Posts Tagged ‘MUW’

Up Periscope: Testing the Waters of Social Video

Last week, I took the plunge into Periscope, Twitter’s live streaming video app. I’ve been thinking about trying this technology for a while now, but frankly, I felt a little daunted. I shouldn’t have. Live streaming video using Periscope couldn’t be much easier. I downloaded the app, tested it with a couple of very short videos (the weather at my house and at my office — each 30 seconds to a minute), glanced at the help files to learn about features like tweeting out, and then launched into my first real half-hour video, which I would count as a success — I didn’t feel completely stupid, and 18 people watched (2 more watched on replay).

So my first lessons: don’t expect to go unnoticed and don’t expect to be an overnight sensation.

Maybe the hardest part of doing a video like this is to have some content worth watching. Look around on Periscope, and you’ll see a variety of topics — some like mine are going to be mostly people talking; others are likely to be of people doing things, maybe even sleeping. You don’t have to be scintillating to get people to watch, at least for a little while anyway. So don’t be too worried about content, especially your first time.

I wanted to use Periscope to promote my university’s new low-residency MFA program in creative writing, and as I’ve done on this blog, I figured a good way to do that would be to offer to answer people’s questions about MFAs in general. I talked a fair amount about our  own program, but tried to compare it to others. Sure, I mentioned our strengths (the flexible schedule, low tuition, personal approach, etc.), but I also tried to acknowledge the differences in other programs that might be valuable to some students. Low-res programs that work on a mentorship model are great for those who want that one-on-one experience, whereas a program like ours that has online workshops during the semester might be better for students who want more interaction with other students.

Lesson Two: Have Props

This is a lesson I learned while doing the video. When I was talking about the #1 ranking we received from Nonprofit Colleges Online, I showed my computer screen with their website on it and scrolled down to the picture of our campus. I don’t expect anyone could read this, but it might help them find it later and it certainly gave them a break from looking at me for a few seconds. Similarly, when I was talking about how to learn more about MFA programs, I realized I had a copy of Tom Kealy’s The Creative Writing MFA Handbook on my desk, so I flipped to the rear camera on my iPad and showed the cover. Next time, I may try to have a few more props on hand that I can use, even if that’s a print-out of titles or web addresses (in large print).

Lesson Three: Expect the Unexpected

I wasn’t too surprised by this, since I had invited questions. Someone wanted to know what an MFA is and how do you join one — I talked about how to apply. Someone wanted to know what I thought about Harper Lee — I gave a quick answer and then got back on topic. Next time I might ignore off topic comments, as I eventually did with a few that seemed to be people checking in to see if they could get me to respond to their comment. You can block a user from your video by tapping on their comment, and I might have to get better about that in the future. Once one person commented with a specious comment, several others showed up briefly to do the same, probably because I hadn’t blocked right away. That’s hard to do while you’re talking, though, so if you can, you may want to have one person operate the phone or tablet while you talk. Then they can do the blocking and you can do the talking.

This strategy would work great for literary videos like a reading. However, you could also read a brief passage on your own and turn off commenting for your video in advance if you don’t want to be bothered with comments (or just ignore the off-topic ones if do you want some comments). The hearts Periscope uses for likes were also a little distracting, but I don’t think there’s a way to turn them off.

Lesson Four: Build an Audience

I’m planning to do a video again every Friday for the next several weeks. As I did this time, I will advertise on Twitter and Facebook in advance, and I’ll post the topics I’m planning to discuss. Next week, the goal is to talk about student debt and how to avoid it. If I get better suggestions of questions to answer, I may go with one of those and save student debt for later. But I found it’s good to plan at least one topic in advance and then see where the comments take you.

When you start your Periscope session, make sure to turn on the feature to Tweet Out your broadcast. This will send a tweet to your twitter account that has your title and a link to the video. This might help drive people to your video. People can also find you on the Periscope global map, and they will see you’re live if they follow you. Now that I have some followers, my audience might grow.

The other thing you can do is write about your experience after the fact. I posted on Facebook and tweeted about it right afterwards, and now I’m writing this on my blog. Check me out at noon CST on Fridays in January and February, if you want to see what I talk about next. I’m using our program’s account, which is @TheW_MFACW on both Twitter and Periscope (good advice is to keep the same name if you like your twitter handle).

