Soup to nuts: A recent piece of my writing that technology allows you to follow from idea to completion.

I was discussing writing and editing with a student the other day, and somehow the question of how I worked came up. As it turns out, I have a very recent example where you can pretty much follow the entire process from start to finish.

In showing all my work like this, I’m not making any claims about the quality of my own writing or the efficacy of my method. It is just the case that in this case, modern technology allows me to show the entire process I happened to use in writing a specific piece that people can read in its final form. For some students, I suspect that’s useful.

If you are interested, here are the relevant links to my recent Globe and Mail Op-Ed on “preferred pronouns” and the entire history of its drafting (because I wrote it in Google Docs, you can follow the whole history from start to finish). If you want to follow the revision history, you can find it under “File>See revision history” or by using alt-ctl-shift-h.

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More on KISS and Tell Grading

I’ve now implemented my ideas about a modified version of Specifications-based grading and Standards-Based grading, as I discussed in an earlier blog posting.

I also have a much better understanding of the economics of it. This blog posting is a note about how it works.

A reminder of the problem

First a reminder of the basic issue: I believe that students tend to seize up from traditional grading mechanisms that rate them from Excellent to Poor. At the University of Lethbridge, this method causes students to become intellectually defensive and conservative to an extend I consider an academic offence: they are so scared of bad grades that they would rather do what they think you want than what they think is interesting, correct, or advances knowledge—an approach that I find difficult to distinguish from plagiarism in terms of its effect on the advancement of knowledge.

There is at least some research that shows that students do better work when they are graded pass/ Read the rest of this entry »

English 4400/5400 Digital Humanities. Forms of assessment

Here are descriptions of the main forms of assessment in this course.


Most weeks you will be expected to write a blog entry on your reading and/or research for the course, interesting examples of digital technology used in the context of humanities or arts research, teaching, or practice, and the like. See also my more general page, About blogs

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Straw bibliography: A common error in student writing

This post describes a particular rhetorical technique that students often use in their essays that professional scholars never do: something I call the “straw bibliography.” If you learn to recognise these in your writing (and more importantly, learn how to handle them more professionally), the quality of your research will improve immensely.

What is a “straw bibliography”

“Straw bibliography” is the term I give to statements like the following, when they are unsupported by citations:

The question of the definition of medieval literature has long been a source of debate

Critics argue constantly about the role of women in literature

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Some quick notes on citation practice for undergraduates

Students seem always to get very nervous about citation… and, interestingly, perhaps through that nervousness, end up doing it in ways that professional scholars don’t.

Here are some tips that pros use for citation that undergraduates tend not to know:

Plagiarism is not a property crime.

Many students treat citations as, in essence, payment for ideas. Read the rest of this entry »

KISS and tell grading

This is a long post in which I work out some new ideas I have about incorporating pass/fail formative grading in my courses.

Poster sessions: A great way of establishing a scholarly ecosystem in the classroom

For a few years now, I’ve included a poster session component in my assessment. I began using them while I was chair of the Text Encoding Initiative, inspired in large part by the poster slam organised by my friend Susan Schreibman (now of Maynooth, then of the University of Maryland).

Until this year, I didn’t treat them that seriously: students were assessed on a pass/fail basis with the pass threshold being simple submission of a good faith effort; I didn’t really give any instructions on how to make posters (something traditionally humanists have not done); and I didn’t neither evaluated the presentations nor (most years) provided time for students to look at each others’ posters outside of the slam presentation itself.

This year, however, inspired largely by Inge Genee’s practice in her linguistics class, I stumbled upon a much better and educationally valuable way of using them. We did the slam as in previous years, but then we broke the c Read the rest of this entry »

Web browsers

Web browsers are (quite literally) the defining feature of the World Wide Web, which was invented when Tim Berners-Lee released the first version of his HTML browser (World Wide Web) on Christmas day 1989. In other words, they are what makes the web the web.

For a variety of historical reasons, users tend to treat web browsers as utility-grade software—a part of the operating system they expect our devices to have already installed rather than a piece of software you choose to install and run. But more than one kind of browser exists and there are differences between them. Sometimes one browser is better than another for certain tasks or sites. You should know what browser you are using and you should make sure you have some alternates installed.

Essential computer tools and skills for humanities students

The Digital Humanities is a hot new field within the Arts. Its practitioners are often at the forefront of developing new topics within ICT itself.

But what about if you are not interested in the Digital Humanities? Or are interested in them, but don’t consider yourself particularly computer literate? What are the computer skills you need to thrive in the traditional humanities or get started in DH?

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of tutorials on basic computer skills and tools for students of the Humanities. It should be of use to those just beginning their undergraduate careers, for graduate students hoping to professionalise their research and study, and for researchers and teachers who have other things to do that follow the latest trends and software.

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Managing class webpages and mailing lists at the University of Lethbridge

For years, every class at the University of Lethbridge has been given webspace and a mailing list. While the mailing list is well-known to instructors (it is the list “” that you use to make announcements to the class as a whole), the webspace is far less well known. This document (mostly a reminder to myself) shows you how you can use online tools to manage this.

Two tips that will improve the lives of all students and researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences


A recent question on Linked-in asked how important the formatting guides for journals are in preparing submissions.

Although this question was about submitting to journals, its context is relevant to all students and researchers in the Social Sciences and Humanities (although the problem also exists in the sciences, the solutions there are in some cases different). Humanities and Social Science study in University is largely about the collection of bibliography and the presentation of findings in written form. And that invariably involves questions of formatting: different disciplines and even different journals (or for students, instructors) within a discipline can require work to be submitted in quite different styles.

Academic Suicide

The so-called “college paper” has been a debated topic practically since its initial inception. A recent class statement brought the debate to the forefront of my mind. Professor O’Donnell stated, in a tone of bemusement, that his students tend to perform better on the blog assignments than on their actual papers. It does seem odd that a discrepancy exists between two writing exercises. However, the answer formed almost immediately within my thoughts and has expanded through the discussion of prescriptive rules versus descriptive. The reason students are so terrible at writing the “college paper” boils down to differences between prescriptive rules and descriptive rules. With that I commit myself to academic suicide by breaking the general guidelines and prescriptive rules of academic writing and adhering only to grammatical prescriptive rules and a more formal dialect to explain the phenomenon of why students are incapable of writing the traditional North American college Read the rest of this entry »

Research prospectus

A prospectus is a researched proposal for a research project. It explains the proposed focus of the paper (i.e. the works or topics that will be covered), the bibliographical context (i.e. important research works that touch on this topic and will useful in writing the paper), the broad outline of the argument that is going to be made and the evidence that is going to be used.

Think of it as a somewhat detailed explanation as to what you are going to write about and why you find it interesting.

A prospectus does not need to be long. Read the rest of this entry »


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