Transitioning to Online Teaching (Entry 01)

This entry is part of a series on my learning journal for participating in Fresno State’s “Introducing to Teaching Online using the QLT (Quality Learning and Teaching) Instrument.

Some key issues

I began my learning journey by recognizing and identifying some common key issues across multiple sources and speakers.

Some summaries

(responding to faculty input from “Take My Advice” published by Inside Higher Ed in 2017).

Tom Beaudoin

I value two pieces of advice from Beaudoin. On the one hand, we should seek to understand who has ownership of the online course material we generate. Is it ours? Is it the institutions? What happens if we leave the institution or teach at multiple institutions? This particularly concerns me because I already generate a lot of online content. I produce that content on the institution’s dime–kind of–as a part-timer, I’m technically only paid for contact hours and not for prep time or office hours. So I’m spending my own time generating content, but it is being hosted through Canvas or through the institution’s LMS. Who owns that data? I sure hope I do. That concern aside, I also value Beaudoin’s urge toward collaboration among colleagues. As faculty—even for me as part time, non-tenure-track faculty, it is indeed up to us to work together and make decisions as to what we want online education to be. Goldberg echoes this advice as well, urging both faculty and students to try and arrange local meetups from time to time.

Kalenda Eaton

From my own discipline, Eaton offers helpful advice on a key area of online instruction: making up for the non-verbal communication we “lose” going from f2f to online instruction. She encourages us to make frequent use of videos so students can get a sense of our personality and tonal inflections; ideally, this will breathe life into our written words, helping students to pick up on our own non-verbal queues. Building on that, I think we could ask students to submit their own videos or at least audio recordings using a tool like VoiceThread. Ofcourse, to her second point, I cannot agree more how valuable it is to get students engaged, incorporating material “in ways that require students to be active, rather than passive, learners.”

Leigh Ann Hall

Flipgrid looks super interesting. I’m definitely going to check it out. This looks like a great way to add faces and voices to online classes. Again this could potentially address the commonly-identified problem of missing out on the non-verbal communication that teachers need to pick up on.

Key issue: how to help manage team based learning when you’re not there in person to consult with the group and monitor group dynamics?

Key issue: formative assessment without reading body language/non-verbal communcation; instead, we need to pay close attention to responses and questions asked in discussion forums. I think it’s a good idea to open a general forum where students can ask general questions and content-specific questions, inviting students to answer each others questions and not just depend on me.

Key issue: adaptability! Online courses are set up on the front end and harder to adapt as the course progresses. However, I think we can use adaptive tools as a part of the course (InQuizitive by Norton, for example).

Personal experience and reflection

Formalist vs. Constructivist Pedagogy in Face-to-Face and Online Instruction

I have a variety of pedagogical mechanisms that are already well suited to online instruction, some of which grow from my personal development over time and experience, some of which grow from what my discipline values in teaching environments. For example, one of the key differences noted on the “Comparing face-to-face and online teaching” table is that in face-to-face instruction, teaching context is mostly “sage on the stage” and lecture-driven while in online classes, there’s less direct instruction; instead, the instructor frames discussion and activities. Making the move from “sage on the stage” style teaching to “framer” style teaching can pose a challenge for teachers who are used to “sage on the stage” style teaching; however, the latter is how I’ve been teaching face-to-face since I began teaching six years ago. So I’m definitely looking for ways to bring that framework into my online teaching. With this, I will continue to frame discussions and activities that are content-driven, reader-response-driven, and reflection-driven (just as this journal entry is inviting us to do now).

Course Adaptability Hindered Online

Another concern and challenge with online courses is the general loss of adaptability. While in a F2F context teachers can adapt course materials, content, assessment activities, etc. on the fly, there is less freedom to do this in an online format. I didn’t get any concrete reasons as to why exactly this is true, but my sense is that there is some truth-value to this challenge. I’ve only taught pure F2F and blended/hybrid courses (the latter of which solely by my own design), so I think I’m less familiar with this particular challenge. In a purely online context though, I imagine the challenge comes from the asynchronous nature of the learning environment. How do you adapt the course when students and teachers are working their way through asynchronously? What immediately comes to mind is to incorporate formative assessment activities in learning modules, the responses to which can inform how well students are engaging with, understanding, and making meaning from the course content. Depending on the responses from those assessment activities, instructors can record videos, provide demonstrative feedback, tweak the content of future modules, etc.

Concerning the Shooting Threat [Against Women] at California State University, Fresno

Language Surrounding Reports of Fresno State Shooting Threat Makes Targets Invisible

By now news has widely circulated that a student at California State University, Fresno, later identified as Robert Malik Pryor, posted a threat of gun violence at Fresno State on the pseudo-anonymous social media service “Yik Yak.” My response is motivated for two reasons: on the one hand, I feel compelled to share contexts from the perspective of the classroom as the day unfolded, and on the more serious other hand, I want to draw attention to rather dangerous problems concerning the language that has been used to narrate this event, for the language both denigrates the spirit of the university and the women who were the target of this threat.

