Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Dissertation Defense Opening Statement, May 15, 2012

This is the sixty-fourth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

I prepared this brief statement to introduce the thinking behind the choices that I made on which writers to include and the emergent theme of the dissertation that would lead to my current research: technological ephemerality. This statement is part justification and part roadmap for where I am now and will be in the future.

To set the stage for making this statement, imagine me sitting at the head of a conference table. Behind me on a podium is a Powerbook 145 with Gibson’s eBook of Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive open and the big box for the Neuromancer video game adaptation from the late-1980s.

Dissertation Defense Opening Statement

Jason W. Ellis

15 May 2012

            I would like to thank you all for reading my dissertation, “Brains, Minds, and Computers in Literary and Science Fiction Neuronarratives” and for meeting with me today. I am looking forward to your questions and our discussion. Before we begin, I would like to take this opportunity to describe my project’s goals, it’s origins, my methods of research, and what I hope it accomplishes. As you will see, my iPad figures prominently in these things.

In my dissertation, I draw on my interdisciplinary interests in literary studies, science fiction studies, history of science and technology, and evolutionary psychology to situate science fiction’s emergence as a genre in the early twentieth century within the larger context of the human animal’s evolutionary co-development with technology. In a sense, I sought the raison d’être of the genre in a Darwinian and cognitive context. I believe the communal teaching aspect of science fiction to be an integral part of the genre itself, and it is this aspect that I gave the name “future prep.” From another perspective, I define science fiction as the kind of literature that performs this function. I also wanted to take one related thread from the genre’s overall development—that being brains, computers, and artificial intelligence—and trace it through the work of three significant writers, namely: Asimov, Dick, and Gibson.

My dissertation originates in part from my long interest in the biology of the human brain. Perhaps this is a byproduct of the conceptual metaphors that I learned in school or in books that the brain was a type of computer and the computer was a type of brain. We know that these are imperfect analogies, but you can imagine that they can have a strong influence on the development of a curious mind. Even at an early age, I strongly felt the link between brains and computers as evidenced by a sustained performance that convinced my kindergarten classmates I was a robot. More recently, I fell into the physics of mind when I was in high school. Thanks to Stephen Hawking, I stumbled onto the work of his collaborator Roger Penrose, who had done other work arguing that the brain is not a Turning-type computer and that quantum phenomena must play some part in the emergence of human consciousness. Much later, during my MA at the University of Liverpool, I made a deal with a friend in the neuroscience program to give me a digital copy of my brain in exchange for my participating in his neural correlates of facial attractiveness study. However, the most recent and profound shift in my thinking came about in a serendipitous way. During the preparation for my PhD exams, I met with Professor Clewell to discuss my readings for the postmodern theory exam. I recall our conversation veering toward computers and the human brain. I learned from Professor Clewell about the emergent discourse surrounding the human brain and the human experience from a Darwinist/evolutionary rather than a Freudian/psychological or Marxist/social perspective. As invested as my work up to that point was in cultural theory, I was very intrigued by the interdisciplinary possibilities that neuroscientific topics and evolutionary psychology might provide for my work in literary history. Without a doubt, this was a pivotal moment in the development of my dissertation. It provided me a direction to expand the scope of my project from one author—originally on the fiction of Philip K. Dick alone—to three by developing a new theory of the genre in terms of the human brain’s evolution. This was new territory for the literary history of science fiction, and I wanted to trek an unexplored path into this uncharted territory.

The next stage was to select the literary focus of my research. I chose Dick’s work, because I believe his awareness of the brain’s role in human experience and in our relationship with technology strongly connects to my theory of science fiction. Then, I selected Asimov as a connection between the early editors who shaped the genre and later writers including Dick, whose androids obviously respond to Asimov’s robots. Finally, I decided on Gibson, because he reinvented Dick’s concerns about technologization of the human experience in a more nuanced manner than Dick’s paranoiac division between the android and the human.

Research and writing of my dissertation presented its own challenges, but I was very pleased that part of the subject matter inspired my own processes of work. In my reading and research, I leveraged computer technology to my advantage to build efficiencies and speed into my work. In particular, I wanted to make all of my research—primary and secondary sources—available on my computer, iPad, and iPhone. The primary reason for this was to make it easier for me to track my research and use digital tools such as textual analysis software and key word search on materials I had read or skimmed. Having the materials on my various computing devices made it easy to search the same or multiple documents very easily and quickly while taking notes or writing in Microsoft Word on my MacBook. Of course, my brain did the work of configuring, contemplating, and creating the dissertation itself.

