Wednesday, May 8, 2013


"I'm here for my conference.
What do I get?"
  • What's with all the "titles that are both italicized and enclosed in quotation marks"?  I've had scattered sightings for a year or two, but suddenly, they're epidemic.  I even saw one "title that was italicized, enclosed in quotation marks, and underlined."  The easier it gets to look up this sort of rule, the less students seem to follow it.  

  • Most interesting typo: The Carbuncle For Higher Education (no quotation marks, italics, or underlining. Must be spell check, right?  So has spell check been reading Sherlock Holmes lately?)  

  • Smell count: halitosis: 1, b.o.: 1, Axe (or similar): 3 (all male).  I much prefer the halitosis and/or b.o.

  • It's a bit awkward, isn't it, when you write a paper that makes a bunch of fairly extreme assumptions about the habits (or lack thereof) of the overweight and obese, and your proffie turns out to fall in the (latter) category?  Yet another peril of online classes. Ah, well; we'll both survive, and you'll pass; I'm pretty good at analytical detachment, and pretty thick-skinned, and it's not like I haven't heard any of what you wrote before. But I'm curious: do you really have no fat friends or relatives? I had the impression that you've never discussed the topic with a fat person before, and were downright shocked to find yourself doing so. We're not exactly hard to find these days, you know, even in the gym, on the walking trails, at the pool, etc., etc. And yes, we might even share your enthusiasm for such activities, and for cooking with fruits, veggies, fish, et al. Shocking, I know. Well, at least college is widening your horizons, even if you're grimly determined it won't widen your body.
  • Narcissism award: no, my dear, the poor beleaguered souls who are going to read some of the student projects for assessment purposes are not likely to be so amazed by "excellent work" that they search out the creator of same and award a prize or whatever it is you were envisioning.  Besides, (1) the work is anonymized before being assessed, and (2) your project is not "excellent." In fact, as I tried to point out as gently as possible, your introduction is a stellar example of circular reasoning, and your thesis currently boils down to "on examination of some examples of the phenomenon, the unsurprising observation with which I opened this paper turns out, in fact, to be true."  It'll pass, yes (if/once you finish it), but that's about it. And you may be a bit surprised by the written comments I returned with your draft. When I realized within 3 minutes of the beginning of the conference that you were going to counter the slightest criticism I made with a long explanation of why your way was, in fact, best, I decided to stick to making suggestions for how you might approach the second, unfinished, part of your draft.  I did add a few written suggestions for what you shouldn't be doing before uploading the file to the LMS. I'm sorry if that hurts your self-of-steam, but it's my job, and you do still have a thing or two to learn about academic writing. 


  1. Ah Cassandra! Your students are lucky to have you, as are we on this blog.

    I am wondering what you will think of what I have been doing for a year to two in my Comp classes in terms of Works Cited pages....

    Well, lynch me if you must. But I don't want to spend eons teaching them how to do it the MLA way, only to have them fuck it up anyway. I mean, and I am not actually even exaggerating, back in my day, they just told us "use MLA format for your stuff-----if you don't know how, there is a guide in the library" and we had to figure it out. And we did. And we did not blink. But "these kids today" --- well, you know.

    So....what I do is show them EasyBib ( I actually SHOW them, the "I am talking to small dogs" (thanks, Darla) way. I demo it. We PRACTICE using EasyBib. I walk them through some mistakes I've had students make EVEN WITH FUCKING EASY FUCKING BIB. I spend a class on fucking EasyBib.

    And......holy crap.....I've been getting PERFECT FUCKING WORKS CITED PAGES. I love it. I feel almost orgasmic about it.

    I have colleagues who think I am Satan....but I don't really want to teach them how to do a Works Cited page. I want to TRY to teach them how to write. So I am going to keep doing it.