The threat was posted a little before noon on Monday, November 2, 2015. Shortly after my 1:00PM class began, a couple of my students brought the post to my attention. I asked them to forward screenshots of the post to my email so I could forward them to the campus police department with a follow-up phone call (a call that went unanswered as their lines were likely inundated with traffic). During this process, I noticed emails from several of my students from my next class at 2:00PM concerning the threat. I immediately invited any of my students who were not feeling safe to excuse themselves from class and sent a similar notice to my students from my 2:00PM class. About half of the students from my 1:00PM class decided to leave, some commenting that they were receiving texts from their mothers saying “Please come home now”; I remained to facilitate our learning plan for students who chose to stay. Only one student came to my 2:00PM class. Incidentally, a day later, an email was sent from “University Communications” stating that “Authority to grant Paid Administrative Leave is limited to the campus President” and that “…as such, non-exempt employees who left campus in advance of their normal work hours will be allowed to ‘make up’ any lost work time over the remaining work days in November.” As an aside, it is great to know that non-exempt employees who left campus because of terrorist threats have the opportunity to make up for what would otherwise be considered lost wages by the university administration. Meanwhile, as the email also reveals, “exempt” employees are not subject to the same rules and face no potential loss in wages nor were they invited or required to “make up” work time. I invite you, dear readers, to make of that what you will.

Although I was unable to attend in person the press conference held by University Police Chief David Huerta and Provost Lynnette Zelezny, I did watch several of the streams of the conference via Periscope. During Chief Huerta’s Q&A session, I was struck by how interested the reporters were in digging out whether the student was an athlete and where on campus the student had been arrested. Seeing as though it was later revealed that the student was an athlete and was arrested in the Duncan Building which is located near the football stadium, it wouldn’t surprise me that some of these reporters had leads that they were trying to confirm. Still, I wondered why this detail was so important to them. Then it hit me.

Journalists are trained to tell the most interesting story—the one that will keep people watching and listening—and the most interesting story is the fall from grace of an athlete (particularly the fall of a football player). As of the time of this posting, the headline on The Fresno Bee’s article covering this story resonates with my assertion as it reads “Fresno State football player arrested, linked to threat on social media of campus gunfire.” The story that gets more clicks is not about a student from California State University, Fresno: it’s about a Fresno State football player. In an early version of the same article, the word student was not even mentioned until the 9th paragraph where Jim Guy was summarizing pieces of Chief Huerta’s statement. Even after revision and extension, Guy only uses the word “student” when summarizing statements from university officials; he himself continues to refer to the suspect as a “football player.” In a follow-up article, Rory Appleton of The Fresno Bee also neglects to refer to Pryor as a student, and one of the article’s highlights at the top of the page read “Suspect Christian Malik Pryor, a Fresno State football player, posted bail.”

This emphasis on “Fresno State football player” is problematic in my view because it continues to present to the public that the university is really about the Fresno State Bulldogs and not the students of California State University, Fresno which incidentally perpetuates a value-system that is often at academic and budgetary odds with universities around the country; it’s also not in the best interests of the students (including the student-athletes): The Fresno Bee reported last year that Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter’s five year contract is worth $7.5 million, roughly 18 times that which fully tenured professors earn at CSU Fresno according to the CSU Fresno Salary & Schedule Charts; and, on the other side of the same coin, it usurps the labor of student athletes—for which they are not compensated in the first place—in order to generate more clicks and ad revenue for agencies that are not even a part of the university while making invisible the targets of this threat—the student population.

The language used to edit the events of the day also skirt around what is most at stake with this situation where yet another confused young man with a sense of sexual entitlement served death threats to women who rejected him. Through its editing processes, the media has made it difficult to make this connection. Jim Guy (and/or his editor(s)) engages in such practices, for example, when he directly quotes the entire post except for the most threatening bit at the end:

The post read in part (original spelling retained): ‘the time is here. @3PM I will release my frustrations. Tired of dirty looks, get rejected, nd being talked about bc how I dress. My choice of weapon M4 Carbine…’ (Guy).

CSU Fresno Gun Violence ThreatHere’s the part he left out: “My choice of weapon M4 Carbine (sic) and I will take a headshot at a hot blonde (emphasis added).” Now I understand one motive in leaving the latter part of the post out is to save the Bee’s audience from what might be considered grotesque, and the “hot blonde” aspect coming from a mixed-race individual introduces racial tensions that the Bee is clearly trying to avoid; however, the grotesqueness is what’s most at stake in this situation! The Fresno Bee even went so far as to characterize Pryor’s [symbolic] action as “not a pure act of terrorism” which was later revised to “not a deadly plan,” presumably because officials did not find an M4 Carbine with which he had threatened to “headshot [a] hot blonde”; how that language could not be a “deadly plan” or a “pure act of terrorism” in the eyes of media outlets like The Fresno Bee further illustrates how hard they work to screen out the misogyny of the situation. I submit that “terrorism”—the use of violence or intimidation through action or symbolic action for some gain—is the more accurate word to describe the entirety of Pryor’s action. Here I am reminded of Stony Brook Professor Michael S. Kimmel’s 2005 essay, “Gender, Class, and Terrorism,” where he points out that the most infamous terrorists are culturally, socially, and/or sexually emasculated men (who can only be emasculated because of their perceived failure to live up to the cultural scripts of masculinity that are forced upon them). To be clear, I am not equating Pryor to the likes of Timothy McVeigh or Mohammed Atta, but the cultural structures that authenticate violent action in the minds of these men are the same, and this is a conversation we must continue having else we risk continuing to stand on the sidelines while watching this pattern repeat.

In my view, it is a moral and ethical outrage that the media so water-down a death threat toward women for merely rejecting a man. This editing process clumsily and mistakenly focuses the conversation on the fall of a football player rather than what’s really at stake. Value systems that make men feel a sense of entitlement toward women’s bodies that then authenticates violence toward women is an ongoing problem, and this should be the stasis of this conversation; unfortunately, the media’s editing processes make this conversation a difficult one to have because, according to them, it’s not even a part of the conversation. In this edited conversation, the victims are made invisible. This was just a “young man’s horrible mistake” (poor guy) and, since no one was head-shot, it was not even a “pure act of terrorism” anyway.