The issue of obsolescence, which I discuss a bit about in the concluding part of my dissertation, was also a driving force behind my efforts at digitization of my research materials. For example, the last half of the second chapter presented a unique problem—I needed to read the editorials of the old pulps—particularly Amazing Stories and Astounding—but these pulps are not widely available in library collections, and when they are, it can be difficult to handle and read them due to their extreme fragility. Luckily for my research, legions of science fiction pulp collectors have made much of this material available online as scanned copies. Obviously, there are tensions between the efforts of cultural preservationists and the Disney-fication of copyright law, but due to the nature of my research and its importance to the long literary history of science fiction, some of which is egregiously at risk of disappearing, I side with the preservations. Unfortunately, the scanned materials were not always complete, but they did provide me with some useful evidence and clues to more. I filled these missing holes with interlibrary loan requests that took several weeks to complete. For other primary sources, I was able to track down circulating text files—such as for Asimov’s, Dick’s, and Gibson’s novels, and others, I purchased either through Amazon’s Kindle shop or Apple’s iBook store. I should note that I used these non-paginated materials for research purposes, and I cross-referenced any findings there with the physical copies that I own or borrowed from the library—the only exception being Dick’s Exegesis.

I also converted many sources on hand into digital copies for my personal use. Generally, I took photos of pages, created a PDF, and ran OCR software to generate searchable text. Due to my limited time, this was especially useful during my research trip to UC-Riverside’s Eaton Collection in February. In addition to my typewritten notes on my MacBook, I captured over 1000 pages of rare and interesting primary research for the Dick and Gibson chapters with my iPhone 4S’s built-in camera. Some of this research is included in the dissertation, but there is much left for me to review as I begin the process of transforming the dissertation into a publishable manuscript. This extra work paid off by revealing quotes overlooked during skimming or reading. While I am reading to you from my iPad, I also have my dissertation manuscript, primary sources, secondary sources, notes, and much more all available at the touch of my finger. However, I have to remain vigilant with my archival practices to ensure my access to my data now and in the future. It is also a challenge to find software that maintains compatibility and preserves my workflow.

As Gibson warns us in his afterword to the Neuromancer e-book, technology’s fate is obsolescence. As he foretold, it was nearly impossible to access his e-book in its original version. First, I had to wait several weeks to receive a copy of the e-book’s disk from one of the three American universities that hold it. Then, I had to find an older Macintosh with a floppy disk drive to read the disk and in turn allow me to read the e-book. Unfortunately, there are no Macs with floppy disk drives anywhere near Kent State. I turned to eBay to find an early PowerBook, but unfortunately, the first one I purchased was destroyed during shipping. Eventually, I was able to read the e-book with this PowerBook 145, but it took time, money, and know-how. What does the future hold for those of us who want to read the stories these technologies have to tell us, and what effects do these technologies have on our cognitive development? These are questions I plan to investigate following the dissertation.

In closing, I hope that my work on the literary history of science fiction accomplishes two things. First, I believe that science fiction’s roots run deep, and my dissertation is meant to show how it is a literature that emerges as a byproduct of powerful evolutionary forces of the development of the human brain in conjunction with the human animal’s co-evolution with technology. Second, I hope that my work facilitates further cross-discipline discussion and leads to additional research into the brain’s role in the emergence of human experience and the enjoyment of fiction—especially science fiction.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Teaching College Writing, Assignment Design: Team-Based Competitive Blogging with Portfolio Integration, July 1, 2008

This is the fifty-second post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Before I could accept my teaching fellowship at Kent State University, I needed to take the graduate seminar, “Teaching College English.” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take this class from Professor Brian Huot. At the time, I thought my primary concern was putting together my first syllabus, but through the seminar, I learned the importance of meeting student needs, considering outcomes, meeting students on the page, helping students improve their command of rhetoric and multimodality with a portfolio, and considering student work holistically (something that I continue to do with the Georgia Tech WCP’s WOVEN modalities and programmatic rubric).

In this first of four Recovered Writing posts from this seminar, I am sharing a project with support for portfolios. Since I wrote this project, technology and teaching have come a long way, but the ideas in this assignment can be repurposed in many different ways.

