All Posts Tagged With: "English"
Students connect through Potter clubs and classes
Two summers ago when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 arrived at the cinema in Ancaster, Ont., Stephanie Kesler took the day off work and lined up for 12 hours to make sure she got a good seat. Afterward, Kesler, now 23, says she felt “a little bit sad.” Growing up she had eagerly anticipated each of J.K. Rowling’s books and films. “That was my whole childhood.”
But last semester, the third-year English student at Western University in London, Ont., realized that the end of the series didn’t mean saying goodbye. In her children’s literature course, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was on the syllabus.
For her class assignment, Kesler presented to her peers on the symbolism of Rowling’s Dementors, dark creatures that suck the life out of people, and the Patronus Charm, the only thing that can fight them off. She likened the Dementors to depression and the Patronas to overcoming it through positive thinking.
Not far away at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., dozens of wizarding fans had a similar idea. Emma Morrison, a third-year Medieval Studies and Religion major, had started a chapter of The Harry Potter Alliance, a global network of campus and community clubs where Potter fans jointly work for social justice. The Laurier chapter’s first big project focused on Dementors and depression. After a social media campaign promoting awareness of mental health services on campus, the group held a Yule Ball (a Hogwarts-inspired formal) during February mid-terms. “We wanted to have something fun to allow people to let loose in their time of stress,” she says. More than 220 showed up for butter beer and dancing.
Professor Gabrielle Ceraldi, who teaches children’s literature at Western, is unsurprised by the focus on the Dementors. “Emotional states in the series are always represented through magic,” she says. Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards, is bewildering, much like university, she points out. “The staircases never stay in the same place from one period of class to the next.”
Heather Zwicker earns a 3M National Teaching Fellowship
Heather Zwicker, a professor of English and Film Studies turned Vice-Dean of Arts at the University of Alberta, is a 3M National Teaching Fellowship recipient for 2013. Maclean’s On Campus is profiling all 10 in the coming weeks.
It was 2003 and Zwicker had taken a six-month teaching position in Hawaii when it dawned on her that she knew more about the culture of Honolulu than that of her hometown Edmonton.
When she got back to the University of Alberta, she put together a senior-level course that focused on the city’s history and arts scene.
It was difficult at first, because there weren’t many published works about Edmonton.
“That’s when I realized that the other part of the course had to be getting students into the city,” she says. She had them tour the campus, taking in the history of the university, and go for walks and transit rides, recording everything they noticed. Based on their observations, they created unique maps of the city using soundscapes and video. “It was really fantastic. The students’ work was amazing,” she says, adding one project was submitted to a film festival.
Leader recalls great teachers, friendships and… manure?
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here’s advice from Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
I came to University College, University of Toronto, in the fall of 1966, studied modern history, and graduated with a B.A. in 1969. In the first week I was assigned by the seniors in residence late one night to find a bucket of horse manure, which meant figuring out where the police stables were.
Subject rankings for psychology, law, economics…
Here are the top five highest ranked universities in the QS World University Rankings by Subject and the rankings of all Canadian schools for arts, humanities, and business. For science, engineering, and health disciplines click here. For the full rankings, visit TopUniversities.com.
1. Harvard University (United States)
2. University of California, Berkeley (UCB) (United States)
3. University of Oxford (United Kingdom)
4. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) (United Kingdom)
5. University of Chicago (United States)
16. University of Toronto
33. McGill University
40. University of British Columbia
45. Queen’s University
51-100. Université de Montréal, University of Alberta
101-150. McMaster University, Western University, Université du Québec, University of Waterloo, York University
151-200. Carleton University, Concordia University, Dalhousie University, Laval University, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Victoria
English college questions French school’s funding
The president of Sudbury, Ontario’s English-language college wants the province to look into the funding disparity between her school and the city’s French college, which gets significantly more provincial funding per student. Cambrian, the English college, is cutting staff, while College Boréal is planning to give all new students iPads. “Cambrian doesn’t get enough funding to offer every student an iPad,” president Sylvia Barnard told CBC News. College Boréal president Denis Hubert-Dutrisac defended the disparity. The iPad money came from fundraising, he said. He also said it’s more expensive to run his college because of translation costs and its network of small campuses.
