Site Update: Course Syllabi and Assignments Added Under Teaching Section

Over the weekend, I added new pages under the Teaching menu option for the courses that I have taught, am teaching, and will teach. Each course page includes descriptions, syllabi, and assignments arranged chronologically by school:

If any of these materials might be useful to your course and assignment design, please feel free to adopt or modify as needed.

While assembling these pages, I discovered that some assignments and supporting materials were missing. Of course, it is best pedagogical practice to reflect and archive these kinds of materials for reference, improvement, and growth.

Minireview: The Reconcilers Graphic Novel Volume 1

The Reconcilers Vol. 1.

The Reconcilers Vol. 1.

While Y and I were sitting for several hours in an airplane–on the ground, I had the pleasure of meeting the writer, actor, and director Erik Jensen. After I mentioned to him that my specific area of training is in Science Fiction, he gave me a graphic novel saying, “here’s some Science Fiction for you.” I was thankful for the gift and thankful for the time on the tarmac to read it!

The graphic novel that he gave me is volume one of The Reconcilers (2010) co-created by R. Emery Bright, Jens Pil Pilegaard, and Jensen. Volume one is written by Jensen and drawn by Shepherd Hendrix. Neal Adams created the cover art.

The narrative takes place in 2165 after the ascendency of religion-like mega-corporations and the gradual establishment of elaborate gladiatorial matches fought by “Reconcilers” to decide disputes between corporate entities. The story  follows Sokor Industries attempting an extra-legal takeover of Hansen Engineering’s claim to the motherlode of exotic, energy-rich “liberty ore.” Hexhammer, Hansen’s miner who discovered the the vein, leads their underdog team against Sokol’s seasoned fighters to keep what they had earned. However, Hexhammer’s past choices threaten his ability to overcome his final confrontation with Sokor’s best Reconciler, “Masakor.”

The megacorporations of Fredrik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, as does Weyland-Yutani of the Alien film series also, inform The Reconcilers.

The Reconcilers has a lot of interesting material for thinking through the convergence of corporate personhood, entertainment, religion, capital, and rule of law. I believe that it would be informative to research and engaging to students.

 

Atlanta Science Fiction Society Talk on Teaching SF at Georgia Tech, Tomorrow

Atlanta Science Fiction Society logo.

Atlanta Science Fiction Society logo.

If you’re in the area tomorrow, you can catch my talk on teaching science fiction at Georgia Tech at the Atlanta Science Fiction Society meeting at the Sandy Springs Fulton County Library (395 Mount Vernon Hwy NE, Sandy Springs, GA). The meeting begins at 2:30PM, and my talk should begin around 3:30PM. I will bring copies of this handout to the meeting. My talk with focus on the history of teaching SF at Tech, my historical approach to teaching SF, and my emphasis on using SF as a way to develop student literacies in writing, new media, and haptics.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Teaching College Writing, Quiz, What do people do when they write? June 16, 2008

This is the fifty-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.

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).

This third of four Recovered Writing posts from Teaching College Writing is my response to a quiz on an assigned reading on “What do people do when they write?” I can’t find the essay/handout that we were responding to, but I think that some of the thoughts that I put down regarding mechanics/surface vs. content/depth are interesting.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Brian Huot

Teaching College Writing

16 June 2008

“What do people do when they write?” Quiz

1)  What can you say about the kinds of responses from students in the two groups?  Are the first group of responses for each grade level different than the second group–what are the differences or similarities for each group in each grade level?

The responses from students in the first group of each grade level are typically about thought, expression, and explanation, and the second group responses of each grade level are about practices and methodology.  Linking these responses back to the class, the first groups are aligned with function, and the second groups are aligned with form.

In the third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade responses, the first group overwhelming uses the following key words and phrases:  think, open their minds, and share…thoughts.  Also, they write for a purpose such as to relax, avoid boredom, or to communicate with friends and relatives.  The second group’s responses focus on practical matters and the mechanics of writing.  For example, these students talk about holding the pencil, sitting down to write, making letters, moving the hand and pencil, and wasting ink and pencil lead.

Again, the responses of the first group of ninth graders are generally about expression.  They “tell about things,” “get stuff across,” and “express their thoughts.”  The responses from the second group are, like the second group of third to fifth graders, about the physicality of writing.  For example, they “just write stuff down,” “hold a pencil and move their hands,” and “put the point of the pencil to the paper and start making words and letters.”  There are exceptions in both groups that could be interpreted as belonging to the other group if the groups are divided based on function and form.

