Tuesday, November 29, 2016

So much for reading month...

...unless you include reading student work. Learned a lot from their writing, though! Some really interesting work being done in my first-year writing classes on topics like diversity in the university, experiential learning, university students and mental health, study abroad, and a bunch of more topics. If I could just read what they write and not worry about grading it...

The semester is going to be over soon. Classes end on Dec. 7. I hope to spend some time doing some reading and writing, though first I have to recover from this cold I picked up during our trip home for Thanksgiving...

Oh, I should note that I never finished Rose, Rose, I Love You. (In fact, I can't even find my copy of it!) Somehow I feel that it must be a better read in the original language(s). In English, it's rather dull. (Apologies to the translator!)

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

National Academic Reading Month?

So November is usually National Academic Writing Month, which got its inspiration from National Novel Writing Month. I tried participating in this three years ago, with mixed results. I might have tried it more recently, I'm not sure, but I'm beginning to be more and more suspicious about it. Or maybe it's depressed.

I don't think November is a good month to do this, at least not for me. I'm typically overwhelmed in November--behind in grading (like now), and then there's the long trip home for Thanksgiving at the end of the month. So I don't plan on participating in this activity this year. In fact, I'm going to cut back on the writing that I do every day for this month. I've been doing a lot of journaling on the train, for instance forcing myself to write at least 750 words during each 20-minute trip. I'm not going to do as much anymore, at least not for this month. I want to do some reading instead. I have stacks of books that I want to read. I once commented to a reader that I had a dream that I'd be able to read all my unread books once I had finished my dissertation. That hasn't happened (though that hasn't stopped me from buying even more books). Maybe now it's time to get going on that dream/plan. Maybe I should declare November Reading Month (for me, anyway, though you're welcome to join me). Now I just have to decide what I want to read in November...

I've decided to start with Wang Chen-ho's Rose, Rose, I Love You, which I mentioned in a previous post. Hopefully starting with a novel will help me build momentum. (If I started off with some dusty academic treatise, I'd probably lose momentum very quickly!) I am also currently reading Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge (I loved his Nixonland), but I've got the hardback copy and I'm not going to lug it around on the train every day. I'll save it for reading at home.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Upcoming Academic Plan meeting

I volunteered (?) to go to a "Town Hall" meeting this coming Wednesday on the Academic Plan. We'll see how that goes. They're expecting "a robust discussion." I don't know if I'll say anything, but I'll try to take notes on the discussion. Not sure if I'll post them here or just make them available to my colleagues.

I think the last time I posted notes here on a university-related meeting was back in 2006! It wasn't exactly the same thing, but it was a meeting that led to the development of Tunghai's English Language Center.

More on this later...?

In the meantime, I just reread a note that I posted back in 2004 about Applied English departments in Taiwan. It looks as though back then I was also wondering about the relationship between humanities education and the marketplace. This was from the perspective, though, of someone who was more involved in the English major than I am here. Anyway, it was an interesting trip down memory lane...

[Update, 11/1/16: Here's a link to a news story about the town hall meeting. It didn't go as I had expected/hoped. There wasn't really a chance to ask about what some faculty (like me) had questions about: What would the curriculum look like in 10 years? What kinds of new responsibilities would faculty members have? Will we still be teaching classes or will our job descriptions be very different? The Academic Plan refers to "'Just-for you' learning with curated content and resources matched to individual learning goals. Learning modules and 'stackable' credentialing will add customization." What will that look like in practice? So far I haven't heard anything specific about this.]

Friday, October 14, 2016

Two new books in the former native speaker's library

Not sure why I'm still calling myself "the former native speaker." The way my Chinese ability is going, I should call myself "the former non-native speaker." No, that's not right. Maybe "the former Chinese speaker..."

Anyway, I've gotten something of an urge to read some fiction from Taiwan (in translation, of course--and I don't even have time to read that, much less read a novel in Chinese). I'm currently reading Rose, Rose, I Love You by Wang Chen-ho, which I bought a while back but never got around to reading. Then I decided to pick up a couple more books from that series, so I bought

Who knows when I'll actually get around to reading them. These are all from the Columbia UP series, "Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan." Interestingly, it appears that this series was originally called "Modern Literature from Taiwan" (at least I think so). I've read Wu Zhuoliu's Orphan of Asia, which is also in that series, and I have to wonder about its place in the series "Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan" when it was originally written in Japanese. Anyway, it looks like an interesting series, and I might use it to introduce me to some literature that I can then read in Chinese (probably when I retire...).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

New writing group begins its work

As my faithful reader(s?) might remember, I joined a writing group at my school last year that had its ups and downs. And (tentative) ups again. Well, I've joined a new writing group for this semester. As with the last year's group, we had a bit of a rocky start, partly because of differing ideas about what we'd do at the meetings. So we ended up meeting today with three people (including me). I am going to do my best to go to the meetings this semester, but I guess I'll have to see how my workload goes.

