Four Subscribe-Worthy Podcasts in Rhetoric and Composition

In the past two years, there’s been an explosion of great podcasts by scholars in Rhetoric and Composition. But when you search the iTunes Store for the term rhetoric, you’re likely to get some weird stuff about Star Wars, marijuana, a free audiobook version of Aristotle’s Rhetoric…yeah, basically everything besides what you were looking for.

So what’s a scholar to do? How can folks find these more niche, rhet-compy, scholarly-but-easy-on-the-ear podcasts? Read this blog post, of course! Whether you’re a longtime podcast junkie, nursing a Serial hangover, or just getting started with podcasts, these four podcasts will rhet-comp-ify your audio world. They’re quite different from each other, so if in doubt, try them all.

Four Subscribe-Worthy Podcasts in Rhetoric and Composition via @JenLMichaels


Rhetoricity podcast logo

Image credit: Eric Detweiler , Twitter @EricSDet

Rhetoricity takes a playful, experimental approach to rhetoric. Host Eric Detweiler of University of Texas at Austin isn’t afraid to let things get weird. For example, Episode 2 is a twenty-minute, chummy, self-deprecating conversation between Nathaniel Rivers and Jenny Edbauer Rice about the awfulness of small talk and crazy ways to make it better (like asking, “How’s your subconscious today?”). During Episode 3, right after a discussion about rhetorical studies in the late 20th century, Sharon Crowley starts talking about her love affair with the video game Skyrim. During every episode of Rhetoricity, I learn something, laugh at something, and see something from a fresh rhetorical perspective. I do a happy dance every time this podcast lands on my podcatcher.

Subscribe: iTunes
Web site: Rhetoricity
Eric on Twitter: @EricSDet

Plugs, Play, Pedagogy

Plugs, Play, Pedagogy logo

Image Credit: Kyle Stedman, Twitter @kstedman

Plugs, Play, Pedagogy feels like a one-hour, teacher’s-lounge jam session with the most innovative teachers you know. Host Kyle Stedman of Rockford University (@kstedman on Twitter) has a casual, conversational, I’m-totally-geeking-out-about-this persona that seems to infect his guests. Also, since Kyle is a scholar of sound rhetorics, so this podcast includes some top-notch sound editing. If you’re craving new ideas for your teaching, try the episodes “A New Hope for Games in the Classroom” or “Teaching with the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.” For a taste of Kyle’s excellent sound editing, try the episode “Locations of Writing,” which features scholars reading their contributions to the “Locations of Writing” special issues for College Composition and Communication in September 2014 and December 2014.

Subscribe: iTunes, Stitcher, Writing Commons
Web site: Plugs, Play, Pedagogy @ Writing Commons
Kyle on Twitter: @kstedman

Mere Rhetoric

Sometimes, you just need someone to break it down for ya. When that happens, then Mere Rhetoric‘s got your back. In just 10 minutes or less, host Mary Hedengren crash-courses her listeners on a single concept from rhetorical history–everything from “audience addressed/audience invoked” to Pierre Bordieu’s habitus to Wayne Booth’s Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent. Conveniently, the episode names match up with Mere Rhetoric’s rhetorical concept of the day, which makes it easy to browse the archive of 60+ back episodes. Mary has a real talent for explaining complex ideas in simple language. I’m not sure how she does it, but it’s impressive!

If you’re not sold yet, think of how useful Mere Rhetoric could be for teaching. For example, the next time I teach rhetoric to undergrads, I’m definitely assigning Mere Rhetoric Episode 1, “What is Rhetoric?” during the first week of class.

Subscribe: iTunes
Home Page: None. Bummer!
Mary on Twitter: @mshedengren

This Rhetorical Life


Image Credit: This Rhetorical Life production team, Twitter @TRLpodast

Fans of National Public Radio will recognize This Rhetorical Life‘s documentary-style format and simple, clean sound editing. “TRL,” as the hosts adorably call it, is produced by graduate students in Syracuse University’s Composition and Cultural Rhetoric program, and episodes tend to come in two flavors: analysis of hot-button issues in rhet-comp, like the rhetoric of closed captioning or ways to address racism in the classroom, and rhet-comp-tastic guests, like Erica Ratliffe discussing her scholarship about the concept of rhetorical listening. If you’re not sure whether a particular episode will strike your fancy, check out TRL’s show notes, which tend to be longer and more comprehensive than most other podcast’s notes. Episodes of TRL vary in length, anywhere from 13 to 50+ minutes, and new episodes debut about once a month.

Subscribe: iTunes
Home page: This Rhetorical Life
TRL on Twitter: @TRLPodcast

So how about you: what’s your favorite rhet-comp podcast? What other podcasts or episodes should I profile or review in the future? List them in comments or by tweeting to @JenLMichaels!

When Your Flip UltraHD Won’t Delete Videos No Matter What – And You Own a Mac Computer

I just had a mini-terrifying experience with my Flip Ultra HD: no matter what I did, it would NOT erase the videos.  I wasn’t able to find documentation of this problem at the Cisco Flip Video Support Forums or through Google, which meant it made sense to blog it.

