My Daily Read: Tony Russell

February 16, 2012

Tony is an Assistant Professor of English.  He has a Ph.D. in English from Purdue University and has been teaching at COCC since 2010.

ConXn: What is the first thing you read in the morning?

Tony: When I wake up in the morning or just settle down for the evening, I read the BBC Mobile. (This, of course, is aside from whatever is on the side of the cereal box, which is usually something to remind me that I am still fat and that I don’t get enough fiber in my diet.) On average, I will read 18-20 BBC articles a day—from global headlines to sports. I prefer the BBC because the stories are well researched. They provide a lot of background information that I don’t find elsewhere, and this has contributed much to the ways in which I understand global affairs.

ConXn: What newspaper and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print versus online versus mobile?

Tony: My wife and I are crazy coupon people (oh yes, we have the baseball card sleeves, binders, and everything), so we subscribe to the Bulletin. I confess, however, that I don’t read much of it—perhaps a front page item or two. I will on occasion pull articles from the Outdoors sections for ideas on new outings and what not, but for local news, I usually read my app on my iPhone—if there’s nothing good on the BBC, LeMonde, CNN, MSNBC, or The Onion.

For magazines, I often subscribe to The New Yorker, and I’m an on-again off-again Scientific American subscriber. Secretly, I am enthralled by astrophysics, biology, and clinical psychology. Oh, and I really like stories about orangutans that use iPads, which in the long run only makes me angry because Santa neglected to fill my stocking with an iPad this year. I even bought an extra-wide stocking to accommodate for the width of the iPad. What’s more, I felt that my desire was benevolent. I only want an iPad so that I can transfer my paper-based subscriptions to digital, thus preserving the delicate balance of our planet and preserving said orangutan habitats. Sometimes Santa makes it hard to believe.

ConXn: What books have you recently read? Do any stand out?

Tony: If I rattled off a list of the books I have read in the past month or so, it would sound terribly eclectic, and I suppose it is. But I can’t be the only person that reads in categories, if you will. For instance, there are things I read purely for pleasure, those I read to better my teaching, those I read to better my courses, and those I read to remind me why physics is best read when dumbed down (see Scientific American above).

For pleasure, I am on an Alan Furst kick. If you like spy fiction or historical fiction, Furst is at the top of the list. Furst writes about Europe during the 1935-1945 period and claims to write as though he were writing the books during that period. That’s nice and all, but you’ll find plenty of twenty-“Furst” century Western liberalism that casts doubt on his claim. But don’t let that deter you. I zoomed through Dark Voyage (2005) last month and am halfway through The World at Night (1996) now.  Dark Voyage was a great yarn about smuggling Allied equipment on a merchant ship through Nazi-infested waters, but if you’re trying out Furst, read The Polish Officer first. (I’m not giving anything away.)

For reading to improve my teaching, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Carol Dweck’s Mindsets based on Julie Keener’s excellent retreat talk. Both are wonderful, and I feel like my teaching has improved because of my reading. I had a lot of deep-seated beliefs about my role in the classroom and about ways to motivate students, and I found that many of those things just weren’t as effective as I thought.

ConXn: Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?

Tony: I would say, yes, definitely. I think I was much less discriminate about what I would read before. I sort of soaked everything in I could. I had some favorites, but the more I’ve become interested in certain topics, the more I find that I can only really read about them in a limited number of publications. For instance, I used to find the Journal of Popular Culture fluffy and unpredictable, but now I find many things that inform my teaching. I’ve also sort of embraced its quirkiness. After all, popular culture is varied, sporadic, and impulsive; it’s also quite ever-changing. Further, I would echo a previous post from Carol Higginbotham in that I also find more and more that I am looking in professional journals for better ways to teach things or to reach my students more than I have in the past.

ConXn: Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?

Tony: When Pear Analytics stated in their 2009 analysis of Twitter that 40% of tweets were “pointless babble,” I knew I needed to get onboard. This term I have a Twitter feed running in my WR 122 Blackboard courses where I suggest possible articles for my students’ research papers (#COCCWR122).  I tweet under the furtive name of WrProf, which I was surprised was still available. In light of my recent experiences, I have composed the following haiku:

My students don’t use
Twitter. Seems like writing profs
Don’t like to either.

ConXn: Do you blog? If so, why?

Tony: Blogging’s a tough one for me. I like the idea. In fact, I really want to do it, but like so many other online time-takers/wasters, I feel like it would consume me. Then again, I felt that way about Facebook, and I seem to control that addiction just fine. I’m a “social Facebooker.”

ConXn: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?

Tony: I teach pop culture classes, so it’s hard for me to feel guilty about anything really. I get to read cool books either way—spy novels, detective novels, graphic novels. I suppose I might say that I love Jane Austen novels or that I think Charlotte Brontë is four times the writer than Emily Brontë—or better, that Villette is everything that Jane Eyre wishes it were—but I’m far too proud to admit or divulge anything like that.

