Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I thought I was on post overload this week after all the jam posts and replies and I would skip posting here, but I have been thinking about my experience in the Ning. I liked the threaded discussions--something that blogger doesn't really do since even comments on blogger are just one big list. I have the sense that the Ning allows for ongoing conversations in a way blogger does not, yet on the other hand I am curious about what students can do in terms of control because the Ning felt a lot more teacher-controlled than blogger. Can members create new discussion threads by default or do you have to enable them? If the latter, I would like to hear from Ning users here what they have chosen to do and how it has worked for them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

One Way to Organize a Multi-Author Blog

((I'm cross-posting this from the JAM since it's buried in a response to a response.))

I notice that a few people mentioned the possibility of using multi-author blogs for their courses, and I thought I'd share one possible way to do that here.

Some years ago an acquaintance of mine organized students he was teaching at several different community colleges simultaneously to do an online publication together: they decided on a series of projects (I think they had a central theme) and then established editorial, researcher, and writer positions. Each group did an article from start to finish, and then everything shuffled: students could swap groups and rotate positions. Every student had to occupy every position (writer, editor, researcher) at least once during the semester. I think there was a second tier that included a main student editor and a student website designer too (this was pre-blog) but I'm not exactly sure how they fit in.

My acquaintance's instruction was focused entirely on composition, research, and writing process; beyond that, he simply made himself available to help the different groups do problem-solving. His grading was based on the articles each group produced and on response papers that group members wrote individually, describing their role and the group dynamic.

At the time, he reported that the students were unusually engaged with his writing instruction, took their own writing process very seriously, and did a lot of learning from each other as they rotated tasks. According to him, the students reported that having people from different colleges in the same work group also tended to increase their sense of responsibility and their concern about the quality of their contributions.

Since he was working across colleges, it seems that you could easily link two or more LaGuardia classes in this way -- even classes with different instructors. It sounds like a lot of up-front organization and plenty of potential for the unexpected, but it also sounds like the class would begin to "run itself" at a certain point in the semester.

Pump up the Jam!

Hi all--

The JAM opens this morning at 8:00am and closes tomorrow at 5:00pm. Remember the idea is to post often and respond to others rather than write one long entry as we do in the blog. You may start new threads of discussion as you like but the "most popular" ones will stay on top the of the list. (If you still need to join the Ning follow the link and hit the "Join" link in the upper right hand corner).

Here is the link to the site:

And here is our theme song:

Cheers and happy posting!
J and X

Sunday, April 25, 2010

JAM April 26th and 27th! Be there or be square

Hi everyone! Our "JAM" will start on April 26th at 8:00 am and end the 27th at 5:00pm . For ease of discussion, we will be working in Ning, so this week you should take a few minutes to sign up (the link is to the right). You may also want to put up an image that represents yourself other then the "grumpy face" we have as default. To do that, simply click on "Settings" in the right-hand menu that will appear after you have signed up to Ning.

We will post some discussion topics, but once you are a Ning member you will be able to start other topics also, if you wish.--X

Platforms vs. Web 2.0?

I've been thinking a lot about 're-use' in my course materials. Just spent some time migrating wiki content between different domains. Also cutting and pasting between old and new courses in Blackboard. (Deleting old items in BB seems like it is one at time--tedious and a complete waste of my time.... Why can't I select more than one item at a time? Why isn't this better--and simpler?)

What are the best practices for re-use and continuity in Web 2.0 tools for education? The web today is endlessly in the present--who reads a tweet from last week? It's old news.
In contrast, if we are going to be moving content, er, our courses to the web, we'll want to think about how to keep it alive (and make it easy to re-use and re-purpose) for entire semesters, even across courses and academic years. Blogs and wikis are going to make it difficult to do this. For all its many limitations, Blackboard does at least let you archive and move course content around.

It's clear that we're going to be spending more and more of our teaching lives online--whether in traditional courses that get blogs, wikis, etc.; hybrid courses or even pure web courses (though this seems unlikely in my department). The tools need to be better, and we need to think about Web 2.0 in a different way than most users. While these tools celebrate that they are of the moment, I want to think about about building engaging content that lasts at least a semester or two....

Should we do it ourselves (as in this Web 2.0 seminar), or should we aspire to a standard 'platform'--ugh, an ugly and even sinister word? The same issues crop up with courseware in general for online or distance learning, too. Is it DIY or an institution's standard, usually monolithic, platform? And Web 2.0 tools may be so long-lived after all. The history of the Internet is littered with the countless lost web domains and ventures that ran out of venture capital. I'm already seeing, however, that it's a lot of work to keep track of accounts and doing administration (and even passwords) in these separate tools. A platform appeals to me. I just can't imagine what it would be like to be a student with three different courses that use entirely different web tools. Imagine this across a typical career of a student at LaGuardia, passwords and accounts and identities multiplied by how many classes over several years. So I can see the benefit of ePortfolio or Blackboard here.... Any thoughts?

As a point of contrast, I was browsing through a course on Quantum Physics on MIT's OpenCourseWare. (No, I can't understand the math, but I love this stuff in a kind of Michael Frayn Copenhagen way). I just presented a conference paper on some related math and physics in Pynchon's 2006 novel Against the Day. (I'm planning to revise the essay and submit it somewhere this summer. We are covering some Einstein--via a wonderful book Einstein's Dreams for my LIB 200 course. There is an excellent PBS website on one of the Nova documentaries there....)