Disclaimer: As with all content on The Snow of the Universe, what’s expressed herein are strictly my own personal views and analyses which are in no way intended to reflect those of any of my employers or their related agencies or entities.

Why Study English and Literature?

English Literature and Literacy as Movement Toward Peace

My immediate and future goals in English studies and scholarship grow, at least in part, as a response to the literacy needs of the communities in which I have been studying. In a variety of ways, my local community is a borderland: generally speaking, the millennials—those who make up the majority of my peers in my local chapter of English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta along with the base population of my own students at the same university—encounter, interact, and experience literary texts through technology in a way that is quite different than I did just a few years ago; the central valley of California is also home to immigrant families from Latin America and is also refuge to several cultural groups recently subject to diaspora, all of whom possess home discourses that are unique yet on the border from the discourse presently valued in academia. Both the hegemonic and non-hegemonic millennials I have mentioned are on borders and are seeking literacy, if only implicitly by their choice to be at the university—thus I see it as my mission to help them, through various literatures, to seek and to have genuine encounters with other minds who may have world experiences quite different from their own, encounters that are independent from space and time though at times contextualized by both. This is at the heart of collegial literacy as I see it.

Through composition and literature, my goal is to help nurture the minds of my students and colleagues so that they become the peacemakers of the future. To that end, I am presently working on my master’s thesis in English literature along with a certificate of advanced study in composition.World Peace My next step is to apply for a PhD program where I hope to extend my work in literature and composition studies with a movement toward teaching language to communities that are technologically and culturally diverse. Ultimately, through my master’s thesis, certificate, and future PhD program, I wish to foster literacy in my communities because I believe in the power of language to do the work of that which has no other antecedent motive or purpose: although reading and writing are indeed practices of self-discovery, literacy in language and literature defragments diverse discourse communities. Literacy is the path from war and separation toward understanding, unity, and peace.

An Open Letter Concerning the Tablet Initiative at Fresno State

Dear President Castro:

We are now just over a month in to your new tablet initiative here at California State University, Fresno, and—with some reservations and stipulations concerning the university’s focus on diffusing this technology to faculty and into its classrooms—I am writing to urge you to continue to invest time and resources into this program. However, I believe that the initiative’s current incarnation—at least with as much that has been made available to the public—is potentially problematic. Presently, as reported by Associate Vice President for University Communications and Integrated Marketing Shirley Armbruster (2014), the guiding question of the tablet initiative seems to be how can we accommodate new technology (i.e. tablets) in the classroom, (p. 22).But I think the question we should be asking is how can we evolve pedagogy and curriculum to leverage the meaning-making potential of new technologies in (and out) of the classroom. So far as I can see, there are already hints of strategies to address the latter question coming to the surface, and I believe that continued faculty support in terms of evolving curriculum and especially pedagogy will be absolutely crucial in getting this new technology to be successfully adopted, diffused, and put to constructive use throughout the university. Certainly, as Troy Tenhet’s (2013) dissertation An Examination of the Relationship Between Tablet Computing and Student Engagement, Self-efficacy, and Student Attitude Toward Learning reveals, we should not take for granted that just because students have tablets in their hands means they’ll automatically engage with tablets academically. With this in mind and to the means and ends of using tablets in the classroom constructively, let me explain some of my aforementioned reservations and stipulations more fully.

The biggest issue I see with incorporating tablets into the classroom is in having faculty transition from a direct instruction approach to teaching to a constructivist approach to teaching because, as I will explain shortly, leveraging the power of tablets in the classroom requires a constructivist approach to teaching. Of course this is not an issue for those faculty who already embrace a constructivist approach, but not all faculty share in this pedagogical framework. While the general troubles of a direct instruction approach are beyond the scope of this discussion, I believe the relationship between direct instruction and high technology is relevant. According to Reiser & Dempsey (2012), direct instruction is teacher-centered learning where the teacher acts as the “sage on the stage” who fills students—seen figuratively as empty vessels—with knowledge (pp. 45-46). It is the teacher who has access to knowledge, and students only have access to that knowledge through the teacher. The trouble with this approach in relation to high technology is that the technology becomes nothing more than a digital notebook for students to take dictation from the “sage,” something they could do with the technology of a $2.00 spiral-bound notebook and any number of low cost Pilot G-3 gel pens. At best, direct instruction would leverage high technology’s ability to help students drill on material they need to memorize in order to pass an objective test, but that task could also be easily accomplished with a buck’s worth of flash cards. So suddenly there’s quite a contrast between a pen and paper budget and a tablet budget which Armbruster (2014) reports to be to the tune of $850 (p. 23). Fresno State Tablet CaseSo in terms of classroom use, $850 worth of high technology becomes roughly an $847 investment to majorly glorify what ink and paper can already do or, at least, dress what a cheaper laptop can already do with new designer clothes for the 2014 iFall Fashion Season. Now in all seriousness, I don’t mean to suggest that tablets do not have a place in the classroom in particular or in education in general: tablets have a great deal of potential to allow students to work on solving real and meaningful problems (i.e. problems that matter to them) but only if a teacher is able to structure their class in such a way that fosters that kind of learning. I grant that supporting faculty in the physical use of tablets and mobile computing applications through faculty expertise is important—though I’m quite interested in knowing more about specifically who these faculty experts are (“DISCOVERe”). Too, the support through TILT and through LEAD workshops is also important. But I believe it’s equally if not even more important to support faculty in making the shift from learned based off of teacher-centered, direct instruction to learning that is constructivist, putting the students on center-stage. Therein lies the greatest challenge to get this technology to be successfully diffused, adopted, and put to meaningful use where student learning that persists beyond the classroom is (or at least should be) our antecedent purpose.

