Dear students: please clearly name your assignment files

Just a tip for university students in this digital age: it’s always a good idea to name a file that you’re submitting as written work for a course with the following details:

  • your name;
  • the course number; and
  • the assignment name (or keyword).

For instance, instead of submitting an essay as a Word or PDF doc with the file name “Essay 1” try naming the file something like this: “McCutcheon-Essay1-ENGLXXX”.

There are two great reasons to clearly name your assignment files:

1. Doing so will endear you to your instructors — and improve your learning — because you will save them a significant bit of filing work, leaving more time for them to give you meaningful feedback. Put yourself in the instructor’s shoes: An instructor gets dozens, or, in some courses, even hundreds of written assignments from students. If they’re all files that are titled something like “Essay 1,” then the instructor has to open each one just to find out who submitted it. That time adds up, and it eats into the time they would rather spend giving you meaningful feedback, not doing filing and paperwork.

2. Doing so will also protect your claim to your own written work as your intellectual property. Sure, a file name can be easily changed. But no instructor would bother doing so — except maybe to indicate which student submitted it, what course it’s for, and what assignment it is. Putting your name, course number, and assignment keyword(s) in the file name establishes a virtual papertrail that identifies you as the author of a given piece of writing, and protects your investment and your interest, in case any assignments get lost in the inevitable shuffle. (Adding these details to file names also makes them much more easily searchable in computer drives and folders.)

I don’t know whether there are privacy policy implications of clearly naming files, but all universities have clear policies and rules for the secure storage, retention, and destruction of student records and information, which I believe should dispel the potential privacy concerns that might be raised in response to this suggestion. But on this, or on any other aspect of this “best practice” suggestion, I welcome your comments below.

Stephen Harper as Killer Robot

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is my new article in English Studies in Canada‘s just-published special issue on the automated body.

shaskillbot-screenshotWhile an article about Harper might seem like a political postmortem, the former prime minister’s popular caricature as a robot speaks to widespread fears about the implications of technology for democracy. These alarming implications have been analyzed recently in tech CEO Berit Anderson’s article “The rise of the weaponized AI propaganda machine.” Anderson’s article is a must-read for appreciating the extent to which digital technology now poses a real and present threat to democracy. Anderson’s article sort of picks up — and dives in — where mine leaves off, as a discussion of how that threat has been growing in Canada for some time now.

jffg3

Stencil by “myheadhurtsalot” (https://i.imgur.com/JFfG3.png). My thanks to this Redditor for their permission to reprint their image in my article.

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is currently available online via the Project Muse database, but ESC‘s decent open access policy means the article will be publicly available soon, in 6 months to a year (that’s soonish, for academia). But in the meantime, if you want a copy and can’t access Project Muse, leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail at academicalism[at]gmail[dot]com.

 

 

A reflection on teaching Indigenous literature in Germany

In UBC’s current Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education MOOC that I’m enrolled in, we’re prompted every week to reflect on how we as educators indigenize our pedagogy. Here’s one prompt that stood out for my thinking, and my response.

What are examples of successes or challenges you have experienced in implementing aspects of an Indigenous education framework or cultural competencies? In your classroom? Workplace (competency)? Curriculum?

I don’t know if I’d call this an unqualified success, but the question reminds me of one thing I did to implement one First Peoples Learning Principle, and meet a challenge in teaching Indigenous curriculum, when I taught Canadian Studies to German graduate students in the University of Bonn’s North American Studies program, in 2006. (I’ve posted that seminary syllabus at [this link on my blog][1].)

The challenge was, basically, the long German tradition of nativist and “noble savage” preconceptions and stereotypes about Indigenous peoples. One of my seminars I pointedly titled “Canadian and First Nations Drama” (to name both while recognizing the sovereignty of the latter). I tried to sequence the assigned play readings in order to immediately challenge the Indigenous stereotypes held in Germany. For our very first reading, I assigned a play by William S. Yellow Robe Jr called The Independence of Eddie Rose (along with most of the other plays in Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles’ excellent 2003 anthology of First Nations drama, Staging Coyote’s Dream). The play follows an Indigenous boy through harrowing encounters with domestic violence, poverty and crime, incarceration, and abuse, through to his escape from such traumas. When I asked for them to share their first reactions and impressions, I got just the response I wanted from the first comment a student made about that reading. The student said, hesitantly, “this play seems very…modern.” 

While teaching that play in Canada might require different tactics to tackle particularly Canadian stereotypes and prejudices, as well as the deficit discourse (all of which Wab Kinew critiques in [this great short video][2]), teaching it to German students provided a way to challenge particularly German preconceptions and misconceptions, like romanticized notions of the “noble savage” and related images rooted in the popular fiction of Karl May (see this [*Walrus* article on “German Indianism”][3]). In that context, the student’s surprise at encountering an indigenous play about poverty, colonial violence, and trauma under late modern capital suggested that my pedagogical hunch had been at least in the ballpark in terms of finding a way to implement the learning principle of prioritizing Indigenous knowledge and to teach Indigenous curriculum towards cultivating clearer understanding of and critical reflection on Indigenous story, performance, and theatre in contemporary North America.

