Tag Archives: remote modality

Creative Projects (Unessays) Spring 2023

In my upper-level survey and seminar classes, I assign students a final project with a lot of self-direction. They get to choose whether to work solo or in a small group (2-4 students). They get to choose whether to write a paper, whether to connect the current course to their overall course of study, or whether to do a creative “unessay” project. Finally, they get to choose whether their project will be publicly available or only submitted to me.

Every semester I am impressed by my students’ creativity and their insightful engagement with our course material. This semester posed additional challenges as access to many of the platforms and tools students have used in the past (Twitter, Instagram, etc) are currently restricted inside the Russian Federation. This group of students found new tools and new ways to use familiar tools.

This semester’s creative projects included original creative work, a comic adaptation, a ‘zine, a travelogue, and several websites.

  1. Here is an adaptation of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities in the form of travel guide: https://ksmirnova5.wixsite.com/experiment
  2. This ‘zine also presents images inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: https://kami.app/kZb-kJy-uJc-NLQ
  3. This website presents analysis of the Russian book market with a focus on the fantastic genre, broadly construed, and making use of both quantitative and qualitative analytical tools: http://fantasticliterature.tilda.ws/
  4. This website is a comprehensive readers’ guide to Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Complete Trilogy: http://shablonbinti.tilda.ws/
  5. This Prezi offers readers an annotated map to Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Complete Trilogy: https://prezi.com/view/o73L5nO3sc1sDw43uU2Q/
  6. Based on your entertainment preferences, this website offers recommendations of particular episodes of the series Love, Death, & Robots as well as suggestions of places and activities within Moscow : https://datalens.yandex/en3xfjc8ly5k4?tab=7l&state=1194c856115
    Users can also connect with others through the related VK page: https://vk.com/public219965368
  7. This website is an introductory readers’ guide to the Arabian Nights: https://sites.google.com/nes.ru/arabian-nights/home

For those colleagues who may want to include a similar project in their classes, here’s my current prompt for the creative project: 

Develop a webpage, board game, video, piece of art, short story, film, or other creative work related to the content of this course. It may focus on one or a group of texts on the syllabus. Alternatively, the creative project may focus more broadly on the literary or cultural concepts we discuss. You will be required to participate in the drafting and revision process, so your Project Proposal will need to include a plan for what you will submit on the draft deadlines. Method of submission will be specific to the type of project.  You will also write a reflection on the project.

This may be a group project. Maximum group size is 4 students. Groups should include a plan for division of labor in the project proposal.

Past examples of projects in response to this prompt can be found here: Marymount Students 2018-2020, NES Students 2022

Your project should be significant and polished. We are giving four weeks of our class time to this, so that is approximately 30 working hours from each student. 

Remote Work and Community

In a post on her Substack the process early this year, Irina Dumitrescu wrote:

Whatever we have done so far is not enough, it disappears into the past, the reckoning that matters is still to come, and it is ruthless. It’s double entry bookkeeping with infinity in the credit column, so that we are always, always, in debt.

“Who told you to be a machine?” Jan. 3, 2023

Dumitrescu was reflecting on the process of writing her annual report, the accounting that academic scholars submit to the hierarchy above them listing conference presentations, articles, books, public talks, invited lectures, committee service, undergraduate advising, graduate mentoring, courses designed and taught. When I sat down to start writing my own annual report, I had the same experience–feeling like I’d done nothing when in reality the numbers told a different story.

For me, this experience of disconnect grows out of the remote work phenomenon of the last three years. I started a new job at a new college in September 2020, and worked remotely for the entire first year. I was able to move to the new job’s city in September 2021, but the campus moved in and out of the remote modality because of Covid numbers that semester, and I left that city in early March 2022, since which time I have continued to work remotely while also making a transition from a fully faculty role to a fac-min role.

In the remote modality, creating relationships with coworkers has been incredibly difficult. I followed everyone I could find on Twitter and connected with some people on Facebook, but my colleagues are not very active on these platforms. I attend faculty meetings and seminars even though most topics are not relevant to me. I’m learning a lot about the rockstar research of the field my university specializes in, but not very much about my colleagues as people.