Prof. Pettigrew explains his “no… yes… ummm?” method
This week my Detective Fiction class was looking at Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, a novel about a Miami forensics analyst who is secretly a serial killer, but who only targets other killers (and yes, the inspiration for the Dexter TV show).
Trying to get my class to think through the complex moral questions that the novel raises, I asked them, “To appreciate this novel, you have to support capital punishment, don’t you?”
One of my best students jumped right in. “No” she said firmly, then instantly changed her mind: “Yes.” Then reconsidered again: “Ummm…”
And I knew I had asked the perfect question.
Regina prof’s revelation highlights students in the sex trade
A University of Regina professor who worked as an escort when she was a master’s student many years ago has shared her story with CBC News.
Jean Hillabold, now an English instructor, says she’s speaking out because she wants to draw attention to the debate over sex trade regulation.
But in doing so, she’s also highlighted the fact that some students and university graduates work in prostitution, erotic dancing and pornography to pay their bills.
Its not 4 the reasonz u thynk
Does it matter whether university students can spell or not?
Anne Trubek of Oberlin College argues in a Wired article entitled Its tyme to let luce! that standard spellings are obsolete.
Oh, they were fine when we all stumbled through our lives under the oppressive burden of paper and ink, but adding an apostrophe on an iPhone takes an extra couple of keystrokes, and really, why spend the time?
In one sense—that we should not be slaves to an arbitrary sense of what is correct—Trubek is right. But that misses a bigger point. I will suggest there is a good reason to care about spelling, and to talk about it even at the university level, though it’s perhaps not the reason one might think.
Students should learn to build arguments, not write entries
All professors have to deal with what Noah Geisel has recently termed The Wikipedia Dilemma. With the online encyclopedia now the largest in the world, freely available, and ubiquitous on the web, the problem is evident. Should a prof forbid students from using Wikipedia or embrace it as a modern research tool without equal?
The case for Wikipedia is obvious: it’s easy to access, simple to use, and covers a far wider range of material than any other reference work. And though it may occassionally be subject to error, as all reference works are, its eminent editability keeps it relatively accurate and incredibly up to date. I once read an article about quicksand, and curious to know more about it, checked Wikipedia, only to find the article I had just read, an article that had been published that very day, cited among the sources.
It encourages research, citation, revision…
Wikipedia is an outcast on most university campuses. At the beginning of the semester, most professors mention that it’s banished from essays and assignments. If you dare to include a Wikipedia article on your reference list, you’re practically asking for a zero on your bibliography. In extreme cases, your professor might set your essay on fire and scatter the ashes across the Pacific Ocean. That’s because most profs regard Wikipedia’s crowdsourced articles as unreliable.
Despite the website’s reputation, some professors at schools like the University of Alberta are using Wikipedia as a teaching resource. Never mind using Wikipedia as a reference: these profs are actually replacing traditional essays with assignments where students write Wikipedia entries.
Word received ‘unprecedented’ number of searches: Merriam-Webster
English majors, take note: Merriam-Webster has chosen pragmatic as its top word of 2011.
On Dec. 15, the American dictionary publisher announced its annual top-10 list, determined by the volume of searches on their online dictionary. Pragmatic, an adjective that means “practical as opposed to idealistic,” received an “unprecedented” number of searches throughout the year.
Merriam-Webster says search trends are often influenced by economic and political conditions. In 2011, the words ambivalence, insidious, didactic, austerity, diversity, socialism, vitriol and “après moi le déluge” topped the list—influenced in some part, no doubt, by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
What do you think, Canadian wordsmiths? Should pragmatic be the top word of 2011?
