Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Notes from the first week

Last semester, one of my students sent me an email asking about how he should quote profanity in his essay. In his understanding of academic writing, he felt it was unprofessional to use bad words, even when quoting another source. I told him that academic prose must, above all, be faithful to its source. If he felt irreconcilably uncomfortable, there are alternatives I suggested, such as paraphrase. He could describe the language, rather than cite it directly. In the end, I encouraged him to quote his source’s language, profanity and all.

I have the same student this semester. Yesterday he told me that he was embarrassed to be seen walking around campus with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a book required for my class. I did not request a particular edition from the bookstore (not that I would have noticed anyway), and the Penguin Classic they ordered has a Ramon Casas painting, “Antes del Bano,” that features a woman getting undressed. He was, I think, half-kidding. I thought I would share the offending image.

My American literature class had a Beavis and Butthead moment. One of my students, reading from Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive, mispronounced “Updike,” the first name of the novel’s protagonist, neglecting the concluding vowel. Lots of “he-he” laughs that lasted about 15 seconds, or about 12 to 14 seconds too long. After we got over that, the rest of the discussion was quite good.

Other class discussions about writings by Radwa Ashour and Wole Soyinka were quite good as well.

The most frustrating thing that happened this week regards Blackboard, the online course site. Last month, I received an email from the system administrator asking whether or not I needed to keep any of my fall courses online. I replied yes that I needed one course, which I was repeating. Last week, I noticed that none of my courses were available. So I wrote another email asking for access to my fall files. No response for a couple of days (which in fairness included the weekend). In the meantime, I spent a good bit of time building my course sites for this term. Finally I got a response that they uploaded my fall files to my spring course. And in doing so, they deleted all of the work that I had done for this semester! So I had to delete almost all of the files they posted and re-do an hour’s worth of work from scratch. Argh.

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