Aug 15

About that time I accidentally grew weeds on purpose

I hate doing things I’m not good at. I’m incapable of enjoying “the journey” because I think in terms of the reward for the end product. And any activity I’ve done to just to say I’ve done it has been awful. Like the half marathon that was literally the worst day of my life.

Even so, I have a tendency to take on new things without thinking about how much I will hate them.

green cherry tomatoes

This year I thought I’d take up gardening. I thought it would be relaxing. I thought I would really like spending time outside while tomatoes sprouted up out of nothing. And I have to say, the idea is still pretty attractive. Not in the self-sufficient farmer sort of way, but in the I really like homemade salsa sort of way.

So Chris and I planted a garden. We spent a Saturday cleaning up the backyard, clearing out fallen branches, picking up trash, filling the raised beds with dirt, and planting seeds. And when we were done, we were so incredibly sore, but we sat on the patio sipping grapefruit margaritas with friends, marveling at all we did that day.

And then we waited.

We knew it would take a long time. When you plant okra, spinach, beets, kale, carrots, watermelon, jalapeños, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green beans in late April, you have to wait for a long time for the seeds to become plants.

But May brought record amounts of rainfall–almost 20 inches in one month. In fact, a drought that was 5 years in the making was wiped out in less than 30 days. And so too were a lot of the seeds I planted. When it rains, it pours. And that meant that our yard flooded several times. Every time it flooded, new seeds were deposited in the raised beds, and I’m talking seeds from just out in the yard washed up into the garden, not the sort of seeds you want growing. I suppose I could’ve done something to prevent the good seeds from washing away and bad seeds washing in every time the rain fell in thick sheets, but we were more concerned with unclogging the French drain in the backyard so the driveway and garage wouldn’t flood.

(Side note: We figured out what was clogging the French drain. It was a drowned bunny. Rosie was the one that helped us on that one, because she ate part of said bunny while playing around the drain, and then puked up said bunny in the living room. Dog ownership is a real treat sometimes.)

By the end of June, we were finally getting some tomatoes. And we’ve had a few jalapeños too. The cucumbers are finally coming in, which is great because I thought all my Persian cucumber seeds had washed away. I’ve diligently watered the garden on days that it hasn’t rained, and it appears that my labors have paid off.

But, well, I need to admit something.

I’ve been diligently watering things that I shouldn’t have been watering. I’m a novice gardener, and I couldn’t remember what I planted where. So as things seemed to sprout up in rows, I just kept watering them, assuming that time would reveal to me the fruits (or vegetables) of my labors. And it has. Only it wasn’t so much time as it was Chris doing a reverse Google image search of pictures of our plants.

Here’s a look at some of the finer weeds I’ve grown this summer.


And here’s El Generalisimo.

El Generalisimo

He’s a big ‘un. He was taller than me, until Chris uprooted him last night, along with his little friends from above.

Is my garden a failure? Mostly. But, perhaps this can be an exercise in philosophy. Or if not philosophy, perhaps an exercise in a pretty weak parable. Maybe it means that while we’re busy making plans for the future of our gardens, we should pay more attention to what we’re cultivating. (That would also make great parenting advice, I guess, if I knew anything about children and the ownership thereof.)

Anyway, at least I have tomatoes, jalapeños, and cucumbers. Those are all totally edible.

Jul 15

What I learned in the Mobile Blogging and Scholarship class

When I began this class, I felt I had a pretty solid foundation in blogging. I have been using WordPress for the past 5 years, and other platforms like Blogger before that. But that’s not why I signed up for this class.

For me, I’ve been strugging with integrating my academic life with my blogging life. And while I had read the blogs of many of my former professors, I felt like a lot of them weren’t really integrating a lot of the potential a blog possesses with their academic career. For me, blogs will always be a way of displaying your personal brand. It is a way to market yourself to potential employers, students, and literary agents. It’s also a way to sort of prove your own relevance (even though the marketers will tell you that blogging is dead).

So, in taking this class, I’m happy to report that I’ve not only learned ways to utilize blogs in an academic context, but I think I’m also ready to integrate the marketing and branding aspects with the academic side. Of course, I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how well I do. But, when I begin work on my Ph.D. in the next couple of years, I fully intend to blog about my research, what I’m reading, and what I’m working on as I go through the program.

