More course planning with Dee Fink

 

I am back to planning a course using the Integrated Course Design model by Dee Fink, outlined in this document & set of worksheets. I worked with this model and the same course about a year ago, and blogged about it briefly here.

Now I am preparing for a presentation on using Fink’s ideas for developing course goals and assessments, as well as using David Wiley’s suggestion of practicing open pedagogy through using renewable assignments (which I discuss in this article). I’m presenting on this at the upcoming American Association of Philosophy Teachers’ conference, which is held every two years and is easily one of my favourite conferences–it’s filled with people who love teaching philosophy!

Here in this post, I’ll focus on drafting learning goals with Dee Fink’s Integrated Course Design. I’m also presenting on Wiley’s idea of “Renewable Assignments,” and I’ve already reflected on some ideas for those in a previous post.

I’ve been working on my Philosophy 102 course again, because even though I’ve taught it many times, I’m still not entirely happy with it. I feel like it could be more engaging for students, and since there really are few restrictions on what I can teach in that course (it’s an intro course focused on value theory…anything within that is fair game) then there’s a lot of freedom to consider how to make it more engaging.

Like last year, I’m using Workflowy to do the planning. Here’s a link to the part of my Workflowy list about this course that focuses on the learning objectives. While I find Workflowy excellent for planning in list format, it’s not so great for long-form reflecting, so I’m moving over here to my blog for that.

Draft Learning goals for PHIL 102

One of the things I love about Fink’s model for course design is the expanded kinds of learning goals he asks one to consider. He suggests setting goals in the following areas:

  • Foundational Knowledge: what key information or ideas, perspectives are important for students to learn?
  • Application: what kinds of thinking are needed, such as critical, creative, practical? What sorts of skills do they need to learn?
  • Integration: what connections should students make between parts of the course? Between what’s in the course and other courses? Or between the course and their own lives?
  • Human Dimension: what should students learn about themselves? About interacting with others in the future?
  • Caring: what changes would you like to see in what students care about? What changes like to see in their interests, values, feelings?
  • Learning How to Learn: What would you like students to learn about how to learn well in this course (and beyond)? About how to become self-directed learners, engage in inquiry and knowledge construction?

On my Workflowy list I went through each of these areas and answered the questions (see here for my answers), and then came up with a draft list of Learning Objectives for the course as a whole. Here they are in their current form, but if you go to the link in the last sentence, you can see any updates I make later.

  1. Explain the basic structure of a philosophical argument–premises and conclusion—and correctly outline an argument in a philosophical text
  2. Assess the strength of arguments in assigned texts, in oral or written work by other students, and their own arguments (oral or written)
  3. Read a complex philosophical text and produce notes that distinguish the main points of the arguments therein.
  4. Make a claim about a philosophical issue and defend it with sound reasoning, orally and in writing
  5. Participate in a respectful discussion with others on a philosophical question: clarify positions and arguments from themselves or others, criticize flawed arguments, present their own arguments, and do all this in manner that respects the other people in the discussion
  6. Based on what we’ve studied in the class, give one (of many!) possible answers to the questions: What is philosophical activity and where do we see it in the world outside this course? How do you engage in philosophical activity beyond this course?

What’s missing

Now, one of the great things about Workflowy is that I can go through and tag items in my list so as to just view them on a page and clear everything else out. I found a number of things in the 6 areas of learning goals (Foundational Knowledge, Caring, Learning how to Learn, etc.) that were not reflected in my draft set of learning objectives. I tagged them with #attn (for attention) and was able to just focus on them. Here is what I don’t have in my learning objectives or ideas for course activities yet:

  • Human dimension: what should students learn about themselves? about interacting with others in the future?
    • It would be good if they learned the degree to which they tend to rely on unexamined beliefs and values in their thoughts about the questions we’re discussing, and why it might be good to examine those #attn
    • Learn the value of respectful, philosophical (or other) dialogue with peers–how can we engage in dialogue that respects everyone and yet moves forward rather than sitting with everyone’s differing opinions and not going anywhere out of fear of offending anyone? #attn
    • At the same time, don’t want them to just rely on relativism–your view is okay and so is mine, there isn’t an answer. Need to find a way to both recognize that you might be wrong, and yet hold steady to what you have good reason to believe in b/c of evidence, good arguments behind it, etc. Still open to questioning and challenge from others. #attn
  • Caring: what changes would you like to see in what students care about? What changes like to see in their interests, values, feelings?
    This is a hard one–how can one work to change what people care about? #attn

    • I would like them to care about careful, philosophical inquiry, argument and dialogue, about how such activity can be helpful in addressing disagreements, if done well #attn
    • Care about whether their own views and values have been examined, whether they can provide adequate arguments for them, and what to do if they think they can’t #attn
    • Care about whether their own arguments about the content of the course are sound #attn
    • Care about treating with respect those whose views differ from theirs, but not thinking that this must mean we have to be relativists, that there are no objective truths about value #attn
    • Care about working together with others to solve problems/try to answer complex questions #attn
  • Learning how to learn: what would you like students to learn about how to learn well in this course (and beyond)? how to become self-directed learners, engage in inquiry and knowledge construction?
    • learn the value of working together with peers to learn; that sometimes learning on one’s own works well, and sometimes it’s also valuable to learn with peers #attn
      how to get them to see this?

      • learning with and from peers is not a waste of time compared to getting info from the prof as expert
      • recognize that even when they feel they know more than others, “teaching” others is a very useful way to better understand something; we learn by helping others to learn, not just by getting information from them
    • learn what to do if something isn’t making sense; what options do they have for getting help? How can they avoid just being confused and not doing much to solve the problem? #attn
    • understand that philosophical texts may require more than one read to understand them well, and have the patience to do work hard to understand something that is challenging. Of course, time pressure is also an issue, so want to make sure not overwhelming them. #attn
      how to help them see this?

Okay, so how?

Here is where I start reflecting on the things I’ve marked “attn,” above. It’s interesting to me that the ones I’m having the most difficulty with are the ones I hadn’t really thought of much before reading Fink’s work–goals about caring, the human dimension, and learning how to learn. My course goals were more content-focused before that.

Caring goals

I’m going to start with the hardest one, in my view. How do I get them to care about certain things, if they don’t already? I feel the need to tread carefully here, as there are ethical concerns with trying to change people’s values when you’re in a position of significant power in comparison to them. I don’t think I should require students to care about certain things so much as show evidence of doing certain things (whether doing so has entered into their emotional or value structure deeply is their own concern).

So while I’d like them to care if their arguments are sound or if they are relying on assumptions that they can’t defend, I can’t require them to show that they care about such things–only that they do unpack their assumptions and that the arguments they produce are sound. And while I would like them to care about working together with others to solve problems and treating them with respect in discussions, all I can require is that they do so.

One thing I could do is to model my own enthusiasm in striving to unpack my own assumptions and produce sound arguments, model respect in discussions, and show how I think of myself as working with them to address the problems we are discussion (which I do think, and I can model that). I can also explain why I believe those things are important, as a way of explaining why I require them, and then these reasons may resonate with others as well.

So while I don’t think the Caring goals will show up in my learning objectives, they will operate in how I teach, and how I explain why I’m teaching that way.