Also, I enjoyed looking at the attached screenshots of WordPress circa 2008. I miss the earlier design for WordPress.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Brian Huot

Teaching College English

1 July 2008

Competitive Team Blogging with Portfolio Integration

BoingBoing crew photo by Bart Nagel,

Introduction and Pedagogical Concerns

The five, seemingly innocuous persons in the photograph on the title page are the eccentric collaborative technoculture team of the insanely popular blog–“A Directory of Wonderful Things.”[1] They are Mark Frauenfelder, David Pescovitz, John Battelle, Cory Doctorow, and Xeni Jardin. began as a ‘zine in the 1990s by Frauenfelder, and later oozed online and evolved into the A-list blog that it is today. Through its various mediums–print, website, and blog–it has been a collaborative effort encompassing the various talents of different persons with complementary skills, abilities, and loves. Additionally, the collaboration of the “Boingers” is not only very synthetic, but also technically required in order to generate the copious content posted to their blog every day. Without this on-going large textual corpus, the popularity and repeat viewership of would not have been possible or sustainable.

I believe that BoingBoing’s collaborative blogging model has something to offer our students in an ever-increasingly technologically mediated world. Also, the writing aspect of blogging, which has been talked about in the literature by numerous persons, is a useful tool in the freshman composition and college writing classroom. Another important aspect of the blog is the archival aspect of blogging that lends itself as complementary to a portfolio centric writing classroom. However, team blogging necessitates some aspect to engender caring on the part of students in order to distinguish it as something more than merely writing online. This is achieved by forming groups to create a themed blog based on their major or interests, and requiring each team to report to the class as a whole on the “success” of the blog in terms of viewership and comments. This friendly competitive atmosphere will motivate students to work above-and-beyond in order to have better statistics than their rival groups. Therefore, team based blogging should be considered as another viable multimodal model for college writing courses, because it fulfills a number of important developmental tasks promoted by the Kent State Writing Program.

Competitive team blogging with portfolio integration for the College Writing I classroom is a pedagogical tool aimed at achieving several important goals: providing students a space and theme they are interested in, increasing student investment in a work that they “own” outside the context of the classroom, and improving teacher response by emphasizing explanation over marginal remarks, and embracing multimodal compositional practices by shifting student portfolios from physical media to the Internet.

The theory behind competitive team blogging is that students will care more about the creation, maintenance, and contribution to a collaborative work focused around something that interests them than artificial, individual assignments to be handed into the teacher. Their care for their blog and their writing posted to it will come with an audience larger than the class, department, and school. Reminding students of this broader audience, combined with their real-world data showing the origin of the viewers, should motivate them to work harder on this than assignments for a teacher-only audience.   Additionally, team blogs allow for all written work done by the student to be contained in an archive that’s always present, which encourages students to look back at past work, and more easily prepare revisions based on their own considerations and those provided by their team and the class as a whole.

This document on the implementation of competitive team blogging with portfolio integration contains a step-by-step methodology, a worksheet of topics to cover regarding collaborative blogging, a student handout on blogging and team blogging, and illustrated instructions on creating a collaborative blog with[2] Additionally, this teaching tool is intended as a guide for teachers, and is aimed at that audience. Each teacher who implements team blogging should tailor its employment to his or her class. Obviously, this pedagogical tool would be much more difficult for someone with a 4/4 teaching load as opposed to a 1/2 teaching load. However, I encourage alterations to this project that makes it practical and meaningful for you and your students.


