Sunday, October 31, 2010

Turning over a new leaf

This past Monday, I administered the midterm exam to my students and when I graded it later in the week, I became very alarmed. The whole class did quite poorly which surprised me very much as their analysis papers were quite strong. I'm still baffled as to why this happened, since we had a review session, completed Venn diagram -which I asked students to post on the class blog and 20 of the 22 students did so-and the directions, prompts and leading questions I composed for the midterm were an easy outline to follow. In other words, the exam was an easy A as even if student did not do the readings and only attended class/listened to class discussions. So I've decided, and this is partially a result of a conversation I had with Dr. X during Friday's Community 2.0 seminar meeting, to administer the final exam in a computer lab and give students an option of either typing or writing the final essay.
Is anyone else having a similar issue, where students' writing seems to be much weaker on formal assignments than what they post on the class blog/wiki/Ning?
But I am very pleased to report that my students who have connected with Prof. Matsuuchi's LRC 103 students are actually communicating via e-mail and helping each other with research projects. While the successful connection rate is not overwhelming, of the 12 students who actually did pair up with research advisers(LRC 103 students), about 6 or 7 are actively working together and asking for advice on research sources.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mid-semester Updates...

The last few weeks have been quite uneventful. Students have continued to work on their blogs and Mr. Dauz’s SSY260 students have posted comments as appropriate. Those students who had received comments on their blogs found them to be helpful and informative, while other students had neither received any nor noticed them below their posts. There also appears to be a small number of students who value the idea of blogging and recognize its usefulness while others choose to write the bare minimum. Unfortunately, students have not embraced their blogs as an online journal outside the class where they would document and track their progress throughout the first semester. Also, students are not inclined to complete their blog entries at home if they have no time to complete them in class.

In a sense, I do understand the students’ point of view as many of them are using various technology tools in different classes. “Journaling,” in addition to writing essays, completing assignments and studying for exams, may not be their top priority. Freshman Seminar is not a writing based course per se, and students do not receive college credit or grade for the course. Personally, I am glad for this experience, and I will continue to find ways to make it more effective, useful and engaging for the students. However, I will seriously consider switching to Facebook for the next semester as it offers a tighter “social” network and ultimately, may be a better tool for FSM. Let’s see what happens.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Agenda: 29 October 2010

**Printable version HERE

9:00-10:00 Welcome and Updates
  • Coffee and Bagels
  • Reminders of Responsibilities & Etc.
    • Don’t forget we are the key learning community! Our core activity this semester is to see what others are doing and plan for Spring.
    • Missing Links
    • Posting Weekly
    • Kinds of Posts
  • December Date Change--Doddle poll under Links
  • Discussion of Activities so Far (beginning with newest participants)
10:00-10:50 Connection Making
  • Missing Links
  • Possible Activities:
    • Theme Discussion Break-out groups
    • Surveying Participants’ and Affiliates’ Work
    • Connecting with Peers
    • One-on-one Demonstration of Platforms (Google Docs, FB, Ning, Blogger, etc.)
    • Team Planning for Spring
10:50-11:00 Break

11:00-11:50 JAM#1
  • JAM #1 Planning and Set-up
  • JAM #1 Posting
11:50-12:00 Final Remarks

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Video anyone?

Okay. Here is what has been happening in "Englishcompville." Nothing. I had a disasterous start, switched to Wet Paint which I loved. However, without a computer lab, the students were unable to log on or contribute. They didn't mind that; I did. I suspect that some greater power kicked in and so I was granted a computer lab for Fridays. Yay! Next week, we will be writing IN the computer lab. I'm determined to have this work.

In the interim, I had to shoot (that's video, did not go "postal" due to stress of Englishcompville burning) and edit a mini reading of a short story that was recently published. Although I did not look as glamorous as I had thought, I did a pretty good job editing it and uploading it to youtube. Yes, my Final Cut skills are intact! YAY! I am willing, and would even find it FUN, to shoot (again: video, not postal) you guys and edit, and upload (or place it in your folders) it for your blogs. Oddly enough, I am finding, that the students prefer to have an avatar to seeing themselves online. Who would have EVER thought that when so much personal stuff is online for all to see? But, it seems true. So, tomorrow, remind me/wake me (in case I fall asleep...not a morning person) to figure out who wants a video and who does not.
See y'all tomorrow.

Not much success engaging in discussion group!

So I discussed in my class (Fundamentals of Biology) the importance of discussion group after the first exam results were posted and encouraged them to be more active in posting questions and also in answering them so they can get help from each other as well as from me beyond my office hours. However, no questions were posted. This Tuesday they were scheduled to take quiz 2. So last week I reminded again to post their questions. I was hoping a busy discussion group but to my surprise, only one question was posted and nobody answered, which I ended up answering.

