Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Week One of the New Semester!

Holy crap, this first week of the semester has almost gotten away from me.  And let me just say that Dissertation Girl is going to have to do much better job at dedicating herself to "dissertating" if I plan on finishing the darn thing by the end of this semester!

So -- here is my thought of the day.  Do you know this Calvin and Hobbs piece?

At the end of my Dartmouth presentation, a comment was made that perhaps my category names need to be "verbed" -- as soon as I heard this suggestion, something in my gut said "Yes!"  This is exactly the approach that I need to take in order to make my categories more usable.

So, in the spirit of the "dissertating" that I mentioned above, I am going to change my coding categories to verbs to more accurately capture (I think) the writing movement that I am trying to "capture" in my analysis AND I am going to finish inputing the data from my day class (the yellow folder sitting on my desk).  Next up will be the blue folders and then .... I need to start coding and testing these new categories!  The plan is to be finished with all inputing of data (into these little tables that I made on Microsoft Word) by the end of this weekend!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Night Before Craziness Starts!

After a two day trip across a large part of this beautiful country, Jim and I (and Stella who was mostly snoozing in the backseat!) made it home to our little place here in downtown St Louis.  Tomorrow I need to be back at SWIC for meetings but I know my head isn't ready for the craziness of a new semester yet.  Instead, I am still lost in F testing and coding data, as well as segmenting and reading recently acquired essays from the Dartmouth library.  But tomorrow -- and all the days that follow it -- become the true test of what I learned at Dartmouth.  I will balance my teaching load with amazing dissertating!  Let the games begin!

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Researching is Revising"

So here it is:  the last day of the Dartmouth College Summer Seminar on Composition/ Rhetoric Research.  I feel like (in many ways) that I have grown so much in the last two weeks as a teacher (most importantly to me), a researcher, and a valid scholar (putting aside the "but I teach in a community college and so I feel like the unpopular kid at the composition party").  Besides the beautiful setting (I am seriously in love with the library here at Dartmouth), I will miss the camaraderie that I have gained (I only wish that I had been able to connect with the entire group more -- living off campus during our time here made this harder).  As a part-time grad student at SIUC (who isn't a GA), I feel like I don't have a cohort of other people to "hang out" with and talk about pedagogy and research and all that fun stuff.  The way my life usually goes is something like this:  teach-teach-teach-teach-teach, evaluate papers and papers and papers and papers and papers, meet in writing conferences and writing conferences and writing conferences, and then try to fit in a bit of dissertating for an hour or so in the evening once I get home (unless I am teaching night classes).  Yes, teaching 5 writing courses a semester (and sometimes 6 or 7) makes researching and writing a difficult task but in this group I found the strength to keep fighting against this constraint and to work at seeing research as an important part of my job (which it is).

I know that I have a lot of work to do (especially with a December focus on finishing up my dissertation).  The title of this blog post (said by the fabulous Amy during her presentation), by the way, echoes the revising that I know is necessary in order to figure out what it is that I actually want to say.  Some of this new revising work is also in finding the confidence that I think I lost when breast cancer came along.  Participating in this seminar was the first "test" of acknowledging that my confidence is not where I want it to be.  It doesn't help that I have gained a bunch of weight post cancer/hysterectomy (and that my body has scars I never had before) but I need to learn to be more comfortable with who I am as a researcher, writer, teacher, and person.  A lot of times, the current Dianna is a messed up emotional pit of low self confidence.  I need to actively change this.  I want to be the "teacher scholar" that compositionist Howard Tinberg evokes in his work.  And if I learned anything from my time here, it's that revising is always an option.  This doesn't just allude to my research -- I need to work on revising the way I see myself.

On a final note:  I don't know what I would have done if I had not experienced this Dartmouth Seminar.  I have so much hope that my research will now be reliable and relevant.

PS:  Here a picture or two of the whole gang!
(Do you spy any famous folk among us?)
(the hard working participants!)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Presentation: Done!

So, this morning I was given the amazing opportunity to share my research with a bunch of folks who were actually interested in the amazing world of rhetoric and composition!  Before I go too far along, though, I need to mention the amazing group of people I have been camping with for the last two weeks: Bill, Joey, Kelly, Cecile, Angie, Chris, Mark, Alanna, Lindsay, Liberty, Ann, Kim, Kerri, Amy L, Amy Z, Suzanne, Sarah, Liz, Hyoejin, and Melanie (I hope I didn't forget any of my fellow participants!).  We come from all sorts of different institutions but share one huge common trait:  incredible kindness!  And since most folks already have that PhD, I have also appreciated the encouraging stories about finishing mine.