Latest in U Ottawa language tussle
A University of Ottawa professor stole a National Bank sign set up on campus because it wasn’t available in French. François Charboneau, an assistant professor of Political Studies told CBC News that he did so because he wanted to send a stronger message than simply “making another complaint.” All official signs must appear in English and French at the university, but many companies providing services on campus, such as construction companies and food shops, don’t follow the same rules. That’s because the 1974 provincial act that made the university bilingual says it must support this mandate in “programmes, central administration, general services, internal administration of its faculties and schools, its teaching staff, its support staff and its student population.” It says nothing of ancillary services. It isn’t just francophones who are often frustrated by the relationship between English and French on campus. An anglophone student recently wrote of her frustration about French-only signs and service at a Quizno’s sandwich shop on campus.
French-only signage at the bilingual University of Ottawa has caused debate on The Fulcrum’s website. Anglophone student Jaclyn Lyte writes that at an on-campus sub shop, employees have practically given up on English, with French-only signage. “Call me crazy, but I think it’s important for students to be able to make informed choices about what they eat,” she writes. “I shouldn’t have to grapple with francophone food workers and hold up the line for 15 minutes just to find out what I’m eating.” Lyte supports billingualism. “I’m content to listen through French messages first, and I won’t complain if I have to scroll down an extra page or so to get to my English message,” she says. But she draws a line French-only lunch.
In the comments section, students show their frustration at the school’s official bilingualism. “This school is so French biased,” comments ‘Nick.’
Students explore Jay-Z, Rap Poetics, Religion and Hip Hop
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. has launched a new course centred on the works of rapper Jay-Z, reports The Nation.
It’s getting a lot of attention, but it’s certainly not the first time that a prestigious university has used hip-hop to help students explore big questions.
Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay-Z has units on “Hustling Hermeneutics” and the “Monster of the Double Entendre.” The course is popular so far, with 140 signed up—about three-times the normal enrollment for a Georgetown seminar.
“Many are white kids—they bring a level of criticism about the culture they have emerged from… because they’ve seen that culture through Jay-Z’s eyes,” course instructor Michael Eric Dyson told The Nation, explaining the course’s popularity among a student body that’s only 6.7 per cent African-American.
But annual hiring is still one-third lower than in 2007-08
The Modern Languages Association’s job board is North America’s dominant website for posting full-time professor jobs in English and foreign languages departments. That makes it a decent barometer for the two fields’ PhD job markets.
An analysis of this year’s listings shows that full-time job availability improved compared to the previous two devastating years—a period in which listings dropped 40 per cent. There were 8.2 per cent more English professor jobs posted in 2010-11 than in 2009-10. The number of foreign languages jobs was up too—7.1 per cent year-on-year. It’s a welcome improvement, but annual hiring is still one-third below its peak in 2007-08.
Like that of Henry V, Prince Jack’s passing leaves a big hole
As a Shakespeare prof, I am always interested to see how the popular media represent my particular expertise, so this piece by Don Macpherson over at the National Post caught my eye. Macpherson suggests provocatively that the race to replace Jack Layton as NDP leader is a story worthy of Shakespeare — yet somehow the Bard of the St. Lawrence manages to get through the entire piece without mentioning a single Shakespearean play or character.
But the idea intrigued me, and since I have a passing knowledge of the Shakespeare canon, I wondered if there really was an instructive Shakespearean parallel here.
And I think there is. It’s the end of Henry V.
Without boring you with too many details (you have to shell out over a thousand bucks in tuition fees for that), let me tell you that Shakespeare’s Henry V was a heck of a guy. At first people thought he was a crazy radical, hanging with the wrong crowd and just not cut out to be king. But one day when the moment was right, he caught on, got the country behind him, and, against overwhelming odds, conquered the land of the French. Any of this sound familiar?
But Shakespeare’s Henry V ends on a sombre note. With barely time to savour his victory, Henry dies, and everyone knows that there is no one like him waiting in the wings. Sounding very familiar?
Following the death of Henry V, a terrible, divisive civil war breaks out (chronicled in three more plays) and it’s another generation before the path back to peace and prosperity can be found.
I won’t labour the point by trying to match up every NDP hopeful with a Shakespearean counterpart (is Thomas Mulcair destined to be the tyrannical Richard III?), but the lesson that Shakespeare draws from Henry V should not be ignored. Shakespeare’s point is that a dynamic, charismatic leader is a wonderful thing. He can do what others didn’t even dream of. But such leaders, by virtue of their own greatness, unintentionally set a dangerous trap for the future. Shakespeare saw that no man can cheat death, and the bigger the man, the bigger the void he leaves behind.
