Revolution Lullabye

October 24, 2013

Gubar, Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010

Gubar, Susan. “Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010.” College English 76.1 (September 2013): 12-28.

Gubar uses her own personal career trajectory – her work as a professor in the Indiana University English Department from 1973 through 2010 – to comment on the state of the humanities in 21st century U.S. higher education and the shifting forces that have affected women’s careers in the humanities over this span of 37 years. She calls in her article for women to protect and advocate for the gains they have made in the academy for the sake of future generations of women scholars and their students. She also argues for the necessity of the humanities in 21st century American society, contending that its decreased influence and presence on college campuses today threatens our democratic society and culture. Her article shows in vivid detail the specific challenges women faced in the academy, ranging from professoinal dress to juggling the demands of family and spousal commitments with increased service and administrative expectations as funding and time for research diminished in the 1980s and 1990s.

Notable Notes

“the wives” – juxtaposition of the English faculty gatherings in 1973 and 2010. “The wives” formed a collective, many had just as stellar credentials as their husbands or the newly hired female faculty, but they were relegated to a supporting cast. There was tension between these “wives” and the new female faculty – the “wives” were never able to be, never allowed to be, what the new female faculty were. (contrast to today’s “mommy wars”)

In contrast, the “husbands” and the “partners” of faculty in the 1990s and 2000s never formed the same kind of collective, as the husbands, wives, and partners often had their own careers. What this marks is a shift in departmental culture from 1973 to 2010 – now it is much more disperse.

change in departmental male/female ratio – in 1973, there were 73 faculty (4 women). In 2010, there were 47 faculty (23 women)

the feminization of the humanities (13) – referring to the place of the humanities at institutions of higher education, but how does that term serve to blame women entering the profession for the demise of the humanities? (13)

central question – what has happened to women in English as the humanities have become devalued, and what has happened to feminist criticism in the humanities? (13)

long lists of names of former female colleagues who left IU, left the profession

Gubar was in the first wave of women hires – early 1970s

touches on issues of dress, pregnancy, nursing, having children in the midst of a career, being single v. married in a college town

change in faculty replacement hires: instead of one-for-one or growing the department in the 1970s, less and less tenure-track faculty were hired – cutbacks (18)

When less faculty are hired, the workload remains the same, so the younger (and more female) faculty teach more and larger classes, direct more theses and dissertations, and take on higher service loads (18). At the same time, tenure expectations were raised.

increased specialization leads to less focus on a local institution/department and more attention to research, a national discipline and conversation (and empty department hallways). Problem of faculty retention (20; 22).

as women rose in ranks, woman-woman rivalry increased: women were torn between protecting younger women and giving honest evaluations, increased competition for limited research funds, salary compression and inversion (21).

today’s problems: gulf btwn K-12 and university education, international and multilingual students, tension btwn education and comp/rhet field, online education (26)

Quotable Quotes

“The conjunction of women’s successful integration into the humanities and the attenuation of the humanities is not causal, I believe, but rather concurrent and coincidental” (13).

“In retrospect, I sometimes think of my cohort as ‘the lost generation’; for a variety of reasons, few of them could or would stay the course” (17).

“As the ranks of senior male professors dwindled through retirement, mid-level women often had to become what is called ‘heavy lifters’: they had to staff so many service-oriented activities or engage in so much advising and mentoring that their research tended to suffer” (18).

“People became less grounded in local university business, more active with colleagues around the country who shared their fields of specialization” (19).

“To use a buzzword that encapsulates the situation, the erosion of herteronormativity that began first with the disappearance of ‘the wives,’ and then with the appearance of lesbians on the faculty, gained momentum” (23).

“the contraction or depopulation of the humanities at the present moment” (24) – less students, graduate TAs/PhD candidates, faculty…focus on vocational, job training, sciences, business, etc. More reliance on contingent faculty to teach, fewer tenure lines

“For all our activism inside the academy, feminists have failed to surmount the multiple forces that conspired to marginalize the profession, and therefore we have failed to insure the future of our sucessors or, indeed, of our own benefits and environments” (25).

“How do I honor the equity that women have attained in the beleaguered humanities without worrying that their presence has contributed to the feminization of the profession, driving men from it and thereby further downgrading its prestige and currency in the culture?” (26).

“Never has a democratic culture needed the critical reading, writing, and interpretive skills practiced and taught by our profession more than now” (26).

“We must sustain what we fought so hard to attain” (27).


October 9, 2013

Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses

“Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 688-703. Print.

This CCC symposium brings together two short essays by Steven D. Krause and Jeff Rice who reflect on their experiences as students enrolled in a massive open online course (MOOC) sponsored by Coursera. This seven-week MOOC offered in July 2012 was entitled “Listening to World Music” and led by University of Pennsylvania professor Carol Muller. The purpose of the symposium is to understand how MOOCs change (or replicate) the traditional face-to-face classroom learning environment and to speculate on how MOOCs or other forms of distance/digital learning could impact the teaching and learning of writing.