The other huge shout out would be out "camp counselors":

Dr. Christiane Donahue (Dartmouth):  The biggest person here for the facilitation of this event.  She is an incerdibly kind person and has done tons of research on internationalism and comp studies.

Dr. Chuck Bazerman (U. of California Santa Barbara):  The other huge facilitator for this event.  He has written a ton of stuff in our field (too many to name so you will just have to Google him!).

Dr. Cheryl Geisler (Simon Fraser University):  We used her books Streams of Language as the basis of our coding activities last week.

Dr. Chris Anson (North Carolina State University):  He has written a ton of stuff and is a leader for NCTE (again, Google him if you need more info!).

Dr. Les Perelman (MIT):  Again, another biggie in the field but perhaps best known recently for the written essay and assessment debates going on with standardized testing.

Dr. Neal Lerner (Northeastern):  Most famous for The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring (2007).

Dr. Mya Poe (Penn State):  Most known for the recent Race and Writing Assessment (2012).  The very fact that she was in the audience made me super nervous.  But I am so excited that she will be giving me additional feedback later!

Dr. Cinthia Gannet (Fairfield University):  Most known for Gender and the Journal (1992).

Dr John Brereton (U. of Mass):  Has done a lot, including some books on composition's history!

Is this not the most amazing group of people?  (OK, I get that only rhet/ comp geeks would be excited by this but imagine being in a room with folks who represent some of the best in your field!)

I did my presentation this morning -- and though I was super nervous (mostly because of Dr. Poe's presence) -- I loved the Q&A afterwards -- Dr Gannet suggested the idea of "verbing" to help me better define my categories -- and by lunch this lead me to think about "re-seeing" my categories as an image (see below):
(at the moment, I can't get this pic to face the right way but I will work on this tomorrow!)

I am not sure if the picture shows this, but my actual course is the ship (the USS Rhetoric) and the "iceberg" is the whole subject of "race" as the theme for the class.  Each person on (or off) the ship represents one of my new "verbing category" such as the "fixing" stick person representing the Activist Writer stance that I originally designed.  Enough for today, though!  But I promise more tomorrow including some culminating notes of my time here at Dartmouth.  One more day of presentations tomorrow and then the drive to St Louis starts on Saturday morning.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Quick Post!

Just a quick post today -- I have spent most of the afternoon(1) eating a fabulous lunch with all my colleagues, (2) talking with the fabulous Sarah and (3) working on my presentation for tomorrow.  At this point, the presentation is pretty much done (click here if you would like to see the finished product!) and hopefully things will just fall in place tomorrow during my 15 minute presentation and my 15 minute Q&A.  I did a quick handout (outlining my category definitions in simple terms) but I just need to make sure that I bring my wit (and confidence?) with me in the morning.  Just in case you are interested in the fascinating topics that my colleagues are doing, click here for the link to the Dartmouth College web site event announcement!

This morning Dr Bazerman had us consider research ethics, a topic I wasn't that familiar with.  The Belmont Report in 1979 evolved out of the ethical problems concerning the Tuskegee syphilis experiments (Google this if you don't know about it) and the 1971 Strandford prisoner experiments.  The three basic concepts that we need to be aware of is respect, benefit, and justice.  So, in other words, we need to make sure that our research participants are seen as autonomous agents, that their well being is secured and advanced, and that any benefits we give or gain are shared.  This was a huge reminder to me to make sure that I keep the names of my students (in my study) protected (and that I line them all up with fake names).

Just one private consultation with Dr Donahue in a few minutes and then one more group meeting at 5 PM.  And then home to our cabin!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday August 7

I am noticing that the attitude of this blog is either up or down -- so welcome to an up day of sorts!  First thing, though, is a minor comment about the weather.  The last day or so has been much cooler in terms of humidity here.  Don't get me wrong -- I am not complaining since I am very much aware of what the temps are like back home in St Louis -- but the place we are staying at has no A/C so it's been a bit warm in the evenings.  Last night was perfect -- I am guessing it was in the low 60s?  And this afternoon has turned out to be a sunny and comfortable day.  Yeah!

OK, now what about that "to do" list that was about a mile long?!  Well, I am getting through it but just a bit on the slow side.  Right now, I have most of the afternoon "off" so I am hoping to get my presentation mostly together for Thursday morning.  I decided to do a Google Doc quasi-Power Point sort of a thing so here is the link (just keep in mind that this is a work in progress!):
I am hoping that by Thursday morning, I have something that looks a bit more together (still figuring out some of the logistics at this point).