So I followed the standard procedure recommended in the Cisco Flip Camera FAQ.  But for the sake of those who haven’t gotten desperate yet, here’s the workflow (for an UltraHD–there are other process for the other Flip cameras like Mino, Share, etc.).  I did this on a Mac, so my instructions will apply to a Mac.

1. Try to delete your videos the normal, sane way–which is to press the delete button and then the “play” button to delete a video.

2. If that doesn’t work, press and hold the delete in hopes that you’ve just accidentally “locked” the delete function and can unlock it.  Once you verify that it’s unlocked, return to Step 1.

3. If it still doesn’t work, reset the entire Flip camera.  For an UltraHD, you do this by removing the batteries and leaving it un-batteried and powered off for 60 seconds.

4. If it still doesn’t work, and you’re on a Mac, try plugging in your Flip and emptying your Mac’s trash bin.  It might be a quirk of how Mac processes information on flash memory.  You can also do a Hail Mary and empty the trash in your iPhoto.

5. If it still doesn’t work–and this is where I started to freak out a little–open Mac’s Disk Utility. Choose the Flip camera’s hard drive.  Choose “Repair Disk.”

6. I finally got desperate and used Disk Utility’s “Erase” tab to completely erase my Flip’s memory.  I was worried that this would erase the whole Flip operating system and my camera would become nonfunctional, but it didn’t!  I erased in MS-DOS (FAT) format, which is what I assume the camera was already set to.

And at last, my Flip is back to normal.

The Northstar Cafe Veggie Burger Recipe: Standing on the Shoulders of Other Knockoff Attempts

Homemade Northstar burgerI am a card-carrying beef-loving fool, but even I can’t get enough of the Northstar Cafe Veggie Burger here in Columbus, Ohio.  For the first two years that I was in Columbus, I was one of the nay-sayers. How many Northstar visits did I waste saying “Oh it can’t possibly be that great. I’ll just get the Niman Ranch Cheeseburger instead”? I shudder to think.

But being a grad student, I can’t afford to eat out much. And considering that I can’t go to Northstar Cafe in Clintonville without hitting up the Jeni’s Ice Creams three doors down, a night out at Northstar + Jeni’s is easily a $20-per-person date.  

Fortunately, dear Jeni Britton Bauer published Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Not that that lessened the frequency of my visits to Jeni’s–if anything, it makes me feel free to visit Jeni’s any time she debuts a seasonal flavor, parfait/sundae, the Askinosie Hot Chocolate, or whatever else (and you bet I’m all over that because I subscribe to her Salty Caramel blog via RSS and Facebook).  But my point is, if I could just get the Northstar Veggie Burger down pat, I could do the full Clintonville Night Out Experience at home and spend my Northstar/Jeni’s nights eating stuff I either can’t, or don’t want to, learn how to make at home.

The problem is that the Northstar Veggie Burger is a tough nut to crack.  Even people who know WTF they’re doing, unlike me and my bumbly homemade kitchen experimenting skillz, didn’t seem able to nail it.  The burger is an odd combination of smoky but not spicy, sweet but not sugary, and it has the satisfying texture of a meat burger.  And honestly, even if I could get the exact ingredients and proportions–which I doubt I have–I’m sure Northstar is sourcing the best possible ingredients, organic/local/artisan etc.  (Does that sound like an endorsement of Northstar?  It is.  I love them and so should you.)  But I was still determined to try.

So I started with this recipe at as an initial baseline.  I found another Northstar Veggie Burger knockoff recipe making the rounds that included canned beets–and I just couldn’t see how you’d get the Northstar Veggie Burger texture with wet, slimy canned beets.  So back I went to the recipe at, and I sifted through that blog post’s comments to identify potential recipe improvements.  There were many suggestions, some from people who’d tried that recipe and some from Northstar insiders or suppliers shedding light on the original recipe.  Among their suggestions were to double the amount of brown rice, add dried prunes to impart sweetness and texture, include yellow mustard and chipotle puree as part of the spicy kick, use spelt flour for the binding agent to get a mild nutty flavor that can’t be captured by other flours or ground oats, etc.

I combined many of those suggestions and made a Version 1.0 knockoff burger.  It was close-ish to the Northstar original, but close-ish the way that your rebound boyfriend is close-ish to the boyfriend you were trying to replace: not sweet enough, too fall-aparty, definitely not smoky enough, and the ingredients I’d used to impart some smoke flavor had made the thing WAY too spicy. I took the month off to pursue other projects (like, you know, my graduate school work and Christmas and stuff). I thought about what had gone wrong in Version 1.0.  I brainstormed improvements.

And today, I tried Northstar Knockoff Veggie Burger Version 2.0.  It isn’t precisely the same as the original, but it is DAMN close.  If you’re a fan of the original, I think you’ll be very happy with this one.

Some of my improvements for this round:

1. It’s white cheddar cheese on top, not provolone.  It says so on the Northstar menu, which describes the burger as “made with organic brown rice, black beans and beets, topped with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion.”