And, while I had the WordPress app on my personal iPad for years, I never really figured out the proper way to use it. I think through using it with this class that I now have a handle on it, and I feel very comfortable using the app and all it’s capabilities. I may even start using it for other blogs I write for.

Jul 15

Teaching cover letters

cover lettersThis upcoming semester, my colleagues and I have a plan to implement a new assignment that will require students to write a cover letter for an actual job posting, and turn it in with their resume. 

One of the goals of the Business Communication Department is to ensure that our students learn the necessary writing skills that will not only get them the job, but to help them excel throughout their career. We hope that this assignment gives students a taste of what life after college is like, while also testing the skills we teach in the class. This assignment will give students an opportunity to attempt a real life scenario in an environment with a safety net. And maybe this assignment will convince them to keep their textbook after the class is over since it has some great cover letter examples.

Jul 15

The very best spot on OU’s campus to read and write

When I was an undergrad, there was only one place you could find me on campus if I didn’t happen to be in class at the time, and that was on the Ralph Ellison bench outside of Carpenter Hall.

The bench faces a fountain that is made from rocks from all 77 counties in the state. Admittedly, they are primarily rose rocks, but there are definitely some fossils and other stones mixed in as well. Beyond the fountain, there is the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Garden and a plaque honoring her. Beyond the garden is a large open green space where students play frisbee or lay on blankets while cars on Boyd Street whizz by.

Carpenter Hall also happens to be where a lot of the music and dance majors take classes. So, on any given day, you can hear tap dancing, opera singing, piano playing, or pretty much any other form of performance you can think of. That, mixed with the gentle sounds of the fountain, has always been supremely relaxing for me. Couple that with the shade directly over the bench, and you have yoruself a little paradise right on campus.

But, admittedly, the thing that drew me to the bench was Ralph Ellison’s name on a plaque. I used to sit there as a student and write terribly “profound” things in a Moleskine that I would later regurgitate in either my fiction or poetry classes, only to have the instructor helpfully inform me that perhaps they weren’t quite so profound. But still, I like to think that was a spot where I could channel Ellison’s genius, even if I will never write something like Invisible Man.

Now, as an instructor at OU, I don’t do much Moleskine writing. It’s 2015 and I always have some electronic way of capturing ideas. But I do still enjoy the bench, and soaking up the shade, sounds, and Ellison energy when I get the chance.

Jul 15

Using D2L for testing in class

Teaching Business Writing hasn’t been just about the writing. Quizzes and tests are an important aspect of the class, not only to test the students’ comprehension of the reading, but to later gauge what areas of the material the students didn’t comprehend so that I can retool my approach for the next semester.

Because I teach a writing course, the grading can sometimes be overwhelming, and I would be lying if I said that I wanted to grade a final exam when I had final papers to grade. That is where Desire to Learn has really changed the way my class has been administered. 

Desire to Learn, or D2L, is the University of Oklahoma’s online learning management system. It allows students to discuss class material with their section and it allows instructors to post content and learning materials pertaining to the class. Additionally, D2L has an entire section devoted to online quizzes. And, while it may seem that this function is only suitable for online class instruction, it’s been a lifesaver in the classroom. 

Rather than pass out scantrons and paper copies of the test questions, I have put all the questions online in a D2L quiz bank. I leave the test inactive until the date of the exam. Then, when we all meet to take the test, I make the test available to the class. D2L has the ability to not only randomize the questions, but the answer choices as well. By only allowing the students to see one question at a time without letting them go back, I not only cut down on the possibility of cheating, but the tests are graded instantly.

Without this, I would be left to grade tests as well as papers as the final grade due date loomed overhead. Plus, the students get instant feedback about their test scores, which tends to put their minds at ease a bit when it comes to end-of-semester grade speculation and panic attacks. 

And, because D2L saves all the questions in the question library, I can easily port questions from section to section, semester to semester. This means that a large portion of the test is done before the semester even begins, which is great for preventing any pre-semester freak outs.

I would recommend using D2L in this manner in any class that has a multiple choice final exam. While D2L does have short answer question capabilities, those will still need to be graded by the instructor. For some, grading short answer questions via D2L may be quicker than grading paper copies, but ultimately that is up to the instructor’s grading style and preference.