Human Dimension

  • Learning about how they might rely on unexamined beliefs: could help them see this by asking them to reflect on their views about certain issues and come up with arguments to support them, examining those premises as deeply as possible.
    • I’ve done this in the past when I’ve asked students to pick a current issue in the news and write blog posts about views one might have about that and arguments they can come up with to support them. I have always said it doesn’t have to actually be their own views, but the views someone could have (because some students are wary of blogging in front of their classmates about their own views).
    • I have run into issues where students have gotten upset by what others have written (one student was upset by a blog post about how abortion is wrong, because, this student said (in anonymous feedback), other students in the class may have had abortions. So this is not without dangers. One option is to just have all of them submit these posts privately to me, which has always been an option and students sometimes take it, but other students don’t mind blogging publicly and that’s how this student got upset.
    • Still, isn’t there a teaching moment there, or something valuable in determining how to deal with the fact that there are different views in our class just as in the world, and we need to learn how to engage with others who disagree? Probably, but I’m not sure I’ve yet figured out how best to handle this. So I’m still undecided on whether to require all such writing to be private to me or to let them post just to the class, or publicly, as they choose (which has been my practice so far).
  • Learning the value of respectful dialogue with others, but not falling back into relativism: mostly I think I just hope this happens when I require them to talk in small groups about the issues we’re discussing. I and the TA’s try to monitor the tone of such discussions, but we can’t be in all groups at the same time. Here are some things I could do:
    • Have us come up with ground rules for discussion, collaboratively. I have tried something like this with large classes before. It worked pretty well; the large class was split up into groups of 25 for one hour a week, and I had a google doc for each of those small groups. Then I compiled all the results into one doc.
      • I think in future I need to not just collate what students said, but use those as a basis for a concise set of simple guidelines that we can easily refer to throughout the class. So I’ve started this process by gathering what students have said, but just need to finish it by making the resulting set of guidelines easier to read and refer to.
    • How to avoid falling into relativism? How to get them to recognize that while each view could be debated and needs to be justified by reasons that others could question, this doesn’t mean all views are equal?
      • I do talk about the difficulties that ethical relativism puts us into, so that’s one thing.
      • I could also try to require each group to come up with one thing they or most of them think is justifiable, rather than just letting them discuss and not requiring them to come to some kind of conclusion (which is what I sometimes do).
      • I have in the past used Google docs for this, again–I have had a section on a google doc for each small group in the Friday discussion meetings (about 5 or 6 per discussion meeting) where they have to record something concrete, some kind of answer or argument. Possibly this could help with the relativism issue?

Learning How to Learn

  • Learning the value of learning with peers: This is a tough one. Many of us think, and there is research to back this up (geez…I need to have that at my fingertips, but I don’t!), that learning with and from peers is valuable, but there are still a number of students who resist it. So many times I’ve heard from others that students complain about the professors not doing their jobs when they focus part of class time on peer learning, or that they have paid tuition and fees and what are they getting out of it? I haven’t heard that myself (yet?), but it’s an important problem. How to address it?
    • I suppose one way is to point to the research on the value of learning with peers. I need to write something up on my course websites about such research so that students can understand it quickly but also dig more deeply into the articles if they wish.
    • I might also stress that I ask them to engage in peer learning because I firmly believe that each one of us has valuable things to contribute to philosophical discussion. I don’t believe that philosophy can only be done by experts (thus I would like to see more philosophy in schools, in earlier grades than university, even when kids are just starting school). We experts do have significant roles to play, but since my focus in this intro course is less on content and more on skills development regarding reading, writing and discussing, peer learning makes sense: I can model those skills, but so can other students. I am there to help refine the skills that many people already possess to some degree. And I can answer questions about the philosophers we’re studying with my disciplinary expertise. But other than that, you don’t need to be a philosophical expert to engage in philosophical discussion and help each other do it better.
    • I wonder if I could give an example or two where I learned just as much, if not more, from peers than from the expert? I wonder, not because I can’t think of any, but because I am not sure it would resonate with them. My “peers” are already “experts” to some degree. But we are not always experts in what we’re trying to learn, so maybe this sort of personal story would help?
  • Learning how to recognize when you need help and how to get it: I’ve found that too often, when students are struggling, they don’t reach out for help…perhaps because they don’t know how, or are intimidated. And that can be when things like plagiarism happen. Here are some thoughts on what I might do.
    • How many first-year students don’t really understand “office hours”? I say I have them, I talk about rescheduling them when I can’t make them one week, etc., but do I really explain what office hours are for? Do I make sure to continually invite students to come when they would like help? Do I say that I’m available even if students just want to better understand something but aren’t really having significant difficulty? Do I emphasize that they can talk to TA’s if they prefer (sometimes students find TA’s more approachable)? I think I could do better in these areas.
    • Of course, being approachable in class is important–having a demeanour that shows you really care and want to talk to students. I try to do this all the time, and student evaluations do show that many think I am open and kind and approachable. Not sure I need to do anything more in that regard.
    • I could do more to emphasize the various support services for students on campus. Sometimes they don’t want to talk to their professors about things that are going on with them, and there are wonderful supports for them that are available but they may not know them. I could put a line or two in the syllabus, but also have a section on the course website devoted to that. And talk it up in class, particularly during midterms and towards finals time.
  • Learning how to read philosophy… carefully and more than once: introductory students often struggle with primary texts. Sometimes people don’t assign them for that reason. I still do, and I think there can be value in learning how to read challenging things. But I also need to better support students in doing so.
    • Assign less reading: one common issue that comes up in student evaluations is that students often find it difficult to keep up with the amount of reading I assign. I keep cutting, but perhaps I still have to do more cutting next time. If what I care about is less the content than the skills, then students need time to practice the skills. And if there is less, then I could in all seriousness and practicality ask them to do the readings more than once.
    • I already have in the draft learning objectives above (#3) that they will be asked to write notes on texts that distinguish one or more of the main arguments in the text. That should help with this concern as well–they’ll have to read carefully to do this, and probably more than once!. I won’t ask them to do it on every single reading (I have over 100 students…I couldn’t possibly grade all those!), but on at least a few. And they’ll be practicing this in small groups first.
      • I suppose I wouldn’t have to grade them all…I could ask them to do peer comments on each others’ rather than grading all of them. I could grade one or two and then have one or two just have peer comments after that. A possibility….
    • I wonder if I could create a more “fun” way to ask students to summarize the main points in a reading? So far I’ve just been thinking of them doing an outline of one of the main arguments in a text in standard from (premises and conclusion). That’s important to learn, and I’ll keep doing that, but are there other, more engaging ways to summarize an argument in a text? Just some brainstorming below…might not use any of these…
      • write a summary in a “tweet” form (140 characters)
      • do a drawing that summarizes an argument somehow; or a comic strip
      • write a short dialogue between two or more people that summarizes the argument in your own words–maybe one person asking questions or bringing up objections
      • write a newspaper headline that summarizes the argument; or a short newspaper column
      • write about the reading in the style of a Wikipedia “lead” section–that part of a Wikipedia article before the table of contents, that is supposed to give a summary of the main points so you could get a good sense of it even w/o reading the whole article
        • of course, they could just go to the Wikipedia page of that reading, but not all of them are very good, actually, so perhaps the students could improve them!
      • Do a slide presentation with a few slides that explains the reading (with images so more visually interesting; will have to be sure they understand open licenses!)
      • Will keep thinking for more…

 

Conclusion

This was a very useful reflective exercise for me, even though it’s probably too long for others to read! And one thing I learned is that without realizing it, I’m already doing a few things that are helping to support the learning goals I thought at first I wasn’t addressing!