2. A source who shall remain nameless tipped me off to a ninja ingredient in this burger: adzuki beans, a sweet Japanese bean variety that grows well in Ohio and is widely available at our local farmer’s markets.  When you cut into a finished Northstar veggie burger, it LOOKS like it’s all black beans–and the Northstar menu sort of suggests that it is–but I felt my Version 1.0 burger was a bit “flat” with just black beans, and the tipoff I got about adzuki beans made a huge difference in the umami/sweetness and texture.  The dark red and thin exterior of the adzuki bean is easily masked by the fuschia-colored beet juice, and the adzuki bean’s interior looks similar to the interior of a black bean.  And if you noticed the Northstar burger’s subtle sweetness, you’d probably chalk it up to the diced pitted prunes or some other red herring theory (like molasses or barbecue sauce, which seems popular in other knockoff recipes).  But I think it’s the prunes AND the adzuki beans that make the sweetness.  I’m using a 1:1 ratio of black beans and adzuki beans, which seemed as good a guess as any.  

We know Northstar is sourcing their black beans from Shagbark Seed and Mill, so I bought my Adzuki Beans and spelt flour from Shagbark too.  Really nice folks, by the way.  I patronize them at the Clintonville Farmer’s Market and the Worthington Winter Farmer’s Market. Check them out on Facebook too.

3. It was a trick to get smoky flavor without too much spice and without the over-concentrated smoke taste of liquid smoke.  So I smoked the onion before dicing it (well really I threw it in the food processor to “dice it”–I’m a cook, not a chef), plus I added a food processed chipotle chili in adobo sauce (from a can), plus I sauteed more diced onion with an ancho chili before adding it to the simmering bean water.

Smoking the onion was, admittedly, a pain in the ass since I don’t own a smoker and 35 degrees = too cold for me to relish the thought of smoking onions on my gas grill.  But I was already already smoking salmon on my stovetop in a roasting pan (to make this knockoff of the J. Alexander’s Smoked Salmon Dip, if you were wondering), so I smoked the onion for this–and it was WELL worth the flavor boost.  Possibly you could get the effect with liquid smoke or roasting the onion with hickory oil, but I haven’t explored that.  If YOU do, for goodness sake leave a blog comment about it!

For that matter, if you try this burger and have ANY feedback, please leave a comment!  I am not a professional cook and I’m sure there are ways to improve this bad boy.  In particular, I have omitted two ingredients from’s version and I would be interested to hear from folks who added them back in: 2 TBSP cider vinegar and 2 TBSP fresh parsley.  I figured the mustard was covering that same ground as the vinegar but doing it better than the vinegar had, and I omitted the parsley because I could neither taste nor see it in the original Northstar veggie burger nor in my Version 1.0 knockoff.

Northstar burger homemade version


Yield: A lot, like at least 6 to 8 large patties. Fortunately the burger mix keeps in the fridge for 5 days to a week.  Ask me again in a few weeks about trying to freeze the patties so that I can vacuum pack them.


1 cup brown rice

Scant 1/2 cup dried black beans

Scant 1/2 cup dried adzuki beans

2 medium onions, one to smoke and one to saute. (Note: I used yellow onions, but I want to try Vidalia in the future)

3 large red beets, fresh, about 1 pound total

3-4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup dried pitted prunes

Juice from 1/2 lemon (or 1.5 tsps lemon juice if you’re not using a fresh lemon)

1 dried ancho chili

1 teaspoon dried coriander

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 cup spelt flour as binder

1 chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce (from a can)

1 heaping tablespoon yellow mustard (I used French’s Brown Spicy because that’s what I had on hand.  I’m sure Northstar uses some organic homemade blah blah blah.)

salt and pepper to taste

Northstar original toppings: white cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion.

Prep/Mise en Place

Smoke the onion. I use a stovetop smoking technique with hickory chips from the hardware store, a sturdy roasting pan, and a ton of aluminum foil.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Scrub the beets clean, then dry them off (hint: leave the beet greens on during cleaning. They get in your way, but it’s better than having pink staintastic beet juice running out from where you cut off the greens.)  Then remove the beet greens, lightly coat the beets with olive oil, and place beets in an oven-safe pan.  Roast for 30 minutes.  (PS, beet greens are yummy too.  You could saute them n’ stuff.)

Sautee 1 onion with half an ancho chili (the half that has less seeds).  Take the half that has the stem/seed base on it and scrape off most of the seeds.  Save that scraped-off half of the chili for your rice.

Prepare brown rice on stovetop or with a rice cooker.  If you only need enough for this one recipe, try 2/3 cups rice + 1 1/3 cups water.  Add the butt end of the chili, scraped mostly clean of seeds, to your rice cooking water.

Sautee one small onion with half a dried ancho chili, the lower half that doesn’t have tons of seeds in it.  Add this onion-chili mix to whichever dry bean preparation method you prefer: slow cooker, stovetop, whatever.  I’m a 90 minute beans girl myself.)