So I suppose the only thing I feel guilty about is the fact that I don’t let myself get away from books. Even when I exercise, I’m at the very least listening to a book. Yes, as I make my rounds about the COCC track, rather than raging against the machine, I’m “reading” The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, or John Buchan’s Greenmantle; and I’ve listened to all of them for free from the LibriVox project. This project only records titles are in the public domain (pre-1923), but I have enjoyed these books so much, that I began volunteering as a reader this year.

(For reference, I don’t listen to my own recordings—but only because I haven’t recorded Villette—yet.)


My Daily Read: Dr. Karen Huck

November 16, 2011

“My Daily Read” is a new feature of ConXn, shamelessly borrowed from The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Chronicle Review weekly feature, in which they interview famous academics about their daily reading habits. 

Our first “My Daily Read” featured academic is Dr. Karen Huck, Professor of Speech.  Dr. Huck, who received her Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Utah, has been teaching at COCC since 1988.  She is the 2009 recipient of the COCC Faculty Achievement Award.

(factoid: Kake lives in a house of books – at least 7,000 volumes!)

ConXn: What is the first thing you read in the morning?

Dr. Huck: The Bend Bulletin or student work I need to hand back in a few hours.

ConXn: What newspaper and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print versus online versus mobile?

Dr. Huck: I hate hate hate reading off the computer.  I read the Sunday New York Times, New York Magazine, The New Yorker (hmmm, do we detect a pattern here?), Poetry, Bend Bulletin, Source Weekly, Harpers and Atlantic if I have a free subscription.

ConXn: What books have you recently read? Do any stand out?

Dr. Huck: The Poisoner’s Handbook:  Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.  Best book of the summer.  I don’t usually read long books (novels and short fiction) when seated — I read by ear when dog walking and walking to school.  Right now I’m in the middle of reading three different books at those times when I’m sitting and not grading or watching.  I’m enjoying each —  No Vulgar Hotel:  The Desire and Pursuit of Venice by Judith Martin;  Blue Sky Dream:  A Memoir of America’s Fall from Grace (set in my home county during the time I was growing up) by David Beers; and Love Wins by Rob Bell, an evangelical Christian who doesn’t believe in hell.

And, on yeah, in the spring I reread The Mirror Cracked, by Agatha Christie — a classic in which the unpleasant murder victim is killed largely because she was an enthusiastic non-thinker and busybody.

ConXn: Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?

Dr. Huck: Yes.   I skim only the articles in which I’m interested, generally those which have “immediacy behaviors” or “gay” in the title.

ConXn: Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?

Dr. Huck: No.  I’ve decided that Facebook and Youtube are enough for me right now.  Plus, I think tweets are boring (well, okay, I did spend about 5 minutes following tweets from the supposed riots at Penn State).

ConXn: Do you blog? If so, why?

Dr. Huck: Rarely — generally when I have something to say and don’t care if anyone hears me say it.

ConXn: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?

Dr. Huck: I have no guilt about my consumption habits except on those occasions when English teachers send me nonverbal messages that I am not a serious person because I don’t read enough. Oh yes, and when I get similar nonverbal messages of concern from my students when I openly admit to enjoying Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Student Retention

October 20, 2011

By Tina Hovekamp, Library

Here’s a short article explaining some of the reasons behind the pressures for student retention:

Community-College Dropouts Cost Taxpayers Nearly $1-Billion a Year, Report Says

Besides the article itself, I also found the responses at the bottom quite interesting!

This is certainly a great topic of discussion!

Write your own response by using the “Comment” link right below!

Use Google Docs for Anywhere Productivity

November 18, 2010

By Ralph Phillip, CIS

I love Google Docs! If you regularly use different computers at home, work, and/or school then using a web-based suite of productivity tools is for you.

Getting a Google account (also a Gmail or Blogger account) is free and easy to setup at After you create an account you can start creating new documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and web surveys. You can organize your files within folders and with keywords.

Google Docs: documents list

Editing a document in Google Docs is pretty much like using installed software on your computer. It’s very easy to create and edit. You can also insert images, tables, charts, etc.

Then, you can access your documents from any computer. You don’t need any special software–just Internet access. So, you can start a document at work and continue it at home without having to use a portable storage device.

Google Docs: document editor

One of my favorite features of Google Docs is the sharing. You can share your documents in several ways. You can publish your document as a web page with live editing. As an example, I create my course syllabi in Google docs and share them as a web page. Students can see (or print) the syllabus at any time by going to the web page. If I make a change to my syllabus, I don’t have to republish because the published version is automatically updated. Yeah! No more printing.

