How to Zoom

Most of us probably know the basics at least, but here’s a one-pager that lays out the basics, links to more detailed resources, and gives some dos and don’ts (apologies for the schoolmarmish tone: it was written for sophomores):

Zoom Discussion Guidelines

We will do a lot of our collective thinking and skill-building this term via Zoom, the online video conferencing platform. In order for this to function smoothly as a space for intellectual exchange and growth, we need to follow some basic rules of the road and thus create a safe and dynamic space for ourselves and each other. Here are some guidelines:

how to connect:

For class discussions, we will use the same link  every time: it’s on the syllabus  in our private Dropbox folder. It’s not on the open blog for security reasons. There is a different link for office hours, which is also in those places. Click to connect, and remember to enable video and audio, unless you’ve got some personal reason not to.

how to use:

Remember to enable video and audio: you will be “muted” by default, so to make a comment, you’ll have to unmute to speak up.
Some other ways to participate:

  • raise hand: if you want to speak, use the “raise hand” icon (click on the icon labeled “Participants” at the bottom center of your PC or Mac screen and click “raise hand”). You can also use the “reactions” button to give me or a peer feedback (claps, happy face, etc.)
  • comment via chat: 
    • you can ask questions or add to the discussion in writing via the “chat” function as well. Be careful to address general comments to “everybody” and personal comments to me or to the person you want to address. 
      • I’ll designate a peer to be the “voice of the chat” for each session so I won’t miss important questions or problems as I’m trying to focus on the day’s topic.
    • I will save the ‘everyone” transcript each time, so I’ll have a chance to review unanswered questions or issues after class.

other issues:

Feel free to customize Zoom for self-expression, including:

  • using a virtual background (especially if you have family members or roommates in the environment that might be distracting) 
  • creating an avatar (could be a selfie, could be something else that expresses you); 
  • changing the “name” field to whatever you want to be called (please include a preferred pronoun if you like)

dos and don’ts:


  • respect one another: we all want to learn, and we all have valuable comments and perspectives to share. 
  • speak up: I recognize that this is a difficult time, but I want you to be active participants in your education at all times
  • ask questions: use the “chat” function when possible to avoid breaking up the flow of discussion and I’ll do my best to make sure things run smoothly
  • reach out to me via email  or office hours or the chat function if you’re having problems or issues, technical, intellectual, or otherwise


  • use unprofessional language, engage in personal attacks, or distract others
  • use the chat function (either privately or to everyone) in ways that distract from the topic
  • sit there like a bump on a log: real learning is active learning, when you’re producing rather than just consuming facts and interpretation

For more detail, check out Zoom’s library of video tutorials.

How to post on this blog

Just wanted to give a quick guide to posting on WordPress for newbies. It’s super easy once you figure it out the first time. So here goes:

1. LOG ON: anyone can see the blog site, but only those logged on as “authors” can post. If you simply click on the link you received when I invited you and join the Commons, you should able to log in as an “author” with permission to post. Two helpful hints:

a) you can always tell when you’re logged in, since there’s a slim black bar across the top that looks like this:

Screenshot 2015-02-06 14.06.48

and b), if you ever want to go straight to the “back end” of the site (called the “dashboard” in WP parlance), throw “admin” on the end of the URL. So, takes you to the site, whereas takes you to the “dashboard.” Try it.

2. START A POST: there are several ways to post. Here’s the easiest: click the <+ NEW> icon in the top middle of the screen and select “post.” It looks like this:

Screenshot 2016-01-27 22.00.33

3. WRITE SOMETHING: “New Post” will take you to a basic text editor. So write something. If you want to get fancy, you can add italics, bold, indentation, insert images or other media, and whatnot. But most of the time you’ll just try to write some reasonable sentences. When you’re done, click PUBLISH on the right (see image below). Or, if you’re not quite ready, you can save it as a draft and reopen it later, via the “POSTS” section of the dashboard. Helpful hint: WordPress autosaves your work every few seconds, so it’s very, very rare to lose stuff. Nonetheless it’s not a bad idea to compose posts on a word processor and then paste them into WP just in case. I personally live dangerously most of the time and have never lost anything, but your call.

We’re good, right? Happy blogging.

quick follow-up on + evaluation

I just wanted to sum up our quick discussion about using for annotating our readings in the course and to say a quick word about evaluation. First, nuts and bolts:

If you are using your own machine:

  • download the Chrome browser (if you don’t already have it) and the Chrome extension for
  • navigate to a text you want to annotate
  • click the icon in the extensions area of the browser window


  • the tools will pop up on the right-hand side of the window and you’re up and going

If you are not using your machine or are a die-hard Firefox/etc. person:

  • first try dragging the bookmarklet to the bookmark bar
  • if the browser you’re using will permit you to do this, navigate to a page you want to annotate and then click the applet icon in the bookmark bar, and you’re good: if it worked, you’ll see the tools on the right-hand side


  • if the browser won’t let you, navigate to and enter the URL of the page you want to annotate into the appropriate cell


  • on some occasions (say, if you’re accessing something via the library proxy), this won’t work, and you’ll get stuck in a redirect loop and time out

Bottom line: if you save the annotating work for the course for times you’re with your own computer, you’ll never have problems. If you can’t, you still should be just fine most of the time.