    1. @Bella: whatever works, works. I don't "teach" them how to write works cited/references entries, per se, because really, what's to teach, other than the principle that there are standard formats and we follow them (which is an important principle)? I do point them toward a handbook, and assign a reading on creating in-text citations that do a good, graceful job both of giving credit where credit is due and weaving together the students' and others' ideas. That's really what we're working on in my junior-level class. And no, the results usually aren't very graceful; a close analogy might be an 8th-grade ballroom dancing class. But I have hopes they get some idea of what they should be aiming for, and get better with practice. Some even get pretty decent in the course of the semester.

      For bibliographies, I talk a bit about what one is trying to accomplish with a bibliography entry (give credit; make it easy for someone to find the exact source you used; make an easily-identifiable connection with the information in the in-text citation), then point them toward an online guide to specific forms. Some of them are already familiar with a citation generator, and/or they use the one built into the library databases or google scholar. The results haven't, in my experience, been as good as you describe, so I warn that they need to check the results against the guidelines in a handbook, but, once again, I'd say if you're getting a satisfactory end result, you're doing it right. The only downside I can think of is that if they're overly reliant on a software solution, they might be utterly flummoxed if a particular source/kind of source isn't covered by the software, whereas those of us who've done citations by hand just look for something similar and improvise (and wait for a copyeditor, and/or our professional association, to say "no; that's wrong; do it this way"). They also might not know how to punctuate a title in the body of the paper, because they haven't had to do so in the "works cited" list. Then again, in APA, the rules actually differ for the "references" list and the body, so doing it by hand is no panacea.

      Honestly, I, too, mostly just want to teach them how to write -- which, of course, is why I'm so frustrated by having spent so much conference time talking about punctuation of titles.

    2. I teach the Style Manual first, but for the big project (researched argument, with 15 source annotated bib turned in 10 days prior), I walk them through NoodleTools. Our system has a paid subscription, and every time I show them, I know that there will be a few who don't get it, but for the rest it will save them loads of time.

      I would argue that this still falls under the heading of teaching writing. They have to know how to use the systems and protocols of academic discourse. So what if there is a shorthand for it?

    3. Every day I wake up, I am thankful that I work in a discipline that aggressively, active does not care what citation format you use, as long as it's consistent and clear.

    4. I do agree, BC, that it is teaching least related to it and important for the class. I, like you, show them the handbook first. But I immediately go to EasyBib and show them that at the same time. It seems to work well!

  2. No one doesn't have any fat friends and relatives. This kid probably just lectures them about exercise and fish whenever (s)he sees them. Hopefully you got some good cognitive dissonance going there.

  3. That rare American species, the fat person??? I had a student write about fat people as if they were a new species. She intoned that fat people had been 'growing,' (no pun intended) in number and she had just noticed this now, and therefore thought she would write a paper about the abuses that fat people suffer (one of which turned out to be that sales people apparently try to sell them large-sized clothing). She was well meaning, but how is it that when they write, they act as if they have landed on earth after a long absence?

    1. So true! I recently had a student write that a literary character's idiosyncrasies were all symptoms of a particularly deplorable condition: He's just old. (49, to be exact. Younger than I am.) But at least he's not fat! If he'd been both old and fat, who knows what the student would have written?

  4. The easier it gets to look up this sort of rule, the less students seem to follow it.

    Truth. I had a student recently who emailed me three hours before his annotated bibliography was due (I was in bed by then) to ask how he was supposed to arrange his articles--"like, alphabetically or something?" When I responded the next morning, he said "oh. So, can I resubmit it and you just not take off as many points or whatever?"

    Sure. It's not as though MLA conventions weren't available in at least four different, easily accessible places. Idiot.

    This semester was the worst for students emailing me first instead of looking things up, which is ironic because looking things up was half the point of the course.

  5. I've gotten similar naive anti-fat stuff from students, even though (1) I'm clearly a fat person, (2) they've heard me reference my herbivorous diet more than once, and (3) they've seen me running (mostly because I'm always late, but, okay, still running). But even hiring committees can be hotbeds of ingrained fatphobia (how much proof of "productivity" and "dynamic teaching" do I need to show before I'm as deserving as my non-productive and unengaging thin co-applicants?) so it's hardly surprising to hear it from students.