You can also share a document with others whom have editing capabilities. This allows multiple people to work on the same document at the same time from different locations. This is a fantastic collaborative tool and you can see who is changing what parts of the document while they’re doing it.

Google Docs: sharing options

I’m having students create documents and share them with me. I can access their shared documents and type comments right on their document.

Give Google Docs a try. It’s free, reliable, and has many features that will improve your productivity.

Could a college degree change your life?

January 5, 2010

by Tina Hovekamp, Library

Happy New Year everyone!

As we are all wading through high demand for classes, long waiting lists, new student loans, and high stress levels, some may wonder, is this mess all worth it? And does a college degree really make a difference?  Today an advisee of mine emailed me  feeling frustrated with the prospect of additional debt and more hard work to get a degree in the hopes that it may eventually improve his chances to make a good living (thus the inspiration for this post…).

In a recent article by U.S. News & World Report, author Richard Whitmire argued that colleges have become the new high school while college degrees are the most basic tool for economic survival. Some may disagree.  After all, a college degree, besides being time consuming, could be quite expensive! Is there really a guaranteed payoff? According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, “Education pays in higher earnings and lower unemployment rates.” The graph on this web page from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is quite clear. There is no ambiguity. The payoff  of college education may not necessarily be your dream job right away, but it  certainly seems to guarantee  job choices and  higher earnings.

So, brace yourselves, dear students!  There is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Paying for college now seems like a good investment in your future.

In a not so black and white world

May 5, 2009

by Tina Hovekamp, Library


For the last two years, Martha Groom, Associate Professor at the University of Washington has been using Wikipedia for her classes requiring her students to submit articles to the popular, user-generated internet encyclopedia as part of their assignment. An article discussing Groom’s  original teaching approach, cites one of her students commenting, “This assignment felt so Real! I had not thought that anything I wrote was worth others reading before, but now I think what I contributed was useful, and I’m glad other people can gain from my research.”

And then there is the battle of Colbert vs. Wikipedia:

So, is Wikipedia  a valuable resource to promote in our classes?  Last year I asked my LIB127 students to try a search on a topic of their interest in order to compare results in Britannica versus Wikipedia. It was the first time I included such a question in their assignment, not knowing exactly what their responses could be. Well, I have to admit, their answers were an eye opener, a good number of them quite well-thought making it difficult for me to dismiss as inaccurate or irrelevant. Here is one of them, an example of what students may often experience searching and comparing such two tools, an “academic” one and another from the “fee” web world:

“I choose to look up schizoaffective disorder which is a psychiatric diagnosis describing a condition where both the symptoms of a mood disorder and schizophrenia are present.  When I searched for schizoaffective on wikipedia [a pertinent result] came up; however, when I put the same thing in on Britannica Online it showed no results.  I had to look up both mental disorder and schizophrenia which was somewhat frustrating.  I also found the wikipedia information to be much more in depth and helpful than the Britannica Online information…  If I had to choose an article to go with for this research topic it would definitely be the one at Wikipedia.”

I have to admit, even being a librarian doesn’t sometimes stop me from agreeing with my students that “traditional” encyclopedic sources such as Britannica or Oxford Reference Online, both of them databases our library subscribes to, may often fail to be as comprehensive or extensive as Wikipedia. Even the display of results and layout of Wikipedia are often much more user-friendly with features such as the inclusion of links to other terms or to other entries which I found useful in so many occasions, especially when doing quick searches.

wikibabel4While helping patrons at the reference desk or in the classroom, I often hear instructors and students summarily dismiss the use of Wikipedia. I myself also tell my students that although Wikipedia could be a decent tool for getting general information on a topic, I wouldn’t use it as one of my cited sources in a research paper; but then, again, I wouldn’t use Britannica either as one of my cited sources for a college level research project. I guess the main difference most people agree on in using Wikipedia versus other more traditional sources is that since the authorship of the Wikipedia articles is unclear, students needing to use the information for a research paper have to take the extra step of finding other more “official” verification of the accuracy of the information. But is this a reason to completely discourage its use? A few years ago a study published in Nature already found that rates and problems of accuracy between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica can actually be quite comparable. Interestingly, Wikipedia itself offers a caveat for its use in research projects:

“As with any source, especially one of unknown authorship, you should be wary and independently verify the accuracy of Wikipedia information if possible. For many purposes, but particularly in academia, Wikipedia may not be an acceptable source;[1] indeed, some professors and teachers may reject Wikipedia-sourced material completely. This is especially true when it is used uncorroborated.

We advise special caution when using Wikipedia as a source for research projects. Normal academic usage of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias is for getting the general facts of a problem and to gather keywords, references and bibliographical pointers, but not as a source in itself. Remember that Wikipedia is a wiki, which means that anyone in the world can edit an article, deleting accurate information or adding false information, which the reader may not recognize.”