The college freshmen groups are also split along lines of function and form.  The first group is largely about conveying, explaining, translating thoughts into words, and revealing thoughts, ideas, and emotions.  The second group of college freshmen is more closely aligned to the first than the other two grade levels, because there are some responses about expression and communication.  However, the majority of the responses concern mechanics (e.g., “usage and grammar”) and writing methods (e.g., “First you pick your topic, then you make sure you have enough information.  Then you rewrite and check the spelling and copy it down” and “They express their overall views on a given topic and later draw conclusions in a patterned coherent fashion”).  Also, there’s a response that describes the act of writing.

 

2)  Do you see any similarities across grade levels for each of the groups?  Are there certain characteristics for either group one or two responses?  What are those characteristics?

In general, the responses of the first group of each grade level are about the function of writing–i.e., communication and the expression of ideas, and those of the second group of each grade level are about the form of writing–i.e., the act of writing and methods of writing.

 

3)  Considering your answers to the first two questions, what variable (consideration, category, quality) did the researchers use to separate the different groups of responses within each grade level?

Considering our readings of the past week, and the writing concept that “form follows function,” it seems that the responses are grouped based on writing ability.  The first group in each grade level has stronger writers, and the second group respondents are weaker writers.  The stronger writers understand the function of writing, because they’ve internalized that through their acquisition of writing.  The weaker writers respond by describing the literal action of writing or process of using the plug-and-chug method of writing an essay in high school.  They are thinking about the surface level of writing rather than what lies underneath as did the first group respondents.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Teaching College Writing, Annotated Bibliography of Teaching SF Resources, June 29, 2008

This is the fifty-third 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).

This second of four Recovered Writing posts from Teaching College Writing is a brief annotated bibliography of teaching science fiction resources. Professor Huot asked us to do research in our specific discipline and report back what we found. This kind of work has become an integral part of my professionalization as an educator (research+pedagogy) and reflective practitioner (how did this other person do that–how can I incorporate/modify/adapt their approach into mine–what worked/didn’t work and how can I make it better?).

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Brian Huot

Teaching College Writing

29 June 2008

Teaching Science Fiction Annotated Bibliography

Attebery, Brian. “Teaching Fantastic Literature.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 406-410.

Instead of focusing his course on Science Fiction, Attebery combines fantasy and SF into one course under the umbrella of the fantastic. Again, this is a literature, and not a composition course, but the important lesson to take away from his essay is that students with fantasy/SF backgrounds, which are not necessarily the same thing, as well as students without an inkling of experience with the fantastic all have something to bring to class discussion. Also, some fantastic literature carries more cultural or historic baggage than students may already be acquainted with, which may break down discussion, or require more lecturing or assigned reading in order to prepare students for engaging a particular text.

 

Bengels, Barbara. “The Pleasures and Perils of Teaching Science Fiction on the College Level.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 428-431.

Bengels builds on examples from Science Fiction and criticism, both on teaching SF, “to address the inherent and unique difficulties of teaching a body of literature that is changing even as we attempt to examine it…to convey the excitement and sense of wonder that continues to set science fiction apart from any other form of literature” (428). Most importantly, she suggests that, “There’s a special sense of community in the sf world that finds its way right into the classroom; new ideas must be bounced off one another, making for very exciting classroom discussions: new words, new worlds, new concepts all to be explored together” (430).

 

Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan. “The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 385-388.

Csicsery-Ronay begins his essay with this striking line: “Like being hanged, teaching introductory sf courses to undergraduates focuses the mind wonderfully” (385). He is addressing the teaching of Gunn’s SF genre course, but he provides a great framework for introducing students to SF through a handout titled, “WHAT MAKES SCIENCE FICTION SCIENCE FICTION?” (386). This handout, perhaps given after having students read an emblematic SF short story, would be a powerful tool for opening discussion about what constitutes SF and what our students think SF is. Furthermore, he responds to what is implicitly said in Bengels, Gunn, and others when he writes, “My sf texts must also introduce students to important philosophical, social, and literary ideas that they might not encounter anywhere else, given the state of contemporary higher education” (386). This significant accusation reflects the potential of SF to engage students in ideas and critical thought that they would not otherwise encounter.

 

Elkins, Charles and Darko Suvin. “Preliminary Reflections on Teaching Science Fiction Critically.” Science-Fiction Studies 6 (1979): 263-270.