I've continued to think about what I was writing about last year regarding the kinds of writing I should be doing. As I mentioned before, as a non-tenure track person, I don't have to limit myself to writing things that will contribute to getting me tenure. So I'm trying to work on something that I can pitch to a more popular publication. My partners, who are more experienced than I am in writing for more general audiences, are helping me a lot with the process. (Including how to use words like "pitch" properly!) My first project for myself is to start writing a pitch for an article idea I have. We'll see how that goes. It's pretty exciting to be learning something new about writing!

[Update, 11/29/16: Well, that didn't go very far. I only made it to that first meeting, and then it seemed that life conspired to prevent me from attending any other meetings. So... not much success this time with the writing group. Maybe it's not meant to be for me.]

Saturday, October 01, 2016

A couple of posts related to Yang Kui

I don't have time to think about this right now, but here are two links I want to think about at some point:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My "idea" paper on the academic plan

This is a draft of the paper I wrote. Perhaps I'll get some feedback from students tomorrow! Perhaps I'll get a pink slip tomorrow!

"Experiential Liberal Arts" in "Northeastern 2025"

In its draft statement, the Academic Plan working group on “The Essence of Northeastern” (James Hackney, Lori Lefkovitz, and Joanne Miller) call Northeastern “a leader in experiential liberal arts and sciences, entrepreneurship, and innovation.” The use of the term “experiential liberal arts” generated several comments on the discussion board set up to allow the Northeastern community to give feedback on the draft statement. One comment from a faculty member, from February 12, 2016, argues that the sentence needs to add “reference to technology [and] engineering” or risk “leav[ing] out a significant component of Northeastern.” That faculty member’s suggested rewrite removes the word “experiential liberal arts,” replacing it with “experiential education that integrates liberal arts across the humanities, sciences and technology to be entrepreneurial and to innovate.” Another faculty member, writing on February 14, argues that the term “experiential liberal arts” needs to be defined so that “technology and engineering” are not “excluded.” Kathleen M. Vranos, a graduate student, agrees with the questioning of the term “experiential liberal arts.” Posting on March 8, she suggests that “the college is ‘running away’ from its niche” by using the term. Observing that “[t]he literature refers to ‘liberal professional education,’” she suggests that the statement should use the term “experiential, liberal, professional education” rather than “experiential liberal arts.” “This means,” she concludes, “liberal education outcomes are integrated into professional programs and visible and measurable in an applied manner.”
This questioning and critique of the term “experiential liberal arts” is countered by the March 24 post by an NU alum, who quotes Harvard president Drew Faust to argue that “Northeastern is trying to revolutionize liberal arts into uniquely its own form and into a new form of higher education – experiential liberal arts.” The alum provides Faust’s description of liberal arts as “[t]he art of the possible” that is characterized by “improvisation,” “flexibility,” and “contingency” and draws from fields such as philosophy, history, anthropology, math, science, and literature. The alum argues that “experiential liberal arts” is important and revolutionary enough that it deserves “its own section in the academic plan.” The alum’s post is the closest anyone comes on the page to defining what the contested term “experiential liberal arts” is supposed to mean. It also displays the most enthusiastic support of the concept.
Another supporter of the concept of "experiential liberal arts" is, not suprisingy, Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun. In an essay published in 2015, Aoun argues that "the marriage of liberal arts skills with experiential learning yields advanced survival skills for the modern era: creative, critical and analytical thinking, deft communication, and the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, applying knowledge in unexpected situations." Aoun's examples of how this marriage might work in practice involve an English major who does a co-op with a magazine and a philosophy major doing a co-op at the UN Human Rights Council and doing a research project based on that experience.
Despite Aoun's support for the concept, the term "experiential liberal arts" does not appear in the final version of the "Essence of Northeastern" statement. It has been replaced by a characterization of Northeastern as "a world leader in experiential learning and a thought leader on the frontier of learning science." Without going into an etymological analysis of the words "art" and "science," I would point out the obvious shift in phrasing from emphasizing "liberal arts" to stressing "learning science."  I am not entirely sure of the origins of the term "learning science," but a quick check on Wikipedia (I know, I know) reveals that it is a relatively new term; the replacement suggests a nervousness about using an ancient (out of date?) term like "liberal arts" (even with the more fashionable word "experiential" tacked on) and a preference for a more modern and "scientific" sounding characterization of the school's identity.
Furthermore, the only reference to the liberal arts in the final Academic Plan is found in a section entitled "Learning tailored by enhancements in technology":
Northeastern 2025 will take advantage of technology to connect more quickly with professional networks across industries in real time. This will enable the university to make education, including our liberal arts curriculum, more responsive, with classroom and experiential learning tailored to the demands of an ever-evolving world, a requisite for professional resilience.
