Karlissa’s New Book!
Dec 13th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Today I came home from lunch with Melissa to find a few copies of our book at my doorstep.

We’re proud of this–twenty great assignments, with rationales and tips for integrating them into your classroom.

Melissa and I also both wrote a chapter.

Buy yours here or here.

Summer Resolutions and Recipes
Aug 12th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Summer is my time of resolutions and new beginnings–the academic calendar warps the mind this way. Since I live in an academic town, though, we’re all warped.

I’ve been trying to take advantage of the significant schedule shift that summer gives me–I’m still teaching, of course, but the hours are different–to do three things:

1. I’m walking every day in the purposeful way (as opposed to the I’m on my way to class way). Unfortunately, my body doesn’t like this, so I can’t go as far as I’d like, but I’m doing it anyway.

2. I’m writing every day in the purposeful way (as opposed to the I have a bunch of emails to answer and papers to grade way). You may notice that you’re getting blog posts more often, and my academic writing is on track.

3. I’m trying new recipes every week (I want to use parallelism here, but of course trying a new recipe is purposeful). Here are our favorites:

Hot Honey Shrimp, which I just served with Pan Roasted Okra and Corn.

Meltingly Tender Chicken with Miso, Ginger, and Carrots: soooo tender, sooo good.

What else would you do with the miso? Try Pancetta Miso Pasta.

Pancetta Miso Pasta and Soy Chicken over Arugula

Pancetta Miso Pasta and Soy Chicken over Arugula

Crock Pot Carnitas: I turned them into tacos, stew, and enchiladas.

Pork in Magic Green Sauce: the sauce also worked well on chicken and shrimp.

Soy Ginger Chicken over Argugula.

Indian-spiced Corn Stew: I used half water and half coconut milk, and I added okra and some leftover cooked chicken.

I have a hypothesis: we need more hypotheses
Apr 30th, 2016 by Dr Karma

As someone who scores straight down the middle on those left brain/right brain tests, I often use science and scientific concepts in my work. (My dissertation was an ethnographic study, and I’m constantly irritating other Atwood scholars by bringing neuroscience into my presentations.)

One thing I particularly want to integrate in the humanities, as a teacher, is the hypothesis. In the sciences, we propose a hypothesis, we conduct research, and we see if we’re right. As long as the research is sound, we’ve done a good job, whether the research proved us right or not. Whether the hypothesis is confirmed or not, we’ve learned something (even if it’s that we need to redesign the study to get clearer results).

Yet when my students approach their papers, they think they need to have a predetermined thesis before they even start to research.

This is an especially bad habit to instill in our students who will go off to grad school, where they will have to tweak their ideas and even abandon their ideas if they discover someone else has already published on that idea–something the grad students will only learn once they do enough research to position themselves in the discourse.

The basic problem: students who have their thesis set before they research will research poorly. They will discard research that complicates or contradicts their thesis (when it could at least be helpful in developing counter-argument). Also, when they’ve found the teacher mandated minimum required sources that confirm their ideas, they stop looking, stop researching, stop thinking completely.

Going into the research process with a hypothesis would allow for better work–the student’s opinion would be more informed, more complex. The student might do what we want her to do–to find more sources than will actually be cited in the essay.

Of course, we would still structure our papers the old-fashioned humanities way. I don’t need my students to tell me their hypothesis in the into, take me through the work (“To test this idea, I googled ‘Shakespeare actually a middle class ten year old girl from the Isle of Skye?’ and then read the first paragraphs of the first thirteen results . . .”), and then conclude with their results. We “show” our work in a different way.

But wouldn’t the paper be stronger if, when the student polished up the piece, that thesis in the intro was for sure an informed opinion based on thorough research?




The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating (Entry 16): Working for Free
Dec 18th, 2015 by Dr Karma

“Can I just send my students to you?”

I don’t know anyone in my profession who hasn’t heard a question like that.

I was surprised to hear it from another teacher, however.

I was trying to make nice with colleagues from across the campus at the request of my friend Ken, who’d organized a meet up in an attempt to get us to know and love each other (Ken talked about “networking,” but that word makes my ass twitch, so I had to pretend that’s not what I was doing).