 

Summer of tears and hope

This summer has been tough. Hell, this year has been tough. Okay, this lifetime. But it seems there have been more and more reports, each week, of atrocities around the world. And each time they hit me hard.

Somehow the attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day 2016 hit me the hardest. Maybe because it was a family event, a happy and fun event I can imagine my family going to anywhere in the world. Maybe it was the extreme violence of it. Maybe it was just because it came on the heels of so much else. But it’s really hard for me to take.

So I decided to draw a picture. Maybe art therapy would help? It helped a little.

IMG_2261

 

I was trying to express my crushing sadness without letting it crush me, while also reminding myself of hope and work to be done and beauty and love that still exist and that we must cultivate.

 

I also took up an invitation to participate in a collaborative poem through #clmooc, on this post by Terry Elliott.

He had taken a poem by someone else and focused on a few words.

picture of a poem over another poem with words turned into colours and a circle image

Image from here, original here

 

Now, this original creation (the words in colours) came from work many of us did in #clmooc. See Deanna Mascle’s post about it.

Then Terry invited others to play with his creation on a Hackpad, so I did. And the result kind of resonated with my feelings today and the image above, without me trying to have it do so. I kept focusing on the words “struggle” and “love,” and realized they can go together and help me think through my pain and outrage. Struggle and love.

So I, too, took words from the picture and then added them to Terry’s chosen words. I then left some of it for others to play with, later. The first screenshot below is Terry’s poem; the second is my additions (at the top).

 

 

I have to say, doing all this today has helped me feel a bit better. Especially the part where I am in a collaboration with others to make things, things that make you think, that invite others to join in. That’s really what I need right now. Maybe many of us do.

 


Post script later that day…

Daniel Bassill added to my drawing in a fantastic way that extends its meaning and impact. Please see here!

Having someone else resonate and connect and extend what I did is amazing. Thank you, Daniel!

 

Intro for #clmooc2016

I have sometimes participated off and on in #clmooc–Connected Learning MOOC. This is an open, online course that’s about connecting with others and making things. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to participate this year either, but I’ll do what I can!

The first “make cycle” is all about introducing ourselves and getting to know others. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves in one of numerous ways. I’ve recently been trying to practice more drawing because it’s the one thing in my life I feel like I just “can’t” do, and that poses a challenge–well, I won’t be able to unless I practice more! And I got inspired to do that at the Sketching in Practice Symposium at the end of June. So I decided to do a drawing.

I was inspired to do this particular one after reading a blog post by Helen DeWaard called “The True You: Iterations of a Bio.” She reflects on bio statements and how we craft different ones for different purposes. When I thought about this, I realized that most bios I’ve written are still just about my professional life. Maybe that’s because the contexts are somehow related to my professional life, but still. I feel like that aspect of my life takes over a lot of the rest of it, too often.

DeWaard also asked a question that struck right at the heart of this issue for me:

When it comes to social media, your bio is part of your presence. Do you reveal who you are or what you do? Is there a way to reveal both?

Mostly I reveal what I do. Or what I care about, but even then it’s related to what I do.

 

Thinking about these things, I came up with a series of drawings to act as a preliminary intro to me. To who I am and what I do. Or maybe just what I do but not all about work. I still haven’t decided how to reveal “who I am.” Or really, who that is.

You can see the images larger if you click on each one…

 

 

 

Open Case Studies sprint

 

I have been working with a number of people at UBC on open education projects, and we recently held a sprint for one of them: a set of open case studies on sustainability topics.

Background

Last year I worked with Daniel Munro and Jenna Omassi from the AMS (student government at UBC) on numerous open education projects, and Daniel had an idea: in addition to trying to raise awareness and adoption of open educational resources (OER) like open textbooks (and others), why don’t we try to create our own OER at UBC that others could use? Of course, many people here are creating OER (though more resources are just public and free than are open in the sense of having a license that allows reuse and remixing), but we wanted to start a larger project that numerous people could contribute to, including students.

Daniel was inspired by the ChemWiki project, which has now expanded to a bunch of other science wikis, and wondered if we could start creating something somewhat like that–where numerous people contribute to a resource that can be used in on-campus courses as well as beyond. We decided it might be good to create a set of case studies that both instructors and students could author and edit, and that could be used in courses (either with students adding to them, or doing assignments based on them, or writing entirely new case studies). And since we wanted the project to involve people from different disciplines, we thought sustainability and environmental ethics would be a good topic because those are approached from numerous disciplines.

We applied for and received a TLEF grant from UBC to get this project going. It paid for:

  • a 2-day sprint to start writing the case studies, plus a prep workshop beforehand to get people used to writing on the UBC Wiki (where the case studies are hosted)
    • all the support staff to help with these, plus the food! :)
  • graduate research assistants to help instructors design and implement assignments using the case studies for their courses, and to write up a toolkit for teaching with these case studies, so others can benefit from their wisdom!

We found several instructors who were interested in writing case studies and got everything going for the sprint, which happened May 19-20, 2016.

I have to say: this was mostly Daniel’s idea, and he did a great deal of the work for it, so congratulations to him!

The Sprint: May 19-20, 2016

The sprint was in this funny-looking room in the UBC Student Union Building--the Nest

The sprint was in this funny-looking room in the UBC Student Union Building–the Nest

We invited instructors who were able to come these two days to write case studies, as well as students who wanted to help as well. Many of the students worked as partners with the instructors: they were in charge of finding openly licensed images, diagrams, or other resources for the case studies and citing them correctly, as well as helping with formatting on the UBC Wiki. Thus, for part of the sprint we had instructors and students doing different things.

Facilitators for the sprint:

  • Lucas Wright and Cindy Underhill from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC
    • They were in charge of doing most of the facilitating of the activities during the two days, though Daniel Munro and I did some too
    • They are also really knowledgeable about the UBC Wiki so could help with any questions or issues with the platform

 

  • Erin Fields from the UBC Library
    • Erin worked mostly with the students on finding and citing openly licensed materials for the case studies, but she was also on hand to answer any questions about licensing and copyright for all of us
    • She is also expert at the UBC Wiki!

 

  • Daniel Munro from the AMS (student government) and me
    • We did some facilitation of activities, and then generally helped wherever needed. I did a little help with the answering Wiki questions, and I also spent a good deal of time finding images that might be used for some of the case studies

 

Lucas Wright on Day 1

Lucas Wright on Day 1

Day 1

Introduction

We introduced ourselves and talked about the various roles of the people in the room. We also outlined the sprint process and determined what we wanted to have completed by the end of the two days, and what kind of map we would need to get there (what we’d need to have completed at various checkpoints).

IMG_2025

Finalizing case study principles and template (instructors)

We had tried to get, before the sprint, a finalized list of principles for the case studies (what audience should one write for? what kinds of things should be emphasized in these case studies?) as well as a template (what sections should they have?). We started that process at the prep workshop, but didn’t finish it so we did so during the sprint itself.

First, we asked people to look at the draft list of guiding principles we had created together during the prep workshop–we posted these on large pieces of paper at the front of the room.

IMG_2027

Instructors then worked in groups to see if they still agreed with these and whether they wanted to add anything. What was added were the questions off to the right.

