. Wearing blinkers while arguing trips us up, stops us being credible. An obvious way to address the negative is to find alternative views in the literature, or in the public realm. It’s straightforward then – just cite and counter. Right? Well, maybe. Simply mentioning and summarily dismissing may not be enough. You may need to understand more…