There exists a well-established framework for the adoption and diffusion of new technology theorized by Everett Rogers (n.d.) which asserts that there are five qualities of new technologies that are determining factors as to whether or not and how expediently that technology will be adopted. I’m certain that the Tablet Task Force, headed by Provost Lynette Zelezny, has already come up with a diffusion strategy that discusses the 1) relative advantage of tablets (over previous technologies like paper notebooks and laptops) and 2) the simplicity and ease of use of tablets, and the faculty cohort established earlier in the year demonstrates the task force’s way of addressing 3) the trialability of this innovation. I’m certain that other organizations have piloted similar programs, so there should be available a set of 4) observable results, but I have not yet seen references to any studies or outcomes presented by you or the university in support of this initiative—this is something I urge you to keep in mind as you move forward, for if both students and faculty have no way of accessing any observable results from this innovation, they will be less likely to embrace it. The fifth item from Rogers’ list is by far the most contentious item for our purposes as it serves as a sort of cross-section between both the new technology and the pedagogical framework required to leverage the new technology.

Rogers (n.d.) suggests that in order for a new technology or innovation to be adopted and diffused throughout an organization, it must also be compatible with existing values and practices. For faculty who are not presently in the camp of constructivist pedagogical practices—which I’ve submitted as absolutely necessary to take advantage of tablets in the classroom in a meaningful way (i.e. activities that are full of meaning-making potential)—there will be a significant conflict with the existing values and practices of direct instruction. This is not just about adopting tablets and new software applications in the classroom but about adopting a whole new way of operating within the teacher-student dynamic; therefore, investing in and implementing faculty programs to urge and support a transition to a constructivist framework for teaching and learning is absolutely crucial if we want this technology to successfully diffuse throughout the university and not be a waste of money and resources.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that a support system—albeit perhaps indirect—is not already in the works, but as a graduate student who is outside of the opaque Tablet Task Force and not a part of the faculty cohort, it is difficult for me to make any of these determinations outside of what is released to the general student body and public. When, for example, I see a series of Learning for Excellence and Development (LEAD) activity workshops throughout October that are centered around topics like “How to use Google Drive,” “Docs and Sheets,” an introduction to (the lessons therein generally of a direct-instruction nature), etc., my perception mirrors the overall point of this letter: I’m happy to see such an investment in faculty support for new technologies, but I’m apprehensive that these support programs are too focused on the technology itself rather than how to shape instruction to leverage the meaning-making potential of these technologies. As your tablet initiative moves forward, I hope you will also include a forward-thinking support system for faculty needing to make the transition from direct instruction to a constructivist approach to pedagogy and curriculum design. President Castro, you were quoted in an article as having said that one of your goals for this tablet initiative is to “build a sustainable program that keeps the cost of attending Fresno State affordable” (Schaffhauser). Without the support for the aforementioned transition to a constructivist framework, this program will not be pedagogically sustainable nor will students really save money or learn any better than they presently are: this expensive technology will be nothing more than an $850 drop in the bucket where a $3.00 trip to Dollar Tree for school supplies would suffice. Letting technology drive pedagogy and curriculum is like putting the cart before the horse. Instead, let’s create a sustainable system that privileges meaning-making in the classroom and thus make meaning-making drive the technology.


Jeremiah Alexander Henry
California State University, Fresno
MA Literature Candidate
Teaching Associate
President, Sigma Tau Delta


Armbruster, S. (2014, Spring). Fresno State’s DISCOVERe Tablet Program. Fresno State Magazine. Retrieved from California State University Fresno University Advancement website:

DISCOVERe — Fresno State Tablet Program. (n.d.). Retrieved from California State University, Fresno President’s website:

Reiser, R. A., & Dempsey, J. (2012). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Rogers, R. (n.d.). Diffusion of Innovations: Part 1. Retrieved from Iowa State University Department of Sociology website:

Schaffhauser, D. (2014, August). Fresno State Intros Tablet Program with Device Grants for Students. Retrieved from

Tenhet, T. (2013). An Examination of the Relationship Between Tablet Computing and Student Engagement, Self-efficacy, and Student Attitude Toward Learning. n.p.: ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing.

One does not simply . . .

It is my absolute favorite meme of all time, and it ranks just below the top-ranking “God Tier” on – It is Sean Bean as Boromir and his now worldly-recognizable prefix, “One does not simply…” I believe the degree to which this meme is effective and/or funny depends on the degree to which the meme’s author plays with the scene:act ratio and satirizes the original scene:act ratio of the dialogue from The Fellowship of the Ring. In the dialogue, Boromir says, “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” The scene he’s describing is the dwelling place of Sauron, the pinnacle of evil in Middle Earth where there are even “fouler things than orcs, and the Great Eye [of Sauron] is ever watchful.” Clearly the act of merely walking into Mordor would cause a disproportionate scene:act ratio, and Boromir is pointing this out (rather obviously). There are two keys to making this meme work: the word “simply” functions to modify the act of the scene:act ratio to create a parody of the original dialogue; and unless the meme has its own scene to replace Mordor (which they often do not as in my example below), the meme depends on the audience associating the meme’s new object with scene of Mordor on their own (which is reasonable given the immense popularity of the original text and the meme itself). In fact, it’s when the audience merges the material of the meme (the new text) with the ideal of the meme (the original text and moment from Fellowship) that real humor happens. This makes me think that there is fertile ground for satire and parody where materialism and idealism intersect (as I tried to work through in my recent reading document). For example:
Boromir Reading Burke
The new act is “read,” modified by the meme’s required adverb “simply,” and the new object is Burke which can only be funny when we merge the material (Burke) with the meme’s ideal (Mordor). So when we think about reading Burke being like trying to “simply walk” through Mordor, chances are it will be funny for anyone reading Burke for the first time. I believe a meme like this does attempt to approach peace by relieving anxiety and frustration through humor. Reading Burke can be like trudging through Mordor, but doesn’t knowing that you’re not the only one who feels that way somehow make it seem a little better?