Lesson five: choose your app

I chose Periscope because it has one feature I really wanted — it will archive your video for 24 hours. That way, if someone misses the live broadcast, they can still see it. You can also save your video to your device and then upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or any other service like that. Meerkat, which I like because it came before Periscope and wasn’t bought out by Twitter (but still works well with it, from what I’ve read), didn’t have the archive feature. I didn’t want my video to live online forever, but I did think it would help to grow my audience if some people could watch it later. If you like Meerkat, though, I’ve read it does some things better than Periscope. Archiving was the feature that made up my mind, but you may have other criteria that are more important to you.

A few final notes:

As I was signing off my video, one person said it had been helpful and they learned something. That made me feel it was worth it, despite the trolls who wrote specious comments. Ezra Pound said a professor is someone who can talk for an hour. I figured I could talk on video for at least half that long, and proved myself right. But your video could be shorter. For future broadcasts (once I’m done talking about MFAs for awhile), I’d like to do a short reading to promote my book Barrier Island Suite when it comes out, and I’d like to video student readings or other events at our residency period (with permission of course), and I’d like to give a tour of our campus or building (if I can stay within range of wifi and not use data). I’ll definitely be looking for more interesting backgrounds and other visual elements, and an interview with another writer might be nice to try. So check back later and see how it goes!

Southern Literary Festival 2015

The campus of University of North Georgia in Dahlonega made an excellent venue for this year’s Southern Literary Festival, and our small group from Mississippi University for Women had an excellent time. It was our school’s Homecoming, so only three students were able to get away.

The Festival was very well run, and everything went off without a hitch, as far as I could tell. Highlights for our group were the Third Place awards for the literary contest, since MUW student, Tamara Rutledge from Reform, AL, won one of the awards. The other prize sessions were also excellent, and confirmed just how high the competition is in the contest — each of 20-some schools submits the top two entries in their campus contests to the main festival competition, so everyone involved in the contest at that point has gone through a rigorous selection process. We were also thrilled this year to have our student literary magazine, edited by Mark Burr and Kristi Ezernack with Sarah Barrett as designer, selected for second place.

Other highlights for me were the poetry sessions, especially Sandra Meek and Karen Head, who both gave excellent readings, and I also had a chance to hear featured writers Tony Grooms and Frances Mayes read from new and published work. I was especially interested to hear parts of two new manuscripts by Tony Grooms (author of Bombingham) and to hear Mayes accounts of her new memoir about growing up in Georgia and her discussion of moving to Italy and integrating into the village where she bought the house that is featured in Under the Tuscan Sun. Sandra Meek is a poet I’ve admired for quite some time, and Karen Head’s discussion of digital poetry was especially apropos as I am thinking of the Writing for New Media class. Many other good ideas came out of these sessions, and our students enjoyed masterclasses on fiction, writing for young adults, and playwriting.

For me, one of the highlights is getting together with colleagues from around the regions. Discussions with Mike Smith and Don Allan Mitchell from Delta State, Beth Spence from Ole Miss, Nick Norwood from Columbus State, Jennifer Kates of Middle Tennessee State (next year’s host school) and her students, John Glass of UT Martin, and Carol Westcamp and Christian Gerard of University of Arkansas Ft. Smith (who will host in 2017 and put out the anthology of prize winners next year). I also got to talk with a few of the authors, and I’m probably leaving a few people out. And of course, I come home with a few new books and copies of the anthology.

And finally, hanging out with Tamara, Katy, and Rain, learning about the sessions they went to and talking informally about school, writing, etc. over dinner or between sessions was also fun. This year, they decided to take their own vehicle, which gave them a little more flexibility on what to do and may have allowed for a little more sight-seeing. This meant there wasn’t a 6-hour drive for extended conversation (or sleep for all who weren’t driving, which sometimes happens, esp. on the drive home). But we all made it through Atlanta traffic and were reminded of the advantages of living in a less urban area (a sentiment echoed by many of the other faculty I talked with).

