CARPE News #13 April 16, 2020

Hello, all:

I hope this finds you well, and that as our shift to off-campus instruction moves into its second month, you're finding new ways to energize yourself, whether in your classes or in your life away from class--which, of course, is a gentle reminder that it's important to attend to and even nourish your life away from class. Find those good books, good shows, good movies, good hobbies, good languages to learn. Spend some time out in the yard. If you need garden supplies (mulch, etc.), Lexington Farmer's Co-Op is now delivering. I don't consider myself much of a yard person (one need only drive past my house to see that), but at this point I appreciate the opportunity to work on something tangible, where, once I'm done, there are visible results.

This week's content covers a range of materials. Enjoy!


  1. Spring Term Course (Re)Design Workshop, Thursday, 23 April
  2. Resources regarding final exams in the age of COVID
  3. Links exploring ways to create the experiential in a virtual environment
  4. Spring Term library resources
  5. An excellent summary of effective but low-tech virtual pedagogies
  6. More materials on teaching in the age of trauma
  7. Banksy and my brief but eventful career as a standup in the Catskills

1) Spring Term Course (Re)Design Workshop, Thursday, 23 April

If you're teaching Spring Term, there will be a four-hour, comprehensive course (re)design workshop on Thursday, 23 April. The workshop will consist of four discrete but linked (yes, I know that's a contradiction) sessions, each lasting approximately one hour. The first session will go from 9:30-10:30 and will cover developing goals that are achievable in a virtual context. Though I know that the language of "goals" likely falls into that suspect category of administrative edu-speak, given the challenging task of balancing the "experiential" with the "virtual," I'd encourage any one who can to attend at least that portion of the workshop/conversation.

The rest of the workshop will consist of three additional conversations/brainstorming sessions related to topics still being determined based on polling of Spring Term faculty. I'll write later this week or early next week with details.

Zoom information for the workshop is here. The same Zoom details will apply to all four sessions.

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2) Resources regarding final exams in the age of COVID

I've posted this before, but as we approach final exams this valuable piece from the London Times Higher Education supplement is worth revisiting. It's thoughtful, thorough, and based on our highest ideals for our students and our work.

Among other things, the Times piece discusses creating complex, open-ended questions that really test students' abilities to create a comprehensive understanding of the course material. On that note, one question I've had tremendous success with, particularly in general education courses, is "What did you learn in this course that really matters?"

As a humanist who's spent years working across the divisions, I'm well aware that, at first glance, many of you might find this question low-bar, opinion-driven, and even meaningless. Please trust that it is not.

For one thing, these are the criteria necessary for a successful answer to this question:

  • The answer must not only address WHAT matters, but WHY.
  • The answer must take a unified, thesis-driven approach to the question.
  • The answer must draw upon at least three specific contents from the course, be they artistic works, social theories, algorithms, chemical reactions, historical documents, etc. etc. Students need to show that they've done the work of the course and understand it in a nuanced way.
  • The answer must employ the methodologies of the field. Students must show that they've mastered the skills taught in the course, be that literary exegesis, mathematical problem solving, or developing scientific hypotheses. Whatever it is we do in the field, it must be in this essay.

Finally, this is a meaningful question because it forces students to shift from passive receivers of information to curators of meaning: how, finally, do the dots connect in this course? And further, how do the materials in this course connect to the realities (some tangible, some abstract) beyond this course? Why does this material matter?

Given the historical moment in which we're living, this question of how what we do in the classroom relates to life outside of the academy demands an answer. Given how many of our students are struggling right now to make sense out of the moment, providing them a platform to process their learning in a way that also demonstrates their mastery of course content seems both valuable and gracious.

Further? Some of the answers will surprise you. Reading these responses will not be boring.

3) Links exploring ways to create the experiential in a virtual environment

I want to apologize ahead of time for bringing up Spring Term yet again, but given this year's shortened break, it seems wise to lay out some resources early on. If even just reading this stresses you out, please set aside until the end of next week.

These two resources are intended largely to spur your own thinking. Put another way, while it's possible they may relate directly to your course, more than likely you'll have to do some translation. If you find these ideas interesting and need a sounding board as you work through that process, please don't hesitate to reach out, either to me directly or to others in your field/department. Talking through these revisions is always helpful.

This first site covers fields in every discipline, and gives examples of how research can be crowdsourced online.

This second site states explicitly that it's for the humanities, but the ideas here--visualizing complex subjects, curation, question roulette, learning through teaching, etc.--are powerful learning tools in all fields. I would strongly encourage faculty to give the practices here some careful consideration, when they have the time.

4) Spring Term Library Resources

Just a reminder from Emily Cook that the library has access to RedShelf & VitalSource until May 25 (both are on the resource list created by Kaci Resau at These resources contain many academic e-textbooks-Pearson and APA are routing their temporarily free ebooks through both providers, just to give a few examples.

Faculty can create free accounts by going through the library's links and searching for desired titles. Or, they can contact a librarian for help searching. Students also go through the process of creating a free account via the provided links to "checkout" these e-textbooks. Emily Cook has created instructions for navigating these resources.

The library also have several other free e-book resources available, as well as their normal ebook holdings. If faculty need help finding e-texts, they can contact their departmental library liaison who will work with them to try to get the materials they need. Emily Cook is also happy to field any direct questions from faculty as well.

5) An excellent summary of effective but low-tech virtual pedagogies

Every crisis has its stars: Flower Darby, author of SLOW TEACHING ONLINE, is finally getting the attention she deserves. Her brief article, below, ranges from the macro--create a predictable schedule for your course--to the micro--how to make sure your students are doing the reading.

Darby's article will be particularly useful for faculty who still feel like they're banging their heads against the wall. Finally, no tech can help us recreate exactly the chemistry we have in a face-to-face setting. Darby's ideas, then, can help us shift to more productive ways of thinking.

6) More materials on teaching in the age of trauma

This piece by Kara Newhouse dovetails nicely with Darby's piece. Newhouse's four principles for responding to the emotional and affective dimensions of our current crisis are clear and easy to enact: Predictability, Flexibility, Connection, and Empowerment.

This last idea, empowerment, is particularly important, reminding us that agency is crucial to student learning in all circumstances, but especially now, when so much is out of their control.

7) Banksy and my brief but eventful career as a standup in the Catskills

Finally, to end on a light note: First, artist Banksy has shared some of his most recent work from his remote setting. It's worth a glance, even if, like me, you're not a fan of rodents.

Second, this week's top one-liners regarding our current crisis. Yes, they sound like something from a bad act in the Catskills, but these are desperate times, folks; we'll take what we can get!

  • I don't think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks we'd go from Standard Time to Twilight Zone.
  • This morning I saw a neighbour talking to her cat. It was obvious she thought her cat understood her. I came into the house, told my dog, and we had a good laugh.

Aaaaaaand, I'll understand completely if ITS pulls my e-mail privileges.

Take care, folks. Seriously.