For MIT's courses like this one, there is such an elegant approach--videotaped lectures of and these beautiful, austere lecture notes in PDFs, in black and white only, no less.... This all gives the illusion this is a body of understanding that will last. In my endlessly transformative pedagogy, I'm so swamped lately re-adjusting and simplifying and making things better--choosing the right YouTube clips and excerpts of graphic novels and enticing web links, etc., all designed to get my students to read and think critically, just a little, at a little greater length than their next tweet or text. I crave simplicity--and solidity--that Web 2.0 seems to have taken away.... Any thoughts?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

This Just In: Students have excuses!

I'm having a different, but related, problem to the one Steve just posted.

Every week or so, my students have 2-part (posting/ reading + commenting) assignments like:

a) post your blog by Sat. at Midnight;
b) respond to your group of 3-4 'partner' peers' blogs by Monday night.

However,students often fail to meet deadlines like these (for all their long-standing and variously weak reasons plus new technology-based excuses such as "my computer exploded" or "I can only use a computer once a week"). Once this hits critical mass, as it has in some groups where one very diligent student is entirely abandoned by his/her 3-4 tardy-to-noncompliant peers, this basically ruins the system. Since it no longer rewards those who do follow the rules (they get no feedback from peers and feel anxious that their peers have no work for them to comment on), its kind of demoralizing.

I have lost control of the system for several reasons:

1) I am too preoccupied with having a private life over the weekend (albeit one filled with paper grading) to monitor each of the students blogs and posts.
2) I have been too anxious to harshly penalize those who may truly have technology-access or technology-knowledge issues that keep them from satisfying these assignments. This was especially true in the first weeks, and I feel this initial leniency 'set the stage' for wiggly deadlines and a less-than-effective reward/penalty system.

I have just announced new stricter grading, but I'm afraid it will result in a bloodshed of lowered grades rather than improved results.


Web 2.0 Clock Management

My students have been blogging about once a week or so, but I haven't had too much time to do much with their work. Right now, I'm using the blogs as more of a submission mechanism than a community tool.

I think it's a time management issue. I didn't really allocate enough time in my syllabus for students to spend time reading each other's work, and I'm realizing that's a huge part of this process.

Our midterm is next week and after that, I think I'll be able to carve out time so that students are posting on their blogs, but also reading what their classmates are posting.

At the start of the semester, I thought all of this stuff would come together pretty organically, but I'm realizing that like most other things, things only come together organically if they're well-staged.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dr Van and Dr X's Bricolaging

On Tuesday night, Dr. Van posted a query to any/all of us for a joint exploration of "bricolage" identity. Since I had already separated Thursday's class to do a review + reflection with my "Sex and the City" (ENG 101) students, I decided to revise the day's lesson to include Dr. Van's request.

I settled on four activities for the day: 1. a general class discussion on "what we (should) have learned so far this semester" based on reviewing our class packets and the Sex and the City Ning. 2. A "Looking Back" activity in which my students visited the "Woman Trouble" (ENG 099) Ning, commented on one student's rough draft, and then posted a blog entry in the Sex and the City Ning explaining what they had learned from the experience. 3. A "Looking Forward" activity in which my students read Dr. Van's explanation of cultural bricolage and her blog instructions to her students in the capstone course World Literature Written in English (ENG 295) and then responded to one of the World Lit students with a bricolage of their own that included one further dimension:  gender (since Sex and the City is all about gender issues). 4. A wrap up where we discussed how it felt moving from a Basic Writing course to a capstone course.

Logic for Interaction/Learning Objectives
The "Looking Back" blog was called so because the 099 rough drafts my 101 students were critiquing were responses to the same prompt as their own Paper # 2, which they had written a week ago and for which they already had my feedback. The logic behind the setup was 1. I wanted to see if there was an appreciable difference in the way the 099 students responded to the assignment, as compared to the 101 students. 2. I wanted to see whether first-hand familiarity with the assignment and its requirements made a significant difference in the critiques my 101 students wrote. 3. I want to see whether this "retrospect" might help the ENG 101 students when thinking about and revising their own papers (revision are due May 3).

The "Looking Forward"  blog was meant to give students a sense of what they might be doing in a year (or two). Since during the general class discussion we had already talked about their common aversion to reading critically and annotating and about the fact that they would probably have to overcome this aversion to be indisputably successful in their courses, it was interesting to see how Dr. Van's blog instructions drove that lesson home, as her introduction to her blog instructions included two lengthy and somewhat complex quotes from a New York Times article and words and phrases such as "bric-a-brac," "bricolage," and "how Eurocentrism continues to play out in identity formation in post-colonial cultures." At the same time, however, the assignment was meant to help my students to feel empowered by not only having them answer the same question as the 295 students, but by further contributing the the World Lit conversation of self-construction by adding the dimension of gender. Now, my 101 students are no experts on gender yet (quite a few, for instance, believe that their chosen/ perceived gender has no effect on them whatsoever), but they are beginning to understand that the construction of gender is an important element in the production of power (as a matter of fact, that's what the next 101 unit is all about, so that is another way in which this assignment "looks forward" to what is coming.)