I was unaware of the First Peoples Principles of Learning at that time. However, in designing and teaching that course, I did recognize not just the role but the primacy of Indigenous knowledge. I understood that teaching Indigenous drama meant first making students aware that Indigenous story and performance traditions both predate and are culturally different from capitalism’s cultural industries and institutions. I also tried, as much as possible, to let the assigned texts speak for themselves — to assign readings of Indigenous plays by Indigenous playwrights, and to moderate the students’ discussion and work on the readings with a light touch, to let them engage as directly as possible with the Indigenous texts themselves. As a colleague later explained in elaborating on that kind of “let the text speak for itself” approach — which might at first seem counter to the second First Peoples Principle (that learning is relational) — it is one possible way (though not necessarily either the only or the best way) for a non-Indigenous scholar to position their pedagogy as not appropriation but rather a kind of ally practice, a recognition and prioritization of — and a making of pedagogical space for — Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous art.

  [1]: https://academicalism.wordpress.com/syllabi/canadian-first-nations-drama/

  [2]: http://rabble.ca/rabbletv/program-guide/2013/01/best-net/wab-kinew-five-myths-about-indigenous-people-canada

  [3]: https://thewalrus.ca/2003-10-feature-2/

in sorrow with Canada, where #WeAllBelong

in solidarity with #SteFoyMosque;
in outrage at terrorism & the dogwhistle politics stoking hate;
in sorrow with Canada, where #WeAllBelong.

little mosque in the ice district

Rediscovering The Velvet Underground

Some Apple Music playlists seem bot-made, but its Velvet Underground Essentials is a proper journey, and a masterfully curated introduction for anyone who doesn’t already dig this seminal rock band. (The Velvets are the only hip band I can confidently say I introduced many highschool and undergrad friends to.)

In this playlist — which for some reason made for perfect holiday listening yesterday — the songs are perfectly sequenced (for instance, following “Oh sweet nuthin,” a deeper but critical cut, with “All tomorrow’s parties” is inspired); the versions are judiciously selected (for instance, here’s the proper take of “Sweet Jane,” with the bridge); and if there are some omissions (like “The Murder Mystery” or “Cool it down”) there are more essentials (“Here she comes now”), and even some delightful surprises (how have I never heard “Foggy notion” before?).

I’m sharing a pic of the playlist for those who don’t have Apple Music but can source the tracks otherwise and sequence them this way. For Apple Music users, here is the playlist link.

New MA course in literary studies: Gothic Transformations

My new Literary Studies course for Athabasca U’s MA program is now open for enrollment.

Illustration from 1897 edition of Marsh's The Beetle. (Public domain image via British Library.)

Illustration from 1897 edition of Marsh’s The Beetle. (Public domain image via British Library.)

The 19th-Century Novel: Gothic Transformations assigns readings in major English novels like Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818), Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860), and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897) and explores how British fiction in the nineteenth century both was influenced by and also adapted Gothic themes and elements, like supernatural horror and psychological suspense.

Gothic fictions and those that adapt the Gothic represent important cultural mediations of the social, political, and economic issues and transformations that characterize Britain during the rise of industrial capital and the global expansion of England’s empire: the transformation of literary production (e.g. serialization, copyright change, circulating library distribution); the advent of public education, industrialization and class conflict; imperial expansion; feminism (e.g. the “New Woman” discourse); and developments in science and technology (e.g. new recording media).

Leonard Cohen, operating in the night

“Montreal is still small enough to have one or two centres, one or two late night centres, and into this funnel is drawn everyone who happens to be up that night or at least a representation of the various groups operating in the night, and groups operating in the night always have a special kind of interest and a special kind of ritualistic atmosphere. 

“And into these places, these special places in the city, and Ben’s is one of them, is drawn this very urgent cross section of people who have somehow committed the first rebellious act that a man can perform: refusing to sleep. 

“That’s the real rebellion against life and the generative process. That’s the real human idea: I refuse to sleep. I’m going to protest the idea of sleep by turning night into day.

“I’m going to revel and drink and womanize all night and this way I show time, death, the natural process of destruction, decay and regeneration — I show it all with my mind and my will that I, man, triumph. And so they come to Ben’s.”

–Leonard Cohen, quoted in Ladies & Gentlemen…Mr Leonard Cohen (NFB, 1965)

[A thousand thanks to you, Mr Leonard Cohen, for showing us how the light gets in. And for being the light.]