The liberal arts curriculum is singled out as being in need of "enhancement" through technology that will make it more able to 'keep in step' with the demands of modern (post-modern? post-post-modern?) life.
Curiously (or perhaps not so curiosly), the implication that the liberal arts curriculum in particular is in need of being "tailored to the demands of an ever-evolving world" is in sharp contrast with Harvard President Faust's depiction of the liberal arts (quoted earlier) as "[t]he art of the possible." Faust seems to be arguing that the liberal arts are always already able to perpare students for "professional resilience."
So the revision of the "Essence" statement has given me new directions for inquiry, both in terms of the immediate context of Northeastern and in a more general "boundary-less" context of twenty-first century higher education. In lieu of a conclusion, I'll raise three points that might be worth considering or investigating further in the future:
  • The role of the humanities at a career- or professional-oriented university. If the “liberal arts” are not part of the school’s professed identity (essence), where do they belong? (I confess that right now I’m equating the liberal arts with the humanities, which is not exactly right. But I’ll try to figure that out in a future project.) In what way are they necessary, and (going back to something I was writing before the Great Essence Deletion of 9/27/16) in what way are actual departments of English, languages, philosophy, etc., necessary as independent academic units in such a university? Perhaps one thing that we could imagine is that the school could combine them into some sort of interdisciplinary “department” or teaching and research unit. Removins such disciplinary divisions would also be in tune with the academic plan's theme of "boundaryless-ness." I have my concerns about such an idea from an institutional and political (institutional political) standpoint because I’ve had experience with working in teaching units that are underfunded and overworked and generally made second-class citizens of the institution. However, there might also be something to be said for, say, a humanities unit or a liberal arts unit that would be properly funded and respected and would not necessarily depend for its existence on educating majors or graduate students in its program. I wonder how that might work and what the practical effects of that would be. Where might we find positive and inspiring models of such programs?
  • Related to this is the fact that I don’t really know what the “liberal arts curriculum” at NU is. I know there’s an NU Core (CORE?) of courses that students can choose from for what I’m guessing is basically a gen. ed. requirement. First Year Writing is one of those courses, of course (which places me in the liberal arts curriculum?). I need to find out more about what this CORE is and how it might be characterized as a liberal arts curriculum. I also could find out more about how it is taught to see if there is a reason it is singled out as being in need to the kind of attention it is given in terms of keeping up-to-date with our fast-moving global society.
  • In all this, I would need to move beyond anecdotal evidence. I know from my own experience, for instance, that I haven’t had that many liberal arts majors in either my FYW courses or my AWD courses (depending on how you define “liberal arts,” of course). I also know that a colleague of mine taught the “Advanced Writing for the Humanities” course last year that is supposed to cater to the needs of majors in the humanities. If I remember correctly, not one of the students in the class was a humanities major. What that means, I don’t know—that students pick courses based on the schedule? That there aren’t that many humanities majors at NU? That humanities majors take courses other than that course for whatever reason? So anecdotes only take you so far in trying to figure out something as complex as this.
Works Cited

"Academic Plan: Northeastern 2025." Northeastern 2025. www.northeastern.edu/academic-plan/plan/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
Aoun, Joseph E. "A Complete Education." Inside Higher Ed. 20 Apr. 2015. www.insidehighered.com/views/2015/04/20/essay-calls-ending-divide-between-liberal-arts-and-practical-education. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
"Essence of Northeastern." Northeastern 2025. www.northeastern.edu/academic-plan/essence-of-northeastern/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2016.
"Essence of Northeastern (Draft)." Northeastern 2025. www.northeastern.edu/academic-plan/essence/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2016 (no longer available).
Faculty Member. Comment on "Essence of Northeastern (Draft)." Northeastern 2025. 12 Feb. 2016. www.northeastern.edu/academic-plan/essence/#discussion. Accessed 27 Sept. 2016 (no longer available).
Faculty Member. Comment on "Essence of Northeastern (Draft)." Northeastern 2025. 14 Feb. 2016. www.northeastern.edu/academic-plan/essence/#discussion. Accessed 27 Sept. 2016 (no longer available).
"Learning Sciences." Wikipedia. 26 Sept. 2016. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_sciences. Accessed 27 Sept. 2016.
"Liberal Arts Education." Wikipedia. 19 Sept. 2016. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_arts_education. Accessed 27 Sept. 2016.
NU Alum. Comment on "Essence of Northeastern (Draft)." Northeastern 2025. 24 March 2016. www.northeastern.edu/academic-plan/essence/#discussion. Accessed 27 Sept. 2016 (no longer available).
Vranos, Kathleen M. Comment on "Essence of Northeastern (Draft)." Northeastern 2025. 8 March 2016. www.northeastern.edu/academic-plan/essence/#discussion. Accessed 27 Sept. 2016 (no longer available).