Daniel Munro putting up the template charts

Daniel Munro putting up the template charts

Then we worked with the draft template that Daniel and I had come up with to see if people thought the headings on the template for the various sections would work for their case studies. We posted those headings on pieces of paper on the wall and then asked each person to use sticky notes to brainstorm what they would put under those headings. Through this process we asked them to consider whether anything in the template needed to be changed or added.

Student workshop

While the instructors were working on the principles and template for the case studies, the students were in a workshop in another part of the room, learning about open licenses and how to find and cite openly licensed resources for the case studies. See this student sprint guide for information about what they learned about and what their role was during the two days of the sprint.

Starting writing

Working on the case studies, day 1

Working on the case studies, day 1

Instructors then began writing their case studies, and students worked with them in various ways. Some instructors wanted students to search for openly-licensed visuals or other content for the case study.

The students then started putting those resources on a “resources” page for each case study. Here are a few of the resources pages that students and instructors added materials to:

Students also helped with the wiki; for example, one instructor ran into issues with the UBC Wiki and lost some content, so he wrote his text in Word and then a student transferred that to the UBC Wiki later.

LunchIMG_2043

We gave everyone a full hour break for lunch so they could leave and get some fresh air, take a walk, whatever!

 

Checkpoint: giving feedback

After lunch we stopped to talk about what people had been able to write so far, and what they’d like help with from others. The instructors shared with the group what they had done and whether any questions had come up for them that they wanted to talk about, or whether they wanted any particular sort of feedback from others.

IMG_2032During this time the students were reading over the drafts and putting comments on them on the “talk” section of the wiki pages where the draft case studies were. The idea here was to see if the case studies are understandable from a student perspective. You can see the questions students were addressing on the “talk” pages, in the image to the left.

The discussion amongst the instructors took longer than we had thought it might (though it was a good discussion!), and though we had hoped to have more time for writing at the end of the day, we ended up just wrapping up after this discussion.

We finished by revisiting our roadmap for the sprint, seeing what we had done out of our plan, and saying what we would start the next day with.

IMG_2036

 

Day 2

IMG_2038

We started off day 2 by revisiting some of the feedback from our discussion, and from the talk pages, from day 1. Then a good deal of time was spent working on the drafts of the case studies, with instructors writing and students doing the same sorts of things as the previous day–e.g., helping with finding and citing resources, helping with formatting on the wiki.

Students working with Erin Fields (near blue bottle), Lucas Wright (standing), and Cindy Underhill (blonde hair)

Students working with Erin Fields (near blue bottle), Lucas Wright (standing), and Cindy Underhill (blonde hair)

Fewer people could attend on day 2, so the room was a little emptier, but there was still a great deal of work going on!

IMG_2042

IMG_2041We had some suggestions for day 2 that we put up on a sheet of paper, including reminding people of some feedback we had discussed the day before: it’s helpful to include a specific scenario or example in the case study, and to think about the student perspective when writing the case study.

Lunch

We had another full hour break for lunch…

What would an X do?

After lunch we asked instructors to take a look at two other draft case studies and approach them from their own disciplinary perspective. The questions we asked them to consider are:

  • How would an XX approach responding to the problem outlined in this case study, and what are some responses they might offer?
  • What elements of the case would they be most likely to focus on and why?
  • What kinds of questions would they ask?
  • What kinds of disciplinary approaches or methodology might they use?
  • In answering these questions, draw from existing literature from this discipline where possible, considering especially how similar problems have been approached.

We assigned each instructor to answer these questions for two other draft case studies. They did so on a dedicated section of each case study. For example, see the “What would an X do?” section on the Forestry case study.

Wrap up

I had to leave early on day 2, but I think the group wrapped up by talking about next steps. They asked instructors to finish their draft case studies on their own if they weren’t done already, and talked about how we were going to hire graduate teaching assistants to work with them over the summer to incorporate the case studies into their teaching.

 

Finished products?

I’m not sure how many of the draft case studies are finished yet, as of mid-June 2016, as I’m still checking in with instructors (summer break means not everyone is around!). Here, though, are links to the case studies that were at least partly completed during the sprint:

There are also a few other people who are interested in the project and writing a case study or two, but who couldn’t make it to the sprint. So more will be added later!

Making the case studies look nicer

Having them on the UBC Wiki is great for collaborative authoring, but finding them and displaying them on the wiki isn’t the best. So I’m going to apply for a grant from BCcampus to set up a WordPress site where we can showcase the case studies. They will still be editable from the wiki and then the edits will just automatically show up on the website through the magic of wiki embed (at least, that’s the plan). So stay tuned!

Documents

We have posted many of our process documents on the UBC Wiki, in case they are of use to anyone. They include:

 

 

Reflections on Academic Integrity

I’m part of a group of people who are having some conversations on academic integrity, especially in first-year courses, and recently we were asked to reflect on some questions and send our thoughts to the organizers of the discussions. I thought this was a very useful thing to do for making clear to myself some of my own thoughts on this issue, and that I might as well share them with others in case they find them useful, and to possibly engage in conversations about these things here on the blog!

Note: what follows is what I think as of early June 2016, and we’ll be having more discussions in the future so my thoughts might change. Here is at least some of what I think now (it was getting so long I just stopped writing after awhile because it’s too much to read!).

What is your personal understanding of why it is important for students to conduct their coursework with academic integrity?

One of the things we are doing in the university is adding to the body of human knowledge—we faculty as well as students. And to do that well, we need to both recognize what’s out there already and what needs to be added to it or changed. This is where it gets tricky; we could just do this without acknowledging the contributions of anyone, including ourselves; we could just say that information and arguments are important, not who made them. So it wouldn’t matter what came from you and what came from others that you’re building on. What would matter is that new knowledge is created and we can all benefit from that.

I do lean to that picture of knowledge creation to some extent, but there is the other aspect of the university too, which is that we are here to teach students noun_373429_ccand evaluate their work. That’s where the value of fairness comes in: for better or worse, we have to grade some students as having achieved learning objectives of our courses better than others, and those grades matter for various opportunities in the future (scholarships, entrance to further programs of study, sometimes jobs, etc.). And it is simply unfair and unjust to give people an advantage in terms of grades (and the other opportunities those can bring) when they haven’t put in the work that others have, when they have claimed to have come up with an idea or argument themselves but this is untrue.

So while in one sense one could say that it doesn’t matter where ideas and arguments and results come from so much as that they make sense and add to our body of knowledge, there is also the reality that in our society it matters who came up with those things and there are rewards that come with being the one who did that shouldn’t be given to those who didn’t do the work. Thus in part, for me, it’s an ethical issue, and one I am very, very concerned about (being as fair as possible in students’ grading is a major worry for me, something I spend a lot of time trying to ensure).

noun_38995_ccThere’s another important reason too, though. Asking students to read/watch/hear what others have had to say and what they’ve done, and then come up with something of their own to add to that or criticize or question it is an important part of thinking well. Knowing that you yourself have something useful to say and do in response to what others have said and done, that you don’t just need to learn what they’ve said but also can add to it, is valuable for our efforts to help students develop as careful, confident thinkers and contributors to their social world. I often tell students in Arts One: I’m less interested in what others have had to say about [whatever work we’re discussing] than what you have to say. And that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and look at what others have said, but it does mean that you have to take it in, reflect, consider it critically, question, and then come up with what makes sense to you after you’ve done all that. What you produce then is your work, even though of course influenced by what others have said (including your professors and fellow students). If students don’t do this, then they are missing out on a valuable aspect of education; they are just taking what others have said and listing it as their own without doing the important work of reflecting, questioning, coming up with arguments, etc.