“It seemed wise to learn more about MOOCs, and it seemed wise to learn about them from learners – who continue as perhaps the most consistent source of information about writing and learning to write in the field” (689).

Krause, Steven D. “MOOC Response to ‘Listening to World Music.'” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 689-695.

Krause’s response focuses on the MOOC’s writing assignments and the evaluation of those writing assignments. The writing assignments (2-3 paragraph responses to a choice of weekly prompts), coupled with the video-taped lectures and the discussion boards, were part of the course’s basic curricular structure, not really all that different from the structure of lecture-driven courses. At the beginning of the course, the MOOC had registered over 36,000 students; however, only a small percentage (2,731) of that number actually finished the course. To deal with the vast number of writing assignments that needed to be assessed, Muller and her graduate assistants turned over the grading to the students themselves in a kind of “crowdsourced” assessment, with peers evaluating each other’s writing responses based on an (under-explained) 10-point rubric.

Krause notes the problems of this kind of under-directed peer evaluation and response and contrasts it with the research on peer evaluation in the classroom, which does work well given the correct guidelines and constraints. He points out that one of the key issues of this crowdsourced grading is accountability – there is no mechanism to reward or correct good responses or peer evaluations.

In his conclusion, Krause moves beyond discussing and critiquing the MOOC’s writing assignments to comment on the failures of MOOCs and some of their untapped potential. The MOOC he experienced was “content without teaching,” focused only on the delivery of prescribed content, and that delivery itself had a pretty low production value.  However, Krause contends, MOOCs could break out of this static pedagogical delivery model and tap into the collaborative, social, and multimodal possiblities afforded in the digital sphere.

“After all, a MOOC is first and foremost a content delivery platform, one significantly more interactive and dynamic than a traditional printed book. Perhaps future Coursera MOOCs will do better at breaking out of what is essentially a nineteenth-century pedagogy of lectures, tests, and writing prompts that go nowhere. Perhaps it will turn out that writing ‘papers’ for a MOOC makes no sense because it doesn’t take advantage of the possibilities of networked writing” (694).

“So the writing assignments in ‘Listening to World Music’ left me with a feeling I fear some of my own students might share: it didn’t really matter what I wrote because no one (including myself) cared, and I was destined to get the same grade no matter what I did. It was garbage in/garbage out” (694).

“And as we all know as both educators and students, a textbook is not the same as a teacher. If education were merely about content delivery, then Socrates would have been the last teacher and Phaedrus his last student” (694).

The crowdsourcing grading: “It was a strange feeling: even though the class consisted of thousands of students from all over the world, this review process was oddly lonely, even more anonymous than the discussion forums” (693).

Writing assignments in a MOOC: “simulataneously a bold effort at thinking outside the box and a foolish exercise that was doomed for failure at the start, an example of both the grand promise of MOOCs to challenge education orthodoxy and the delusional, wishful thinking of pundits and administrators who think MOOCs will solve various education crises” (690).


Rice, Jeff. “What I Learned in MOOC.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 695-703.

Rice, who was enrolled in the same MOOC as Krause, questions why he ended up not completing the course. He points to the lack of affect in the MOOC structure: the MOOC relied on “nonsocial” videotaped lectures, multiple choice quizzes, anonymous discussion boards, and short writing assignments that failed to keep him engaged in the course (699). He draws on Richard Lanham’s argument about the attention economy, arguing that the interactive, networked, and inventive environment of the Web cultivates more desire and attention than the packaged content available in MOOCs like “Listening to World Music.” Rice argues that digital writing invites participation through aggregation, and that participation leads to occupation and desire. In their current form, MOOCs treat participants as spectactors, unable to invent and truly engage affectively in the material.

“Our current emerging institution, we might argue, is aggregation. Texts, images, ideas, videos, responses, and critiques are aggregating virtually into shifting identites of information encountered in online spaces” (701).

“This aggregation keeps me occupied with a sense of learning unique to network spaces. Being occupied is a feeling, an affective state central to a learning experience or occasion. Being occupied is a state of desire. Being occupied is an occassion for digital aggregation (i.e. learning and expression). When I am occupied, I encounter (as opposed to just ‘watching’). In other words, I want occupation. Pretaped lectures and a message board don’t provide me with that same feeling…My issue with Coursera was not just that its method of content delivery has nothing to do with how content is aggregated online, but that I cannot be aggregated aswell in this particular setup. I am left as spectator. Message board commenter. Watcher of videos. Writer of two paragraphs” (701).

“What Coursera lacks, many higher education courses taught via lecture and graduate student breakout discussion lack as well: emotional occassion” (702).

draw on Jim Corder (the occassion) and Gregory L. Ulmer (avatar)

“The overall question of whether or not to endorse online learning because it will save/destroy higher education – at the level of MOOCs or some other type of iteration – is not a question worth asking because it falls into the cliche trap of face-to-face value or the fear of alleged corporatization. Neither response gets at the issue of desire or occasion regarding learning and how such desire might be facilitated in a digital age where attention functions differently than lecture formats and message boards deliver” (700).

MOOCs as part of a long line of other forms of distance learning (like correspondance courses) (696).


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