Progress

Generally, things are going well, here. Many of you know I interviewed for a full-time, tenure-track job at Merced College. I didn’t get the job, but it’s all good. I also had one of my summer classes cancelled due to low enrollment, but, I’m not too disappointed about that, as it will allow me to have eight weeks of free evenings (no night classes, once the 4-week session ends).

The 4-week session at Fresno City College is half over. My students are studying hard (I assume) for their mid-term on Monday. This term unlike the prior times I’ve taught World History at FCC, is made up, almost entirely, of Liberal Studies majors — those looking to eventually get their teaching credential (most of them from 4 year schools). I’m used to having a mix of history majors and liberal studies majors. The bulk of the class is made up of juniors and seniors. I was amazed by their lack of understanding about how and when to cite. Although most had a passing understanding of MLA, none had ever used Turabian or Chicago. They panicked when they read in the syllabus that any paper turned in with no citations or no Work Cited page would earn zero points, and they’ve been scrambling for the past two weeks to figure out the basics — when and how — of citation. In the past, I usually just deducted a few points for citations and many of my students were willing to forgo a few points rather than learn how to do it. I like it better, this way. Another thing that has most of them in a panic is my assessment procedures. I use bluebook exams for most of my tests. A significant majority of these students did not even know what a bluebook was, and had never taken an exam that was not either true/false, multiple-choice, or matching. The only way I can assess that they learn more than trivia is to have them write out their answers (definitions and essays), I would not have imagined that they (especially the juniors and seniors) had never been exposed to the type of assessment I took for granted as an undergraduate at Fresno State and UCLA (and even at FCC, when I took most of my lower division classes). You would think that education majors would be aware of more than “fill-in-the-bubble” type of assessment tools. I’ll know, shortly, how they rise to the challenge.

I have been enjoying the students as a group, however. They’re vocal (one result of already having a couple of years of undergraduate work under their belts) and seem to be taking the class seriously. They ask questions and participate freely in both large and small group discussions. I started with thirty-five students, and have only lost five or six, so they’re hanging in there, even though the pace is brutal. After two weeks, we’ve covered half of the material I usually present in 15-16 weeks.

In just two weeks, I’ll be starting up Intro to Sociocultural Anthropology and 20th Century US History, at UC Merced. Both of these are lower division classes. This will be the first time I teach the former, although I’ve taught the latter (in several forms) many times. In addition to the new discussion boards that I instituted with the roll out of my website, I will be testing an on-line quiz system known as Socrative for quizzes on each and every lecture throughout the term (socrative.com). These quizzes will be taken by the students in class, on-line, via their phone, tablet, chrome device, or laptop. First day of class, the students will need to download a small application to their phone to access the quizzes. Each quiz focuses on the main topics of the lecture and will be administered either immediately following the lecture or at the beginning of the next class session. Because I will see the results of the quizzes in real-time, I should know whether or not I successfully covered the key points in my lecture, and can follow up, immediately. I opted to use this phone application, rather than require clickers, because every student has a phone, tablet, or laptop from which he or she can participate (at no extra cost). This will be an interesting test to see how the system works, as well as a good assessment tool for me to insure I’m covering the material I think I’m covering.

Recently, the Graduate Division at UC Merced published a short article about my research (here’s a link). It sparked enough interest that the public information office and KVIE in Sacramento are going to do a short video about my research. A camera crew will follow me to Fairmead in July or August. They plan to do additional interviews with some of the locals, as well as record me “in the field.” That will be fun. I’ll provide a link to the video when it becomes available.

It’s been just over two weeks since the fall semester finally ended. During that time, I’ve just had evening classes, 4 nights each week. I started the summer with a trip to Southern California to visit friends and family and attend my nephew’s wedding. It was good to get away, and the past two weeks have been rather lazy — I’ve worked on class prep for the summer, but otherwise, I’ve watched Santo movies, old episodes of Dragonball Z and Batman: the Animated Series, and the Ricky Gervais show (I have to get my Karl on). The remainder of this weekend will be to continue to focus on R&R, and then I will return to writing, on Monday. I have two more weeks on just night classes, and then eight weeks of classes (in Merced) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), so I’ll still have four days each week to write.

Class prep for the fall looks pretty straight forward, as all the classes I’m currently scheduled to teach are ones that I’ve taught multiple times: California History, US History to 1877. and World History to 1500. Other than minor revisions (normal stuff), teaching should be fairly light, next term. if the Socrative experiment, this summer, works well, I’ll have to set up some quizzes, but that’s not a huge project (I already have paper quizzes for History 11 that will only take a small amount of work to convert). I do not plan to work as a Teaching Assistant, at UC Merced, in the fall. All told, between my MA and Ph.D. programs, I’ve done a total of six years as a TA and see very little educational benefit, for me, in continuing. The 9 – 11 hours each week I would spend driving back and forth to Merced to attend lecture and sections can be better spent in the field or writing. The major loss will be the health coverage provided by the university and the cost of fees, but I will pay those costs, myself, to regain the time lost by commuting. I have been making the round trip between Fresno and Merced as many as six times per week, for five years. I’m really tired of that particular stretch of Hwy 99. As I want to put all my energy in finishing the dissertation in the next 6-9 months, I need to focus as much energy as possible, and driving is not the best use of my time. Financially, it will be more difficult, but I really want to finish and move on to the next step of my career (or at least wear the cool hat at future commencements).

I think that pretty much brings everything up-to-date.

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