Thoughts on ballpoint pens

I recently switched to (mostly) paper-based grading in one of my courses. This has me thinking about pens.

Above (top to bottom) are a: Fisher Space Pen (USA, ca. 2017, medium, black); Parker Jotter (USA, ca. 1999, medium, blue); and Zebra F-301 (Indonesia, ca. 2018, fine, blue). I will comment on each.

The Parker ties with the Zebra for balance, but the Parker is heavier. Its click is also more satisfying. The Space Pen not balanced, but its click has interesting bounce.

I enjoyed grading with the Parker very much. Its medium point is between the Zebra’s fine and Space Pen’s medium. This was good for writing on the papers. But it also seems to do best on copy paper — and does not perform like Space Pen in non-ideal weather (for obvious reasons).

The Parker also clipped nicely to my jeans — kind of like a tactical pocketknife. Zebra also can do this, but it doesn’t have the heft to stay put. It also has a tendency to get clicked open. Fisher will stay clipped to anything, but it is hard to clip because that clip has little give.

For the shirt pocket, I like Zebra most. It’s so light! Fisher is not fun in the pocket because it’s hard to clip. Parker also is good in the shirt.

I also used a Fisher bullet format for several years (USA, ca. 1993, medium, black). It is a great pen to keep in a coat or pants pocket. It just sits there mostly unnoticed and has a cap that seals well.

Overall, the Zebra is a lightweight, inexpensive, and enjoyable pen. I like it for flying.

The Parker is best for grading. The Zebra probably is next. The Parker will remain my go-to. I will stick to my plan for the Fisher, which is “summer pen.”

Teaching research design to undergrads

This has been my second time (we end in June). Here is how I would do it in the future.

1) Spend 2-3 class sessions on an accessible book that covers much of a (traditional) subfield. Use class to discuss the books the way my high school English teachers did.

2) Have each student choose a theme and write a paragraph on it. Call this the “commitment paragraph.”

3) Group students by some reasonable subfield division. These become “workshops.”

4) Proceed through my existing scaffolding. Workshop that work 1x per week.

5) Decide whether students should write a full paper, just the first 2/3, or just a literature review. This will depend on student energy and whether I have 10 or 14 weeks.

6) Students may final papers solo or in groups of not more than three. That decision is made in the middle of the term, and students sign contracts.

This differs in three ways from what I am doing now. First, it uses a ‘classic text’ to familiarize a basic vocabulary. Now I have each student choose a top-three journal article. That is too broad.

Then it replaces ad hoc groups with standing “workshops.” This might build rapport and lead to cross-fertilization.

Third, it introduces optional coauthorship.

Research design thus taught will reflect the instructor’s specialization(s). This is an asset. The course can rotate.