There’s a lot of good energy with the Southern Literary Festival these days. Dana Carpenter (former Executive Director) and Beth Spencer (former c0-director and now executive director) have done a lot of great work to keep that energy going, and I’ll be doing a little more of that, now that I’ve been elected co-executive director (whereas previously I’ve been a member of the executive board, since MUW hosted in 2010). Delta State and UT Martin are both interested in hosting sometime in the near future, and MUW will likely take its turn again relatively soon as well. We’re always looking for more member schools, too.

Low-Residency MFA Steps Closer To Reality

I’ve written a few posts about my ideas on a low-residency MFA in creative writing. Last week, those ideas became a lot closer to reality. You might say they’ve been realized at Mississippi University for Women, when our governing board voted to approve our proposal. But I’ll really believe it’s real when we have students.

What is real is that there is lots of work to be done to put into practice the program that looked good on paper. And that work has begun in earnest. I’ve written a press release and put up our website http://www.muw.edu/mfacreativewriting with a description of the program and a list of the courses that have been approved. Still to come are admissions procedures, a breakdown of costs, and a list of faculty.

On the last front, I have contacted a number of writer friends about our new program, and the response has been phenomenal. I am very thankful for all the congratulations I’ve received, along with offers to end students our way and offers to teach for us. I will be taking people up on these offers, esp. for teaching, either as core faculty or as visiting writers. One of the best things about directing the new program will be the opportunity to work closely with so many other creative professionals — I want to bring in artists, musicians, chefs, historians, producers, publishers, museum directors grant writers, and many other members of he the creative economy in addition to writers.

I’ve already had some great conversations with people, and I’m well on the way to lining up some exciting new colleagues to work with as we take the. Program from the idea stage to the start of classes. And of course, the support of my department, my chair, dean, provost, and president has been and will continue to be vital to our success. Check our website for updates! I hope to have more announcements soon and often in the coming months.

Welty Week

Every October, the week I look forward to most is this one. Each year Mississippi University for Women brings a dozen writers to campus to read from their fiction, poetry, and essays at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. It’s an intense three days (and intense preparation beforehand). Everything is lining up fairly well. So far, no crises, and only a few last-minute details to wrap up (have to save a few of those!). On Wednesday, the first couple of authors will arrive, and Thursday, everyone will descend. I’ve been doing interviews to try to encourage folks to come out to the W to hear free readings. And of course, we sell books.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been the director. Before that, I helped out any way I could, including running the book table for a couple of years. It’s a great chance to meet new writers and connect with people I’ve known for awhile. I’m always amazed at how gracious everyone is, and what a great time we all have.

If you’re anywhere near Columbus, Mississippi, you should stop by and check it out.

Brussels Study Trip

ImageThis summer we had the good fortune to return to Belgium for 33 days, as I organized a study abroad trip with the MUW Honors College. For Kim, Aidan, and I, it was a chance to relive some of our experiences from 2006, when we lived in Leuven for a semester. This time, our apartment was in Brussels, and the experience was a little different. As a Fulbright Scholar in 2006, I taught classes at the Catholic University in Leuven (and Lessius Institute in Antwerp). This time, I was also teaching classes, and leading the group of 16 students and one other professor on excursions. The complexities of traveling with a group made me admire tour guides much, much more! But we had a good time visiting Bruges, Amsterdam, The Hague, Ypres, and Ghent with the group.

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Belgium is a great place to travel. We were able to get very affordable group rates on the trains — it did help to be able to communicate in Dutch or French, since group reservations can’t be made in English. Since we had a big enough group, we got 70% off on most of our train rides, and sometimes a ticket to a museum could be included. Most cities have guide associations that offer guided walking tours in English (or any number of languages). In Ypres, we found a great mini-van tour of the WWI battlefields of the Ypres Salient. Flanders Battlefield Tours took us to sites associated with some of the war poets, and they showed us British, French, German, and American graveyards as well as a private museum at the Hoog Crater, where soldiers tunneled under the trenches and then exploded dynamite to drive a wedge in the lines.

Besides introducing students to the history and culture of Belgium, I taught a class on Modernist European Poetry and Art. We studied primarily Belgian poets (French- and Dutch-language) and went to several museums in Brussels and on our travels. We had a lot of fun, and students were introduced to movements in art that most hadn’t seen before (though a few had seen them in art appreciation or history classes). The students also tried their hands at translating, and though they made some translation errors (none had studied either French or Dutch), they learned a lot about the process of translation and came away with a better appreciation for the poems.