I was also able to walk down the street after lunch today and buy a Dartmouth shirt!  Yeah for a little bit of shopping!  I told Jim that I would be home later tonight so I am going to stop at the King Arthur Flour Company on the way home (and bring Jim home some baked treats hopefully!).  So those two activities will be off my list!

At the moment, I am a bit sweaty because I just spent a good 45 minutes tracking down three books in the stacks over at the library (including a newer publication I hadn't seen, Teaching Race in the 21st Century, edited by Lisa Guerrero -- and once you see the price on Amazon, you will understand why I wanted to borrow a copy!).  The stacks are rather strange here (see above; this is just one section).  The books in the stacks live in a glass room -- a huge room that is enclosed to protect the books (climate controlled).  The older section is a bit freakier than the newer section.  Anyway, I was going up and down stairs trying to find the three books I was after -- but, goal accomplished!  (and I got in a free workout!).

I did not participate in the optional workshops (going on right now in fact) on SPSS or Dedoose.  Even though I think I would like either of these two statistical data programs (to help crunch numbers), I don't see myself using these for my dissertation and so .... I will have to wait and use these programs for my first post-dissertation project (of which I already have a few ideas!).  This morning's lecture by one of the pysch professors here (and Dean of First Year Students) -- Dr. John Pfister -- was fascinating!  Basically, he posed the question about whether stats would be important to our research and then gave us a quick lecture on the basics behind statistical calculations (i.e. independent and dependent variables, the F test, and the T-test among other concepts).  Though I am still a little foggy on some of these concepts, I appreciated his fabulous teaching persona.  I think I would love a full class from him!

So now it's back to working on my presentation.  I can't believe that we have only three days left before driving back to St Louis.  I like being a student -- I know it's going to be so much harder to work on my dissertation once classes start back up again (though I am sort of hoping that my overload class (currently with only one student) gets cancelled -- I think I took on too much for this new semester already!).

PS:  Chris Anson gave a great talk yesterday afternoon on anticipating that your eventual published research might get misappropriated (i.e. the James Dobson fiasco with Carol Gilligan and Kyle Pruett a few years back).  Anson advised us to be on the lookout for ideological bias and to critique suspect findings and methodologies.  It's so nice to hear discussions about research being published :>

Monday, August 6, 2012

Start of Week 2

I am feeling a bit overwhelmed today ... though Jim and I had a nice day off yesterday (with a quick trip to the coast), I  spent the evening going over my category definitions again and I started to enter portions of data into Microsoft Word tables (not the dreaded Excel!) so I can start testing my coding (again!).  But here is the problem -- the seminar is not slowing down!  On Thursday, I need to give a 15 minute presentation to the Dartmouth community on my research (the whole seminar wraps up on Friday before I head back to the start of a new semester next week!).  Eeek!

So here is what I need to get done soon:

  • Figure out how I want to present my methodology and methods (since this is the main "thing" I have been working on)
  • Decide exactly "how" I want to present this.  I was thinking about using Prezi (as opposed to boring ol' Power Point) but I am not sure I can successfully figure this tool out in the short time that I have (I actually haven't created a Prezi yet but I have seen several of these "sexy" takes on Power Point).
  • I know I would like to "wow" folks and perhaps do something "active" so people aren't just sitting there, staring at me!  I was thinking of copying off different sentences from student data and -- after introducing my racial consciousness categories -- seeing if the audience can guess how the sentence in hand should be coded.
  • Finish reading some new articles that I found about themed courses (including one on using a Pirate theme.  Seriously).
  • I have no internet where I am staying so I would have to do the bulk of the organization of the presentation here at Dartmouth (but perhaps this is an argument for using Power Point?  Or maybe I should use the presentation template on Google Docs?)
  • I'd like to go and get a Dartmouth shirt but I just haven't had much of a chance to walk down Main Street.
  • I'd also like to walk across the bridge to Norwich, Vermont, and see the King Arthur Flour Bakery that folks keep talking about!
  • I need to go to the library to look up a few resources that I found online (I just need a quick peek at one book in particular).
  • I am pretty limited to making sure I leave here by 5 PM at the latest -- maybe tomorrow I need to tell Jim not to expect me into later in the evening so I can stick around a bit longer.

In the meantime, we are getting these great discussions (today's highlight being on the methodology behind Academically Adrift led by Dr Bazerman).  Chris Anson talked with us this morning about research and our insitutions.  So great stuff all around, right?  I just wish I had some "free time" to work on the list above!  I feel like I can't fully concentrate on these other discussions because I am sitting here (like I am right now) multi-tasking while someone is leading a fabulous discussion.