 

What are the positive consequences of doing so that you want to promote, and what are the negative consequences of committing academic dishonesty that you want to prevent? 

I think possibly I’ve already answered these in the above question to some extent. The positive consequences include getting students experience in thinking for themselves, even while being influenced by others (as we all are). I hope this is something that learners take with them beyond university.

The negative consequences of committing academic dishonesty that I want to avoid include:

  • Giving students an unfair advantage when they claim to have done work that they haven’t done, while others have done the work and got worse grades
    • I think if one doesn’t talk about academic dishonesty, or doesn’t try to find it and do something about it but just hopes it’s not happening, this can send a message to students that one isn’t that concerned about avoiding injustice. I’m not saying that’s how people actually feel when they don’t pursue it (usually it’s a matter of not having enough time), but it can send that message whether one thinks that or not. Students are well aware that this sort of thing happens in classes, and I imagine that it could be disheartening to be working hard and thinking that others are getting advantages they don’t deserve and you aren’t doing as well but are at least trying.
    • I’m not suggesting we publicize who has committed academic dishonesty in our classes so students know we’re doing something! But rather, at least talking about it, discussing why academic integrity is important, and signalling that you care and will be working to try to avoid it in your classes, I think is not only pedagogically beneficial, it could also send a message to those students who are not committing academic dishonesty that you care and are trying to foster fairness in your classes.
  • Then there are the negative consequences for those who engage in academic dishonesty, such as grade penalties, hearings, possible suspensions, etc.
    • These are bad in themselves, but what’s also bad is when they fall on some kinds of students disproportionately to others. For example, some students may be able to pay for others to write essays for them, and this gives them an unfair advantage due to wealth because it’s harder to “catch” those kinds of academic dishonesty than the student who is stressed out and has too many commitments and going through a tough time emotionally and panics in the face of a deadline but doesn’t have the money to avoid getting “caught” by doing it the way a richer student might. What I’m saying is that there is something wrong even in the consequences when they fall disproportionately on some kinds of students. That is something we need to take into consideration somehow, though I don’t have the answers right now how. At least, we can recognize the mitigating factors for why it happens (such as stress, having to work long hours in addition to school, emotional or family issues) and take those into account when considering consequences.

Please give your reactions to the following documents on academic integrity

[one of the documents I can’t find on the web and I’m not sure it’s licensed to allow re-posting so I won’t include that here]

Bill Taylor, “Academic Integrity: A Letter to my Students”

I really like how he points out that academic integrity means everyone in the class has responsibilities they need to live up to: he needs to come to class prepared, for example. I like pointing to how I, too, have commitments to them like I’m asking them to have commitments to the class and each other, but I wonder if that’s best described in terms of academic integrity? Maybe. I’d have to come up with a definition of integrity that I could use to explain why all of these things fall under it.

Overall, I like his approach here a lot. It holds the professor and the student accountable for responsibilities in the learning enterprise, and encourages students to “call [him] on it” if they think he is not fulfilling his responsibilities. And to go “above” him if his response to their calling him on it is not satisfactory. That is helpful for when he later asks them to call each other on not living up to their responsibilities (and for when he says he will call them on it if he finds instances of academic dishonesty).

Just one question. He focuses in the beginning on how integrity is important in life generally, and how if we don’t mind not having it in the small things, we might just not have it in the larger things too. I’m not sure that will be persuasive to all students—isn’t it possible to do a little lying, a little cheating here and there without thinking that one is thereby going to do it “when it really matters”? Then there are the students who would just as easily cheat when it comes to “areas where money might be at stake, or the possibility of advancement, or our esteem in the eyes of others”; indeed, they might be most likely to cheat then! So while I agree with him on what he says on this first page overall, I wonder how much the point about a kind of slippery slope of integrity will speak to students.

Gerald Nelms, “Why Plagiarism Doesn’t Bother me at All: A Research-Based Overview of Plagiarism as Educational Opportunity.”

“Not all student plagiarism rises to the level of academic dishonesty.” Definitely true, though I find myself wondering if I agree when the author says that “Does it really matter if one paragraph in a 20-page article includes enough overlap of language to be considered plagiarism? Does that amount of plagiarism really rise to the level of academic dishonesty?” I think it does. It’s still a matter of passing off someone else’s views as your own, even if it’s just one paragraph. But to me, the important question is whether it was done with the intent of trying to pretend it’s one’s own views when one knows that one is doing that, vs. doing it because one doesn’t realize how to cite or paraphrase correctly. That’s what “dishonesty” vs a “mistake” or “ignorance” means to me.

“We might also ask ourselves whether an accusation of academic dishonesty is truly warranted if there is evidence that the student writer has made an effort to adapt—that is, to integrate—the source material to fit into her writing and not mindlessly adopt that material.” This one really got me thinking. There is a difference between trying to work someone else’s view into your own and add to it but doing it not very well and changing words so that it’s harder to get caught because it looks more like your own work. The difference is, again, between dishonesty and a mistake. How do we tell the difference between these two scenarios? Same as above, I guess: talking with the student seems our best option here.

These points go along with what the author says about unintentional plagiarism and patch writing as a step along the way in developing one’s writing skills. I definitely agree there, and wouldn’t want to penalize students for honestly making mistakes rather than trying to be dishonest. I also agree that some who intentionally plagiarize are doing so because of outside pressures beyond their control, or inability to self motivate. And when those things are the case, they should be taken into account in handing out consequences for intentional academic misconduct. The trick is, of course, trying to be as fair as possible when considering mitigating circumstances for students in various situations.

“In some “real-world” contexts, plagiarism is not only acceptable but is expected,” such as when one uses a report template for creating new reports, using the same language as in previous reports. Another example is when instructors use wording on their syllabi that they’ve seen on other syllabi and liked, without citation. It’s true that sometimes this sort of “plagiarism” is accepted, but then it’s not really dishonesty at that point. The general expectation may not be that we have to have original wording in such contexts and it’s not useful to have it (it’s often more efficient, as the article points out, to re-use wording, especially when that wording says something really well). It’s different in educational contexts with things like assignments because there the work often just is to re-think, to evaluate, to come up with one’s own arguments. The expectations, and the value of the enterprise of doing this kind of work, are different than when one is writing up a quarterly report. For the latter, what matters is that you got the data right and presented it clearly, not that you came up with your own arguments or interpretations.

 

I welcome any comments on the above reflections, as I’m still formulating my ideas…

Survey of BC faculty on OER & open textbooks

While I was one of three Faculty Fellows with the BCcampus Open Textbook program, we conducted a survey of faculty in BC and beyond, focusing on their use of and attitudes towards Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks. We got over 70 complete responses from faculty at various institutions, most of them from teaching institutions rather than research institutions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 4.47.23 PMWe published a white paper about the survey, which was released in January of 2016. You can read a brief summary of the report here.

Here is a link to the PDF of the full report.

 

 

We also presented the results of this survey at two conferences before the white paper was finished:

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit, May 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.

 

The 2015 Open Education Conference, November 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.

Open Education Week 2016 panel at UBC

I like to keep track of various things I’ve participated in, such as giving talks, facilitating workshops, etc., and this post is part of doing that.