Assemble the burger

In a food processor, process the garlic cloves until minced.  Add the canned chipotle chili and dates and process a little more.  Add the beets + smoked onion and pulse until the texture looks right.  You know, like veggie burger.

In a large bowl, mash the bean mixture. Add the coriander, thyme, lemon juice, and yellow mustard.  Add the brown rice + the food-processed ingredients and stir to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add 1/2 cup of spelt flour or however much it takes to get the burger texture you like.  This will never be a “firm” or “tight” burger–the Northstar original isn’t either–but you want it to hold a patty shape in your hand so that it’ll have a fighting chance of maintaining a patty shape in the pan.

Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium high heat.  Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to completely coat the bottom of the pan.  When you see the oil shimmer, the pan is ready.

Using your hands, scoop up about one cup of burger mix.  Shape into a fairly flat patty, about 5/8″ thick.  Cook the patty for about 2 minutes, then flip to the other side.  If desired, place the white cheddar slide on the freshly flipped burger so the cheese has time to melt.  Cook the second side for another 2 minutes; I close the lid during the second side to help the cheese melt.  (Note: Everything in this burger is already cooked before it hits the pan, so you’re really just pan-frying for texture and crispyness.  Sometimes I will let my burger go longer to make it extra crispy on the outside, but that’s not authentic to the original Northstar burger).

Serve fresh on some kind of awesome burger bun.  I use Linda Watson’s Good Burger Bun recipe from the Wildly Affordable Organic cookbook, but do what you like.  I serve mine with homemade mayonnaise, which is not as painful to make as you think. For maximum Northstar Cafe authenticity, toast your burger bun under the broiler before adding the burger and top with tomato, onion, pickle, and lettuce greens.

The Northstar Cafe Veggie Burger: Standing On the Shoulders of Other Knockoff Attempts « On the Search for the Genuine


Reading Adobe PDF, Microsoft .DOC and .DOCX, HTML, etc. on your Kindle or other eReader

More and more of my grad school friends are buying eReaders. Being one of the resident OSU Digital Media Studies nerds, these friends often ask me how to convert the file types most commonly used in academia–particularly Adobe PDF–to eReader-friendly formats. As recently as six months ago, my answer to this was “Just shoot yourself, it’s easier than trying to get the PDF on your machine in a useful format.”  But that answer stinks; many of us, including me, bought eReaders so that we could spend less time in the glaring eye-straining glow of our computer monitors.  PDF and Word files comprise over half of my homework reading, and I run into tons of academically useful HTML documents that I wish I could put on my eReader.

To be fair, there have always been solutions for this–but they were cumbersome.  Calibre is a fabulous conversion utility for eReaders, but it doesn’t convert to/from .doc, .docx, .pdf, .html, or .rtf.  You could take a PDF file and use Adobe Acrobat Professional or an online utility like to try and convert the file back to Word .doc and then convert that back to .txt, but that’s a huge hassle and PDF doesn’t always convert well so sometimes you had nothing to show for your effort.


For a long time, there also wasn’t an elegant way to get HTML web content onto our eReaders; you can use a utility like Readability or Clearly to get a clean reading copy of the text, then cut and paste the text into TXT file to be sent to your eReader, but again that’s pretty cumbersome.  You start talking about doing that for 5 or 10 web pages at a time, and suddenly a 60-second hassle has become a 15-minute project.


In this post, I review some newish solutions to these problems.  They’re not perfect, but they’re a big leap forward!


Problem 1: I want to read a doc, docx, pdf, html, rtf, or text file on my eReader.


Solution: Screenshot of is a web-based service that converts from doc, docx, epub, fb2, html, lit, rtf, mobi, odt, pdb, pdf, prc, rtf, and text to epub (ideal for most eReaders except Kindle), fb2, lit, lrf, and mobi (ideal for Kindle).  You can convert up to 5 files and up to 25 MB of data at a time.  


I tested 2epub with several PDF files, and it works pretty well. The PDF files do need to be text-recognized, meaning they’re not just scans of images.  If in doubt, open your PDF and try to highlight some text.  If you can highlight the text, it will probably convert well. If you can’t highlight the text, you could “punt” by using Adobe Acrobat Professional or Web-based utilities to perform OCR (optical character recognition).  In my experience that makes for an ugly reading copy; your mileage may vary.


If you like to check your files before sending them to your eReader, which I do, try downloading Stanza Desktop.  You’ll have to Google that since Lexcycle is no longer building or supporting it as of January 2011, but it still works just fine as of January 2012.  (The Stanza iOS app that accompanies Stanza Desktop doesn’t work well anymore, but that is mostly irrelevant to our current discussion–you don’t need the iOS app to do anything I’m describing here.) 


Let’s also briefly acknowledge, which converts Adobe PDFs to ePUB format.  The web site is ugly and the files cap at 5 MB, meaning it’s less powerful and less attractive than the above-mentioned  I bookmarked it anyway in case ever crashes.


Problem 2: I want to habitually save content from the World Wide Web to my eReader and have it sent easily and expediently to my eReader.