Last night I had a dream about coding.  Perhaps that is official proof that I am working super hard!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday Blues

I only have time for a quick update today .... still working on my category definitions.  Just when I thought I was doing OK with them, I found -- as I was working with new data -- that my definitions don't quite work.  So, back to the drawing board ... drat!

In good news, though, I had a fabulous lunch with my new pals and I had a fun meeting with Les Perelman, our new expert guest here at rhet/ comp camp!

Tomorrow?  Jim and I are heading to the coast (and, hopefully, Maine!) for a day off (away from Dartmouth).  The fun will continue on Monday!

Friday, August 3, 2012

One More Day of Coding!

So let me tell you what happened last night!

Before I left campus to drive back to our cabin, I met with Dr Bazerman one more time to talk about my work yesterday in terms of defining the categories I want to use in breaking down (coding) the essays (that make up my data).  By the end of our conversation, I could feel the tears welling up ("Don't cry!  Don't cry!")  My categories weren't working.  There was something else more complicated going on behind the language of what the students were saying and my almost desperate attempts at making my categories fit just wasn't working.  I think I knew this "fact" before I was willing to open up about the possibility of starting all over:

The frustrating part was that I knew it wasn't working but I felt like I had so much invested in all of the work I had been doing for the last two days with Dr Giesler -- my God, it had to work!  So I decided to do something crazy before I left campus.  I made a Word Document with all the sentences that I am trying to code (about 24 paragraphs total) and I cut each one into a separate slip of paper.  When I got back to the cabin last night, I put them into new piles -- which words/ thoughts/ sentences went together? (this is something I have done with my own students so I tried to take my own advice!)

By the wee hours of the night, I had organized most of the strips into "piles" and ended up with a bunch of papers (where I transferred the paper strips) that looked something like this:

I then took these papers/ piles and created a completely new list of category definitions.  One category was similar to what I had yesterday but the others are new, based on how the sentences were "talking to me."  I managed to finally get some sleep, by the way, but I was up early to get back to campus so let's just say Dianna is in need of some serious sleep!

This morning we had to share some of our data (in Excel workbooks) and then give both the data segment and the definition to a second coder (in my case, the fabulous Mel!).  When I got it back from her, my percentage of agreement (between how I coded and how she coded) was 30%.  Not good!  But -- we had a great discussion on how she interpreted my definitions (e.g. two of my categories were basically asking for the same thing).  I need to make sure that (1) I am coding the way that I am asking others to code and (2) that I say exactly what I want to say in each of the category definitions.

I just had my last meeting with Dr Geisler before she leaves (our next guest-in-residence and noted composition leader, Les Perelman, is already here and will be starting tomorrow!).  She liked what I had done with all the paper (or maybe she thought I was crazy?) and she ended the conversation by telling me that I should stick with the one dimension (coding for racial consciousness) instead of going forward with two (I was going to add a dimension about coding for essay quality).  She said that this is a great discussion but would work as a great post-dissertation article.  I still need to have a long talk with the amazing Dr M about this but I like the idea of not having to add this complexity (though I think I might be able to address this issue without getting all nitty gritty with the coding and breaking every sentence down).

We have one more group meeting at 3 PM and then I am out of here.  I will be back in the morning for the optional Saturday workshop (some great stuff on rhetorical analysis!) but I need a break tonight.  Maybe I can convince Jim that we need to find a great place to eat!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Coding My Segments

Another "wow" moment happened late yesterday afternoon.  As you all know, I have been struggling with two "dimensions" in terms of what I want to code -- essay level qualities and racial consciousness qualities.  I have tweaked my big research question to ask something like, "What happens to student writing when the topic of the FYC is complicated -- like race?"  Well, here is yet another question that came up in discussions with my colleagues here -- a great question that I want to use!  "Are certain schemata in my racial consciousness dimension related to the quality of the student essay?"  I love this question and I honestly don't think that I would have been able to come up with this direction on my own.  This question came out as a result of talking with Dr Geiser and my fellow colleagues here (the discussions at this seminar, by the way, have been awesome!  Everyone's projects are great and makes me feel hopeful and optimistic about the direction of our field as a whole!)

Last night our homework was to break down some data (in my case, the first and fourth essays of 6 students) and get this into an Excel spreadsheet.  This morning, we talked about how to actually "code" the data itself: "Placing data into categories along a single dimension according to some decision making rules" (from my notes when Geisler was talking).  Basically, we needed to learn exactly "how" to make definitions that we can use to code the data we segmented last night (and these definitions will be in flux as we work our way through the data; the most important goal is to make sure that we are using reliable categories).

