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…

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…

That Class Where Stanford Profs Projected Hundreds of Zoom Students on a Video Wall

Of course, not all institutions happen to have a video wall that’s 32-feet wide and 8-feet tall. But Stanford already did, in its Wallenberg Hall. So the three professors reached out to the university’s director of classroom innovation, Bob Smith, to see what they could rig up. No matter how big your screen, Zoom can only display up to 49 people in each session. So the class was divided into…

The Internet Is Rotting

I do what I can. It’s disheartening how, in the past three or so years, several of my free instructional web pages that used to be high in the Google search results have been pushed out by predatory services that provide custom term papers (for a fee, of course). Users of social media are trained to use a flashy, well-designed app, but they don’t learn how to curate and maintain…

Seton Hill discontinues mask requirement for vaccinated individuals

The pandemic is not over. It’s a blessing to live in a country with the resources to acquire and distribute vaccines, and a privilege to work for an employer that respects science and cares for the public good. The email arrived while I was at home relaxing with the family. Seton Hill is no longer requiring masks for vaccinated adults, and students will be asked to show proof of vaccination…

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A friend asks: “Would it be bad form to point out the typos in my class materials?” My answer: Probably yes.

After I posted my grades for this term, I made a dumb typo in this celebratory meme, and a friend pointed out the error on social media. Another friend, who is just starting a new grad program, asked: Curious, would it be bad form to point out the typos in my class materials? I’d say that correcting an instructor’s proofreading errors is probably not the best way to start an…

If You’re An English Major You Should Take a Journalism Class–Even If You Think You Hate Journalism

Journalism is not everyone’s cup of tea. The short, blunt paragraphs and inverted pyramid that tells readers exactly who, what, where, when and how from the get-go are creative writers’ worst nightmares. There is virtually no element of suspense, no character development, and no world building. Right? Well, not exactly. Just like creative writing, journalism is detail-driven and can include humor and depth. Quotations add dimension and often a human-touch to a news story. Experienced journalists know to keep bias out…

Why Can’t My New Employees Write? | Just Visiting

We’re talking about elite students here landing jobs in highly desirable firms. These are Deresiewicz’s “Excellent Sheep.” We can presume that their educations have been rigorous as they’ve climbed to the top of the meritocratic heap. If these young professionals can’t write well, who can? And if they’re not writing well, why not? My belief is that the experience of these elite students is similar to my very accomplished, but…

Ice Cream and Sharks

Scene: writing classroom.   Me: (setting up a lesson about correlation vs causation) What would you say if I told you that ice cream attracts sharks?   Student: I’d say you’re an idiot.   Class: (chortles and gasps)   Student: (looks worried)   Me: Don’t worry, this is definitely the highlight of my teaching day. Please tell me *why* you’d call me an idiot.   (The student went on to…

How to Reduce Racial Bias in Grading (Use Objective Rubrics)

To gauge the potential impact of a standardized rubric on grading bias, I conducted an experiment comparing how teachers graded two identical second-grade writing samples: one presented as the work of a Black student, and one as the work of a white student.

My experiment found that teachers gave the white student better marks across the board—with one exception. When teachers used a grading rubric with specific criteria, racial bias all but disappeared. When teachers evaluated student writing using a general grade-level scale, they were 4.7 percentage points more likely to consider the white child’s writing at or above grade level compared to the identical writing from a Black child. However, when teachers used a grading rubric with specific criteria, the grades were essentially the same.

Bottled Authors: the predigital dream of the audiobook

There was no way to preserve sounds before the nineteenth century. Speeches, songs, and soliloquies all vanished moments after leaving the lips. That situation changed in 1877, when Thomas Edison began working on a machine that could mechanically reproduce the human voice. Edison’s team successfully assembled a device on which Edison recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” a nursery rhyme that would become the first words ever spoken by the phonograph.2 Depending on how you define the term, Edison’s inaugural recording of verse might be considered the world’s first audiobook.. –Matthew Rubery, Cabinet Magazine

A computer scientist urges more support for the humanities (opinion)

“Lior Shamir, a computer scientist who’s actively participated in efforts to increase participation in STEM fields, now wonders if she’s been on the wrong side.” The theme of those academic meetings has been rather consistent: we must reach out to those lost souls who chose to study the humanities or social sciences and show them the light of STEM. But as time has passed, and the deeper and more sophisticated…

Behold this stack of August Wilson library books

Yay, libraries. I’m delighted that my college library has a full set of August Wilson’s plays. I’ve had them all checked out for a couple months, but I’m finished with them for now. During the Christmas break I taught a special topics course on Wilson’s Century Cycle. I thought it was too much to expect students to read all 10 plays during an intensive course that lasts for just 3…

The Value of Truth: We are living through an epistemological crisis.

In the jargon of academia, the study of what we can know, and how we can know it, is called “epistemology.” During the 1980s, philosopher Richard Rorty declared it dead and bid it good riddance. To Rorty and many other thinkers of that era, the idea that we even needed a theory of knowledge at all rested on outmoded, Cartesian assumptions that the mind was an innocent mirror of nature;…

Most Americans have a high opinion of the humanities, and 81% use at least one humanities-related skill on the job

While some survey respondents were unfamiliar with the term “humanities” (apparently guessing that it had to do with the study of the human body), once they were given the definition “studying or participating in activities related to literature, languages, history, and philosophy,” most respondents had a high opinion of the subject. Predictably, people who were educated at liberal-arts colleges were the most favorable towards the humanities, but science and engineering…

Making Connections in Virtual One-Shots

I often invite my colleague Kelly Clever to give the “library session” to my freshman writing students. Of course there’s only so much anyone can accomplish in a single session, but my students often credit her for helping them make the leap from a general idea to a well-formed research question. Maybe they end up changing their topic a few weeks later, but the good experiences they have during the…

A Career-Aligned Major Isn’t Enough

I’ve taken over teaching the English department’s relatively new career focus sequence, so I’m more than usually invested in these ideas. It’s time for faculty and administrators to be blunt: postgraduation success, more than ever, requires a demanding curriculum that includes extensive writing, facility with data and statistics, and extensive opportunities for collaboration and critical thinking. What the pandemic should have taught us is that we need to double down…

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

Having a rough day. But in a span of about 24 hours, three former students reached out to thank me.

One former student said I’m the only adult male in their life who ever supported their creative efforts. A second former student posted an essay on social media, describing bouncing back from alcohol and cocaine addiction, and after mentioning several life-savers, mentioned me in the final line of the essay — thanking me for teaching them how to write. A third former student thanked me for the “Dystopia in American…