Solution 1: GrabMyBooks for Firefox Browser. If you’re using the Firefox browser and you own an eReader that reads EPUB, the GrabMyBooks Firefox extension allows you to save a bunch of Web stuff by “grabbing it,” and when you’re ready, GrabMyBooks will stuff all of the grabbed content into one tidy ePub file that can be saved/sent to your eReader.




Solution 2: Instapaper. If you don’t use Firefox Browser and/or you own a Kindle, you may prefer Instapaper. At its heart, Instapaper is a “read it later” utility that allows you to “pin” content to your instapaper account for later reading.  This content can be read on your computer–or, more relevant to this post, you can download it in eReader-friendly .mobi and .epub formats. Incidentally, there’s also an Instapaper iOS App if you want to access your content via iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.
And it gets even better for Kindle users: Instapaper can be set to email any content you’ve marked “Read Later” to your Kindle for free on a regular schedule.  This screencast covers that second option:


UPDATE! Solution 3: OSU grad student friend Chase Bollig recommends for Kindle users.  It provides a bookmarklet similar to the one used by Instapaper to instantly email marked articles to your Kindle (for free).  I’ve added it to my toolbar for situations where I only want to send a single file to my Kindle; I’m keeping Instapaper too for situations where I want to send a lot of stuff to Kindle all at once.  Thanks for the recommendation, Chase! 
Screenshot of Amazon page 

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Archive of the #MLA12 Tweets from the Modern Language Association

(Awesome Update Saturday 1/7: Martin Hawskey built a tool that archives tweets from the last seven days.  He kindly produced a near-complete archive of #MLA12 that stretches back to Wednesday and beyond.  There’s a bit missing from Friday’s overwhelming chatter, but who cares!?   If you’d like to thank him, he’s in the blog comments or hit up his MASHe EdTech blog or thank him/follow him on Twitter!

And if you really want to see my archive, which is incomplete compared to the one linked above, read on.)

So here I was on my comfy couch in Columbus, Ohio, reading tweets from the 2012 Modern Language Association conference in Seattle. Like any good grad student of digital media and composition studies who’s stuck at home during a major conference, I was amped to see the hashtag #mla12 blowing up like crazy. Apparently every conference room at MLA ’12 has WiFi, which means the place has gone literally to the Twitter birds.  (Side note: 2012 Conference on College Composition and Communication, please follow this example.)

Anyway, @readywriting (Lee Skallerup) had made a Storify of Friday’s session S167, “The Fight for Public Higher Education.”  I sent that to one of my Ohio State grad school colleagues on Facebook because it’s directly related to his work, and another OSU grad student colleague said that she was having trouble keeping up with the #mla12 tweets and hoped she could catch up later.

And I thought, “Come to think of it, I’m having trouble keeping up with the tweets too.”  So I searched Twitter for the hashtag, hoping to see quite a few earlier hours’ worth of #mla12 goodness.  I got a measly few hours’ results; apparently this is a new annoying quirk of the Twitter API.  I went to Twapperkeeper thinking surely someone had set up a Twapperkeeper archive for #mla12.  Not only was there no archive, but Twapperkeeper has been sold to Hootsuite and went inactive today January 6 (Madame Irony, your timing is impeccable!).  So I cruised over to my Hootsuite account thinking I could self-archvie #mla12 there, and I found out that archiving on Hootsuite requires a pro account at $10/month.  And this grad student doesn’t have $10/month to archive conferences that she’s not even attending, much less organizing.

And search though I might, ask the Tweeps to point me to one though I might, I couldn’t find an existing archive of #mla12.

Commence a major moment of WTF and OMG.  This has got to be an oversight on my part.  Surely the digital humanists are archiving the conference at which they are so actively tweeting about archiving (among other things).

But just in case, I took matters into my own hands.  I’ve set up a simple Google Docs spreadsheet archive of #MLA12 tweets starting Friday, January 6 around 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.  Forgive me its primitive nature; it’s better than nothing.  And thanks to Martin for such crystal-clear directions and a Youtube video walkthrough on how to set up Twitter hashtag archives using a simple, pre-written Google Docs spreadsheet script!

If I am wrong and there is some archive of #mla12 that ran on Thursday and Friday, PLEASE tell us all about that in the comments.  I missed so many Tweets on Thursday and Friday that it hurts my brain to even think about it.

Meetingwords: Finally, Free Online Real-Time Collaboration for 32 Users at Once!

I’ve sung the praises of the collaborative document platform in the past, but has the annoying restriction of just 16 users per document. Since was built on the open-sourced EtherPad code, it was just a matter of time before someone else appropriated this code with an expanded number of possible collaborators.

Enter MeetingWords, which is virtually the same platform as except that it allows up to 32 collaborators at once. OSU English 110 instructors, take note: that’s enough for your whole class to collaborate!  No accounts needed for users, instant real-time updates to the document, and your collaborative document gets an instant URL that is easily shared. Hallelujah!