Spiritual Crisis in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King: The Coming of Arthur

Having read closely only Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Lanval, I feel my background in primary texts in the Arthurian Tradition is very weak, but I have read (and watched) a wide range of contemporary retellings of the Arthur legends. I’m also aware in how high a regard the figure of Arthur is kept in British culture (including its literary tradition). To the British, there are two seats of ideals higher than all others: the ideals of Christ and the ideals of Arthur. From this mindset, I make an immediate distinction between Christ and Arthur—not that Arthur is the Christ particularly of British legend per se but rather a Christ-like figure who serves as a sort of middle-ground between Christianity (re: Rome) and Celtic Paganism (re: Heathens). The majority of contemporary retellings of the Arthur legend position Arthur this way. Some pseudo-scholarly work even suggests that Merlyn [to adopt the Celtic spelling] was a member of the Order of Druids whose task was to teach Arthur to balance the values of the old with the new so the realm would not destroy itself. I say pseudo-scholarly because 1) I take anything published by Llewellyn Publications with a grain of salt—such that I would be, at this point, skeptical about citing The 21 Lessons of Merlyn and The Lost Books of Merlyn in any formal research project—and 2) Douglas Monroe’s books listed above are really works of fiction that attempt to pass themselves off as non-fiction, causing huge credibility issues for any scholarly purposes. Still, all of this is to take inventory of the things I think I know about Arthur and Merlyn and reflect upon them so I can have a better understanding of my initial perspectives in reading Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I am also happy to give a nod to the fact that Tennyson apparently visited Cornwall and Ireland in 1848, “taking up again the idea of writing a long poem on the Arthurian legend” (7). Not surprisingly then, Tennyson’s take on The Coming of Arthur seems to be in alignment with the idea of Arthur being a middle-ground or a negotiation between Christianity and Celtic Paganism.

Arthur and Merlin
“Arthur and Merlin” – Gustave Doré

I see Tennyson immediately invoking this perspective on the Arthur legend throughout the first (full) poem, The Coming of Arthur , placing Arthur as a clear and present middle-ground between the old and the new. He writes, “And still from time to time the heathen host / Swarm’d overseas, and harried what was left. / And so there grew great tracts of wilderness, / Wherein the beast was ever more and more” (8-11). The beasts, the wild, and the untamed are frequently used to refer to the pagan, so while Tennyson may literally be invoking a sense of untamed land full of wild stags and boars, he’s symbolically pulling in that pagan resonance (another example of this is the popular legend of St. Pádraigh having banished the serpents from Ireland, a metaphor for his bringing of Christianity to Ireland). Tennyson presents Arthur further as a Christ-like figure through his mysterious and miraculous birth, but Merlyn’s hand in this miracle mixes the Judeo-Christian narrative with a pagan narrative. Later when Arthur receives Excalibur from The Lady of the Lake, Tennyson describes the sword as being “cross-hilted,” which invokes one of the most important symbols in Christianity (285)—but it is the Lady of the Lake, a pagan figure who “Hath power to walk the waters like our Lord” who gives it to him (293). Finally, there also seems to be a value system that attempts to reconcile Christianity and secular beliefs, done so in a way that is in and of itself a middle-ground. Perhaps one of the most famous features of the Arthur legend are the Knights of the Round Table. The “petty” kings before Arthur, we might assume, placed themselves always at the “head” of a rectangular table in order to highlight their role as leader, as authoritarian. Arthur’s round table is different though: just like when Guinevere cannot distinguish Arthur from the rest of his knights when she first sees him, the round table allows Arthur to be one among his council, to be one of the “people” rather than a pompous figurehead. This allows Arthur to gain respect and to lead by example and by deeds as opposed to by birthright (much like Christ). This equalization of power between king and knights is the perfect euphony between being the middle-ground in a practical role as well as a symbolic role. This juxtaposing and sometimes conflicting imagery illustrate the intermingling of Christianity and Paganism. This much seems clear. But to what end? I think this may have something to do with Tennyson’s time and audience.

Tennyson’s retelling of the Arthur legend may at least in part be a way for him to express the possibility (along with the difficulties) of reconciling the spiritual crises present throughout nineteenth century England. I can’t help but think that it’s not a coincidence that Tennyson began publishing early versions of Idylls in 1859, the same year of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The dates do not line up perfectly, so I realize I’m making the assumption that Tennyson was aware of what Darwin was doing well in advance of Darwin’s publication, but I believe scientific rather than religious worldviews were coming into prominence even before Darwin’s work. So while the Victorians were struggling to make sense in an increasingly scientific world, Tennyson taps into a culturally sacred narrative in order to help his audience reconcile these feelings of spiritual crisis.

