The future: mine, not the capital F one.

Posted: February 19, 2008 in Brainstorm, Discount Peer Response, iteration

I was having some slow-internet problems, so I decided to write this post off line and see if I could get it posted. I don’t know why I tell you this, but, in the interest of full disclosure, there it is.

I find myself thinking a lot about the future lately. Partially, this is because my future is about to start. For a while, it was very uncertain. Would I proceed with my academic career and get in to a PhD program, or would I have to spend a year teaching and try again next year? This was a serious question for me, made moreso by the fact that, essentially, I had no safety school. Not one of the six schools I applied to was one that I thought for certain I could get in; my safety school was staying and teaching for a year.

Well, thankfully, whether or not there is going to be a position available at my safety school is not an issue. I have been accepted, and offered funding, at two major universities. In many ways, these are the two that have been at the top of my list all along. While I have yet to hear from the other four, I’m not entirely certain that it matters. The decision is really going to be between these two.

It’s a difficult decision. One school is arguably a better program, while the other is arguably a better location. More to the point, one school gives me the impression that I am ‘one of the batch’ of acceptances, while the other gives me the impression (and in fact, said in so many words) that I am their top candidate. While that does make me wonder (Am I the top candidate because of how hard I’ve worked, or is it a reflection on the caliber of the other candidates?), it also makes me feel inclined to go there. I like being the ‘golden boy’ (who doesn’t?) and it might be nice to go in and just have to prove myself, rather than going in and clawing my way up, as I have in the past.

So the decision is still in the air. For one thing, there’s the question of where the wife gets accepted. Then there’s whether or not we can afford for her to be in school. So there are still extenuating circumstances that may make the decision for me. But I have to say, if it’s between these two schools, there isn’t exactly a bad choice. It’s just a choice of which is better in the right ways.

In the meantime, I’m having trouble. I think part of it is the mid winter funk that I tend to get in to, but part of it is also, basically, senioritis. When I was in high school, I remember the day that I figured out that in order to graduate, I needed to get at least a 0 in gym, and that I was already accepted to the college of my choice (both of them, actually). I could barely bring myself to care about school (yet still managed a 4.0 for that year—the only one of my school career at that point). Similarly, I had some trouble in college when I was first accepted to graduate school. Of course, I had a thesis to write, and a lot of direction.

Which is, more or less, the problem. I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve got some ideas, but for the most part I feel like I’m floundering. It’s too soon to panic, as I’m told, but that sort of thing has never stopped me before—I’ve always been ahead of the curve, ahead of my time, whatever. I can panic now if I want to.

Here’s the situation. I wrote a paper last semester on discount peer response; the idea of peer response happening exclusively outside of class, following the discount user testing model of Jakob Nielsen, in an effort to make peer response actually work. In my humble (?) opinion, it’s a damn good paper. Could use some work, certainly, but pretty good nonetheless. Now, to turn that paper to a thesis, I need a second half. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing overarching theory from which DPR might spring, exploring iteration and iterative development as a whole and trying to make the point that it could be adapted, that it is adopted by writing studies, maybe as part of a larger argument to claim that writing studies and programming are the same thing.

Trouble is, where’s the argument? Saying that programming is writing is like saying that physics is mathematics. Or, if that analogy doesn’t work, it’s like saying that acting is theater. You say it, people look at you like someday someone is going to win an Oscar for playing someone with your type of mental handicap, and they say “yeah. So what?” And then what?

I mean, look at it. Iteration is everywhere. It’s in mathematics, invention, art, science, computer design, architecture, style, psychology, philosophy, logic; anywhere you care to name. It could be argued that Iteration is an essential model of human thinking. (It could, but probably in a dissertation—and not mine) Saying that iteration is in writing studies isn’t saying anything.

Saying that peer response doesn’t work, and that it doesn’t work because it’s too complicated, students can’t identify with it, have no reason to try, and it isn’t focused on their problems brings up a discussion. That (I hope) is interesting.

So maybe the thing to do is to go from the other direction. If I expanded what I have and talked more about why peer response doesn’t work, and about how DPR gets around those problems, maybe then I’d have something. Then I could just take the 18 pages I have and try to double it by going more in depth into every part of it.

But that feels almost like cheating. Then again, it’s possibly the best way to go. I can put more theory in that way, and maybe talk about some of the issues that I thought were too big to tackle at the time. I could go back to the reading I already did and work on supplementing rather than going in to a whole new field.

I could, perhaps, talk about why peer response doesn’t work. I’m starting to see that the reasons are different from my original thoughts. For one thing, it doesn’t work because students don’t know how. They’ve always been told to peer respond, but most of them have never been told how. For another, many of them don’t do it because they find it intimidating. What if they give the wrong advice? And then there’s the fact that they don’t know what to ask for. They may know what’s wrong, but how to ask for advice on it?

Maybe I’ll go back through my latest draft and see where I can explode things, and work on doing that, little by little. I feel like I need something that makes me feel like I’m being productive, and not just like I’m avoiding grading my students’ papers.

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