What Actually Happened
The whole lesson went smoothly until the internet (or was it the MAC lab? or a combo?) decided to mess with us just about  when we were in the middle of responding to Dr. Van's students. Some posts did not seem to be going  through, others took forever to load, etc. I quickly suggested to my students that they copy their posts to MSWord and save them until the system came back, so that, in the end, all of my students were able to post all responses and all blogs. Still, all the troubleshooting took a considerable amount of our time so that I was unable to do the wrap-up (which, one could argue, was the most important piece of the lesson). I plan to follow up on our lesson on Monday--their memory will not be as fresh, but what can one do. I am starting to be of the opinion that our computer labs are more a hassle than they are worth--perhaps I should just ask for these activities just as homework, as others are doing.

Sample Interactions
Two101-099 interactions:

Hi Hanifah
My name is Virginia and I was asked to read your paper by Dr. X, I can tell that you have some great ideas like how important it is for young adults to educate themselves about sex but I can also tell you have some trouble with phrasing your sentences correctly and that English is not your first language. Don't worry, English is not my first language either, I was in ENG99 too and I thought I would stay there for ever but I passed and its all fine and you will be too. What I did was try to read as many books and newspapers as I could and highlight words I didn't understand and look them up later. It helped me a lot and you can try it if you want.
 Hi Johanes, my name is Crystal :)  I read your paper and I would like to share my suggestions with you. I believe you had some very good ideas in your first draft. It was nice that you included personal experiences in the paper. It was also good that you expressed why it is important for kids to have sex education. One thing I would like you to work on is referring to the website and why you chose that one. A good sentence to help you with that was when you wrote "I have read this website, and they can make a safety way to satisfy their pleasure and save a human life." I think if you keep writing about that and be specific, it will help your paper show why Teen Talk is the best website. :)
One 101-295 interaction (only one because they are long):

Original post from 295 student, Dominik:
32 Flavors and Then Some -
I immigrated to the United States at age nine so my identity was not yet formed and Poland had a very slight effect on my upbringing. My formative years were spent in Queens. Let's put it this way: I moved here and spent Sundays in the Bronx with my family at a block party hosted by my father's Puerto Rican co-worker, gobbling up rice and beans and not thinking anything of it that Spanish, or Spanglish, was the predominant language spoken then. I forfeited the religion of "my people" (Catholicism) for Hinduism and then Buddhism, all the while settling into neutral Agnosticism as of late. I make a mean curry and can differentiate between the various spices I buy at Patel Bros. in Jackson Heights. I'm equally comfortable browsing Chinese supermarkets as I am the aisles of Stop 'N Shop.

To think of it, I think food is a major impact of globalization in my life. I know how to properly eat sushi, can handle the spiciest curries with the best of them, feel equally comfortable devouring pounds of meat at a Brazilian steak house but can just as easily settle for a vegetarian Thai meal. I'm partial to South African wines but love cachaca (Brazilian rum) and sake. After living in southern Africa my whole perspective changed; I've participated in traditional African religious ceremonies, learned that international borders are usually not set in stone (at least not in Africa), and even learned a new way to interact with people. What I found interesting is that in southern Africa when you speak to someone, they acknowledge what you're saying with a hum after each sentence; total opposite of our American way of speaking where we try to convince others to see our point.

But even though I'd expanded my idea of culture there are still certain attributes of Polish or European culture I could never erase. While I am not Catholic, the Black Madonna - Poland's patron saint - has always been a work of art I admired in paintings. No matter what I always take my shoes off when I enter someone's house and I could never go for more than two days without ingesting some sort of pork, a staple in Polish cuisine. I'm also aware of the way I speak to elders using appropriate language to denote a distance or a respect for their position and feel uncomfortable calling my elders by their first name as in the Polish language there are certain words one uses to refer to someone from an older generation.

Perhaps being a chimera of "cultures" might present a problem with being understood anywhere else BUT in New York City. Here, it's expected to be able to freely flow from one cultural circle to another and I pity people who lock themselves in their own cultural bubbles afraid to peek outside.
         Response from 101 student, Devanis:

Hi dominik. This is a very interesting blog. This is my mine.

I am originally from Colombia, Barranquilla, and I think gender plays a big role on society. Barranquilla is full of machismo attitude, in where machismo is the way to behave, and to prove your masculinity. Moving to New York City when I was ten years old changed my cultural affiliations completely, and gender never affected my decisions anymore. For example, I would only eat Colombian food such as rice, beans, steak, a lot of Caribbean food. Since I moved, I developed a different approach for food. I am a big fan of Hindu, vegetarian, and Italian food. In addition music taste also changed. While many Spanish people listen to their folkloric music, I have never liked it. My favorite bands or musicians are Rock’ Roll figures such as U2, Nirvana, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, and Alanis Morissette. I have also expanded my way of thinking of religion. I was grown up as a catholic and being taught the whole idea of marriage based on catholic religion. By having a global education, especially in NYC made me change all these beliefs completely. In a way, I feel that I have taken off a huge weight off my shoulder. Something that I have changed is what I watch. For example, I watch a lot of global movies from Spain, France, and Italy. If I was to worry about my gender, I would not be able to watch them. For example, I am a fan of Pedro Almadovar’s movie. He is a controversial figure, because of the theme of his movies. For example, he directed the foreign movie “ All About My Mother” which won an Oscar award in 2000. In my case I appreciate and admire have watched global movies because they expand your knowledge. I appreciate the fact that everything I heritage once, have changed completely because I created my own beliefs, my own global culture.
If the pic does not appear. You can check the web page.
Reply by Dominik:
I can relate to your approach to culture, I think most immigrants can. I'm from Poland originally so traditionally Polish culture, like many South American cultures, is based on Catholic values along with a healthy dose of machismo. My family has never really been traditional nor did they stress our culture when we moved here; I think this is why I have become so fascinated with other cultures. I think moving to America doesn't erase you nor your culture but enhances and expands it. As for the role of women, my father moved to America four years before the rest of my family arrived so my sister and mother played a pivotal role in my upbringing. I equate women with leadership rather than submission. I absolutely LOVE Almodovar's movies. All About My Mother is great but my favorite is Volver. 
If you are interested, links to the blog instructions are below