The Euphony of Pedagogy and Curriculum

In retrospect, this was the class I was waiting to take. This was the class that allowed me not simply to get my feet wet with teaching—it allowed me to dive right in and swim with the rest of the school. What made it all come together for me is something I’ve come to understand as euphony. Strictly speaking, euphony is when something sounds pleasing to the ear. In terms of literature and teaching, however, I think the idea of euphony goes beyond language that simply sounds good. In poetry, for example, euphony occurs when the sound of the language matches the mood or the scene that the language is attempting to paint: “But now I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, / Retreating, to the breath / Of the night-wind…” from Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” is a perfect example of poetic euphony (24-27). Here, the sound of the language precisely matches the intent of the language. There is no way one could read the line “Its long, melancholy, withdrawing roar” quickly without being silly. The line must be read slowly and with melancholy; the language itself is built that way. All of this isn’t to say that my idea of good teaching is to use with my students language that is at once beautiful and matches my intents as a teacher, yet it is almost that. Graff and Birkenstein are no strangers to this concept: the vast majority of their book They Say, I Say is written with the euphony of concept and material. More specifically with regard to teaching and the idea of euphony, what has come to be most important to the formation of my pedagogy is the unison of what I teach and how I teach.

On the front end of the semester, I knew I was going in to the classroom with certain advantages, not the least of which being several years’ experience as a writing tutor at Fresno City College. I may not have realized it at the time, but our modus operandi as writing and reading tutors at FCC was from a rhetorical position. We always left the control and direction of the conversation in the hands of the students, and it was our task to help them figure out their own purposes in writing chiefly by responding as readers. I may not have known how to name what it was that we were doing at the time, but that was certainly it. There have been a number of transitions from tutor to teacher, of course—some of which I shall detail below—but for the most part it has been business as usual for me. What is key, however, is that I now know how to name the things I’m doing which gives me opportunities for reflection and, subsequently, growth as a teacher and learner.

Directly responding to student writing in the form of written comments on their papers is something that, as a tutor, I left (and was instructed to leave) for the big fishes. In my first semester of English 5A, these were still uncharted waters for me. So one of my chief concerns was how to effectively respond to student writing within the larger scope of our program’s rhetorical pedagogy. Most of my experience with comments both as a tutor and receiving them as a student was with comments that were prescriptive and directive. “Move this here,” “unclear thesis,” or “Change your thesis this way and it will be better,” on top of a lot of a lot of “VT,” “SVA,” “Frag,” and “CS” marks. Needless to say, I became fairly sharp with grammar because it seemed like that’s what teachers were wanting from their students, and it was my job to help students get to the level their teachers wanted them to be. But good writing isn’t about having perfect grammar, right? We’re supposed to be teaching our students the idea of Conversation as Curriculum, that their writing is a response to social situations that are important to them, so it only makes sense we engage in the same rhetorical mode of teaching as we’re asking our students to do in their learning and writing. Euphony. Knoblauch and Brannon helped tie a lot of this together for me in Chapter 6 of their book, Rhetorical Traditions and the Teaching of Writing.

One of the keys to understanding responding to student writing is in how we name the exercise itself: it is a response. In order to respond in a way that is constructive and meaningful to the student, our first task is to identify the conversation in which our student is responding; our second is to respond in a way that can push the student further into the conversation to which they’re attempting to respond. The point of caution here is to not let the conversations from our own backgrounds that may be incompatible with the student’s conversation interfere with generating feedback that can actually be meaningful and helpful to the student (118). Knoblauch and Brannon make it clear that the real concern of teacher responses to student writing should be to discover the intent of student writing, perhaps help the student discover their own intent, then use that as a platform for response (121). Ergo it is our charge to respond to student writing as a sympathetic participant in the student’s Discourse while at the same time—I would add—help the student acquire more and more fluency in academic discourse through a gradual yet immersive process. Euphonic teaching does not stop at responding to student writing, of course.

I have mentioned purpose several times already: we want students to write with purpose as a response to a social situation; therefore, in order to teach with euphony, we ought to construct our curriculum with a clear purpose in mind, and that purpose should be clearly communicated to our audience i.e. our students, just like we expect our students to do in their own writing. Generating curriculum with this in mind has been beyond the shadow of any doubt the most helpful aspect of English 270. When I think about what I expect from good student writing, I think about things like purpose, focus, audience awareness, goals, logical flow of information, etc. A student essay that possess all of those things would certainly meet of not exceed expectations in English 5A, 5B, or 10, so I’m left asking myself a simple question: why should the formation of my curriculum be any different? Shouldn’t I have a clear set of purposes and goals for my students? Should I not be aware of their needs? Should each class—like each paragraph in an essay—not have a logical flow from one to the next? In this sense, a well-written unit is just like a well-written essay. Again, it’s all about euphony between what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching.

There are certain classic philosophical strains that persist in my mind and serve as resistors to the emergence of my pedagogy, and this mostly has to do with different modes of reasoning being at odds with each other. The two modes of reasoning here are deductive and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the mode of reasoning where you start with a general, widely accepted truth and come to a specific conclusion using the general truth as proof (this often happens in the form of syllogisms: all men are born good; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates was born good). Inductive reasoning takes the inverse approach where you start with a specific example of something and then attempt to arrive at a general truth. You can see danger here—it essentially boils down to the idea that one rotten apple can spoil the bunch. Traditionally, deductive reasoning is the mode of reasoning that has received the most rhetorical credibility in argumentation whereas inductive reasoning is often cut down because of the inductive leap needed in order to come to a general conclusion. Now in terms of the formation of my pedagogy, I’m really excited about the idea of generative learning. It’s not too different from the immersion process of language learning in which we engage when we’re children or working with Rosetta Stone as adults. We work with various specific examples and use our intuition to arrive at general truths after we’ve recognized patterns. At first glance, my privileging of deductive reasoning and my teaching through immersion (generatively) are philosophies that are at odds with each other. I’m still working through this, but for now I am content to conclude that Aristotle’s Rhetoric and teaching rhetorically are false analogies or that inductive reasoning is sound as long as one experiences enough specific examples to safely arrive at a general truth.