What’s the catch? There’s two, and in my opinion they are not deal-killers:

–If nobody accesses your document for 7 days, MeetingWords reserves the right to delete it. For my teaching, that is not a huge problem; it just means I need to be diligent about exporting the document to a save-able format and uploading a saved, permanent version on our Course Management System (if it’s something we need to save, that is). I appreciate that MeetingWords is trying to cut its bandwidth by dumping the unused stuff, and since their service is totally free, I’m willing to meet them halfway.

–Some export options on MeetingWords are disabled at the moment. I was able to export a test document in HTML and Plain Text format. Frankly, those formats are good enough for me.

Teaching Applications, most of which I’ve already used with my small class of 12 on but are now possible for a full English 110 section on MeetingWords:
–Group notes on a class reading
–Group brainstorms on definitions of key terms
–Small groups taking notes on their discussions of a certain writing genre, amassing and focusing the most important tips and techniques for successfully performing a certain writing genre
–Next on my agenda is to try Writing Workshop in this format. We’ll see how it goes.

Finally, MeetingWords and are not the only kids on the block. also looks to have some promise, but I’m annoyed with their nagging about how I should upgrade to a Pro account (expensive at $2 per user per month–OUCH).

Happy classroom collaborating!

Blogging for my Fall 2010 English 110: P2 Theme by WordPress

My English 110 class’ course blog is now one week old, and I’m totally pleased with it.  I tried BuddyPress for a week before the quarter started, and I ended up kicking it to the curb in favor of The P2 Theme for WordPress by Automattic.  BuddyPress had lots of cool gee-whiz and had really great functionality, but it was not intuitive for users.  P2, by contrast, bills itself as having “Twitter-like real-time functionality”–and very importantly for the English 110 curriculum, it also has the capability for “real” blog posts that are longer than 140 characters.  First, I’ll show you P2’s own excellent propaganda video, then I’ll talk about reasons I like this platform for my class:

Reasons I like P2:

–Real-time updates make it an appropriate backchannel for in-class and out-of-class conversation.  When a user logs in, the interface also flashes any new posts in yellow so that users can easily identify the new content.  I have made clear to my students that posting course-relevant material to the blog is a good way to boost their Participation grade and enrich our classroom community.

–If students can manage to click the “Log in” link and enter their username and password, they can start posting right away from the mainframe rather than going to a confusing Dashboard scheme.  Notice the quick links above the posting window for inserting multimedia.  If they click the “Blog Post” button above the posting window, they get a bigger text box in which to craft their post.  That is *way better* than teaching them a full blog interface–if they really want to learn, they can use the WordPress Dashboard, but they don’t have to.

–Auto-conversion of links into links, Youtube video links into embeds, image links into images, etc.  So if students can cut and paste, they can add multimedia to this blog.

–I was able to pre-set their usernames and passwords as their OSU lastnames.# and a pre-set single password.  Compared to signing all of my students up for Google Accounts, helping students who already had Gmail accounts hook their Gmail to the Google Accounts, and so on, the pre-set username and password system made for a much faster Blog Project introduction on the second day of class.

Now if the students only had avatars and would post more on the blog.  I’m going to work on that today, asking them to post their sample primary/exhibit sources on the blog and/or ask their classmates for help in choosing sources for their Analytical Research Project.

2010 World Equestrian Games (aka WEG) in Kentucky: Pictures from Trade Fair shopping and Opening Ceremonies

Well, the stars aligned and I found myself at the 2010 World Equestrian Games yesterday. And what is a horsey, tack-obsessed saddle nerd to do at WEG? Shop, of course.

The slideshow is embedded below, but if you prefer, you can browse the photos manually here.

Among the awesome things that I saw at WEG that you will see in this slide show:
Phillip Dutton’s famous blue-and-yellow saddle available to sit in at the Devoucoux booth! – My friend and I stopped at Devoucoux booth because she’s shopping for a monoflap cross-country saddle. I asked the clerk if he had an Ioldy model for her to try, and he said “sure” and casually went over to the wall and took down a saddle that was covered with a Devocoux saddle cover. And when he pulled it out, it was Phillip Dutton’s famous blue and yellow Devoucoux. He seemed to think absolutely nothing of putting it on the fake horse for my friend to sit in, but needless to say, my jaw was on the floor. He said that Devoucoux has made Phillip Dutton a new Ioldy just like this one, and they’re going to auction off the old one for charity.  But in the meantime, it’s at the Devoucoux booth in WEG as a demo saddle.  Um, excuse me!?  Awesome!?
–I am not a Breyer collector, but there were some awesomely cute WEG souvenirs in the Breyer tent.  Pictured below.
–I am also not usually into Ariat, but they had some CUTE AS HELL schooling
in their new lineups to be released very soon in the US.  Nothing
I’d wear to a show, but pretty stylish, fun stuff for wearing around the
–There was this local Kentucky vendor of BBQ sauces and sweet jellies/jams/fudge sauces in the middle of the trade fair–in my opinion, this is the sleeper hit of the entire trade fair.  They’re called Applecreek Orchards and I almost walked right past them, but they’d put out samples of their BBQ sauce in the aisle with potato chips. It was love at first bite, and between my friend and I, we bought about $100 of their stuff. An absolute must-taste if you visit WEG.  I particularly recommend the Original BBQ Sauce and the Bourbon Chocolate Fudge, which has a delightfully rich bourbon taste without any of the bitterness/alcohol taste you’d expect.
–A few pics from the Opening Ceremonies of William Shatner, Thoroughbreds running past, etc.

