Good Ideas of AY 2008-2009

The end of the year the pundits round up major accomplishments and newsworthy ideas and such and use them to fill a few news cycles. It's time for person of the year, gadget of the year, story of the year. Instead of aggregating other ideas, I thought I'd go through my notebooks and generate a list of my ten best ideas of the last academic year. Why not? Who else is going to? I also thought that for teachers the calendar year isn't as important as the academic one, so here goes.

1. Library Economy vs. Bookstore Economy.

One of my good friends and colleagues, Matt Nickerson, is a librarian. Through my association with him, I have learned that library use has changed a lot over the last decade or so. A lot of that change seems to be due in part to computer use. In any case, one thing librarians want to achieve is getting books and students together.

This has led us to a number of discussions on the subject of how professors get students into libraries. I responded at one point by saying, "They don't. Teachers bring the books to students in the form of text books. Then once or twice a semester they send them off to the library to find support materials."

The big idea is this: what if the library was the primary text? What would happen in a class in which you said that on a certain day the discussion would be on the subject of "first person narration," use the library and be ready for discussion? I am also imagining all kinds of hybrid assignments where I assign one text and students need to add two more two the mix—their choice.

2. Using Cloud Computing On-line Applications in the classroom.

This is now a no-brainer. Google Docs is my number one choice for managing tons of documents. The searching means that the Google Docs account can really be one big bucket into which I throw these documents. No complex filing directory is necessary. It is kind of a blunt instrument, though. It's almost just an online text editor. I don't think Google Docs is a good composing tool, but it is great for sharing documents and collaborating on them as well.

Adobe's Buzzword, is really beautiful and actually easier on the eyes than most on-line apps. It outputs really nicely to a PDF, which I can have students integrate very nicely into a digital portfolio. I have tried Zoho tools, and they just don't seem to work quite right for me and from my perspective. I have tried to like them.

The use of online apps for collaboration makes the most immediate sense, but once I gained a little facility with the tools, I started to learn a little about how to hack the basic use for some interesting results.

My best discover is the use of what I'm calling the Standing Evaluation. Because I use narrative rather than quantitative evaluation in my courses, I need some way to communicate my responses and feedback to the students. I have discovered that if I instruct a student to share a google document with me, we can use that document as a platform for the evaluation. It's ongoing, so I get to see everything I've written for that semester, and whenever I add anything it's within a context of continuity. I can really chart growth. Students like it because they have a chance to respond, like with your credit report, it's just less difficult: they are free to respond to any comment. The best students do, and it's a real joy to have a conversation about their performance.

3. The Hobbit is a heist narrative.

I have been working on ideas about heist films for a while now, and it hit me over the head like a sack of money: The Hobbit is a heist, Gandalf's 14, if you will. More on this later. I have the seeds of a conference paper germinating at the moment. I does foil my initial heist paper thesis that the heist isn't a good genre for fiction but that it works best in film.

4. Putting an old lampshade iMac in the kitchen.

It's not the fastest, but man, that rotatable, tiltable screen is great for brining up a recipe or watching the Daily Show on Hulu when you're cleaning up.

5. Not getting a snow blower.

We're getting to the point that (a) I can be outside without worrying that the kids will kill themselves, and (b) Alisa's been helping, and it's kind of nice to be out there shoveling with her. It can be quite lovely, in facr. Not an issue, though, for another six months probably. I do have a leaf blower, which I pretty much can't do without.