The New Democrats find themselves staring into just such a void and on the verge of their own civil war. The rest of us will have to be content to chronicle it as best we can. Oh, for a muse of fire…
Todd Pettigrew (PhD) is an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University.
Professors will study English, economics
Six North Korean professors will study English and Business at the University of British Columbia over the next six months. Professor Kyung-ae Park, director of the Centre for Korean Research at UBC, told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency that the six professors are the first group to have been invited under the Canada-DPRK Knowledge Partnership Program. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“The program is very unusual in that it allows North Korea’s professors to conduct research on a long-term basis,” said Park. “Other universities in North America are paying close attention to the program, and through it, I plan to push for exchanges between university officials of the two countries.”
The professors will have much to teach Canadians too. It’s rare that North Koreans are granted permission to travel beyond the borders of the repressive regime headed by Kim Jong Il. Universities, like much of the country, are in shambles due to the failure of its centrally-planned economy. Earlier this year, university students were reassigned to physical labour projects, in part to prepare for the 100th anniversary of the birth of their dead founder, Kim Il Sung.
Park said she believes educational exchanges are an important mechanism through which the two countries can improve relations. North Korea and Canada established diplomatic ties in 2001, but things soured when the DPRK tested nuclear weapons.
This isn’t the first time North Korea has sent professors abroad. They have also sent professors to study economics in Switzerland.
Quebec teachers’ union says English CEGEPs are having a ‘negative’ impact on French
Despite laws that require non-anglophones to attend French primary and secondary schools, an increasing number of students in Quebec are pursuing post-secondary education in English.
A Quebec teachers’ union commissioned a study to investigate this “worrisome” situation. The results of the study, which were released Thursday, indicate that most students who attend English CEGEP (a two- or three-year program that’s the Quebec equivalent of junior college) are planning on continuing their education in English or working in English.
Although only the children of parents who studied English in Canada are permitted a primary and secondary education in English, after high school students can attend school in any language they want. Faced with this choice, many Quebec students are turning towards English, supposedly with the motivation of becoming perfectly bilingual.
The study concludes that “In light of the results presented in this report, it appears clear that the linguistic impact of English CEGEPs is having negative repercussions on the objective of making French the common language in Quebec society.”
Profs from St. John’s to Victoria have had it with the wreckage of bad grammar
First year students arrive on campuses with their laptops, an iPod, an iPad, a Twitter account, a personal blog and a Facebook page. “They are so expressive and they have so much to share,” says Margie Clow-Bohan, director of the writing centre at Dalhousie. “But the writing skills need work.”
Most of Clow-Bohan’s colleagues would say she is too kind. The class of 2011 is opinionated and expressive but they can’t structure an essay, don’t know how to write an introduction, write paragraphs that are two pages long, and have murderously bad grammar. This is the lament of professors from Victoria to St. John’s. “The grammar sucks and the writing is awful.” So says Paul Budra, associate dean and English professor at Simon Fraser University, about the quality of the essays he sees: fragments, comma splices, apostrophe, pronoun and agreement errors, and tense mistakes. High school teachers are failing students, he says. “There’s this emphasis on expressing yourself, on this idea that if you get it on the page, it will be fine,” he says. “It’s not.”
“Universities teach subject matter, not writing,” says Richard Stren, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “It is assumed that by reading academic articles, students will absorb how to write. It doesn’t work. I gave out a lot of Cs.”
“Teachers are afraid to teach grammar,” says Visnja Cuturic, an ESL instructor who teaches grammar and academic writing at the University of Toronto. “They know the rules instinctively, but they can’t teach them. And rote learning is a thing of the past.”
I know this first-hand. I teach a college English class at a downtown college in Toronto. The first time I collected essays from my students, who are a variety of ages but have all received a high school degree, I was stunned. Subjects didn’t agree with verbs. Sentences started on page one and kept up the fight until page two. Commas were either used not at all or appeared in startling places. It wasn’t that there weren’t any ideas in the papers; it was that they were so buried by the wreckage of bad grammar it would have taken the jaws of life to free them.