Looking Back Blog
Looking Forward Blog

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tutoring Class Goes Strong!

Hi All,

My tutors-in-waiting have been blogging and responding to each other's blogs well. In the physical world, they have been observing tutors in the Writing Center and reading tutoring theory and case studies. Meanwhile, based on both the tutoring observations and reading, they've been writing "Tutoring Dos" and "Tutoring Don'ts" on their blogs. Next week, students with a *B plus* or higher will begin tutoring my ENG 099 students.

To end their four weeks of observing tutors in the Writing Center, I have them writing (as their third graded paper assignment) a letter to Bert Eisenstadt, Manager of the Writing Center, evaluating tutoring in the Writing Center. On the way to writing this paper, I have them doing the following assignment. We will being this in tonight's class. The paper will be due May 4.


Problem Posing Exercise: Evaluation of Tutoring at the Writing Center
Professor Gallagher
ENG 220

Part A: What Seems Good at the Writing Center

Step 1: Identify and describe the best tutoring experience you witnessed over the last four weeks of observing tutoring at the Writing Center.

Step 2: Which strategy from our course readings best describes what you witnessed? Explain the strategy and cite the source. If what you witnessed does not resemble anything we read about, then describe the tutor’s strategy as best you can.

Step 3: How did you know the strategy worked? In other words, what evidence from the tutoring session makes you sure it worked? What learning outcomes did you observe?

Part B: What Seems Not To Work at the Writing Center

Step 1: Briefly identify and describe a problem you witnessed during a tutoring session you observed at the Writing Center.

Step 2: Which “tutoring don’t” from our course readings best describes what you witnessed? Present a quotation (identify the source and page number) that describes the problem, then continue the description in your own words, emphasizing what this “tutoring don’t” means to you in a way that will set the reader up for step 3.

Step 3: Describe what you saw in detail when you observed the problem. Describe how it relates to your definition of the problem in steps 1 & 2.

Step 4: Propose a solution to the problem based on strategies and “tutoring dos” from the course reading. Describe what strategy the Writing Center Manager might present in a tutor training session to remedy this problem.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bricolage, Globalization and Whatever!

Bricolage and Globalization—An article by Michael Kimmelman in the NYT this weekend on cultural identity and globalizaton inspired me to invite my students to create a “bricolage” of their cultural identifications. Here is the context: As we move from a character who leaves a reservation in Washington State to someone who witnesses the breaking up of various cultures while the new nations of Pakistan and India are formed and now to a Nigerian woman who migrates to England and discovers how English "eyes" see her, accept her, reject her, and how she holds onto and rejects aspects of her culture, it's a good time to consider the complex ways diverse cultural elements are available to us--things we have already appropriated--or rejected.
I asked students to consider this comment by Michael Kimmelman (NYT April 18, 2010): "Culture means many things . . .It is something made and consumed in socially revealing ways. When Mat Nilsson, a Swedish product-design strategist. . . told the New York Times that he loves to browse for handmade baskets in Spain, bird cages in Portugal, brushes in Japan and hardware on the lower East Side of Manhattan, he was creating his own cultural identity out of the bric-a-brac of consumer choices made available by the globalizing forces of economic integration. Bricolage, it's called. Anyone may now pick through the marketplace of global culture."
While I find Kimmelman’s last generalization naively (?) middle class—and students in my course are already aware (given our examination of colonial atrocities) that globalization is about things that are a lot more complicated than picking through the marketplace—Kimmelman gets closer to complex ideas about culture and identity later in his essay: “Culture (often unconsciously) identifies crucial ruptures, rifts, gaps, shifts in society. . .pointing us toward those things around us that are unstable, changing, that shape how we live and how we treat one another." I am hoping that our current blog will enable us to examine some of these ruptures, just as our reading and discussion so far has led us to see how Eurocentrism continues to play out in identity formation in post-colonial cultures.
And here is a bricolage of my students’ bricolages:
“Various cultural influences shape my tattoos. I have the words "nature" and "god" tattooed across my wrists in Sanskrit, a space where Jesus was allegedly pierced as he was crucified. On my upper arms I have an abstract version of the African continent (abstract because it's supposed to mimic the henna tattoos Indian brides have on their palms) with the Hindu symbol for the sound of creation, on one arm. While the other has a short prayer to the Hindu god Shiva surrounded by the lotus flower. This collage of symbols is evident of what has influenced me as a human the most” (Dominick).
"Engaged assimilation is my way of life. I reject the word culture because it contains cult. I dress from uniform to civilian attire. Which consists of flea market jeans and boots that were on sale. I read William Faulkner to learn about the south. Ate encyclopedias for breakfast and the history channel for lunch and PBS. I cooked yummy Spanish food and now I eat gross healthy food so I won’t die in combat. I read D.H Lawrence to learn about my mother. I read Karl Marx to learn how to become a bad writer. I steal from all ethnicities --I absorb them. I think about fixing the broken [pieces of] my invented delusion how black ice melts to tears. I think about the next punch line I’m going to say that will make at least three people laugh. I think of the times I was outside the wire. Then Nostradamus takes my breath away" (Stephanie).
And the Warhol/Basquiat (above) is from Lazaro.
I am looking forward to discussing what all this means J and if anyone is doing something related to globalization and fluid, transforming, identity formation, perhaps our students can blog across classes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Informal / Formal Writing