"Idea" paper assignment from my two First Year Writing courses

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying some new/old things with the FYW courses I'm teaching this semester. One thing we're working on is a semester-long project that will be based on a topic of student interest that grows out of our class's reading of my university's new ten-year academic plan. Last semester, as my faithful follower(s) know, I asked students to contribute to the development of the academic plan by adding their thoughts to discussion boards set up to collect opinions about various aspects of the proposed plan. This time we're going to develop research projects based on the materials on the plan's website.

I've divided the project into three parts: portfolio one, portfolio two, and portfolio three. I planned for the students to start doing research for the second portfolio and finish it up for the third. Originally I was thinking of having students write a more-or-less formal proposal for the project for portfolio one, but then I read a quote from Benedict Anderson (in his memoirs, A Life Beyond Boundaries) that got me thinking about how students might approach the project:
The ideal way to start interesting research, at least in my view, is to depart from a problem or question to which you do not know the answer. Then you have to decide on the kind of intellectual tools (discourse analysis, theory of nationalism, surveys, etc.) that may or may not be a help to you. But you have also to seek the help of friends who do not necessarily work in your discipline or program, in order to try to have as broad an intellectual culture as possible. Often you also need luck. Finally, you need time for your ideas to cohere and develop.
So instead of a formal proposal, I decided to adapt an assignment given to me in graduate school back in 1999 by my professor, Louise Wetherbee Phelps. Here's the adapted assignment I gave the students:
Portfolio One Project

Explore an idea related to your responses so far about the academic plan; relate it as much as you can/need to the reading, writing, and discussion you've been doing. As genre, this is an informal global structure and can be meandering and even digressive as long as we can follow the train of thought. But to say that is not to say it can be sloppy or slap-dash--it's not a journal or quick response. It needs to be as rigorously thoughtful as you can make it, and what I would call "textualized" (rather than "formalized"). What that means is that it is acquiring the features of text including intelligible full sentences, explicit connections and order, surface control--enough so that a reader can respond as a fellow writer. It's an effort to externalize nonlinear, rather undifferentiated thought and move it toward sustained reflection. It does not require a traditional thesis statement; you won't necessarily be making an argument (although your essay might contain some argumentative elements). While you can use "I" in this, the focus should be on putting your experiences and thoughts to use in exploring an idea rather than writing an autobiographical piece.

If you're having trouble imagining this, here are some examples of the kinds of topics or ideas you might write about: 
  • What is a "global university?" How does the idea of a global university get expressed and discussed in the academic plan, and how does that relate to what the term might mean to you? What do you think about the concept being discussed there? (Why) Is the concept of a "global university" important to you?
  • What is an academic plan, according to what you see in the NU academic plan? How might it be developed and function for a university?
  • Explore the concept of "lifelong experiential learning"--what does it mean and how would a university support that? (Should a university support it?)
  • Based on your reading and writing about the academic plan, explore your thoughts about the purpose(s) of higher education in 2016 (and 2025?).
Of course, don't feel limited to these topics. In fact, I hope you pursue some angle I hadn't thought of.

In this "idea" paper, you can reuse what you've written before, but I imagine it will be refined and put to use in service of whatever new points you're making.

If you feel the need to go to outside sources to help you think about your topic, you can do some "light" research, but don't overwhelm your text with quotes, paraphrases, or summaries. If you cite or quote (including from the academic plan website), give me references at the end.

Length? While I'm tempted to say, "As long as it has to be," let's go with a number of around 1000 words, more if necessary.

I'll be conferencing with you next week (9/26-28) to check in with you about your process on this. Go to this form to sign up for your conference.
*The idea for this assignment (and some of the wording of the assignment) was adapted from an assignment given to me by Dr. Louise Wetherbee Phelps back in 1999.
We're still in the process of writing and revising these "idea" papers--I'll post my draft next, for your reading pleasure...