A man from our nursing school in Sac asked me what I do. Well, among other things, I teach Writing in Health Science.

My colleague thought that was great, and said his nursing students definitely needed instruction like that. I talked about our workshops and our classes. He said his students didn’t have time for those.

“Can I just send my students to you?”

As soon as I made it clear that I wouldn’t be taking on free individualized writing instruction for all of his students, in the same way that he was unlikely to take on free individualized healthcare for all of my students, he wandered off to network with someone else, and my ass was left twitching in irritation.

This kind of thing happens all the time. Students and former students often want my editorial skills–so do some of my writer friends (cause writer friends always help other writer friends)–but at least they have a right to ask. And they know how to ask (usually) because they understand the value of what they’re asking for.

The students I teach, the people I mentor, and the people I love can and do ask. They also understand that sometimes I can’t help them for some reason or another.

Unpaid labor, though, is much on my mind these days, due to some disagreements about pay that the university and I (& my class of department faculty) are having.

It’s also on my mind as a writer. I wish my friend Chris and I had been in better contact a few years ago, when I was doing a movie blog for someone else–when he came to campus recently for an author talk, he was clear that none of us should ever write “for exposure” (thought we’d need to redo academia and its weird expectations). (The Oatmeal wrote a great short comic about “exposure“–see below.)

And now, the expectation of free labor (you like writing! so you must want to make my shitty writing awesome instead of working on your own awesomeness) has entered my dating life.

A couple of months ago, I got bombarded by messages from a young man while I was in Oxford. He’s in his late twenties, and I don’t think we have anything in common. He wasn’t able to convince me that we did–every message was just a different way of saying he really liked me and that he wanted to be my lover.

I declined to give him my phone number, despite his repeated attempts.

He disappeared for a couple of months, but then reappeared, with the same bland, general declarations of devotion, not bothered in the least by the fact that we’d never talked about anything other than the fact that I wasn’t interested and that he was.

“I don’t want to date you.”

“Ok. Can I call u?”


Several weeks later, which happened to be today, I got this message:

“hi how are you? I need help proofreading my thesis paper. Thank you hun :)”


In his defense, he apologized when I explained the various ways in which that message was inappropriate and rude.

So I guess a free writing lesson happened after all.



by The Oatmeal

by The Oatmeal

on my way to class
May 14th, 2012 by Dr Karma

On my way to class

to teach people how to write

with style

to unlearn bad habits

where I try to make everything

a story

& then I see the blood

smudged all over one hand

from where I’ve unconsciously

picked at my thumb

I didn’t feel anything

but I can’t teach

visibly bloody

so I lick the wound like an animal

test to see if it wells again

walk into class


the blood under my fingernail

will darken all morning.

texting speak
Oct 28th, 2009 by Dr Karma

In the September 09 edition of Wired, Clive Thompson has a short article in which he basically cites and agrees with Andrea Lunsford (a writing teacher at Stanford) that our students are more literate in the age of facebook and texting–they actually write (even if it’s just tweets) when they aren’t required to by a teacher.

The argument further says that the students understand the idea of audience more because of the “life writing” they do.

I find the argument intriguing, but I have one quick bone to pick. “As for those texting shortforms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.”

Well, I’ve seen it. I’ve actually returned a paper to a student and asked him to spot the error in line four. Even when looking for it, he couldn’t see the “you” is not spelled “u” error because he was so used to texting. While texting speak in academic writing isn’t rampant, it happens.

I’m upset that we would declare something a myth because one teacher didn’t find an example of it from the papers she collected at Stanford. This is a hasty generalization–the sample size is too small and is perhaps not representative of the college population.

Just saying.

The article is here:

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Dr. Karma saves Vegas!
Mar 30th, 2009 by Dr Karma

Yes–we are in an economic downturn, but I made sure that one extra person went to Vegas this Spring Break.

Last quarter, my advanced composition students had to write a letter addressed to someone they knew, using what they learned about persuasion, to changed his/her mind about something. One of my students was attempting to get permission from her very conservative/traditional parents to go to Vegas.

We went over it in office hours and I made a suggestion about adding a paragraph . . .

I found out today that she sent the letter to her parents and that she indeed went to Vegas. Her mother specifically cited my paragraph.


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