As you can see from above, our data needs to be broken down into a category, followed by a clear definition.  Next I need to think about cases and examples.  The goal here is to make sure that other folks can go through my data and make the same connections using my definitions.  I will end up having two broad "dimensions" (I think!) so I decided to start with the racial consciousness aspect.  Here is what I have as just a few examples of this morning's work:


Dimension 1:  Racial Consciousness in FYC Writers
Color Blind Writer:
Definition:  Code as “Color Blind Writer” any clause (sentence) which references being unattached from racial acknowledgement, prejudice or bias.

“Color Blind” may include instances where the speaker …
  • ·         refers to the idea of not seeing/ recognizing people in terms of racial identity, e.g. “I don’t see race.”
  • ·         mentions terminology such as “color blind” or “we are all human” when talking about her/his personal beliefs.

Emerging Thinker/ Writer:     
Definition:  Code as “Emerging Thinker/ Writer” any clause (sentence) in which the writer recognizes the complexity of racial issues and can offer no easy solutions.

“Emerging Thinker/ Writer” may include instances where the speaker …
  • ·         refers to the idea that race offers no easy solutions, e.g. “It’s important to choose our words carefully.”
  • ·         refers to race as a concept that is complicated and not easily talked about (or solved).
  • ·         refers to surprise, shock, or strong emotion in reaction to another person’s racial perception, e.g. “That was my first time seeing race.”

Of course, nothing here is written in stone (yet).  This morning I thought I had started with 8 racial consciousness categories and, as I work my way through these 6 students I am coding, I now am up to 10 (maybe 11).  I have an individual (and then a group) meeting with Dr Geisler later this afternoon and another individual conference with Dr Bazerman at 4:30.  

And don't get me started with my new arch enemy ... Excel.   Today's homework is to code all six groups of data, continue tweaking my definitions, and try to figure how in the hell to use Excel.  But ... at least I get to do these tasks in the middle of gorgeous weather here in Dartmouth in a beautiful library setting!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Coding, coding, coding ....

Starting today -- until Friday -- our guest speaker is Dr Cheryl Geisler who penned a hard-to-read-and-understand-book called Analyzing Streams of Language (love the title, though! And you are welcome to click on the link just in case you want your own copy!).  Basically, she talks about breaking down language until smaller components:  t-units, clauses, phrases, sentence, paragraph, etc.  The huge assumption behind coding verbal data is that what people say and write (or even fail to say or write) can tell us something about underlying phenomena.  This underlying phenomena can occur in multiple dimensions.  Geisler used the "tip of the iceberg"/ Titanic metaphor with us this morning -- my  goal as a researcher is to figure out what is "below" the language.  Can I "see" what is going on?  My huge confusion had to do with my data -- am I trying to code for how well the student essays reflect the goals of a "good" essay or am I trying to code for how the students saw themselves in terms of racial hierarchies?

After freaking out this morning about how to interpret this data (14 students, two sections of ENG 101, 5 essays each), I ran over to the local Subway (so far the cheapest eat in this expensive town) and bumped into Chuck Bazerman (one of the central facilitators and thinkers here at the seminar).  We ended up having this great discussion on a bench on the sidewalk about my actual intent/ research question (all the while, though, I was kicking myself that I didn't have anything to write notes on!).  I am not sure how to describe this sensation I experienced for just a moment or so but I had this intense moment of clarification where I could "see" the end of my project, sort of like one of those cinematic moments where a protagonist sees herself somewhere in the future.  Perhaps my call in this life is to be the compositionist guru of all things theme-related!

But I am getting a little head of myself!  Chuck asked me, as we sat on that bench, what it was that I wanted to discover with my research.  I explained the dilemma I outlined above and then Chuck asked me what would happen if those two questions "got married"?  What would their child look like?

Aha!  So now I have a revised research question:  What happens to student writing when the topic is something complicated and "touchy" like race?

The next struggle, then, is how do I go about coding?  I just finished my private meeting with Dr Geisler a few minutes ago and I walked away with one concrete "fact."  She suggested that I look at "claims" -- since I am coding an introductory paragraph from an early essay and then a later essay, can I detect how students are struggling with "claims"?  Are they self-attributing claims or shifting that attribution to others or not reflecting any attribution at all?  This would represent one category that I could code for.  In addition, I have made of list of some "movements" that I have noticed already in the two students I am focusing on -- confidence in word choice, sentence and punctuation length/ variety, and audience awareness.  My confusion now is what categories I should run with ... and Dr Geisler wants me to do this for 6 students by tomorrow.  And somehow master Excel in the process.  Eeek!