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Barbara D Miller Faculty Member


Ten of my 25 years at GW were devoted to major university service roles. From here on, I am emphasizing research and teaching. Research: For a bit more than three years, I have been working on a major publication which will appear in late 2019 or early 2020. In late 2015, I was invited by Bloomsbury Press (London) to edit a four-volume collection of 100 previously published articles and chapters in sociocultural anthropology and to write an introductory essay for each volume. I encountered some major bumps along the way, most notably the high costs of permissions which required that I drop half of the original 100 entries and re-build from a base of 50, with attention to permission costs. Even though Bloomsbury handled the permission process, it definitely affected me as the editor in terms of staying within the $30,000 plus budget while seeking to generate a balanced and inclusive set of entries. Bumps in the road aside, I learned a lot of sociocultural anthropology along the way, and I am proud of the collection and my introductions which my editor deemed “well-written and informative.” Big milestone. In progress: A book, Inspired by observations and experiences on my return train home from DC in the evening. Starting in late 2016 I began to envision a project that would encompass “the social life of the train” from Washington to Martinsburg, WV and the erased social history of the 80 miles, especially in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, and class. This project involves library and field research extending back into prehistory and into the present. Teaching: This past academic year was yet another one of adjustment to my post-admin life. It has been challenging to re-develop a regular set of courses, after having taught a 1-1 load for seven years. I am happy to be getting a settled plan in place. Of my four courses this year, only one was a repeat prep (Anth 1002 hybrid in the fall), and it was only the third time I had taught it. The 60-student class of Anth 1002 (fall and spring) was a substantial revision for me because it entails a blend of lecture and essentially 25 minutes of discussion in each 75 minute class. Having now taught that format twice, I can say that the student ethos or “vibe” makes a big difference. In terms of the in-class discussion, things went much better in the spring, I think, than in the fall, with more widespread contributions (even from the far back row), and more thoughtful, less meandering comments. My other new prep was a WID class in the spring. It is a very intensive, very demanding course for all, as it involves almost constant feedback to the students – from me and student peer review. In terms of my course evaluations: I find two things puzzling. 1. In my 60-student intro class, several students complain about “memorization.” It is true that 60% of their overall grade is based on three multiple choice exams and, indeed, some memorization is involved. But if they have come to class and paid attention, then “learning” should be happening that overrides “memorization” to a large extent. Furthermore, 40% percent of their final grade is based on their eight essays: no memorization involved here. So, some distortion of the learning opportunities in this class appears to exist in many students’ minds. 2. Feedback: In all my courses, I give frequent, regular, and substantial feedback on all their written work (and all of my courses involve frequent writing). I really cannot envision giving more feedback. So my interpretation of the disappointing student reviews of feedback in my classes is this: many students are used to “pat on the back” feedback. The fact that I provide critiques of their essays/other submissions, in hopes that they will listen and improve, is likely being seen negatively by many students. In fact, I noticed in my 60-student classes, that many students did not improve the quality of their essays at all, throughout the semester, in spite of coaching/feedback. Some students, more happily, did show improvement. But definitely not all. I made two adjustments in my feedback practices for essays in Anth 1002: 1) In my fall 2018 60-student class, I worked with my grader on criteria for the essays. I graded them all for the first few weeks, sharing my evaluations with my grader. After that, he did all the grading on his own (although I kept my eye on things as well). In the spring semester, however, I graded all the essays throughout the course, sharing my evaluations with my grader and asking her to assess them and revise them as she saw fit; each week we briefly discussed any discrepancies and how to resolve them. Not only did this change mean that I stayed in closer touch with the essays throughout the semester, but it also took some pressure off my under-paid and excellent grader. I will continue this practice in the future. 2) In my summer DE classes, in the past, I gave feedback on essays at mid-point and at the end. This summer (2019), I am giving weekly feedback with the hope that some will take it to heart. SO, even though regular and substantive feedback does not get me high ratings in this area, I will nonetheless provide them.

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