So this remains to be the challenge how can I reinforce the benefit of online discussion group and connect them together. I know some students are getting together for group studies but when it comes to posting questions online, they seem to freeze. I think it seems to be the time issue. Based on my prior experience with ePortfolio, my feeling is that they will do anything that will translate directly into some credit in their grade. I look forward to any suggestions.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Starting the Unit on Food

This week my ENA099 will begin a unit on food that will last two weeks and will transition into a unit on labor via the perils of working in the slaughterhouses.

Here are some of the texts we will cover: 


Readings (so far--I'm working on these; if you know a suitably short one, please let me know)
  • "Where the Whale Be At?" (an article written by Terry Cole for the teaching section of  the Inconvenient Truth site; scroll down to the documents that read "Race, Racism and the Environment")
  • "An Outer Borough Drought"

If anyone is interested in connecting with me for this theme, let me know.

Mid-semester plans

Last week we used VoiceBoard for one-minute elevator pitches. Since some students had trouble as I indicated in my last post, we used a part of the Studio Hour that is a co-req of FPA since all the equipment was there and STMs to help. Even going this far, there were students who sat in the room, headsets on, and didn't complete the assignment - looks like a zero for each of them. Not knowing what to say at this point didn't work since the assignment was due two weeks ago. If they do not know how to sell themselves on an interview......... Remember that this was really a draft before we spent time on task; I wanted them to begin practice and this was a low stakes assignment -- did they do it was what I was looking for. Next week we begin real interview practice and they we will have video interview simulations. I wonder how many will not show up for class that day. I'll keep you posted on some of the other audio prep activities we will complete.

I am planning a cross posting with my internship seminar. The seminar is bi-weekly so I am looking for a common time to tie the two activities together -- needs to fit the syllabus for both classes to be vested in the assignment.

Today is their midterm administered through Blackboard. I know there will be problems!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Realistic goals vs. initial idealism

So I've reached that point in the semester when my initial idealism of how much reading/activities/writing I'd like the students to do in the course of a semester is giving way to realistic goal of what is humanly possible to accomplish. I seem to do this every semester, and not only with the classes I teach but also with my own work. The latter by the way has been sadly neglected and I feel like a complete hypocrite making my students stick to deadlines.
This weekend was my little nephew's/godson's 2nd birthday, and after 5 hours of four tots running, screaming, torturing my dog and making me bounce a balloon with them, I realized that I should let my students have a bit more fun and stop being such a Guardian teachers, to once again reference Prof. McCormick's link on Professor types. I guess that really struck a chord with me. But I digress. Today, I took the first step to setting more realistic goals, and revised the course syllabus, which means essentially that I cut out a few readings and pushed back the deadlines on few writing assignments. While I like reading/discussing literature more than I like writing about it, seeing my students working on their assignments in class, in a computer lab, and exchanging ideas/helping each other is pretty great and contagious, makes me want to write. Also, in a week or so, I'm planning to show my students a bromatic comedy as a companion piece to a reading on the phenomenon of girlhunt. I'll ask students for suggestions and then we'll vote.  Any suggestions?

What kind of shoe are you and other paths to enlightenment

Writing my dissertation involved an enormous amount of distraction.  Fortunately, facebook was invented just in time!!!! For example, I know that Lady Macbeth is totally  the character that reveals my true self... well Lady Macbeth along with her obvious analogues: Yoda, Woodstock, the 70s, Brooklyn, Bree Van de Kamp and WonderWoman.  I also learned that I was born in the wrong country and under the wrong astrological sign.  Zeut alors! The sheer range of the available kinds of silly metrics (what swear word are you?) - and their obscene popularity - reveal the self-definitional obsessions of Generation X, Y, Alpha and Omega, etc ad nauseum.

So, why not use the power of 2.0 to tap into this element of human nature?  My students - as part of considering their own potential to be happier with school, work and future plans - took the Briggs-Myers test.  This personality test - used frequently enough by governments and corporations to have the patina of authenticity- measures personality and arrives at one of sixteen personality types, each replete with proscribed "best" careers, personality traits, etc.  As you move through the blogoshere, these types emerge with the lush topography of astrology - what is an ENTJ like as a lover?  Will your ISFP child be bullied?

Needless to say, they loved it!!! Most felt that their own instincts about who they were and what they should do were confirmed.  Some discovered new options (lawyer?) that were exciting.  A few thought the test was a waste of time. 

 here's one on the 4 kinds of professor personalities.