There are some very practical and insightful contributions by Elkins and Suvin in this Marxist essay regarding the teaching of SF.          The authors propose that, “The main and the highest goal of SF teaching–as of all teaching–ought, in our opinion, to be a specific form of civic education” (267). SF is great for inculcating critical thinking, because SF often turns accepted systems upside-down. Introducing students to this and discussing what’s in the text and what the text leaves out should raise their ability to see beneath the surface of the text. Elkins and Suvin go on to suggest that, “Teaching SF…involves description and assessment, interpretation and evaluation; teaching SF is an act of literary criticism fused with the communication of that criticism” (268). In this passage, the authors are not literary saying that SF is literary criticism in the academic sense of an analysis of Shakespeare, but rather, SF is a critical literature that engages social issues. This is the power of SF that is useful for generating discussion in the introductory college writing classroom.

 

Evans, Arthur B. and R.D. Mullen. “North American College Courses in Science Fiction, Utopian Literature, and Fantasy.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 437-528.

Evans and Mullen compiled this list of SF, utopian, and fantasy courses complete with descriptions and book lists from colleges and universities all over the world. It also includes lists of works, authors, and films most often assigned.

 

Finch, Sheila. “Dispatches from the Trenches: Science Fiction in the Classroom.” Extrapolation 41:1 (Spring 2000): 28-35.

Finch writes that SF is a uniquely appropriate genre for stimulating student involvement and discussion, because it serves all the functions of other literature with, “the added distinction of being…a literature of ideas to think about in a peculiarly new way, what Albert Einstein called Gedankenexperimenten” (29). The thought experiment aspect of SF is indeed powerful for generating discussion, because it presents a new view to a (perhaps) mundane subject, and it begs the reader to critically evaluate the thought experiment on the surface narrative as well as what lies beneath. Like Bengels, Finch declares, “SF is a literature of ideas,” which can be employed as a useful tool in developing writing students skills at responding to things that they might not have considered before (31).

 

Gunn, James. “Teaching Science Fiction.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 377-384.

Gunn’s essay primarily concerns his own approaches to teaching SF as a genre course, and he makes the claim that of all of the SF courses available at various schools, “They seem to be as varied as the colleges and universities at which they are taught, and a number seem to address the question of what science fiction is and how to read it, that is, they are genre courses. But I would argue that there should be more” (377). In regard to his own various approaches to teaching SF, he identifies three course themes: 1) “the great books,” 2) “the ideas in science fiction,” and 3) “the historical approach.” He doesn’t address SF in the introductory writing classroom, but I believe his “ideas” theme is appropriate for generating discussion and leading into student essay topics without the course taking on a literature-laden mood.

 

Mullen, R.D. “Science Fiction in Academe.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 371-374.

This is a short history of the introduction of SF into the American college classroom. It includes early course descriptions and book lists.

 

Ontell, Val. “Imagine That! Science Fiction as a Learning Motivation.” Community & Junior College Libraries 12:1 (2003): 57-70.

This essay overflows with numerous examples of SF and fantasy stories, TV shows, and films, and how they may be used to engage our students’ attention and imagination. In addition to all of Ontell’s fabulous lists and contextualizations, she points out how the fantastic is an important learning tool: “Whether the students are in the elementary grades, middle school, high school, or higher, it is the function of teachers and librarians to provide the tools that enable them to question intelligently. Science Fiction provides many vehicles for inculcating those tools in a variety of subjects by stimulating the imagination and thus motivating students to learn” (57). In the writing classroom, building our students’ ability to “question intelligently” is essential to their success as readers and stronger writers.

 

Samuelson, David N. “Adventures in Paraliterature.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 389-392.

Samuelson provides a plethora of author and work successes in his classes. Also, he notes the usefulness of group presentations on particular works or authors to share with the class, and he lauds the use of a “cumulative journal” or portfolio in the classroom.

I’m a Recipient of this Year’s Class of 1940 Course Survey Teaching Effectiveness Award!

Recently, I was told that I was a recipient of this year’s Class of 1940 Course Survey Teaching Effectiveness Award from the Georgia Institute of Technology!

The selection criteria for the Class of 1940 Course Survey Teaching Effectiveness Award are: “During the Fall 2012 and/or Spring 2013 semesters, a CIOS [Course-Instructor Opinion Survey] response rate of at least 85%, and either a class size of at least 40 students with a CIOS score for the question which reads, “Overall, this instructor is an effective teacher” of at least 4.8; or a class size of at least 15 students and a CIOS score for the same question of at least 4.9; or a 5 (or greater) credit course with a size of at least 10 and a CIOS score for the same question of at least 4.9.”