While I have students who are blogging more 'recreationally,' I am requiring responses to about 7 or 8 'critical thinking' assignments over the course of the term that respond to readings in my LIB 200 class-a writing-intensive course, and also for ideas and 'milestones' on the upcoming research paper. This week, I created a printed form to give them some feedback (check, check plus, check minus with some instructor feedback). With our course 'blog roll.' a list of all blogs from class, it was easy enough to locate each blog and then dig in to see each post. (I'm following all my students' posts too, but that won't work for tracking a 'grid' of multiple assignments.) If you are requiring students to post on a number of prompts, it's a challenge to make sure you can find their posts on particular topics.

There have been some excellent and thoughtful posts. I'm reminded, however, how difficult it is for students to use sources in their writing with citations. (It's so much easier to respond to a source informally, like journalists or non-academic essayists do.) Actually, I wonder if blogging spells the end of the research paper (one day). While I have most of the class keeping up with these assignments, today I asked them for a research paper topic write-up (on old-fashioned paper). Only a few students got to this, despite a lot of resources and 5 research paper ideas. So we're back to the difference between informal and formal writing.... But I think the lower-stakes aspect of blogging has helped several of my students. The first papers (short papers with sources) came out well.

This all reminds me that there is not a 'one-size-fits-all' for our students' blogs. I think we should guide them, and even ask them to use certain kinds of writing. (There are many kinds of blogs out there in the wilds of Web 2.0.) And once they see other student's writing a certain way (using Standard English, not using texting abbreviations or profanity, showing respect for other writers, etc.), it becomes a self-regulating community, an audience that is, like any good writing workshop, 'important enough' as my old fiction writing mentor once said. Student writers should care enough to write for an audience of their peers, but feel comfortable enough to write freely, I know, a delicate enough balance to find.... I do hope my students will be able to transition to using blogs to explore their topics (that's post #3). Post #4 has them look at YouTube clips of robots from film, TV and real life on our course wiki and then blog about those.

Lastly, I have to say I've been very disappointed in my students' willingness to keep up with class readings. (LIB 200 is a capstone course, with 30-50 pages of readings scheduled for most sessions.) How do I get my students to understand that if they don't read the source texts, they can't write as well as they might? (Looking at YouTube clips of robots is one thing, but writing a research paper requires them to read and digest multiple sources, from class and from their own research.) Right now, I'm not planning to teach LIB 200 until at least Spring 2011 (since I have other courses scheduled for Fall 2010 including a new Creative Non-Fiction Workshop--with blogs!) I just don't think I will be teaching LIB 200 again in the foreseeable future. But I really have learned something so far about using blogs in the classroom. (Maybe one day when we all have cheap tablet computers, reading will be part of the exciting Web 2.0 experience as well, and we can convince students that it might be just as important as their blogging....)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

That Worked! (A short post)

So, I was responding to Ximena's ENG103 students' topics today on the Ning and that was a blast. I felt totally free to say what I really thought because I was an "outside authority" and not involved in the politics of that particular class. Some of the students have started responding back to me and me to them. It is kind of neat.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

to censor or not to censor - that is the question

My general attitude has been to let students do whatever they'd like with their pages - they can add photos, music and even additional off-topic postings as long as make seperate and clear entries for their course work. In 90% of cases, this has worked great!

However, since students are required to view each other's blogs, I get worried about the few sites with vulgar content (i.e one students title banner features Tupac giving the viewer not one but two middle fingers! Another has girls - facing away from the viewer - taking off their shirts to flash a highway; another has some off-color rap song playing. Personally, I don't care enough to want to dictate the terms of students' blog designs, esepecially since its only a few. However, I fear that others will be upset.

Should I lay down the law or celebrate first amendment rights? Since students are free to chose the people on whose blogs they read and comment, am I ok vis a vis "comfort level"/ sexual harrassment etc.?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Rare Problem

Well, as it turns out my ENG 102 students have no problem reading each others' blog posts and responding to issues pertaining to the class. However, after the first couple of weeks all posts have turned to the class assignments and non-"business" chatter has died down. I wonder if I should make a blog assignment a complete freeewrite for them (that also feels unnatural--like making them break from the mold by creating a mold for that) or if there are any other suggestions my fellow networkers here have. Just to explain where I am coming from on this issue, I do take the community label to mean just that, and I do not find a class that simply exchanges notes and opinions on assignments to be a community. A work group, but not a community. So, I am open to suggestions.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Nights and Days of Ning