Degrees of Success

I am really into writing (much more than into teaching literature) and getting even one student who comes to see writing as part of their self-expession is enough for me. One of my students in the cluster went ahead and created his own blog, separate from the class one, and now he posts there pictures about his skating, his thoughts on other events, on his friends, etc. Sure his entries have run-ons and who knows what his documentation style will be like when we get to the 103 paper, but in my bizarre way of measuring success he has achieved more than an A student who will put writing aside when the class is over and never think of using it as an outlet again.

On another note, after reading and soliticing more feedback from students on the cross-posting experiment they had with another class, it turns out they want more of it, mainly because in the cluster they end up being with the same group of students so much, that objectivity and distance quickly fade. So I am looking at the links here and trying to see with whom we can connect next. Any ideas are most welcome.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness: Cool briggs-myers type Links

I thought this was cool post from Lizzie!

The Pursuit of Happiness: Cool briggs-myers type Links: "Here's one that shows you the best way to study for your type! Let me know if it seems accurate to you!!! This one specifically focuses on ..."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blogs for Journalists (and Creative Writers)

This week I was reminded of how important it is for students in journalism to blog. As our department (English) works toward a Journalism major in the next few years, several of those planning for this were discussing the role that blogs might play, especially in internships and gaining experience in online journalism. If you dip into blogs about journalism today, or read up on what's going on in the field, you can't help but realize how important it is to get students to build an online identity with plenty of clips to break into the field. Today this is done through blogging.

While our Journalism major is few years off, I have my students doing blogs in my ENG 274 Creative Non-Fiction Workshop today. (Surprisingly, I have no journalism students, but plenty of poets and a few Writing and Literature majors.) The students are remarkably good writers in that their grammar is really solid. I am using blogs here to let them respond to the readings in class--for some level of accountability for keeping up with the reading, as well as to share their creative work. (This creative writing class naturally doesn't include a midterm and a final--just creative work and a final portfolio. Instead the course proposal requires a series of 'response papers' to readings, to these are done online.) Just ask if you want access to our blog roll here. (I don't think we want the whole wide world to weigh in on their creative work. They are sharing some really personal stories.)

I am struck that Web 2.0 tools are not one-size-fits-all. Surely, the role of low- to mid-stakes writing is different for different classes. In some ways, having a thriving, polished blog for a creative writer or a journalist is like an ePortfolio--a calling card to four-year schools and eventually getting some freelance assignments and a book deal....

I plan to work with my students near the end of the term and let them set up a 'professional' blog, posting their best work and starting a program of regular writing. Today, one student said she is choosing between creative writing programs in CUNY with an eye toward one day getting her MFA. Wonderful! I thought: she can keep her online identity the whole way through! I have to say I am sold on the idea of blogs for professional writers. At the very start of this, I was interviewing several founders of blog companies back in 2003. I remember thinking: this is the end of my career as a working journalist. (It was.) But there are real benefits for new writers, and the price of free, or nearly free, for blog tools can't be beat when you are learning the craft of writing! (If we just could figure out once again to allow writers to earn a living at this all this 'content creation.' That is, of course, a subject for another post....)

E-reader study

I hope it's ok if I solicit here for a (not entirely unrelated) study I'm working on. Scott White, Helen Rozelman and I are currently conducting a very limited Sony E-Reader study with human services class and were hoping on finding a comparative group to administer an online survey to at the end of the semester. Anyone here teaching a class where they provide all readings in an electronic form through electronic reserves (ERES) or by posting on BlackBoard?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blog excitement loosing momentum

This week my class only met on Friday, due to school being closed on Monday, and I've asked the students to conduct some research in  order to find primary sources in men's magazines for their first research paper. I went over the assignment in class on two separate days and reserved this Friday's class for composition of annotated bibliographies. So the students were responsible for bringing in four primary sources (combination of articles, ads, features, and such) to class on Friday and I gave the the two hours of class time to work on their annotated bibliographies. But just a fraction actually brought the sources with them to class, and majority simply spent the two hours conducting research.
I think I will have to require that students complete the work at home, or at least the first drafts.
Also my students were not very excited about connecting with a research class, no matter how enticing I tried to make it sound (i.e. LRC103 students will act as research advisers and they will answer questions about research and MLA format. It will be great, just like having a personal editor). One student actually asked if after the class and semester is over, will she be able to delete the blog and her contact info. from the LRC103 Ning. Ouch...burn...

Technical Issues

My students are at least beginning to explore the wiki so that's a good sign. Since the work is part of the final project, I don't expect them to move quickly but hope that there will be some evidence of new work soon.