All of this is to say that English 270 has definitely made me more consciously aware of the things that I am doing as an educator and even as a writer. (It has also made me endlessly thankful that I decided not to teach secondary school a long time ago). Knoblauch and Brannon had it right in one of our first readings for the class, that teachers ought to be aware of what they’re doing and constantly reflect on what it is that they’re doing in order to determine the effectiveness of their curriculum and pedagogy (2). A teacher who regularly engages in that sort of self-assessment can only grow and march toward a euphony between who they are, what they teach, and how they teach.

An Awareness of Audience will Stop the Silence of Students

Reflecting on teaching my first semester of Academic Literacy at California State University, Fresno |

One of my students recently expressed to me that they were disappointed in learning that I would not be teaching the same day and time of English 5B next semester. She said that she was nervous about the other instructor because they were rated as “easy” on; since she already knew my teaching style and that I was challenging, she wanted to stay with me. I’m sure all teachers get at least one or two of those students every semester—at least I hope we do. Moments like that—and other similar moments—have really given me a sense of validation as a teacher. If a student wants to stay with me because I was challenging, that must mean that they’ve grown as a person and as an intellectual. I feel like if I’ve affected at least a handful of students in such a positive way this semester, I’ve done a good job. Of course, my classes were not all bells and whistles this semester. It took me quite a few weeks to truly discover a variety of important things: discovering my audience and their needs was the first challenge; planning my curriculum—not just in general terms but in terms that were specific and helpful toward my recently discovered audience—was another challenge. I believe that having experienced being a teacher for the first time this semester along with the help of English 270 and English 290 will certainly make it easier to avoid some of those early-semester roadblocks.

A clear benefit to teaching a course is having a full understanding of the curricular trajectory of the course itself. Even after orientation and after having read through the First Year Writing Program Sourcebook, this is not something that I believe any new teaching associate has. We’re certainly given a sense of what the curricular goals for the course are, but the feeling I had in teaching my first unit pales in comparison compared to my comfort level in teaching my third unit; by that time, I had a solid idea of the course’s learning outcomes and how to get there in not just a theoretical sense but a practical sense as well. What this boils down to is that now that I know where the students need to end up, I’ll have a much better idea of what I need to do at the beginning of the semester to get there. All of this in tandem with the pedagogical theory from English 270 and English 290 will definitely help throughout teaching a course in the First Year Writing Program, especially in the beginning of the semester. Where I believe all of this comes together for me is in planning for discussions and activities.

Both micro and macro level planning come down to audience awareness and course learning goals for that audience. I had real issues in planning reading discussions that would bear some intellectual fruit because I lacked overall awareness on these levels. The trouble is that it took me a little while to realize that I was not teaching junior and senior level English majors; it probably was not fair for me to expect freshmen to accept a reading assignment, to actually read it, and then come prepared to discuss it in the next class. Yet this is the learning environment I’m used to as a literature scholar: in that learning community, students do the reading then we discuss the text in class (having come in advance with our own ideas ready to go). So when I began several of my classes asking students what they found interesting or what their thoughts were on the issues that the authors were writing about, it’s no wonder why I was almost always met with silence: they did not know how to do academic reading! Sure, I was teaching them how to take notes, how to paraphrase, and how to summarize, etc. The trouble is that I was not reinforcing those habits through class reading activities and small group discussions. This is an area where I can and will definitely improve. For example, one of the reading activities with which I have found much success in my third unit is what I have been calling the “Divide and Conquer” strategy.

The first step in this strategy is to divide longer readings into smaller, more manageable “chunks”; I usually try to section the reading off in to 3 to 5 sections depending on the article. Sometimes the articles come with their own sections defined, sometimes I will divide them myself in advance, and sometimes I will make the “chunking” part of the class reading activity. It all depends on the article and its level of difficulty. Once the division has been made, it is time to conquer. Typically, I randomly assign a number of groups equal to the number of the “chunks” and give those groups the task of becoming the “masters” of that section. They are generally responsible for presenting a brief summary of their section, highlighting main points and anything they feel is important for the rest of the class to know. This activity has a variety of benefits: it gives students a chance to process their own thinking without being “called out” on the spot; the learning happens in a social context where meaning is negotiated among their peers; and, once we come back to a larger group discussion, students actually have something to say about what they’ve read. Planning reading and discussion activities at the beginning of the semester will definitely help conversations and meaning making occur as opposed the struggle with silence that I was dealing with before.

While the silence may been, in part, the result of classes being in the early AM hours and of the students being first-year college students, not knowing me or anyone else, I’m not beyond admitting that my pedagogy was not entirely appropriate for my audience during the first few weeks of class. I’m certain that I will be a much more effective teacher now that I understand how much more beneficial it is—for this audience—to go in to each class with a specific plan to discuss the major reading assignments for each unit. I am going to continue to look for ways to allow learning to occur in a social context that minimalizes the pressure of students feeling like they have to offer the “correct” response at any given time. This, I am sure, will only help to free the students and myself from stagnant talking points to discussions that flow free from fear.

Down and Dirty with Higher One

Fresno State Financial Aid Shenanigans

This is a continuation from my original ranting blog about the poorly formed email (both in terms of grammar and HTML markup) where I also called shenanigans concerning the direction of my university and its policy with handling student financial aid, scholarships, and loans. I had been anxiously awaiting to receive my HigherOne Card in the mail, which I will now refer to the University designated title of “Fresno State Choice Card” (FSCC). It came on Saturday, and you can bet that the first thing on my agenda for that afternoon was to activate that card so I could be done with it. I wasn’t at all surprised when things did not turn out to be as “convenient” as the original email (along with its duplicates and the following emails [which were usually duplicated as well]) would have me believe. Following, you will see a series of screenshots from the web-based activation/validation/authentication process for the FSCC. Take a moment to flip through them, by all means–take special note of #2 and #5.