This is a follow-up to Scott's posting on our two classes' initial Ning experience--first I whole-heartedly second Scott's comments on the spontaneous connecting that seems to be going on in the Ning--students are posting to each other and to me about things both directly and indirectly related to our class discussion and texts. For example Jose Lopez posted this query over the weekend: Yesterday afternoon I was doing some research on Albert Camus and came across a review for a book called Albert Camus Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice by David Carroll that discusses Camus relationship with Algeria and the affects of colonialism on his writing. Since our class is focusing on colonialism and hybridity, I was wondering what others felt about Camus' connection with colonialism. I was pleased that Jose took the initiative to ask the class a question that went beyond our texts and brought in another important voice--since this is a capstone course I want to encourage this kind of independent thinking and connecting--to other texts and to each other.
Also on the positive side, I am especially interested in Scott's comments in his last post about how students dismissed race as a factor in crime and that a fairly conservative group might learn some new things from a more advanced class--hope I am restating this accurately--Scott observes, you can almost measure the level of thinking by looking at the posts--I hadn't thought about this in particular as I was so busy this week making sure they all got in and posted but I think it is important and something that might give us some new insights--even having students reflect on particular posts--asking some questions about what shaped their views, changed their views, for example.
On the glitchy side--I am still figuring out a lot about Ning--with help from Dr. X. and like Scott I do not have a lab and don't want to devote a whole hour of our class to a lab. But I am thinking of getting a lab for one class soon just to make sure all the students know how to navigate it--blogging has moved from 1/4 to 1/2 to 2/3 of the class but there are still some outliers. I don't want to penalize them if they are really having difficulty and some are...Ximena helped me thread the discussions which makes them easier to read as a group--but I am still finding navigation on Ning and even here on blogger confusing (how do I get back to main page to check something someone wrote and come back here quickly)--and finally--not to be too picky--when I want to quote a student and I copy text--it comes out GIANT and distorts other parts of the post. I copied into word and put it in with correct font--but when I saved and went back it was GIANT again--this is annoying and time consuming--do I need to compose the entire post outside blogger to have it format correctly????
Finally, moving forward--we are about to start discussing women's issues and I am open to new connections. I have also enjoyed connecting with Scott and would like to continue--I think there is a benefit to having our students get to know each other over time and think the communication will improve--there was a beginning of back and forth on a few posts. Scott 's students are studying the American justice system and my class will be looking at global issues for women that are a product of patriarchy. While there is some overlap, and certainly women suffer abuse in this country, in many other countries we will be discussing, women have far fewer rights and less access to the legal system. Some of Scott's students said that the text my students talked about sounded really interesting so I am wondering if I could share a shorter text/film that would deal with justice and women in a way that would be useful for his students--maybe a comparison of rights--will be talking in person with Scott about this--any suggestions welcome! That's all for now :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Creative Commons Licence Update

I noticed someone added the Creative Commons Copyright tab (above), so I went ahead and registered this site and posted the information both in the tab and at the bottom of the page. You can see the specifics by following the link in either place. My students get a CC licence for their blogs and it seems they really like the notion of officially owning their work--plus it makes them more aware of how and why we cite! I also added the words "Copyright", "Creative Commons", and "Fair Use" to our tool tags. We can discuss these, and any other additions, during the upcoming JAM.  --Jason

Networking Critique and Reflection

Inspired by the initial connection between Kristen's tutors and Jason's ENG 102, I decided to use the networks for paper critiquing. One interaction was to be between my Woman Trouble (ENG099) and Jason's Living in the Matrix (ENG101/103) students, and another between my Sex and the City (ENG 101/103) and my Writer's Life (ENG 103) students.

What follows is A) a short description of the process and B) a discussion of the logic/ learning objectives behind the interactions.

The Process
As I first envisioned it, the process consisted of three simple steps:
  1. On Wednesday, both my Woman Trouble and Sex and the City students post rough drafts of their papers. 
  2. On Thursday, my Writer's Life students critique the Sex and City papers, and Jason's Living in the Matrix students critique the Woman Trouble papers.
  3. After reading the critiques, students respond to their reviewers--specifically, to explain whether their critique was useful.
As it turned out, the actual coordination of the effort between Jason and myself was somewhat more complicated (what's new?). First, I had to compose clear instructions as to what I wanted Jason's students to do, since they would have not even heard of my class until Wednesday. Then, I had to make a list of the students that actually posted their drafts so that Jason could match them to his students. Next, Jason's students had to sign up into Woman Trouble overnight to be able to comment on my students' drafts. (And next week, my students will have to create Blogger accounts to comment on Jason's students' blog entries).

The coordination between The Writer's Life and Sex and the City was easier, as the students in both courses are working in Ning, so there was no issue of crossing platforms. Still, I took a lesson from Scott and Phyllis' Ning interaction and made my very private Sex and the City Ning completely public for the time that my Writer's Life students were to sign up.

Both actual interactions were smooth, except that I had four Writer's Life students that kept getting an "account verification" message when they tried to post their responses. We went around the issue by posting the responses in the student's personal "wall" instead of under her/his paper in the Forum area. On the other hand, Jason's students had no issues whatsoever (maybe because they were in a Mac lab?)