OSU Grad Teaching Workshop Post #8: Random Computer Lab Tools That I Like

Well kids, I spent this morning Riding the Silly Bus for English 110, so I’m a little pooped in the instructional composition department.  But I know you are hungry for more delicious teaching technology, so here’s three quick and tools for your computer lab teaching:

1. for easy-bake collaborative online documents: Having students produce collaborative documents is always fun and has multiple applications in the classroom, but many platforms require students to log in (like Google Docs) or have moderately steep learning curves (like Wikis that require Wiki markup language to do anything besides plain text), or they don’t update in real time and take fifteen jillion clicks before students can get there and update content (Ohio State’s CarmenWiki).

So what’s a collaboration-friendly computer lab teacher to do?  Rejoice and behold the the mighty, which is based on the now-defunct Etherpad framework and debuted earlier this summer. is stupid simple and has tons of teacher-friendly advantages:
–it updates in real time, automatically.
–no account needed for the creator or the contributors.  Anyone who has the URL for your interface can add to the document.
–each contributor is auto-assigned different background color for their text so that you can see who added what.  If you prefer, you can go to the “Options” menu and blank out all the colors for readability.
–there’s a chat window built into the right-hand side of the.
–you can export the document to all kinds of post-it-on-course-management-site-friendly formats like .DOC and .PDF., which means you can keep your student’s creation and put it on Carmen for all posterity (and in your teaching binder to ooh and ahh those job interviewers).

So what’s the catch, you ask?  A document can only have 16 students.  That’s not enough for 24 English 110 students, but think outside the box a little: if you put them in pairs, your 24 students will only equal 12 document collaborators, plus you, for a total of 13.  And if you REALLY REALLY wanted all 24 English 110 students to make individual contributions, you could put 12 in one document and 12 in the other and then manually combine the content yourself for projection/saving purposes.

2. Divvy up tasks with Divvyus, a brand new tool launched this past summer.  Divvyus is designed for events like potlucks, parties, and other events where dispersed groups of people need to divide up a task.  If you’ve ever tried to sort out a potluck “bring” list via email, you’ve lived the hell that Divvyus tries to eliminate.  And look how easy it is: just fill in the tasks that you want to Divvy, send the newly generated URL to the people you want to divvy the task, and let ’em pick it over.

As I so often find myself saying on this blog, the teaching applications are endless.  Examples off the top of my head:
–Divide up groups in computer lab to analyze different sources or sections of a text
–Let students self-select into interest groups
–Give a list of meeting or presentation times and let groups duke it out
–Break up virtually any complex task

3. Quick and dirty image editing online with Picnik – One fine day, your students will internalize that “visual rhetoric is important” thing you’ve been bantering about, and they’ll be so excited that they’ll want to edit an image right there in the computer lab.  Like, for example, maybe they want to crop the Solo Cup out of their Facebook photo so that they can use it as an avatar on their Blogger blog, thereby encouraging and building community spirit on the blog (yes, that WAS a passive aggressive encouragement to get all your students to put avatars on their Blogger profiles.)

Trust me, you want to teach your student Photoshop “on the fly” like you want to teach someone to drive a stick-shift car “on the fly.”  So it’s time to get friendly with Picnik, a free no-account-needed online photo editor that allows you to do all the basic stuff you’d need: cropping, resizing, etc.  Here’s me pretending to crop a photo on Picnik:

Ahh, look how easy and intuitive the interface.  Speaking of easy and intuitive, see that horse in my screenshot?  I’m off to ride him now before this screen glare finally gets to me!  Happy T Minus 2 Days to OSU Fall Semester!

OSU Grad Teaching Workshop Post #7: Screen Capture, Screencasting, and Screen Sharing for Teachers

Being able to screen capture images, share workflows with video screencasts, and share your screen in real time with students has multiple applications for teaching, most of which make your life and your student’s lives easier and more visually interesting.  What more can you ask?  Even if you’re a new teacher, I encourage you to play with the programs below and get comfy with them; one of these days, probably on a day when you weren’t even planning to use them, they’re going to save your butt.  For example, OSU friends may remember that day in the Pre-Quarter workshop when Wordle stopped working on all of the computer lab machines.  A quick screen-capture from my laptop, which I “carried” to the projector computer by stashing it in a (which is way faster than emailing it to oneself and waiting for the server to actually send it), saved the day.

Screen Capture Software: Both Macs and PC’s come with integrated print/capture screen features.  Hey PC users, ever wondered what that “Print Screen” button nestled between the Function keys and Scroll Lock does?  Press it one of these days, and you’ll discover that it sends a screenshot of your desktop to the clipboard.  Mac users have even more native functionality, which you can read about here.