  1. Introduce your students to your methodology and the reasons behind it. Be up-front and open with your students regarding competitive team blogging with portfolio integration. For example, tell them that they’ll be doing “team blogging” all semester, and maintain an emphasis on their contributions to their blogs throughout, and stand firm on the place of team blogging in the classroom. I don’t mean that you should not be a reflective practitioner, but the core idea of team blogging should be maintained and other alterations to lessons and assignments should be made if need be. Additionally, some students may or may not blog, and they may not be accustomed to extended teamwork. You’ll have to teach your students how to do these things, as well as teach them about other aspects of online content creation and commenting (these may be extended throughout the course).
  2. Gather student information. It’s expedient for the teacher undertaking the semester-length team blogging exercise to assign members to each of the groups. This is easily accomplished during the first week of class by requiring all students to email the teacher a numerated list of at least three interests or hobbies as well as their major. The teacher should tell the students the purpose of this exercise, and allow friends to request making their own team as long as they provide a convincing explanation for their team’s focus.
  3. Form teams. Following the gathering of student interests, form the class into four or five teams based on similar or complementary interests. Explain to the class that this will form the basis of their collaborative work over the course of the semester. Allow the students time to get to know one another, exchange contact information, and decide on the final theme and title for their team’s blog.
  4. Develop team roles. Have students review and write critiques or reports about popular collaborative blogging sites such as Gawker, Boing Boing, etc. before class. In class, open discussion about the purpose of blogs and the way in which collaborative blogs handle content creation from a number of authors. This means, guide them through understanding the roles of webmasters, editors, and content contributors. Finally, have the teams pick their first round of roles, which will alternate periodically throughout the semester in order to allow each member a chance to wear a different hat and experience different responsibilities.
  5. Create blogs. Devote a class in the computer classroom to guide the students through creating a collaborative blog with a free service such as (see Appendix 1 for instructions).
  6. Integrating blogs into the writing classroom. Non-graded individual assignments should be tailored as posts for the student’s team blog. If your class isn’t always in a computer classroom, require students to type up and post their handwritten class work before your next meeting.
  7. Building team competition. After four weeks of blogging, prepare your students for weekly group presentations. These presentations should be about five minutes in length for each team, so that no more than half a class is devoted to them. These presentations should include the following information: the editor’s choice of best post, the group’s choice of best post, site traffic numbers, and other interesting information such as incoming links and search terms visitors to their blog used to find their posts. Other ways of increasing competition is to offer prizes at the end of the semester for the best blog, and this can be decided by the teacher or by the class through the use of ranked voting (i.e., the class rates each team as either 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc, and the team with the least amount of votes–meaning higher ranking–wins). Cheap prizes such as KSU keychains or t-shirts may be given to the winning team, or the teacher may solicit local businesses for donated giftcards.
  8. Team blog as portfolio. The fearless teacher combines portfolios with team blogs. This would entail having students post all of their assignments, including the required graded papers, to their team’s blog. The teacher may use the comments on those posts to leave feedback, encouragement, and critique on each student’s graded post. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to revise their papers in a new posting, which they must link back to their original post. At the end of the semester, each student must write a post that includes links to their last revisions, which in turn will link back to their earlier drafts. This nesting should facilitate easy evaluation of the portfolio assignments.
  9. Reflective Assignment. For your students’ reflective assignment, they should reflect on the blogging process as well as the writing process that you model for them throughout the semester. They will realize that they will have produced an extraordinary amount of material individually and even more so cooperatively through semester-long blogging, which will add to their developing sense as a writer.

Topics of Discussion Regarding Collaborative Blogging

  • How is online content created? It isn’t “automagically” generated by machines. Real people, with real investments in what is being communicated, are behind the text that you read on your favorite blogs.
  • Online etiquette and protocol. Encourage openness and cooperation and warn against flaming. Even though our blog writing exists out in the Internet cloud, a human being created it, and we must respect the person behind that content. It’s okay to disagree and constructively argue with a writer about his or her content, but it’s not okay to attack the person behind the writing.
  • Team roles. Talk about the differences between the roles of editor and contributors. Encourage group cohesion and support. The editor’s role is not to discourage team members, but instead to encourage them. Additionally, all team members should comment on and provide support for the other members.
  • Intergroup roles. Members of each group should be required to comment on the postings of the other groups. These comments need not be about the content of the postings, but more importantly the ideas and argument communicated by the post’s writer to an online audience.
  • Citations and plagiarism. As in traditional writing, all works and sources should be cited in blog posts. WordPress has a quoting feature, and has a good model to follow regarding proper attribution.

Handout for Students

Team Blogging

So, what’s blogging exactly?

Blogging is the maintenance of an online journal, available for all to read, that reflects on your life or a particular subject. For example, I’m a blogger. I maintain a blog about Science Fiction at Each day, I write something relating to SF, teaching, or my personal life. Another example is, which is billed as “A Directory of Wonderful Things.” It’s run by several bloggers who post about interesting, political, and fun things that they find on the Internet.

You’re Blogging Now!