Blackboard 8 is supposed to be so much better..........not! Had some issues with the voice announcements that needed to be addressed by 57th Street so that was one problem this week. The Voice Board seems to be working for many students but then again there are those who don't run the setup wizard, review the instructions and then complain it doesn't work. The online students seem to be having less difficulty than my f2f. I sent them to E-273 and C-216 for help since there are student workers available as various times of the day. In the Speech Communications Lab, the workers told the students not to use Voice Board but to just save their audio in audacity and email it to me. Still trying to get that straightened out. For most, they only needed access to the microphones and if the students or the workers looked, they could have imported the audacity files into Voice Board. Doesn't seem as though anyone went to the ePortfolio lab. Voice Board also allows for exporting of files so it's an easy way to add audio files to the assessment area in Digication. I had less trouble with audio assignments in Blackboard 6.

We continue work on Digication - creating new pages, exploring different modules and techniques. I am not convinced that this is a better system; easier but not sure about better.

This week we used a shared SkyDrive folder (through their live accounts) to begin on new resumes. I uploaded samples as PDF and Word files. The Word files can be used as a template and it was important to show student samples from prior semesters without identifying information....especially to demonstrate what a resume can look like for students with limited or no work experience.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Quiet in the blogosphere

This week was relatively quiet in the blogosphere. My Tuesday class worked on their blog entries in class and some were pleasantly surprised to find comments from the students in the SSY260 class. On the other hand, some of my students still haven’t changed their “comments” settings to “registered users,” and consequently, their blogs are off limits for comments. Also, aside from the students’ in-class participation, there seems to be no outside blogging activity.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I love about open courses... that I have students who have dropped the class but are still actively participating in the Shakespeare Ning and in the ENA099 blog. For a teacher, it doesn't get much better than that.

In-class and intra-class blog interactions

After having gone both through the experience of students commenting on each other's blogs and commenting on another class, the latter wins hands down. I now wish I had videotaped how serious the students were when they were responding to Ximena's class. The set up I gave them (this is an ENA 99 class, they need your feedback) make them see it as a real contribution and not a jump through hoops. On the other hand while there is a good chunk of people who take commenting on their classmates seriously as well, there seem to not do it with the same urgency.

Since we just had an English department meeting where we were discussing the value of classes of students with a range of abilities, I am starting to think that this may be where networked composition classes can really benefit students. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hands-on Workshop Poll

Got started with a tool but are perplexed by its myriad options? We would like to offer our expert help.

If you are interested in a short (30-45 minutes) hands-on session where we review the options of your tool, just vote on the poll to the right. If there are several people interested in one tool, we will try to schedule a session that everyone can attend. If we do not have your tool in the list, just write your preference as a Comment to this post.

A Quick Update

Hi all--

Ximena and I are working with Blogger and prepping for our students to cross-post on one anothers' blogs. We are not yet sure how well it will work, but our tests look promising. They will be posting artifacts about simulation culture and then cross-posting and responding. The blog may not be the best place for this activity, but we will find out soon enough and can modify for Spring.

My 102 classes seem to be having a good time connecting with one another, but I had to take time to emphasize the importance of the blog and how much weight it carries in the class as quite a few were operating at the absolute minimum level. Their current collective assignment is HERE and have higher hopes for this one.

Next semester I need to show them sample "acceptable" entries before they get started. Also, it seems to take about three weeks for the group members to start responding to one another regularly. I am looking for a fix for that as well. I would like them to start commenting on one anothers' posts much more quickly. Perhaps if I emphasize commenting during class and actually have it as an assignment for the first few class meetings rather than just as part of their homework (especially since the 102 meets once a week).

More soon!

Challenges continue

It was nice of Jason to meet with me and suggest what would be a better option for my class. He also helped me set up a google group that may foster class discussions more effectively.
I invited my class to this group by posting an announcement with a link to this group on the blackboard and by sending every student the link in e-mail as well. Their initial response was great. Some of them sent me thank you notes for setting it up. However, not many posted any queations on this despite me reminding in the class. Today I gave them the first quiz. I was hoping that there will be alot of group discussion among them while they prepared for the quiz. But to my surprise not much was posted except that they wanted a sample exam! Only one student sent one question and even that was more like a last minute thing to which no one responded!
I think this is due to the lack of time and also that they have not yet realized how they are doing in the course. If this is true then hope is that their discussion group will become somewhat more active after they see the results of this quiz next week. I guess I will have to wait and see. In the meantime I have reminded them in the class today about the importance of this group discussion and encouraged them again to participate.
So the challenges continue!