But personally, I think a techie teacher should upgrade to something more comprehensive than the built-in OS features–something that allows you to modify your screen capture by drawing arrows, make basic text markups, etc. without having to fire up Photoshop or Paint.  When you’re already knee-deep in a blog post or authoring a “how to” handout for your students, you’ll appreciate that kind of native functionality.  For example, here’s an annotated screen capture of me authoring this post in Scribefire, a program that I’ll discuss in a future blog post:

You want some?  Get some.  My favorite screen capture software for each OS, all completely free:

Skitch for Mac
FastStone Capture for Windows
Shutter for Linux
Image representing ScreenToaster as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase Screentoaster is a free web-browser-based screencasting utility that records video footage of your own computer screen.  You don’t have to download anything to use it, and it will auto-detect your machine’s camera and webcam (if any).  I heart this tool very very much. I’ll let the Screentoaster folks show you why:

Some people are very loyal to another screencasting service called Jing, but I don’t get the Jing thing. Among other inferiorities to Screentoaster, Jing limits you to a 5-minute video, you have to pay Jing for webcam integration, files are only downloadable in SWF format (which is not Youtube friendly), and Jing’s allegedly amazing screen-capturing program is redundant with the free screen-capture programs listed above. Screentoaster for the win, I say.

Screentoaster has jillions of applications for teaching, for example…

–show students how to use a certain web site, technology, etc. instead of, or in addition to, giving out a confusing text-heavy handout. Be sure to speak slowly, circle pertinent buttons with your mouse to draw attention to them on the screen, and if it’s a screencast about a widely used program or feature, for example how to cut a clip in iMovie, always search Youtube first because 90% of the time someone has already made an appropriate screencast that you can borrow.

–model the workflow that you want students to follow that day (example: first go to Carmen and download this file in this folder, then open the file in Photoshop, then blah blah blah blah blah).

–give a PowerPoint or other presentation, capturing your audio along with your slides, for student’s future reference or for your own use in future classes.  Very handy if you’re wanting to assign a PowerPoint “lecture” for homework and save your precious class time for activities that don’t require your students to sit silently and feign interest.  You’ll be surprised by how many students will watch the screencast multiple times, which is not possible with an in-class uncaptured lecture.

–assessment and grading. I do not use Screentoaster for this because I paid for iShowU HD for Mac in the dark ages before Screentoaster and I still use it for assessment-related screen capture.  But I believe that you could keep grading assessment secure thru Screentoaster by screencasting, then immediately downloading the file to your drive, then deleting the vid from your Screentoaster account, then dropping the video into a student’s Carmen dropbox.

We’ll talk in a future post, perhaps later today or tomorrow, about video-sharing options for your lovely new screencasts.  OSU’s course management system, Carmen, is anemic in that area.  And no, Youtube is not your only choice.  Stay tuned.

Share a computer desktop so that others can see it in real time online: What if you could give your students a web site URL that would allow them to see your own desktop, updated in real time? makes that process painless and simple.  When you visit and click “share my screen,” asks you to download a wee tiny program (about 1.4 MB) to your computer.  Open that wee tiny program, and bam, has assigned you a temporary Internet address where your screen can be seen in any web browser.  Give the link to your students and hear them ooh and ahh.

I discovered through trial and error that the wee program that makes you download works over and over again, so realistically, you only need to visit once to download.  Every time you open the wee program, it assigns a new URL for a new screen-share.  So I just tucked the program into my Mac’s Applications folder for future use.

Image via CrunchBase

By the way, the free voice-over-Internet-Protocol program Skype can also do screen sharing.  If I wanted to talk to someone online via chat or voice while simultaneously sharing a screen, Skype might be preferable to Join.Me.  The downside with Skype is that your students would need to have Skype installed, which means they’d need to get a Skype account and download/install Skype.  Personally, I try to avoid account creation and downloading at all costs–it just complicates the teaching process and eats up time.  I will do it if I really super freaking like the application and there is no alternative, but in this case, provides an alternative that bypasses the install/account creation hassle.

Now why, you ask, would one want to share a screen in real time?  The possibilities are endless, but I might use it for…
–overcome a godawful desk layout in a computer classroom.  Instead of students craning their necks to see my projected screen, I could invite them to follow along on their own screens using  It’s like giving every student a front-row seat.
–virtual office hours and/or helping sick students stay tuned into what’s happening that day in the computer lab classroom.
–If you think of something else that screen-sharing would be better for compared to screencasting/recording, by all means leave a comment!  I am new-ish to using screenshare in the classroom, so I’d love the ideas!

I should note that there are many other, more comprehensive desktop-sharing utilities on the Internet that are basically knockoffs of the $$$$$$ Adobe Connect.  Dimdim, for example, offers free meetings where you can share a desktop, whiteboard, chat, and other functionality with a group of people in real time.  Mikogo has similar functionality.  But both sites only allow 10 people per meeting before you have to upgrade to a free account–a deal-killer for English 110, in my opinion., by contrast, has no such restriction.

Happy screen capturing/recording/sharing, and to my OSU teaching friends, “happy riding of the silly bus” as one of my teacher friends likes to say.  Say it out loud and you’ll get it.

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