Team blogging is the basis for the most popular blogs on the net. Boing Boing, Slashfilm, Gawker, Valleywag, Slashdot, and many others write enormous amounts of content for their readers, because the task of writing is distributed amongst a number of contributors and administered by an editor. Over the course of the semester, each of you will get to experience the different roles in team blogging by developing your own blog in groups. Your team blogs will have a theme or subject that all members will tailor their writing towards. Also, everyone will post their assignments on the team blogs for your peers and I to read and respond to. I want you to own these blogs, so make as much of them as you can for a particular audience with an interest in your theme. To make things more interesting, everyone will have a chance at the end of the semester to vote on the best blog, and that team will get a prize!

I guarantee you that at the end of the semester you won’t believe how much you’ve each written, and how much you’ve progressed as writers. Furthermore, your blogs will explode with content that will interest many more people than students and myself.

Creating a Collaborative Blog with

  1. Sign Up Now! Direct your web browser to and click on the large icon labeled, Sign Up Now!
  1. Have one student create the blog’s administrator account using the Gimme a blog! option, and then have each team member go through the signup process with the Just a username, please option.image005
  2. Login to using the blog’s administrator account. The pages that follow are from my blog’s Dashboard—
  3. Click on My Dashboard (upper left). This is the heart of the blog where all management takes place. Now, click on Users (right) to invite the individual team members to the blog.image009
  4. The Manage Users area allows for adding contributors to the blog. At the bottom of the page, have the teams invite each member by their registered email address. Add everyone as Editor so that they can serve that function when called on, as well as contribute to the blog.image011
  5. Now that the housekeeping stuff has been taken care of, have the students log out of the administrator account, making sure to write down that information in a safe place, and log in with their own accounts. Once logged in, have them click on Write and begin exploring the text editing capabilities of WordPress.image013
  6. The Blog Stats are essential for team reflection on the progress and audience of their blog. Returning to “My Dashboard” and clicking on Manage, and then Blog Stats yields a wealth of information about the blog’s readers. This information should be utilized in the weekly team update reports. The graphic below shows the number of visitors over time.image015
  7. Blog Stats continued. These stat boxes show referrers to the blog and the most visited posts on the blog.image017
  8. Blog Stats continued. These stat boxes show search engine terms that lead visitors to the team’s blog, and clicks made by readers from their blog to external sites.image021
  9. Blog Stats continued. At the bottom of the statistics page are raw numbers of views and posts, and incoming links to their blog from other websites and blogs.
  10. Design considerations and other explorations. Encourage your students to try out different themes (My Dashboard > Design > Themes) and other design considerations that reinforce their rhetorical choices.image023
  11. Have students reflect on their own work as well as the work of others in class and on the Internet at large. Who knows, maybe they’ll develop the next “Boing Boing” success level team blog!image025



ENGL1101 Sections G3 and L, Fall 2013, Project 2 Narrative Videos Based on John Medina’s Brain Rules

I revised my “Maximizing the Brain” Project 2 Assignment for my current ENGL1101 students at Georgia Tech. It is currently in its third iteration, and I have ideas for its fourth iteration with more radical changes.

In the meantime, my current students have delivered their unique takes on their chosen chapters from John Medina’s Brain Rules. I have included their YouTube-based videos below.

For each project, a team of 4-5 students collaboratively wrote an outline, a script, a revised script (after receiving feedback from another team whose members collaboratively wrote their suggestions/questions). Then, they all contributed to drawing a storyboard for shooting and editing the video, which was also revised with feedback from another team. Finally, they shot and edited their video using equipment from the Georgia Tech Library’s Gadgets Desk (run by Justin Ellis) and software on their computers or in the Library’s Multimedia Studio. Individually, each student completes the project by writing a reflection essay explaining the rhetorical decisions made during each phase of the project.

These are my students’ videos that teach us how to maximize our brain’s potential through lessons learned in Medina’s Brain Rules.

Section G3

Team 1: Survival

Team 2: Sleep

Team 3: Exercise

Team 4: Gender

Team 5: Sensory Integration

Section L

Team 1: Sleep

Team 2: Exploration

Team 3: Attention

Team 4: Gender

Team 5: Exercise

English Language Reading Advice and Strategies for My ESL Students (and Native English Speakers, too)

Map to Literature in the Library

This morning, I met with an ESL student from one of my ENGL 1101 classes. She sought advice about how to improve her English reading speed and comprehension. We discussed various strategies for about 40 minutes. While we were talking,  I thought that our conversation might be useful for other ESL students (as well as many native English speakers wanting to boost their reading abilities). I have included the notes from our meeting below.