Logic for Interaction/Learning Objectives
I asked Jason to have his ENG101/103 students critique my ENG099 students not just because they are "one level up" (many times, that distinction between 099 and 101 students does not hold water), but rather because Jason's students are in a media cluster where they are learning to analyze all sorts of media. My hope was that they would put some of the knowledge they have acquired in their own cluster to good use by giving my students ideas on how to expand their drafts. And Jason could use the reflective portion of the assignment ("Why I said what I said to ____") to gauge where his students were in terms of their analytical skills.

The reasons for the interaction between my ENG 101/103 and my stand-alone ENG 103 were varied. On the one hand, I wanted my ENG 101/103 to get two different types of evaluation of their rough drafts: a holistic one from a complete stranger who only had a surface knowledge of the assignment, and a focused, if somewhat atomistic, one from their peers, who knew the details of the assignment and could therefore zero on issues of which the ENG 103 students would not be aware. On  the other hand, my ENG 103 students will have to peer critique each others' rough drafts in a couple of weeks, and so critiquing a relatively short and simple rough draft makes for great practice. Plus, because I get a glimpse of what kind of critics they are before they review each others' papers, I may be able to give them a few suggestions to improve their critiquing techniques.

The bottom line? From my side, I think the interactions were good. Several of my 099 and 101 students got very good suggestions from their readers, and I was happy to see that my 103 students took their job very seriously. Here is an example of the many useful responses from Jason's class:
This is all good. you touch a lot of key points, i feel you have the basics narrowed down. The only thing i would recommend focusing on (that i think you missed) is the sexual undertone of the ad. Notice how she grabs her bra string? notice the energy of her body? and then the quote "you know you want a taste". There could be a lot of other hidden meanings some of which i would love to share with you but then again that's cheating =) either way keep up the good work your on track just look a little closer.
and one from mine :
I think that you can organize your letter better because I see that you are mentioning similar reasons in different areas. The main reasons/topics I can see you mentioning are 1) the writing and video information, 2) the ask the experts feature and 3) the resources

If you see your reasons under that scheme, you can see that the reasons you used in "firstly..." and "secondly" are a bit similar.

I like that you used an example from your own life but I think it can be incorporated more seamlessly with reason 3 (your liking for the resources and how they could have helped your friend if you had known about them).

I think there might be a better way to organize your reasoning than using "firstly", "secondly", and "thirdly". It makes the letter a bit choppy and boring to read (sorry!).

I think you might need to be more specific about your preferences for "Teen Talk" over "Sex etc." Maybe its my not being familiar with either site, but I think you aren't specific enough with why you like one over the other. Its one thing to say that you think it is more organized but I think this reason would be stronger if you also say why you think "Sex etc." is messier/ harder to navigate/ less informative or whatever you think. This could be a problem with the audience of your paper though. Since this is supposed to be a letter to a Sex ed teacher (I think) who is asking parental opinion, I am obviously not the intended reader, and this might not even be a problem at all.
And the reflective blog entry that goes with it: 
I read ----'s first draft for her ENG 101 class

I'm a stranger to the topic and so mostly, I first fixated on the grammar and organization rather than the content of the ideas. I was kinda disoriented by the paper since I thought I saw information that was being repeated. I think it could have been stronger and more convincing if certain things were grouped together instead of apart.

From what I gather, think the assignment was to write a persuasive letter to a teacher on which of two sites about teen sex education would be the best to use. And based on this I thought about what makes a good and convincing argument. I think effective grouping of your supporting reasons builds a strong case for your argument. I was confused by what I saw as diffuse reasons scatted throughout the letter. I was also confused by the vagary of her reasons for preferring one site over the other since I think all sites about teen sex ed would have the same type of content and features and just saying one is better than the other is not really a reason. Specificity is good.

I learned that critiquing is difficult if you have only a slight idea of what he topic is. Which is why theses are so important!
 In case you are interested, here are the assignments and critiques.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Moving Towards a Conversation

I don't have a lot to report this week - some have taken to blogging more quickly than others, but many of both the 101 and the art, politics and protest students have started to do some nice posts responding to readings and, in the case of 101, getting feedback from me on a piece of their draft.

One thing I'm trying to figure out is how to more fully use the interactive part of web 2.0 - I know that they're looking at and following each other's blogs, but they're not commenting, and probably won't for the most part unless I give specific guidelines about this. I don't want a respond for the sake of responding kind of situation, but I also don't want too much of a formal requirement, since we're juggling so much and part of the appeal of the blog is it's relatively non-proscriptive nature. I'm thinking about how I might make a post that has a build in response element - a post that asks a question, and then respond to someone else's, or something along those lines, or as a part of our revision work.

I'd also still like to arrange for cross-commenting with other classes, or having some of my blog-addicted friends & colleagues, with their permission, visit and make comments, in order to build on the sense of having a real audience.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This week's post is just a status update. I have almost all of my students in LIB 200 blogging.

Since I am in the WID seminar, I've invited them to brainstorm using their blogs on their upcoming research paper topics for LIB 200-- Humanism, Science and Technology. I've suggested five areas they could explore: such as investigating a literary text that uses science (such as Frankenstein, though I certainly don't want to see 20 papers there), also the promise and perils of science and technology, exploring neo-Darwinism in their field/major, or investigating a scientist and the challenges they overcame in their career. This last category could be someone as obvious as Galileo or Darwin (being attacked by religious authorities) or scientists who were pioneers in their fields, such as Barbara McLintock / Rosalind Frank (gender) or Percy Julian (race) or Stephen Hawking (a disability). This week we looked at computer ads, including ads for the new iPad. (By the way, it's astonishing how unreflective students are about technology. I'm always reminded we need to teach critical thinking about advertising--visual literacy--as well critical thinking about written texts.) As a counter to this sort of 'technoromanticism' (a fancy word from a book by Richard Coyne), we just did e-waste, and we found some equally surprising photographs of huge piles of discarded computers and phones, which are 'extracted' by thousands of workers (by hand and without safety equipment) in Guiyu, China. (Similar stories are found all over the developing world in Africa and India.) This fit nicely with The Story of Stuff (, a short animated film, which will be a part of their next blogging assignment.

