Andy Minter, my favourite Librivox reader

Librivox is an organization devoted to free, volunteer recorded audiobooks of public domain works (where the copyright, if there ever was one, has expired). It is a great source for listening to stories by older authors like Dickens and Jane Austen, and for some newer (20th century) authors as well, like H.G. Wells and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Today I learned that sadly, my favourite Librivox reader, Andy Minter, passed away in April of this year. His reading of The Prisoner of Zenda (by Anthony Hope) was one of the first things I listened to on Librivox, and it is an absolute delight. I feel like Mr. Minter could have been a professional audiobook narrator if he had wanted to; his voice was calm, friendly, and full of warmth and personality that infused the characters he brought to life in his readings.

I was surprised at how modern the writing was in The Prisoner of Zenda, even though it was written in 1894; it is a humorous adventure tale of Rudolf Rassendyll, an ordinary young Englishman who travels to a (fictional) European country named Ruritania. While there, he is persuaded by palace officials to act as a political decoy for the king, who has been abducted by his brother in an attempt to take over the throne. Rassendyll reluctantly accepts the job, and adventures and romance ensue.

So if you are looking for a well-read audiobook, give The Prisoner of Zenda a try. You will have the pleasure of being introduced to a good story and Andy Minter’s wonderful voice.

Using a game to teach students how to evaluate sources



“Truth” by PDPics on Pixabay

I’ve just learned about a web-based game called Factitious that tests your ability to distinguish between real and fake news stories. You are shown a news article and can click to reveal the source. Then you swipe left if you think it’s fake, and swipe right if you think it’s real. The game tells you if you were correct, and then shows you the clues contained in the article that can help you decide on its veracity, and explains things about each source: e.g. The Onion is a satire website and doesn’t publish real news, and The Guardian is a well-known, reliable British news source.

I’m going to get my students to play this game before we talk about how to evaluate sources for research. I think they’ll enjoy it, and they’ll definitely learn a lot and get to practice their BS-detecting skills.

dog walk podcasts #10

It’s been great dog walking weather! And now that I’m on my summer break I am able to take him for plenty of walks during the week as well as on weekends.

dog wearing party hat

I look good in a fascinator, don’t you think?

Here are some of the great podcast episodes I’ve listened to lately:

Reply All:

#99: Black Hole New Jersey–a teenage girl sells her Apple Watch on an eBay-type site, but discovers the “buyer” has actually hacked someone else’s account and she is in danger of losing her Apple Watch AND not getting paid. Alex tracks down the package to a suspicious address that receives hundreds of packages per month from the local post office.

#86: Man of the People–in 1917, a young doctor named John Brinkley decided to expand his business by hawking virility treatments to the local farmers. The procedure was called “the goat gland treatment” and involved implanting goat testicles into the patient’s scrotum. Around the same time, commercial radio began to be a thing. This episode is about what happens when a charlatan gets hold of a seductive new medium…and even though it’s about events from 100 years ago, some of it might be eerily familiar to us living in 2017.


#3: Tara–“Jonathan watched a short experimental video in college in which a little girl sat in silence while her parent sobbed. Now, Jonathan wants to know if that girl is okay.”

This American Life:

#618: Mr. Lie Detector–Meet Douglas Williams, the former polygraph operator who realized that lie detector tests don’t actually work and became an anti-polygraph activist.

Slate Audio Book Club:

Discussion of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale

Plain, but not simple: Plain language research with readers, writers and texts (Kim Garwood)

I’m very interested in the subject of plain language and recently had the opportunity to advise on the wording of some forms and documents for students at my college. There is a certain tension in academia between the need to communicate ideas clearly and the feeling that certain aspects of meaning can be lost if plain language is used.

Kim Garwood’s PhD dissertation examines this very topic. I am only partway through it but so far it’s fascinating!

Course Syllabus as Infographic

In one of my online instructors’ groups there was a discussion about graphic syllabi. I’ve been trying to think of ways to make information more accessible for my upgrading students–I teach pre-Grade 10 English (Fundamental), Grade 11 equivalent, and Grade 12 equivalent, so there are varying levels of literacy involved here. Interestingly, I’ve realized that even students with high literacy levels (my Grade 11 and 12 equivalents) process information differently than I do/did when I was in school, and part of my job is helping them parse things like relatively difficult to access scholarly journal articles.

I know some people feel like it’s coddling to present information in a simple to parse way for students, since it’s our job as educators to help them learn to navigate a world that isn’t necessarily going to adapt for them. However, as I participate in more discussions about plain language, universal design for learning, and indigenization, I see very few downsides to presenting the basics of what is needed to navigate my courses in an easy to understand way. I’m still going to teach them how to read a scholarly journal article, but I don’t need to obfuscate (deliberately or not) my contact information, the expectations for the course, or when their assignments are due.

I came across a really interesting article on presenting information on your syllabus as an infographic. The author provides a thoughtful take on whether graphic course syllabi are useful:

Curtis Newbold: Would a Course Syllabus Be Better as an Infographic?

I’m not sure how effective infographics would be for all course syllabi. But I do know that there wasn’t a single question during this May term course from students about what was due, when it was due, and what my expectations were. That is rarely the case when I use my much-more-thorough syllabi in other courses. Is more being lost in our syllabi when we give too much information? Should we be reducing content for clarity by using infographic-style communications in the classroom? My initial reaction would be probably.