  • Takeaway ideas: If you want to improve your English reading ability and reading comprehension, you need to read and think about the reading on a daily basis. Improvement comes through applied practice over time. If you track your progress with a journal written in English, you will be surprised by the advancement after a semester, a year, or longer. Practice and reflect–then, repeat.
  • Three substantial hurdles to advancing your reading skills are grammar, vocabulary, and confidence. More exposure to English grammar and syntax through reading and writing in English will lead to improvements in those areas. Building your English vocabulary will improve your comprehension and the speed of your reading (i.e., if you spend time figuring out meanings by context or looking up words in a dictionary). Accomplishing more reading (“Yes, I just finished another novel in English!”) will improve your confidence in your English comprehension abilities.
  • General reading strategies can be found on this site: <>.
  • The important things to try is build your confidence by reading everyday and writing a note in English about what you read in a journal. This writing practice reinforces your English reading practice the expression of your ideas in written English. Over time, you will find your ability improving based on reviewing your notes.
  • Don’t be frustrated by the difficulty some texts might present. It usually takes about 30 pages before you “learn” the author’s writing style. If you can make it through 30 pages, the book will generally become easier to read. Other texts might simply be difficult to anyone–ESL or native-English speaker alike.
  • Don’t be afraid to skim or skip parts of a text. When you hit a word that you do not know, underline it and keep reading. You might figure out its meaning by its context, or you can come back to the underlined words after finishing the section or chapter. Look up the word in the dictionary, and re-read the sentence or paragraph to capture its meaning.
  • While it does take extra time, it is extremely useful to re-read sections and chapters in order to gain a better understanding of the text. I do this regularly even though I hold a PhD.
  • Skim the section headings before reading a chapter (if it has these), because these headings provide clues to the topics covered in the chapter’s sections.
  • A trick for growing your vocabulary is to write down a list of words that you hear or read during the day that you do not know. At the end of the day–before you go to bed–look up those words, read the definition, and write down a sentence using that word. Putting the word in context will improve your brain’s remembrance of that word.
  • Instead of aiming for greater reading speed in the short term, you should focus on the quality of your reading. Consider this analogy from weight training: Before you begin lifting heavy weights, it is important to learn the proper form and technique of lifting. By spending time in the short term to improve your form and technique, you maximize the effectiveness of your workouts in the long term. Similarly, by spending time now to develop your English reading skills and effective reading comprehension, you will increase the effectiveness of your reading over the long term. Connected to this technique is the necessity for patience. Improvement will come through practice over time.
  • Make an appointment for a one-on-one consultation with Georgia Tech’s Language Support Center: <>. They have trained tutors who can give you advice on a number of topics important to ESL students. The Georgia Tech Language Institute has a number of online resources here, too.
  • Reading novels is a great way to build your reading skill. If you find a novel that thematically interests you (campus narratives, romance, science fiction, everyday life, etc.), you will be more engaged with your reading than if you read something that does not interest you as much. Building your reading ability through enjoyable novels will make reading less enjoyable things easier.
  • Participate in a book club. I found this one, the Midtown Book Club, which meets once a month to discuss a book at the Georgia Tech Bookstore/Barnes and Noble: <>. Book clubs generally pick interesting books to read. Members have one month to read the book. After everyone has read the book, they meet to discuss its story, meaning, and interpretations.
  • You can find many new books in the Georgia Tech Library on the first floor (see map above). There are other books in the stacks located upstairs.
  • Young adult novels (a literary genre in which the story usually involves young people and might be perceived as easier to read–though this is not always the case) are a great place to read entertaining and exciting stories as practice in English reading. Very popular examples include the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games series, and the Twilight series. Some of these can be found in the GT Library (see map above), or they can be easily purchased at the GT Bookstore/Barnes & Noble at Tech Square or
  • Here is a large list of Young Adult novels with reviews: <>.
  • Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer and promoter of open culture, shares his novels (some of which are Young Adult–Little Brother is one example) online for free: <>.
  • You can find many classic (and public domain novels on Project Gutenberg for free! Click here to find the most recently downloaded books from Project Gutenberg.
  • For more technical kinds of reading, you likely will have to do research in your field. This will involve reading journal article abstracts, or short summaries of the research presented in the article. Noah Gray, senior editor of the science journal Nature, gives advice about how to break down the abstract into its component parts for easier understanding: <>.
  • Good luck with developing your mastery of the English language!