Wikipedia seems to have given this issue some thought. But despite its own disclaimer, in a world already dominated by Google and wikis, perhaps the best approach to take may be something similar to Groom’s course assignment that actually embraces the power and benefits of tools such as Wikipedia. Regardless of where information is coming from, being a critical consumer, always looking for ways to validate the quality of what’s been passed on to us is perhaps much more important rather than prescribing the exact rules of what specific tools to use or avoid.

David Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, last year had an interesting article on this topic, “Wikipedia and the New Curriculum: Digital Literacy Is Knowing How We Store What We Know” (February 2008).  Here’s a quote:

“It is irresponsible for educational institutions not to teach new knowledge technologies such as Wikipedia… digital literacy is so crucial for educational institutions: we do a fundamental disservice to our students if we continue to propagate old methods of knowledge creation and archivization without also teaching them how these structures are changing, and, more importantly, how they will relate to knowledge creation and dissemination in a fundamentally different way.”

What do you think?  Should we rethink Wikipedia’s role in our classes?

Thoughts on the “Entitlement Generation”

April 28, 2009

by Andria Woodell, Social Sciences

generation-me2 There has been a lot of buzz in the academic world about entitlement. Recently, there was an article by Professor Marshall Grossman published in the NY Times titled “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes.” In his article, Grossman discusses some of his experiences with entitled students and explanations behind this “new” trend. Like many other professors, I can identify with Grossman’s discussion. Some of us have encountered these situations more often than we would care to count. While I believe it is not new for students to focus on grades, it is surreal when a student is arguing they deserve an A despite scoring 70-80s on their assignments. It is also frustrating when they refuse to listen to why they have received those scores or suggestions to improve their grades. This becomes even more unsettling when a student turns hostile towards a professor because the professor stands firm. In the end, it is a no-win situation for both the student and professor. The student feels as if they were unfairly treated and the professor walks away a little more pessimistic about their students.

What is interesting is that when I hear people discussing entitlement today, it is directed toward the younger generation. Jean Twenge’s book , Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, supports the assumption that people from their teens to their 20s are plagued with entitlement . However, if you read the article “The New Me Generation,” the entitlement generation consists of everyone born in 1970 and beyond. Doing the math here, this includes people who are 39 years or younger. The average age of retirement in the US is currently 63, so the majority of students and workers (including myself) are now part of this entitlement generation! Therefore, the description of entitlement as a generational shift is not entirely accurate. Instead, it appears to be more of a societal shift. The looming question is whether entitlement is always bad. In the “The Me New Generation,”  the author describes the entitlement generation as “smart, brash, even arrogant, and endowed with a commanding sense of entitlement.” They are the “co-workers who drive you nuts.” On the flip-side, he goes on to state these individuals are also free-thinkers who are willing to break the status quo and pursue their dreams. Their confidence is what allows them to accomplish great things and can keep companies progressing. So where is the problem?

From an academic standpoint, I see entitlement hurting work ethic. Others might disagree with me here, but there seems to be a pocket of individuals who equate effort with mastery. When we hear, “there is no A for effort”, this is true. I have yet to see a grading rubric with effort as one of the graded requirements. Bottom line, if you do not complete the main components of an assignment, you will lose points, no matter how much effort you put in. As one professor has described it, “If your doctor works very hard at removing your appendix and it turns out you only needed your tonsils out, you are not likely to say “Hey! It’s ok! You worked very hard!”.  The other problem is that individuals who have never been told no or have yet to overcome significant academic challenges seem to experience a high level of anxiety at even the thought of not being perfect. I have seen students work themselves into a frenzy over this, even when they were passing with strong B’s. This is problematic because according to the frustration-aggression hypothesis in social psychology—the more frustrated a person becomes the more likely they may become aggressive. It of course does not explain ALL aggression, but it can explain why a student may resort to rudeness, harassment, slander, or even indirect or direct violence towards an instructor because they were blocked from a goal and they are not sure how to resolve the issue constructively. 

So what is the solution? Apparently, that is the hot research question right now. Grossman mentions that at his school they are retraining students on the purpose of education. COCC sponsored a speaker to educate faculty on the qualities of the new incoming students and how to resolve problems. There are also new policies in place that protect both students and faculty from harassment. Others (myself included) have resorted to detailed syllabi explaining class policy and how to behave. However, I find it unfortunate that my syllabi grew from 3 pages to 8 over the years because I have to explain how not to be disruptive and why a person should not text message in class. I have no answers at the moment. I personally hope we end up in the middle, with professors who can teach freely without having to invest so much energy defending themselves from unreasonable demands and with students who can be free thinkers, push the envelope and earn their grades rather than simply expect them. I am an optimist, but we will have to wait and see how it all unfolds.