Saturday, April 10, 2010

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.


  1. I find the comment "I would love share my thoughts but that's cheating" pretty funny, if a little sad. An interesting reflection on how formal education has taught them to think about collaborative learning. The Montissorians would have a field day with that!!

  2. I agree--I was shocked when several of my students said to me "Can I use my reader's comments when revising my paper?", particularly because we had just had an hour class on how collaboration/brainstorming/group work was NOT plagiarism...

  3. I really admire the clarity and focus of some of the comments Dr X. It shows you guided them fairly precisely. Another idea I took from your experience is that we have to be very careful to match people up and this is a little time consuming. One thing that happened with Scott and my cross blogging was that some students got a lot of attention and some none--so I am working on getting them to spread out and comment on later posts.