Thanks to Y (my wife) for helping me think about some of the strategies presented above. Thanks to my student for making good use of my office hours and for presenting me with a question that led to new pedagogical thinking.

My ENGL 1101 Syllabus for “Writing the Brain: Composition and Neuroscience”

My English composition students at Georgia Tech are now well into their second major project, so I figured that I should get in gear and post my syllabus for my newly designed, WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) focused ENGL 1101 syllabus. The title of my class is “Writing the Brain: Composition and Neuroscience.” Unlike the previous iteration of this class at Kent State called “The Brain and Writing,” I overhauled the whole class to only use nonfictional readings and more strongly emphasize multimodality in assignments and discussion. So far, I am very pleased with the results as demonstrated by the great work and commitment of my students. If you would like to read my syllabus, you can download it as a PDF here: ellis-jason-fall2012-1101-syllabus.

Fellow Kent State English Department Bloggers

This semester, I led two workshops on Blogging in the Classroom and Blogging in the Profession.

Two of the workshop attendees, who also happen to be my friends at Kent State, forwarded me their blogs to share here:

Courtney Werner’s Land of Nod and Twitter @lilithladiosa2k

Lindsay B Steiner’s Twitter @lbsteiner

Courntey and Lindsay write about their work in rhetoric and composition among other things.

PS: This is my 1,200th post!

KSU English Colloquium, Sara Newman’s “Movement, Madness, and Medicine as Portrayed in The Insane Hospital Reports”

After spending the morning watching NHK about the probable meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and responding to student essays, I drove to school today for the Kent State English department’s scheduled colloquium with Professor Sara Newman. She presented her findings in a presentation titled, “Movement, Madness, and Medicine as Portrayed in The Insane Hospital Reports.”

Not content with the written accounts on patients contained in nameless case studies, Professor Newman performed word analysis on a randomly selected (albeit small) set of case studies from the University of Pittsburgh’s Library of Health Sciences. Specifically, she studied case studies from 1870-1882. In these, she discovered a high incidence of words that appeared in a number of interesting collocations and extreme collocations. However, she was more interested in the possibility of these words and collocations being passed on to the next generation of doctors, and if so, how that transmission took place. Thanks to the Mutter Museum’s archive of student lecture notes and the practices of student training (i.e., repetitious copying and imitation) led to the continuation of certain medical practices without self-awareness on the part of the practitioners. This figures into her larger body of research on medical pedagogy.

As is the case with colloquia, I also enjoyed the Q&A at the end, particularly the questions geared to the relationship between interpretive and rhetorical analysis.

AGES’ Second Annual Graduate Student Research Symposium

Christa Teston sent out a reminder about the Association of English Graduate Students’ second annual Graduate Student Research Symposium at Kent State University.  You should join us, because I’ll be there representing the English Literature folks with my “Time Enough for Twitter:   Postmodern Science Fiction and  Online Personas” essay from ICFA.  Last year, I presented my Transformers/Post-9/11 essay, which I presented at ICFA in 2008.  I detect a pattern forming.  Here are the details for the symposium:

Hi Everyone,

Please see the attached flyer and program for AGES’ second annual Graduate Research Symposium (sponsored in part by Graduate Student Senate). AGES is really excited to have five participants this year from three different programs! Come and show your support for your students/colleagues, enjoy a bite or two to eat, and engage in what promises to be a really interesting afternoon of scholarly collaboration! Please distribute this informationwidely!

Date: Thursday, April 23
Time: 12-1:30pm
Place: 209 Satterfield Hall



Stephen R. Donaldson at Kent State University

Stephen R. Donaldson, the well-known SF and fantasy author of the Thomas Covenant series, visited his alma mater today, Kent State University.  Before the glitz and glamour of professional writing, he was a graduate student at Kent State.  He earned his MA in English Literature here, and he began his PhD in which he was studying the works of Joseph Conrad.  Now, he’s an award winning author, and Kent State library curates his manuscripts and papers.  