“I believe writing well is intricately tied up with thinking clearly. As a responsible citizen, you have to grapple with issues at a very deep level, and if you can’t do that on the page, you’ll have trouble,” says Ginny Ryan, director of the writing centre at Memorial University in St. John’s. MUN students come to her writing centre for hour-long sessions; the students get one-on-one attention from a graduate student in their discipline. Since 2008, MUN engineering students are required to write an essay on ethics. Ryan visited the engineering classes and taught essay writing to the students. “It’s difﬁcult to escape MUN without some kind of writing skill,” she says.
Dalhousie requires students to take two “writing-intensive” courses before they graduate. Erin Wunker, an English professor at Dalhousie, teaches a year-long introduction to literature class, which is considered writing intensive. Wunker doesn’t make it an easy ride. “I wear them down,” she says. “I tell them they’ll use these skills if they are writing a persuasive demand for a raise or explaining, in a cogent fashion, the source of a patient’s illness.” Wunker matches students with a peer-editing buddy. “They’re not allowed to write sycophantic, empty comments like: ‘I liked your essay!’ ” she says. “They have to write critical and thoughtful things, or they don’t pass,” she says. The improvement is astonishing. “The students always say they dreaded the peer editing but it turned out to be the most helpful part of the course.”
There are five writing centres at the University of Toronto where undergrads can get help from graduate students. “There was a sense that we weren’t reaching enough students,” says Sandy Welsh, a sociology professor and vice-dean of teaching and learning in the faculty of arts and science at the University of Toronto. Enter the Writing Instruction for TAs (WIT) program. Ivan Kalmar, an anthropology professor at U of T, teaches an introductory course with 1,200 students. The class is broken up into groups of 30 students, and each student attends eight tutorials, run by WIT-trained TAs. Every student submits an essay proposal before turning in an essay, and the TAs, Kalmar says, catch the big errors before the final paper comes in. “It’s an opportunity for students in a massive class to get one-on-one feedback,” he says. “The marks have gone up tremendously, and the students say the tutorials were the most rewarding part of the course.”
“We shouldn’t be waiting until smaller classes in the second or third year to introduce writing skills,” says Kalmar.
Treat your high school years like a failed relationship — forget about it and move on
At this time of year, people frequently turn to me and ask what a student just entering university should know. Actually, they don’t ask, and I’m glad they don’t because the answer is probably not what they want to hear. What one thing should you, the new student, know if you are just starting university? With a high degree of certainty, I can say the following:
Your high school betrayed you.
If you are like most, and as far as preparing you for university goes, about half of what you learned in high school was probably useless. The rest was probably wrong.
Take my discipline, English, for instance. In a typical first year class of forty-five students or so, there is maybe one — maybe one — who actually knows how to write an essay. Many of the rest have done no formal writing at all, and those that have done papers might have called them “essays,” but they were really just reports or personal commentaries. This last group has a particularly tough time, because no matter how much I explain it to them, they assume that what passed muster in high school will pass in my course. It doesn’t.
And it’s not just English. A colleague of mine in biology once told me that she prefers it if her students haven’t taken high school biology at all because then she doesn’t have to spend time at the beginning of the year unwinding the misconceptions and falsehoods with which previous teachers have tangled her students’ brains.
This is not entirely the fault of high school teachers. Little was probably expected of them in the first place, and from the young teachers I know, most attempts at holding high school students to tougher standards are doomed to failure. Principals won’t allow it. Parents won’t stand for it.
Which brings me back to the advice. Your university professors don’t have a principal telling them they can’t fail you. And we don’t care how special or misunderstood your mother thinks you are. So forget about what you think you learned in high school. If you’re lucky, you had some great teachers who actually taught you something valuable, and if you did, you’ll be that much further ahead. But, in general, anytime your professor says something that seems to contradict what they told you in high school, believe your professor. Especially if the sentence begins with “You will not receive a passing grade if…”.