On March 10, 2016, I was part of an amazing panel of people talking about “Engaging Students in Open Education,” as part of Open Education Week at UBC.

Here is the description and panelists:


Open education is a hot topic on post secondary campuses these days. This year UBC saw the #textbookbroke campaign led by the Alma Mater society – advocating for the use of open textbooks and open practices in the classroom to reduce costs for students; the adoption of open textbooks and resources in large multi section physics and math courses; and the continuing development of open teaching practices with Wikipedia projects and student produced, openly published content.

How do we engage students with open educational practices that go beyond making their work public to making it re-usable or available for others to build on? Why is open education important to students and to what extent can it enrich the teaching and learning environment?

Lighting Talks: Each speaker will present for 8 minutes and respond to questions for 5 minutes. This will be followed by a broad panel discussion about open practice.

Panelists:

Christina Hendricks: Senior Instructor Philosophy
Jenna Omassi: VP Academic & University Affairs
Arthur Gill Green Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Geography, BC Campus Faculty Fellow
Rajiv Jhangiani, Psychology Instructor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Leah Keshet, Mathematics Professor
Eric Cytrynbaum, Associate Professor Department of Mathematics
Stefan Reinsberg, Physics instructor


 

This even was live-streamed and recorded, and I’ve been waiting for the recording to show up on YouTube. But I decided to just post the link to where it is now, in case I forget:

Link to the recording on the Ike Barber Learning Commons website.

 

I love doing these sorts of things because I get to learn about what interesting things others are doing on our campus and beyond!

A series of workshops on open education

One of the challenges in our "Open for Learning" challenge bank

One of the challenges in our “Open for Learning” challenge bank

I have been one of a team of facilitators for a series of workshops on open education that we’ve run at UBC from December 2015 to May 2016 (we haven’t done the last one yet!). The idea behind having this series is that we might be able to go into more depth into various topics than we could cover in a single workshop on the broad topic of open education. It has worked well for that, though of course the people that come to the later ones are not always the same as those who came to the earlier ones, so we still always have to do some intro work at the beginning. Still, I think this model works pretty well.

One thing I really like about what we’re doing is that we have used the model of the “assignment bank” from #ds106 and the challenge bank from #udgagora to create challenges that participants can do during the workshop. We were able to do this because Alan Levine kindly put some code up on Github to set one of these banks up as a WordPress theme. Now, I didn’t use that code to set up our challenge site (I only wish I could do that), but Lucas Wright of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC did.

Here’s the challenge bank we’ve been using for our workshops–super cool!

We will keep this challenge bank and have people add their answers as we do this series again in the future (and we have one more workshop to go!).

Here is a PDF with the descriptions of our workshop series for 2015-2016: Open for Learning Workshop Final Descriptions

And I wanted to embed our slides, too. Here are the slides for the first three workshops (I’ll add the fourth when it’s done, if I remember).

 

Workshop 1: Open for Learning: Exploring the Possibilities for your Classroom

This was an introductory, overview workshop covering a number of things in open ed.

 

Workshop 2: Using and Remixing Open Resources in Your Courses

 

Workshop 3: Teaching in the Open

Mystery and identity in City of Glass

In Arts One this week we discussed City of Glass in two versions: the original novel by Paul Auster, and a graphic novel adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. We only had one seminar discussion on these two works rather than the usual two we have in a week, due to the Easter holiday. As a result, there is a lot that we didn’t get to talk about.

Paul Auster, 2008, by David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0

Paul Auster, 2008, by David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0

I puzzled over many things in these works, but the one I decided to write about here started off with me asking myself the question: this is a novel about a writer of mysteries, but is it a mystery novel itself? And if so, what is the mystery and how might we solve it?

We did talk a bit about this question, as it came up when a student brought up something similar in class. But I wanted to share some of the thoughts I came up with when thinking about it before class. And perhaps, while writing them down here, I’ll come to some further clarity. Or maybe not.

I didn’t read any secondary sources on these texts before writing this, and I expect there is a great deal that has been written about these very questions. I try to challenge myself to come up with my own interpretations before reading anyone else’s. So it could very well be that what I say below is proven wrong by someone else’s more expert reading. I’ve tried to provide textual evidence to support this as a possible reading though.

What’s mysterious?

We don’t have to take this as a mystery novel, of course, and for reasons we discussed in class it might be better thought of as a novel about mystery novels. But I still find some things mysterious in it. Of course, these are not wrapped up nicely in answers as in traditional mystery novels:

  • Why are there two Peter Stillman Sr.’s?
    • In lecture a possibility was discussed that this could be an embodiment of the possibility of the story of a writer going in different directions, and which direction is chosen is somewhat arbitrary.
  • What happens to Peter Stillman Jr. and Virginia Stillman? Why do they disappear?
  • What happens to Quinn? Where does he disappear to?
  • Who is the “author”/narrator of the novel?

Now, maybe some of these questions are not meant to have answers. But I did pursue some thoughts about the last two.

What happened to Quinn at the end?

I came to an answer for this pretty quickly; the graphic novel helped me see it more clearly. None of this is to say that this is the answer, but it’s one that I think makes sense.

When Quinn goes to the room in the Stillmans’ apartment and basically fades away while writing in the red notebook, the darkness starts taking over more and more from the light, and he has less and less time to write in his notebook (Auster 199). And the notebook is running out of pages. These two things are correlated:

The period of growing darkness coincided with the dwindling of pages in the red notebook. Little by little, Quinn was coming to the end (Auster 199).

Quinn was coming to the end of the red notebook, but also to the end of himself: after he discovers that someone else is living in his apartment, that he has no more home, no more job with the Stillmans, he realizes that he has “come to the end of himself” (Auster 191).

Quinn as a character on a page

This suggests a close connection between writing in the red notebook and the existence of Quinn himself. Of course, he existed as a character before buying the red notebook, but at the end, as the notebook runs out of pages, and Quinn slowly stops writing in it, the darkness starts taking him over–he fades away, one might think. His existence at this point and the existence of pages in the notebook seem to coincide. Which in turn suggests that he is little more than a character on a page; when the pages run out, he runs out.

At least, he runs out as the person he was. Just as he had become a different person while keeping watch over the Stillmans’ apartment (Auster 183), he might become a different person when the pages of the red notebook run out. He tries to remember his life “before the story began” (Auster 195), the books he had written as William Wilson, his former agent; but it was difficult and he soon “waved good-bye” to his former life (195). As he continues to write in the notebook, he stops writing about himself: “Quinn no longer had any interest in himself” (200).

He disappears, but perhaps he just disappears as Quinn.

Quinn as a character on a page in the graphic novel version

David Mazzuchelli in 2012," by Luigi Novi on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY 3.0. © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

David Mazzuchelli in 2012, by Luigi Novi on Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY 3.0. © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

The graphic novel could be said to illustrate the idea of Quinn disappearing as the pages in the notebook disappear. As one of our students talked about in class, the panels during the period that Quinn is in the room writing in the notebook start to become more chaotic. Whereas before they were regular, with even spacing between even if they were different sizes, at this point they start to have chaotic spacing until they completely fall apart towards the end. This student said that before that, there are indications that we are looking into the story and Quinn’s life as through a window, but now I can’t for the life of me remember what he was saying about this and how it changes when the panels fall apart (I hope he soon posts his argument on our blog site!).