I qualified in the middle category, because my classes are typically 25 students/each and 3 credit hours/each.

I am deeply honored to be recognized by my students and institution with this award, and its monetary award is certainly helpful and appreciated.

Georgia Tech’s teaching awards will be given publicly at the upcoming Celebrating Teaching Day on March 6, 2014. I’m looking forward to it!

Science Fiction, LMC 3214 at Georgia Tech, Summer 2013 Begins (Syllabus Attached)

BNiVMYdCYAARX6K.jpg-large

SF vs Sci-Fi Brainstorming.

Today, I began teaching my first Science Fiction class at Georgia Tech (LMC 3214 SS2). It is a short-session class, so my students and I will explore the history of SF in only five weeks on a grueling 4 days per week, 2 hours per day schedule.

During our first class today, we introduced ourselves, discussed the syllabus and schedule [available here: ellis-jason-syllabus-lmc3214-summer2013], and discussed the difference between SF and Sci-Fi.

Following a short break after reading the syllabus, I conducted an interactive exercise where I wrote “Science Fiction (SF)” on the left side of the chalkboard and “Sci-Fi” on the right side. I sketched out the differences between the two terms and how we might use them to identify different types of SF. Then, I handed the chalk to a student who I asked to go to the board and write a type of SF that she liked in the spot that she felt best represented it in the SF/Sci-Fi continuum. As a class, we would discuss these examples. The other students and I would help point out how we might view these examples in different ways along the SF/Sci-Fi axis. Each student would hand off the chalk to the next student. We completed two rounds of this before running out of time in class.

I think that I have an excellent group of students. Most are SF fans invested in the genre in one media form or another. Some students are there for pragmatic reasons. I believe that as the class unfolds all of my students will find interesting and significant connections to their thinking, life, and work.

Tomorrow, we begin discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Dean Griffin Day Luncheon for Thank a Teacher Recipients, and A Meditation on Teaching, Passion, and MOOCs

George C. Griffin, 1918

George C. Griffin, 1918

Today, the Georgia Tech Alumni Student Ambassadors and the Georgia Tech Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning hosted the Dean Griffin Day Luncheon to recognize recipients of “Thank a Teacher” notes. I was honored by a Thank a Teacher note from one of my students.

Associate Vice Provost for Learning Excellence Donna Llewellyn told us about the origins of the Thank a Teacher program and recited some of the notes that recipients had received.

Marilyn Somers, Director of Georgia Tech’s Living History Program, guided us through enjoyable multimedia-driven stories about Dean George C. Griffin. Her enthusiasm for Georgia Tech is only matched by her passion as a storyteller.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Colin Potts delivered a meditation on what exactly it is that makes a great teacher and how that relates to the modern development of online education in MOOCs (massive open online course). The two most provocative things that I took away from his talk include the question, “What makes a good teacher?,” and the observation, MOOCs are part of the evolution of education but not the end.

On my walk back to the Hall Building, I thought about Dr. Potts’ question: What makes a good teacher. Of course, I have given this idea a lot of thought before and after entering the profession, but it is a question that we as educators should continually return to in our work as reflective practitioners. The best quality that I have found in my teachers (and I mean those people who are educators in the broadest sense of the word) is passion. This includes a passion for the material being taught, a passion for student learning and success, a passion for engaging others, a passion for life-long learning, a passion for energetic discourse, a passion for understanding, a passion for a passion for giving back to a community, a passion for being a part of larger conversations beyond the classroom, and a passion for kindness. What’s intriguing about my experiences with some fantastic teachers during my life is that I do not believe that any of them perform, demonstrate, or conduct these same passions in the same way. There many different paths to these things, and its amazing to me how many different people tread very different paths yet have achieved for me the same positive and enriching outcomes.

This reminds me of something else that Dr. Potts warned about MOOCs–the impulse of some to promote a singular, superstar educator as the one way for a course to be delivered and taught. In a smaller way, I think back to my Calculus education at Georgia Tech. There were simply some professors who I could learn from–that is, their teaching style and methodology synced, jived, and meshed with my thinking and learning ability. The professors who I did learn Calculus best from might not have been the exemplars of the profession at Tech at that time, but they were, to me anyways, the best educators of Calculus (I should know, because I had some false starts early on in my educational career). We have to be very careful about the choices that we make as an institution and as a profession as we move further into offering MOOCs. These choices should extend beyond the calculus of student completion rates. We have to consider the effects MOOCs will have on pedagogy and educators. How will MOOCs, over time, influence education? How will MOOCs influence student success in areas not explicitly concerned with a course that teachers often provide and encourage (finding out how students are doing, having informal chats, making sure students are doing okay, etc.)? Will MOOCs push out some educators and educational styles in favor of others? Can the passions of educators be provided/conveyed and can the passions of students for learning, solving puzzles, and engaging discourses be fostered in a MOOC?