My colleague taught a Political Science class on the European Union. Since our apartments were in the heart of the European district, students had ready access to the EU library and institutions for research. They also learned a lot by living in a multi-cultural neighborhood, going to street markets, eating fries from stands on the street, and walking around the city full of great architecture, from Art Nouveau to the contemporary EU buildings. All in all, it was a great experience.

Where do we go from here? One faculty member’s perspective

[The following is a column originally printed in the Commercial Dispatch, Columbus, Mississippi, on Sunday, February 7.]

I ended a recent letter stating MUW needs to look to the future and be proactive. The issues of changing our name or merging with another university appear to be behind us for now, and no matter what our positions have been, we must face the reality that we remain Mississippi University for Women. We are capable of facing the tough challenges ahead, so the question that will determine our future is: How? I believe we must stick to our mission and capitalize on our strengths.

Clearly, the budget is our most pressing issue. We must work diligently to assure fair and adequate funding from IHL, including a funding formula that does not discriminate against small teaching universities. MUW and any other university in this category must receive the small school supplement because we do not have access to as many grants, we do not have graduate students to teach our classes, and we do not have the economies of scale of the larger research oriented institutions. Yet the small schools serve a segment of the population that would not succeed in a large university environment. MUW has the smallest enrollment in the state, yet we are currently denied the small school supplement. This situation must be rectified.

We must also join alums in a capital campaign to raise private funds to offset some of the losses in state revenues due to the current budget crisis. Donations to our general fund will help us meet our immediate needs, and donations to scholarships will help offset increases in tuition, which MUW has requested along with the other IHL institutions. Higher tuition will not hurt our students, if we can help them find more financial aid to help cover the costs.

Maintaining access to higher education must remain one of MUW’s primary goals. Despite tuition increases, MUW remains the best value in public or private colleges in the state. In order to improve in this area, we also must find new ways to reach segments of the population who haven’t had access to higher education, while maintaining our unique mission.

Online education has been promoted as one way to “save the ‘W,” yet it seems unlikely that MUW will become the next University of Phoenix. One of our strengths is our small campus environment. which does not fit with a large online presence. Yet students are more likely to have full-time jobs and families. They are used to online classes and they demand some online options . Yet MUW must be careful how we implement them. Rushing into a major online presence would be detrimental to our image and our mission, and we may not be able to compete with other institutions who have a head start in this area. We must continue to develop the highest quality online or hybrid programs and classes that offer flexibility and a personal approach. Students will choose a class that is well organized over one that is not. They will choose a class where the instructor communicates with them and answers their questions promptly. And they will choose a class from an institution with a reputation like MUW’s.

To maintain and polish our reputation, MUW must reaffirm its mission as a small, liberal arts and professional university with a woman’s emphasis. It is easy to claim a woman’s mission, but it is another thing to define what that is and to show that it is still valuable. Many of our alumnae have extolled the benefits they received from attending MUW. In comparison to other women in their graduate programs and professions, they report they are more empowered to take part in discussions and participate in their fields. They do not even consider taking a back seat to their male colleagues, while many of their female colleagues do. Women students at MUW have not been coddled or protected. On the contrary, they have been challenged to succeed in ways that are not as available in traditional coed institutions.

It is true that MUW admits men, and the number of male students has steadily grown. Clearly these men find value in a university with a woman’s emphasis. As we reaffirm our woman’s mission, we must also evaluate how we can best serve this part of our demographic.

Men as well as women benefit from small class sizes and personal attention from faculty and advisors. Beyond the small college experience, our male students benefit from a woman’s emphasis where issues of gender are at the forefront, and men benefit from learning in a collaborative teaching environment. The men at MUW learn valuable skills for working with women in leadership positions, which are skills they will need in a modern work environment where more women are becoming managers and executives.

MUW also offers leadership opportunities to men. We have had male Student Government Association Presidents and officers. We have fraternities, and our male students are active in other student groups. Men at MUW do not take a back seat to women, but they also do not assume they will take the front seat. In many ways, men at MUW learn to compete and cooperate better than they would in an environment where they still have an advantage because of their gender.