Even when we were all theoretically working on campus, we were not spending time there or socializing. Everyone–me included–came just to teach. The campus was like fancy glass ghost town full of eerie offices with transparent walls. From one day to the next, objects behind the glass would have moved even though I hadn’t ever seen people in those spaces. Plants grew even though I never saw anyone tend them.

Not until I started this job remotely in the fall of 2020 did I realize how much, in my previous jobs, I had been relying on watching colleagues interact with one another in order to understand the structures of power and the relationships among individuals and departments at those colleges and universities. 

Having spent so much time working remotely for an organization that prior to the pandemic had been primarily an on-campus operation also complicated the process of acculturation and onboarding. Early on, I would get emails from random-to-me names, and they wouldn’t introduce themselves, just tell me to do something or ask me to for some information. They knew who I was, so did not realize that I did not know them because they were accustomed to a small campus where everyone can’t help but know everyone else. Even once I used the online directory to match these names with positions in the college, I still had no understanding of the kind of interpersonal and interdepartmental hierarchies of power that are not–cannot ever be–represented by the org chart.

Even now that I have gotten to know more of my colleagues, the vast majority of emails I get from them are when things go wrong–when a peer needs my help, when a superior is telling me I’ve made an error, when a member of my staff needs me to fix a malfunction in our systems. As a (still relatively) new employee, this stream of negative interaction creates a sense of inadequacy, a conviction that the job I am doing is not enough. But there is little clarity about what to do differently. The situation feels unstable, like a structure built on sand.

This lack of positive or even neutral interaction has created, for me, an urge to fill the relationships with more productivity. I have a sense that if only I keep trying to do things, more things, different things, some–or at least one–of them will finally be right! I will be enough.

Reflecting on this existential drive to produce, Dumitrescu writes:

I think all the activity, the productivity, the self-improvement, are attempts to prove that we deserve to exist. Maybe even to prove to ourselves that we do exist.

“Who told you to be a machine?” Jan. 3, 2023

I resist this urge. That way lies madness. And I am already enough.

Instead, I am making more of an effort to 1) communicate what I am doing to my direct supervisor, and 2) to initiate more positive interactions with my peers and my staff. At both of these efforts I am succeeding inconsistently. I have hope that this, like any habit, is a practice that will grow over time until it becomes a regular routine.

My colleagues and I are engaged in the process of reinventing our formerly on campus, in person college to be a hybrid operation with a diffused workforce and a diffused student body. This reinvention would be challenging in the best of circumstances, and these are not that.

I have criticized my current employer here, but I want to be clear that I don’t fault them. The kinds of issues I raise here are common across enterprises. The increase in remote work since the beginning of the pandemic and continuing with the current geopolitical situation have changed a lot about the way we (individuals) work and the way organizations operate. My colleagues and I have not, I think, done a good job of finding new ways to build and maintain collegial community among a diffused workforce.

We’re certainly not alone in this, of course. Early in the pandemic no-one had spare brain cells or sufficient energy to think think creatively about collegiality. And I don’t have any good suggestions about how to fix it now, but it’s something we should acknowledge, at least. As remote work continues to be part of our lives, we need to do something differently than we have been.

Remote work has a lot of value. For many workers, the ongoing pandemic has resulted in a greater degree of choice about whether and when to work in person or remotely and greater tools to make remote work successful, and these are by and large good things! I suspect, though, that other people may have experienced a similar dynamic in remote work, and I think this aspect of the modality needs more attention.

What has your experience with remote work been?

App Review: Perusall

Perusall is a social reading app than can be used as a standalone tool or embedded with a course management system like Canvas. This is a brief review based on my experience using it with students during our shift to remote instruction in Spring 2020.

Short version: Perusall is useful, but I had some challenges to implementation. Despite these challenges, I will continue to use this app in both remote and face to face instructional modalities.

Continue reading App Review: Perusall