In terms of evaluation, I view your annotating much the way I view your participation: I think it’s important and value it highly (15% of your grade in each case); I care about both quantity and quality of both; I don’t want to force you to do either according to a reductive template to earn a grade for both. So be active in annotating texts, just as you are in participating in class. At the end, you will have a substantial body of work for me to evaluate (and I can see your whole output very easily in, unlike your class participation!). I don’t expect you to be profound all the time; I just want to see your reading/thinking process spontaneously at work. Added bonus: those of you who are naturally shy or retiring in class can use the distinctive privacy of cyber-annotations to step out a bit more!

Why Blog? What makes for a good post?

A central feature of this course will be the writing we do on this site. In what follows, I will outline three things:

  • a rationale for why I ask you to blog in the first place, rather than write traditional essays
  • a quick primer on how to create your first post
  • a simple rubric to guide your writing + an example of a good-looking post

First things first: why blog?

  1. Blogging is sharable: rather than have a private circuit between you and me, we have a much more dynamic conversation across the entire class.

  2. Blogging is public, sort of: I like the idea that we are responsible for our ideas in front of broader audiences. In practical terms, I doubt anyone is listening in most of the time, but I think it’s important that we roll up our sleeves and defend our arguments in an open and public forum as often as possible. And of course, you can show your family/friends/pets what we’ve been up to in class. For those who have reservations about privacy, note that a) you can only be identified via firstname+last initial, so you have relative privacy beyond our class; and b) you are free to delete your posts at the end of class. If anyone has serious reservations despite all this, feel free to contact me.

  3. Blogging is sturdy: rather than forget the piece of paper once it’s been handed back, we can link back to prior statements or observations, or to each others’. If you like, you can leave your posts up for future 399ers to see.

  4. Blogging is responsive: rather than only getting comments from me, you’ll comment on and get comments on each other’s work.

So how do you post? Once you get enrolled as an “author” on the site, it’s really easy. Here’s a step-by-step with screen shots from Evan Cordulack at William and Mary. I’ll also note that WordPress gives you several other ways to initiate a post, so feel free to explore the dashboard and find your own best way.


What makes for an excellent post? For this class, posts should:

  • contain at least 500 words (use word count in WordPress or your word processor)
  • explain a given text’s argument (for secondary readings) or analyze its form and themes (for primary readings by Melville), using quotations and paraphrases of the text with page numbers in parentheses
  • engage a text critically, noting its limitations, its links to other texts we’ve read, its unstated assumptions, etc.

Here’s a simple rubric, adapted from Mark Sample, that I will use to evaluate your work (see how the academic blogosphere encourages sharing and exchange? I told you so!):

Rating Characteristics
4 Exceptional. The post is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. It moves beyond summary to engage the text critically, articulating weak points or dubious assumptions (for secondary texts) or giving a sharp, original close reading (for primary texts). It makes useful connections to other texts and raises novel questions.
3 Satisfactory. The post is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. It provides a compelling summary of an argument (or dutiful reading of primary text) but fails to engage the argument/text more than glancingly. The entry reflects moderate engagement with the topic and/or rehashes what was said in class.
2 Underdeveloped. The post is restricted to summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and may contain misreadings of the argument at one or more points. The entry reflects passing engagement with the topic.
1 Limited. The journal entry is unfocused, or simply rehashes others’ comments; it fails to grasp fundamental aspects of the argument.
0 No Credit. The journal entry is missing or consists of one or two disconnected sentences.

Last but not least, here’s an example of a good-looking post. I’ve linked to it in a Word doc so you can see some marginal comments that explain why it’s good. And remember: it’s not an exercise in cookie-cutting: your results may vary, and there are lots of ways to write an excellent post.


annotating readings with

As I mentioned briefly in class, we’ll be using frequently to share our thoughts and reflections on course readings. I’ve left a few annotations on the two readings we’re discussing on Tuesday. This is optional–and we’ll do an annotation exercise in the ICIT lab on Friday for those who need more help–but if you can figure out how to sign up and use the platform, feel free to read my comments and make your own. We will use the tag <allred399> on the platform so we can filter out our own discussions separate from those of the free world: kind of like a hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.

A couple of ways to get your feet wet: a) the tutorials page and b) the FAQ sheet.