  1. The first part of the process was simple enough: enter the number from the card. That’s easy and…convenient…I guess.
  2. Now there are a few more text boxes to fill out. I’m familiar with the security codes from my regular credit cards, so that’s easy enough. Now I need the last five [numbers] of my student ID plus my date of birth in MMDD format. Here I had to assume that it wasn’t wanting me to do a mathematical operation, as in the sum of the integers from the last five digits of my student ID and my DOB in MMDD format. I figured concatenation was the most obvious choice from these less-than-clear instructions, and even though I was frustrated when either algorithm didn’t work, I wasn’t surprised.
  3. Try several more times just to make sure I was not mis-keying my data.
  4. Give up for now. My account will probably get locked out if I try to authenticate and fail too many times in a row.
  5. Sunday rolls around. Let’s try again. Same deal, same instructions, same result.
  6. Rant on Facebook. Other students and friends are having the exact same issues. One student says that a family member has figured out the magic solution. Instead of entering the last five of your student ID plus your DOB in MMDD format, do the reverse! DOB in MMDD plus last 5 of SID. Okay, I’ll try that.
  7. See screenshot #3.
  8. Call their 24/7 customer service hotline to get account un-suspended.
  9. Regular business hours are Monday through Friday, so if your problem is beyond the simplistic automated system, you have to wait until Monday.
  10. FML!
  11. Monday morning rolls around. Call customer service. “We are experiencing a higher volume of calls than normal, so your assistance may be delayed. Current wait time is approximately 10 minutes.” You don’t say…
  12. Try to re-authenticate just in case there was an auto-reset on suspended accounts after x hours of inactivity. See screenshot #5, and note the changed verbiage in the instructions. This time the authenticator is asking for the numbers in the “correct” order.
  13. Make breakfast.
  14. 20 minutes later, real person answers. “Hello and thank you for calling HigherOne. Can I have your card number please?”
  15. Stop making breakfast. Thank you, mom, for pulling the eggs I was frying off of the stove while I ran back to get my card!
  16. Account un-suspended. I authenticated to the next step while I was still on the phone with customer service just to make sure. “Have a nice day.” -_-
  17. Continue authentication process. Recall that this convenient process started on Saturday morning, and it’s now Monday morning.
  18. Make [your] choice. How do I want my money disbursed? Like there’s even a choice: direct deposit to my regular bank, of course! I’ve heard all about your transaction fees, inactive account fees, sneeze on your card fees, breathe fees. No, thank you.
  19. Oh, look, they’ve been smart enough to default me to the second choice, “Deposit to another account.” See screenshot #6. How did they know I was going to choose this option in advance? Oh, they must have seen that I had direct deposit to Bank of America set up from before. Wait. WAIT…
  20. Why the hell does this third party institution have my personal banking information already, including my account number? I never gave permission to have that information shared!
  21. Rage.
  22. Continue. Confirm selection to deposit to another account. SMH at flowchart. See screenshot #7. Note the verbiage. “Receive your refunds in 2-3 business days*. (Flow chart). 2-3 Business Days
    *Initial refund may take 8 business days.”
  23. What the hell does any of that really mean? 2-3 business, 8 business days, “refunds,” “initial refund”… since when are scholarships, loans, and financial aid considered “refunds,” anyway?
  24. Start drafting an angry blog.

Now that you’re all caught up, I have a few questions. In fact, I imagine a lot of students are asking themselves (and should be asking people in addition to themselves) the same questions; in fact, I know of at least one student, Phing Lee, who has written a blog on the same subject. I hope he won’t be the only one.

  • Why did this change occur to begin with? What was wrong with the old system where the campus financial aid department handled funds? I suspect it’s saving the campus money in some way or another; I suspect that students won’t see the benefits from those savings if there are any (unless “benefits” come in the form of increased tuition rates, parking fees, and more and more limitations on the amount of units in which one may enroll coupled by a very limited availability of classes); and I also suspect that certain individuals are receiving incentives from HigherOne for outsourcing financial aid to them.
  • Did those who decided to implement HigherOne into our financial aid system take note that HigherOne is currently in a class-action lawsuit because of their questionable fees? More info in that here, along with this excerpt from Brent Hunsberger’s article written for the Oregonian:

    …other colleges have not done their due diligence on the card. In fact, they keep signing agreements with Higher One to disburse student financial aid via its card, apparently oblivious to its burdensome and questionable fees. Among those institutions in the Northwest: Oregon Institute of Technology, Lane Community College, Mt. Hood Community College and Western Washington University. They also don’t know how PSU (site of student protests 8 years ago over the card) and SOU negotiated the fee out of their contracts.

  • What about shenanigans like this? Am I going to have to pay 1% of my balance to HigherOne to have my money deposited elsewhere?
  • What was the decision-making process behind this change? Were any of the governing bodies on campus consulted? Did ASI vote on this or give a recommendation?
  • So there is pretty good documentation out there regarding all of the potential fees associated with just having a HigherOne account, let alone using it, but I want to know about interest rates. What sort of interest would I see accrue toward my account for keeping my money there? (LOL. Yeah, right.) So if the students aren’t benefiting from any potential interest income, who is?
  • Why did Fresno State share my personal banking information with HigherOne without my permission?

If you weren’t angry about all of this before you read this blog–and I’m sorry–but I hope you are now. None of this has been “convenient,” and I want answers.

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