One thing this does for me is make it feel less like we are looking in on a story that is happening as if in “real life” (at least, a sense of real life as one gets in fiction), and more like we are reading a story on a page. When the panels fall apart towards the end and become clearly like pieces of paper, it brings to mind for me the fact that these are pieces of paper we are reading, that this is a book, that the story isn’t, after all, real and Quinn is actually just a character on a page.

Of course, this really is what he is; a character on a page. But the book is foregrounding this, making us aware of it, pulling us out of the immersion in the story where we have a sense that he’s kind of real…in the story at least. I’m reminded of what we talked about with Laura Mulvey, how she discusses that film sometimes tries to keep us immersed, to make the camera disappear, as it were, or at least fade into a simulated reality so we don’t pay attention to what the camera is doing. And how film can bring the filmic medium and the camera to the forefront, such as with the 360 degree pans we watched in class from her film Riddles of the Sphinx.

In the graphic novel, in the two-page spread on 130-131, he himself depicted pictorially in a way that suggests this as well. On the bottom of 130 and on 131 he is shown diving or falling into water with a pen in his hand, the pen going first into the water and the rest of his body following. It’s as if he is writing his way into the water. But the water on the page turns into just blank white pages that fall away into the darkness on 131 and 132-133. He is disappearing into the pages; he is nothing more than the pages in the book.

Another interesting thing about this, though, is that as he himself as a character experiences darkness (the more he starts to disappear, to fade way as a character, as Quinn, the more he experiences darkness), the pages turn white. Again, this suggests he exists only on the page. As he disappears, the page becomes blank.

Who is the author/narrator?

So Quinn the character on a page disappears as he stops writing in the notebook. Who was he written by? Paul Auster the author, of course, who wrote the whole book. But what about the book within the book, as Auster the character in City of Glass talks about with Cervantes’ Don Quixote? Who is the author/narrator in Auster’s novel City of Glass, as he appears towards the end of the text (starting on p. 173)? Maybe there isn’t supposed to be a clear answer to this, and maybe I’m just making stuff up, but here are some thoughts.

The graphic novel could suggest one answer to this question, in part through different fonts. If you look closely, there are different fonts for different characters:

  • “author”/narrator: like typewriter (1, 89, 107, then at end)
  • Quinn and the voiceovers in the story (not the narrator as standing out as a narrator) have the same font
  • Peter Stillman Jr. on the phone (6, 11) and in person (starting p. 15) have different fonts than those for Quinn
  • Max Work has a strong font p. 7
  • Peter Stillman Sr has stylized capital letters (66-67, etc.) and his speech bubbles also have sharp corners
  • Daniel Auster’s speech bubbles have slightly different font (95)
  • On 102-103, the panels have a different font to show that these words are what Quinn is writing in his notebook

One thing the graphic novel suggests with font styles is that perhaps Quinn himself is the noun_159333_ccauthor/narrator who appears towards the end. The very last page starts off with the narrator speaking in the typewriter font, and then the last sentence is back in the notebook. I suppose there are a number of ways to interpret this, but one way could be to connect the typewriter narrator to the Quinn that was writing in his notebook. The same words that appear in Auster’s novel as coming from the same voice, in the graphic novel appear in two different fonts, one clearly connected to Quinn as the character who wrote in the red notebook.

Remember that “Quinn did all his writing with a pen, using a typewriter only for final drafts” (Auster 62). We might think that the notebook pages are his first drafts, and the typewriter is when he came later to write the story up in a final form.

So though Quinn as a character on a page disappears as the story winds down to a close, Quinn as an author starts to appear. The “author” as narrator starts to make conspicuous appearances as Quinn starts his vigil outside the Stillmans’ apartment (Auster 173), which is arguably when he starts to fall apart. Then, when Quinn the character disappears completely the “author” comes in and takes over.

The graphic novel suggests this reading in another way as well. The last three pages of the graphic novel are written in a different style, as we discussed in class: they don’t have clear panels, and the images seem more realistically drawn. That would connect to the fact that at this point in Auster’s novel, it is purely the “author”/narrator’s voice we are getting. But I noticed something else: the pictures on the first of those last three pages mirror pictures on p. 113, from when Quinn was doing his watch of the Stillmans’ apartment. At that point, Quinn leaves his seat and walks to try to get some more money, so it looks to me like the path away from the Stillmans’ apartment.

If this is the case, then why would the same path away from the Stillmans’ apartment be being followed by the author/narrator at the end? After all, in that part of the story the author/narrator is going towards the Stillmans’ apartment, if anything, since he and Auster go there to try to find clues about Quinn. Again, one possible reading of what the graphic novel is doing is that the author/narrator is coming out of the apartment because that is where he, Quinn the character, last was. Quinn the author/narrator emerges from the place where Quinn the character disappeared.

Authors putting themselves in books

Yes, I’ve gone pretty far in my flights of fancy here. But I think there’s a certain logic to it. And it fits with Paul Auster (the author) putting himself into his own book as a character–maybe Quinn (the author) is putting himself into his own book as a character. Maybe Quinn the author had to write himself away as the character who is in despair, who doesn’t really exist except as William Wilson or Max Work; maybe he had to get rid of that self in order to emerge as a writer again.

Since his wife and son died, and before the case with the Stillmans began, he wrote only as William Wilson. In those five years, Quinn had stopped being an author, and had already started to fade away:

Quinn was no longer that part of himself that could write books, and although in many ways Quinn continued to exist, he no longer existed for anyone but himself (Auster 9).

He had, of course, long ago stopped thinking of himself as real. If he lived now in the world at all, it was only at one remove, through the imaginary person of Max Work (Auster 16).

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 11.39.24 AMPerhaps, when he starts writing about the Stillman case in the red notebook, he starts to exist as an author again. Note that in the notebook where he starts writing about the Stillman case, and in my reading where he starts writing the story that later becomes this book with him as the author/narrator, he puts “Daniel Quinn” on the notebook: “It was the first time in more than five years that he had put his own name in one of his notebooks” (Auster 64). If the notebook is connected to this book itself, where this book is the final draft in typewriter form and the notebook is his earlier notes, then this, too, suggests to me that he is the author/narrator who appears later. He is able to become a writer again, in that case.

But he is no longer a writer as Daniel Quinn the character, though, which is a problem with my reading. The author/narrator refers to Quinn as having disappeared. And Quinn as character does. As noted above, he disappears as Quinn the character, but might emerge as someone else. Maybe Daniel Quinn the writer, or maybe an unnamed author/narrator. In either case, the author/narrator says at the end that Quinn “will be with me always.” Why? Because he is a part of the author/narrator, a former self, I’m arguing.

Don Quixote…what’s up with that?

So if this reading makes any sense, then it would be like Auster writing a novel in which he creates a character as himself, and Quinn doing the same. But I expect there’s a lot more to this idea of authors putting themselves in books than I’m getting, with the whole Don Quixote story within this novel. Don Quixote, in Auster’s (the character’s) article, doesn’t so much write his own story as orchestrate others writing his story with him as a character in it. I went down that rabbit hole, trying to connect Daniel Quinn to Don Quixote as we are invited to do with the initials being the same, but came up empty on that path.

 

Well, this has turned into a gigantic post (over 2500 words!). I think I’ve exhausted all the ideas I had on these topics, but would be happy to hear what others think!