MUW must market itself as the right choice for both men and women because of its woman’s mission, not despite it. To do so, MUW must tout its successes. We must let the world know about our alumnae and alumni who have gone on to successful careers. We must also promote our many successful programs, from art exhibits and auctions, to music concerts, theatre productions, and literature conferences such as the Eudora Welty Writers Symposium and Tennessee Williams festival, and to our excellent programs in Education, Nursing, Culinary Arts, and Business (to name but a few and leave out too many). MUW is a vibrant campus serving the needs of its students and benefiting the community at large, and too often we are too humble about our accomplishments.

Finally, MUW must reaffirm our woman’s emphasis by engaging in a dialogue about how we define it and why it is vital to the MUW experience. This must not be a topdown process, but must come from our three main constituent groups: faculty and staff, students, and alums. These three groups, more than any others, must define our future. Our alums are our link with the past and tradition, but they are also our first line of support and they are committed to our future. Our faculty and staff, including administrators, represent continuity. Many of us have been here a decade or more. We are engaged with students every day, and we all participate in the governance of the university. Our students are our present and our future. They can best tell us why they chose MUW, how it meets their needs, where we need to improve, and what our prospective students want and need. Only a process that truly engages the university community as a whole and from the ground up will have a chance of uniting that community and renewing the strength we need to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Poetry and Politics

This has been another busy week, which is to be expected, since it’s the last full week before finals. What I didn’t expect (until recently) was the news of Governor Barbour’s proposal to merge MUW with MSU. This has put everyone in high gear to respond and keep up with classes!

I’ve laid down the poetry pen and picked up the letter-writing pen this week, with a couple of letters to the editor of our local paper. The first was in response to an editorial on “denialism” and the second to several letters pronouncing the death of MUW and an editorial about how Grandma needs to get out of the kitchen. This has me thinking about the connections between politics and poetry.

I haven’t written a poem about the merger yet, and I don’t know if I will. Sometimes letters are the most poetic form for the message that needs to be said, though if the occasion arose (a demonstration or other public event where a poem might be fitting), then I might see the point of writing a poem. I have written political poems, though, and some have even made it into my books. “Reflections on Tora Bora” is one, and I kept it because, though the initial situation that inspired it was long over by the time the book came together, I felt it spoke to bigger issues that the book also addressed: what it means to be an American, how we use language to name our weaponry, and our history of violence and war. Maybe I haven’t written a poem on the university merger proposals because I haven’t connected them to a larger issue yet — or maybe it’s just because I’ve been too busy with other forms of writing to process it as poetry.

I did get a chance to read poetry in a political context this week, however. I had already been asked to speak to the Lowndes County Chapter of MUW’s Alumnae Association, which I was happy to do. Their meeting was this week, a few short days after the Governor announced his budget, and after I’d published one letter to the paper and submitted the second. Reading poems in this politically charged environment automatically became a political act, so I chose to read “Spring Beauty,” written about another completely different political situation (or several on both the world and the local stages). It ends with the image of spring beauties, wildflowers, as a symbol of resistance to oppressive forces in the world. Several other poems that I read, which I don’t think of as overtly political, can be seen in the same light. The natural cycles of death in winter and renewal in spring inspire resistance to the destructive forces around us, even as winter poems can inspire an acceptance of the things that can’t be changed. Death can’t be avoided forever, but college mergers can be resisted right now.

What I’m getting at is that any poem or any strong statement is political in the right context. The beautiful poem that is simply beautiful when ensconced in a literature anthology, may have begun its journey with a more political intent, and regardless of the original intent, when taken out of that context and placed in the real world, it can have a political effect. The act of writing poetry is in some historical situations a political act, and I would argue in any situation it can be political. That is why I’ve never bought the artificial distinction between poetry (supposedly apolitical, disinterested, neutral, more than likely masculine) and political poetry (which is somehow deemed inferior, as if the desire to have an effect with what you write is somehow a flaw). If poetry is powerful language, then it must by definition have the power to move and therefore must be political.

But sometimes letters are what is called for (or Declarations, Constitutions, or Addresses — I heard on the Writer’s Almanac that yesterday was the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, a political prose poem of the highest order). But now I’ll probably have to write a political poem after all…