Right now, more than half of my students have been keeping up with the blog assignments. I'm hoping the other students will catch up once they see one another's responses. We just did a demo. of how to 'follow' other students. This is really easy, of course,but you need a computer lab to do it in real time--I showed them how, and hopefully my students will collect some followers soon besides their instructor. Several of them already have....

I think one of the things that blogging is good for is to check-up on what material is generating interest. In a topic-based course like mine (which has the spirit of a research seminar even though 25 students is way too large to run it as an actual seminar), I am throwing a lot different short texts and different types of science and technology. Once I find out what my students are writing about, I will be posting specific research links on separate web pages to help them with research papers on our course wiki ( Of course, students can also contribute links. This approach works really well--you can let students drive what materials they need. I hope to get some of my science majors showing what they know, and my humanists thinking differently--and critically--about science....

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Knights of Ni(ng)

Hello all,

Over the last few weeks, Phyllis and I have been thinking of ways to connect across classes. I'm teaching an Introduction to Criminal Justice Class, and she's teaching a World Lit class, with students getting ready to graduate. We thought it would be interesting if we had them post to each others blogs.

I created a Ning site for our classes. It's accessible off the Community 2.0 site.

Overall, the experience of trying to get the class into Ning has been difficult. I don't have a lab, but posted instructions and gave them out in class. I have 38 students in the class, and still have 3 kids who have not gotten in. I've sent invites to several addresses, but they have not seen them. It could be a number of things blocking them. I'm investigating now. I think it might ultimately be cases of user error. Even though we talk about students as being technologically savvy on the whole, many of them are not. I think many of them have taken my Criminal Justice class.

Honestly, I think a lot of the Web 2.0 programs are time-wasters, and I felt the same way about Ning. However, I was surprised and have the following observations:

1.) Ning was hard to get into, but once in, it's easy to navigate and use, especially for students, who tend to congregate in the common class area, but maintain their blogs and their own sites, choosing backgrounds, photos and sayings to customize their "space".
2.) For the most part, I have not prescribed much beyond having them post their assignment, a blog about the effect of race on crime. Before their papers were due, they began friending each other and posting and commenting. Remember, this is an evening class of older students. There has been an organic development of community without my direction. I think well constructed, guided activities could help foster the creation of communities in these classes, and help students discuss class ideas outside of class.
3.) It has been difficult getting Phyllis' students into my Ning, but several have gotten in, and several have posted. Interestingly, much of the conversation centers on causes of crime, and touch on the theoretical models developed in the criminal justice disciplines, although the students would probably not be able to identify them. Again, through no real prodding on either my or Phyllis' part, the conversations have morphed into something I had not really anticipated. Race was dismissed as having an influence on crime, and many of the students focused on sociological reasons to explain crime. This is interesting because many students hold very conservative views on crime and punishment, holding an individual responsible, supporting severe punishments and having little sympathy for offenders.
4.) I'm not sure what the World Lit class will get out of this exercise, but I think my students can benefit from interacting with a more experienced group of students. You can almost measure the difference in the level of thinking by looking at the posts. In the future, I'd like to try and integrate one common reading for each class and get their reactions, to the work and each other's post.

At the end of the class, I'm going to re-post the prompt, and see if there are differences in their thinking. I expect there will be.


Anyone using Dreams from My Father?

Hi All,

Quick question: Is anyone using Dreams from My Father? If so, any chance we can have our students work together. If not, you probably want to ignore the rest of this post. If so, here's what's going on in my class.I'm way behind the rest of you and not yet sure what my students might be doing with yours this spring. I'm teaching an HUL100 class, Oral Communication for the Non-Native Speaker.

The standard text for this class is "Beyond Language," which focuses on cross-cultural understanding, value systems, non-verbal communication, and other factors that affect how we understand one another. Instead of using the text, I'm using a variety of group activities and conversations to cover the main points of that textbook, and having students read "Dreams from My Father."

Students will then look for examples of value systems, non-verbal and verbal communication, etc. in the "Dreams," text. So, the idea is they learn the communication concept, and then see how it applies to the Obama memoir. Make sense?

For their big project, they have to select one of the research questions from the Common Reading website ( and write a paper, create a video or another digital story.

I've also told them they could participate in the Community blog, but before I push that, I'd like to know if anyone else is using Dreams from My Father. Can you let me know? Thanks to all.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm behind!

Sorry I'm so behind in posting. My first month this semester has been pretty hectic. I don't have a computer lab or a smart classroom, and when I request equipment I have a 50/50 chance of it showing up.

I've finally got all of my students working on google docs, next week, we will be setting up blogs for them. Students are currently working on Helen of Troy and writing comparisons on a selection of poetry about her.

It's slow going.