This afternoon, Mr. Donaldson met with about 10 to 15 students and faculty in the NEOMFA office in Satterfield Hall.  I made a point of driving into campus today just for his visit, and I was very happy that I did after listening and taking part in the enjoyable conversation.

During the conversation, Mr. Donaldson talked about how he made a point of studying authors whose works he liked and respected in order to figure out how they did things rather than going into a creative writing program to hone his writing skills.  In particular, he commented on his studies of Joseph Conrad and Henry James.  When asked about The Mirror of Her Needs (1986), he mentioned some of his influences in the writing of that novel were Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which has a great respect and love for but not Arthurian legends in general, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions.  

When asked if any of his books might be made into movies, he didn’t think that would happen.  He said that he would get an ego boost if it did, but then feel let down when the film didn’t replicate his work honesty.  He went on to say that movie adaptations of books are reinventions or recreations of the works that they take as their object.  In his case, a director that makes one of his books into a movie would be creating something that was theirs, and that’s okay.  As an example, he talked about Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Essentially, Peter Jackson created something new that isn’t the same thing as Tolkien’s novels–that if you read the novels you will feel something different than what you feel when you see the movies.  Why is that so?  It has to do with the differences in media.  In books, you can get into the head of a character, which you cannot do in a movie.  On the other hand, movies are able to combine sound effects, special effects, visuals, cinematography, and music–all overlaid one another–to create something different than what you get in the linear word-by-word world of books.  It’s not to say that one is better than the other, but rather they have different strengths and weaknesses.

When asked about completing a book, he remarked that, “It’s a lonely place at the end of a book.”  I knew that there was a lot of housekeeping tasks including copyediting, proofreading, etc. that take place after the manuscript is finished, but Mr. Donaldson said that there was a real “so, what have you done for us lately” attitude by publishers to authors when I book is done–meaning, when’s your next book going to be ready?

I asked him what his thoughts were on the recent court case between a Harry Potter lexicon writer and J. K. Rowling and her publisher.  Mr. Donaldson said that he wouldn’t take the time to deal with something like that if it came up in regard to his own work, but he talked about why Rowling and her publisher got pissed off in the first place.  Had the lexicon author, Steve Vander Ark, approached Rowling’s publisher with the idea rather than skirting them and approaching another publisher then there would have been the possibility of his lexicon coming out.  As it was, there was a broach of professional courtesy and the attempt at circumvention of the rights of the author and publisher.  Also, the money issue, which is a non-issue for Rowling and her Scrooge McDuck swimming pool of money, but it would have been a more real issue for her publisher.  So, had Ark made the proposal to the publisher with a stipulation that the author could give final approval of the factuality of the lexicon entries then he would have been on much stronger ground than putting it out through another publisher, RDR Books.

His last thought before leaving for his next scheduled stop around campus was that, “storytelling is our number one survival skill.”  Stories take on many different aspects of our lives from the mundane to the more fantastic.  I think this is even more poignantly made clear in the documentary that I recently saw called Darkon, which is about live action roleplayers, or LARPers, in their game and “real” lives.  I agree with Mr. Donaldson’s idea, because it’s the stories that we tell that make meaning for and about our lives.  And, it’s for that reason that I feel that I’m drawn to the study of SF and the stories that we tell about the only literature that, as Mr. Donaldson pointed out, “presupposes the future.”

I didn’t have an opportunity before his alloted time was over to mention this, but his elucidation of the decline in book sales across the board reminded me of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with Mack Hassler.  I am definitely integrated in a technological circuit, but I turn back to books to find the stories that I’m interested in.  Furthermore, the stories about technology are in books–pulp–paper.  Mr. Donaldson didn’t have an answer about the future of narrative forms and media (who could?), but the fact is that it appears, particularly with Border’s recent announcement to decrease SF and Fantasy stock in its brick-and-mortar stores, the current SF/Fantasy boom-bust cycle is on the bust side of things.  I don’t know how much this has to do with changing reading habits, non-reading habits, online and gaming culture, or the economy’s continuing nosedive trend.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see, or if I’m feeling entrepenureal, perhaps I’ll take it in the next big direction.

Many thanks to Mr. Donaldson for taking the time to speak with us today, and thanks to the folks that made his visit possible.  We sorely need more author visits to Kent.