A final note: I am listening to Dr. Eric Rabkin’s lectures on tape for his Science Fiction: The Technological Imagination course from the University of Michigan. Certainly, he is passionate about science fiction, and it is, I believe, unavoidable for his passion to infect his audience. He knows the material, and he is obviously excited to convey this knowledge to his students (in the classroom and in the world–those of us listening to the lectures on tape). However, Dr. Rabkin cannot provide the same kinds of things as a teacher (educator, mentor, counselor, etc.) in a MOOC or lectures on tape that he can provide in a class of reasonable size (another issue). Don’t get me wrong–Dr. Rabkin is a fantastic person and I count him among my professional friends. However, there are limitations to what an educator can and cannot do in a MOOC or lectures on tape. For example, in his own highly popular MOOC, I imagine that he cannot read all of the comments or questions of every student (when I see Dr. Rabkin next, I will certainly ask him about how he compares his classroom and MOOC teaching). This is something possible when you have reasonable class enrollments and course loads (this leads into another area of concern about having too large of a class for a qualitative and composition oriented course–there is a point at which the teacher cannot provide the necessary and needed passion for all students. In which case, a too big of a class, too many classes, or a MOOC can become indistinguishable from the perspective of the educator). Of course, I can see that the objectives of the classroom learning environment compared to the MOOC/lectures on tape should be different. I am left wondering though if everyone who promotes MOOCs truly recognizes the different affordances of each without trying to make one into the other at the cost of each.

Teaching Portfolios and Reflection

It is essential to regularly reflect on teaching, and I do this after every class that I teach. When a course is over and I receive my student Student Surveys of Instruction, I begin another round of reflection. It is at this point, beyond the feedback that I get from students during the class that is usually favorable, that I receive the feedback that some students may be unsure about sharing. I am happy that my current college writing students are not so shy, but I am critiquing my college writing II class from Fall 2010 as a result of the no-holds barred comments that I received from students. This is a constructive process, because I want to make my classes as successful and engaging as possible for my future students. It is unfortunate that I only hear some of these complaints now, after the fact, but it is worthwhile that student voices can be included in the reflective process of their teachers.

Along with this process of reflection and reviewing student comments, I am also putting together the most thorough teaching portfolio that I have ever done. I have the beginnings of a teaching portfolio from past exercises and most recently from putting together a packet for the Midwestern Association of Graduate School’s Excellence in Teaching Award. In the packet that I am assembling now, I am thinking about and justifying certain elements of my portfolio. I am working through the rationalizations and results of particular choices that I have made as a composition instructor at Kent State. This is all very useful work for my development as a teacher, and it is giving me additional ideas about how to conclude my current college writing class and expand my future college writing classes.

Hasslin’ the Hasslers, Prospective Lit PhD Student, and Teaching Capgras Syndrome

Last night, Y and I walked down to Mack and Sue Hassler’s house for a visit. We have all been so busy–Y and I with dissertating and teaching, Sue with her music festival, and Mack with teaching and Faculty Senate–that we haven’t really spoken to one another since the beginning of the semester. Y and I enjoy our visits with the Hasslers, because we can engage in shoptalk as easily as anything not related to the academy.

Today, Dave and I met with a prospective Literature PhD student. We all went to the Ratskeller under the Kent State Student Center to talk about the program over coffee, tea, and a smoothie.

Since then, I have been in the Library working on my lesson plans for this week. My students are beginning the last phase of the semester during which time we will read Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances. Unlike Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker, the reader never learns definitively that Leo Liebenstein has Capgras Syndrome or not, but it is this uncertainly that drives home the point about neurological disorders. The person afflicted with a neurological deficit, illness, or damage has had his or her world shifted in a fundamental way, because it is with the brain that we make sense of the world. If its architecture or operation is impaired in some way, it is unlikely if not impossible for the person to fully grasp what has happened to him or herself. Of course, the person can be told and possibly convinced by someone else, but even this kind of explanation cannot change the fundamental feeling or understanding that the brain disallows due to its creation of our experience of the world. I am looking forward to the classroom discussions this week.