 

Visual Language in Tezuka’s Buddha Vol. 1

In Arts One this week we read Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: Kapilavastu, which is the first volume in Tezuka’s Buddha series.

As usual for Arts One, there was so much to talk about and I wanted to raise some issues and questions that we didn’t get time to discuss. The problem is that I left my book in my office and am now trying to write a blog post over the weekend with just my notes. Not so great when you’re writing about manga, where the images matter a lot and I might not remember all aspects of them. But I’ll try.

Visual language

One thing I focused on this week while reading Buddha Vol. 1 is what Cohn & Ehly (2016) call “visual language”:

Just what is meant by ‘‘visual language’’? Humans use patterned ways of communicating in the visual-graphic form (i.e., drawing) just as they do in the verbal form (i.e., speaking). However, there is a terminological gap between these modalities with regards to the system employed in this process: we speak in a spoken language, but we draw in __?___. The answer to filling this gap is a ‘‘visual language” …. (19)

A visual language, as I understand it, is a way of communicating through images without words (because words themselves can be taken as images, as we discussed today in class–the Japanese characters seem to “fit” better in some of the images than the English letters/words because of their shape).

Cohn and Ehly (2016) go on to talk about something like words in visual language:

… graphic patterns are stored as schemas of form-meaning mappings in the long-term memory of their creators, similar to the way that verbal patterns are stored as schemas (words) in spoken languages of the world (Cohn, 2013b). To the extent that people might share the same cognitive patterns, we might say that they draw in a common visual language. (19)

So there can be image-meaning units like there are word-meaning units. Cohn and Ehly (2016) call these “visual morphemes,” and a list of some of the visual morphemes they say exist in manga, according to their research based on what Japanese researchers have said and their own study of many manga themselves, can be found here: Morphology of Japanese Visual Language.

Now, it’s worth noting that their research is not without its critics, of course (as any good research isn’t).  in this post Nicholas A. Theisen calls out Cohn for essentializing “Japanese” visual language as if we could focus all visual language in manga down to a single kind of essence. He also criticizes Cohn (and others) for making arguments based on a biased empirical sample:

In formalist Japanese manga studies discourse (e.g. Natsume, Takeuchi, or Yomota), the basic features of manga in toto are first identified in comics for men/boys and only thereafter are the stylistic conventions of many shōjo/josei manga seen as variants thereof.  An honest question: why isn’t it the other way around?  Why aren’t shōnen/seinen the variants?

So I’m not going to make any claims about a particularly “Japanese” visual language here.

What I’m interested in is just paying attention to the idea of visual language and how we can see certain images as regularly suggesting a certain meaning/range of meanings, just as words will be regularly connected with a (range of) meaning(s).

Visual language in Buddha: Kapilavastu

Where can we see in Tezuka’s text particular images/symbols that are regularly associated with a meaning that we can get just from the image itself? Of course, there are lots of things like drawings of faces, people, horses, ducks, etc., that are representative of certain entities in the “real world.” What I’m interested in are the more abstract images.

Motion lines

So, for example, movement is expressed in certain regularized ways in this book and in other comics too. Quite often, motion lines are used to show how an object is moving or has moved within a panel. Here’s a simple example:

Fast Aeroplane with Motion Lines, Derivation by Chris McKenna of a work by Carlos Latuff, Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0

Fast Aeroplane with Motion Lines, Derivation by Chris McKenna of a work by Carlos Latuff, Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0

We see these a lot in Buddha Vol. 1, and we also see a different kind of motion line in numerous places in the text as well. Instead of the lines streaking from an object, they take up more of the background of a panel but still suggest motion. This page has a good example of what I’m talking about–see the last image in the vertical series of motion lines (since the page doesn’t say one can reuse the images, I can’t re-post the image here).

One example (and here’s where I wish I had my book with me!) is when Chapra first gets on the horse that Tatta has possessed, and before he finds Budhai being attacked by crocodiles. One of those panels has a background with lots of horizontal lines and the horse is galloping (I’m pretty sure this is from p. 129, if my notes are correct). The lines aren’t going from the horse, but are behind the images in the panel. In one of the panels on p. 129 Chapra is on the horse who is rearing up (if I remember correctly) and the lines in the background are circular rather than horizontal like they are when the horse is galloping. I still get a sense of movement from the circular motion lines, even though clearly the horse and rider are not spinning around in circles. But I’m not sure what kind of motion I’m getting from it, or why the circles might make sense in that context.

What’s interesting to me is that for me, the motion lines like the ones coming from the aeroplane above just feel more natural, they feel more like they are indicating motion. The ones that are in the background of the frame feel less so. Scott McCloud, in Understanding Comics, argues that these latter kinds of motion lines are more common in manga than in American or European comics (112-113), and perhaps I am just more used to expressing motion with a different kind of “visual language” than the lines in the backgrounds of panels.

Other symbols
Many of the visual morphemes in Buddha Vol. 1 made sense to me, probably because they’re part of a common visual language that I understand.

For example, there are a number of places where things hit one another (swords on shields) or people hit one another, and there are stars that seem to come out of the impact point. That’s a common symbol I’ve seen a lot in cartoons and North American comics. Similarly, when Tatta is disoriented on p. 102 there are stars that look like they’re going around in a circle (is that right? again…working from notes w/o a book) and then in another panel there are those little funny circle things that look like he is disoriented, like those icons with four lines on top of this guy’s head:
noun_215625_cc
It’s clear to me that Tatta is dizzy, partly by the context of what is happening, of course, but also because of those icons that just shout drunkenness or disorientation to me.

In addition, the use of musical notes on pp. 50, 232 and 240 make sense to me. The ones on p. 50 are when Chapra is about to get his cloth back after Tatta stole it, and it seems to me they are signaling him being happy about it–he is reaching out to the cloth and excited to be getting it back. Later, I think on 232, the girls who come to fawn over Chapra have both hearts and musical notes above their heads–the hearts clearly signaling love or desire and the musical notes signaling, perhaps, something like joy or excitement. Chapra has music notes near him on p. 240, but there I think he might actually be singing what the words are saying.

Symbols I am not sure about

Then there are some I find more puzzling, one of which I think I get and the other I don’t.

First, there are a lot of speech bubbles with just ellipses in them in this text. Looking at the context of those, it seems that the characters are not saying anything, and somehow the ellipses mean more than just pure silence. They are somehow a meaningful silence. As I mentioned near the end of class today, they suggest a silence that calls attention to itself. So then I did a web search on ellipses in manga, and Wikipedia says this (okay, yes, maybe those who wrote it don’t know what they’re talking about, but it resonates with how the ellipses feel to me):

In manga, the ellipsis (i.e. three dots) is also used to express silence in a much more significant way than the mere absence of bubbles. This is specially seen when a character is supposed to say something, to indicate a stunned silence or when a sarcastic comment is expected by the reader. (Wikipedia, Speech Balloon)

The one that’s still puzzling me, though, is the symbol that looks a bit like a mushroom that has been cut from the ground and still has some stem on it. It’s found on p. 94 (I think in a panel with Budhai laughing), then on 202, 210 and 216 in the scene with the snake (in two of those it is near the snake’s head when the snake is dead or dying), and again on 377 and 379 (my notes don’t tell me what is going on on those pages). I just didn’t get what that might refer to. And it occurs often enough that I don’t think it’s just a fluke; it seems to be there on purpose, for some reason.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this, and/or some particular symbols you found interesting or puzzling…