Great Expectations

We are now in the fifth week of classes and I have a good handle on who is doing what, who will probably disappear, and who is technologically challenged. Since internships begin mid-December, it is time to get resumes reasonably perfected in FPA. This week we will begin using Office web apps through the student Live accounts. I will upload my samples, along with some templates that I would like them to use -- I do not like students using the Word resume templates since many do not understand how to make corrections within a template and some styles are outdated. My templates are basic Word files that they can overwrite. Of course one of my challenges is to upload all email addresses so that I can share the folder...time consuming. However, when this is done, students can share their resumes and it will make it easier to correct them for internship interviews.

I know that since I uploaded the emails to the Wiki site, a number of my seminar students have at least looked at the site. Now, I will await their postings. Since it is more of a final project, I don't expect immediate results. You have all been added as readers and should have received an email by now. You may want to change your notification option so that you do not receive an email each time someone makes a change to the site (see for help).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wet Paint Transformation

I had such high hopes for Spruz although I had difficulty trying to incorporate the "City Metaphor." My idea was to encourage the students to contribute to the blog by uploading items of interest. For example, one student draws comics. I wanted him to be able to share his
comics and perhaps work with other students creating comics from our material. This was meant to be an experiment that would further engage the students. Even with all the help from dear Dr. X, I could not figure out how to create pages that maintained the metaphor. Over the long weekend, I tried my hand at WetPaint. It was fun! I have gone over to the "other side." I was able to create editable Wikis ready for my students to input. I am going to see what happens this week when I "lead them to water "(hoping that they will drink, please pardon the horse analogy). My feeling is that if I can get them to log on to the course page and see it almost as a gallery of their works that they will be more invested in it. As a freerice addict myself, I wanted to enter the freerice. com challenge that some of you guys are involved in, but decided instead to conduct my own semi vocabulary drill with the students uploading words that they do not know and having the others (from both classes) respond. I'm very hopeful.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Connection has been initiated and first papers are in!

So this Friday, my students' final drafts of the first paper, male product advertisement analysis, were due. The turn out was pretty impressive and I think, or it seems this way but I only read through a few of them, that the blogging, sharing and commenting on each step of the writing process was a success. I broke this assignment into four steps. The first one was brain storming which involved answering a list of questions about an ad for a male product(each student was asked to bring in an ad to class) and this was done during the one class session which meets in a regular classroom. The second step was a formal outline which students were asked to complete in the computer lab, post on their blogs and then comment on one other classmate's outline. The third step was the first draft, also completed in the computer lab and posted on blogs, after which each student was asked to peer review two other classmates's first drafts by answering specific questions. And the last step was the final draft, which I asked the students to post and also submit a hard copy so that I can grade it. While I'm trying to have the class be as paperless as possible, I wanted students' to submit hard copies of final for privacy purposes, as I don't want to post comments with students grades and comments about grammar, syntax and punctuation.
Most students really took advantage of this lengthy process, and feedback; some wrote two drafts before completing a final draft. I am really impressed. But others skipped the outline and first draft, or posted these day before or on the day the final draft was due, making it impossible for anyone to provide them with feedback. So I took an earlier suggestion from Dr. Smith, and asked the students to peer review each others blogs, but I assigned them partners. I hope this will motivate those students who have not been maintaining their blogs to catch up.
Also, Ann Matsuuchi and I exchanged few e-mails about connecting our classes; she put together a great step by step handout on how to connect to her class' Ning and sent it to my students. I alerted my students they will be receiving an invite to a LRC Ning and they will be connecting with Ann's students in order to facilitate the research portion of research paper writing process. My students' annotated biblios for the first research paper are due Oct. 15 so I hope they will take advantage of the Ning connection. Will keep you posted.

Scenes from Macbeth Live Across Classes

This week my students in the Justice for All Cluster will begin a group project co-sponsored by the theatre and lit professors: they will choose a scene from Macbeth to stage--fully stage--with costumes, props, blocking, lighting etc...we are using the Black Box and have theatre student assistants. The current plan (that is related to Community 2.0) is that once this is done--it will probably take two weeks--we will post the live performances on our Ning and Dr X will invite her Shakespeare students to comment on the students' performances and overall production skills.

I am still finding the blogs in both my classes to be powerful aids to critical thinking and focused follow-up class discussion. Interesting side note--I am grading blogs (using rubric on my Ning that was originally shared by Priscilla) in my English 101 class because I can tell they are eager for affirmation. In my capstone seminar I am just commenting but find they are blogging in as much or more depth--without grades. I have told them I will ask for "portfolio" of their top 4-5 blogs and they will receive a grade for them.

There are still a few laggards--what to do about this I do not some cases it seems to have been a lack of skill and others have helped them out; in other cases it is just the usual lack of engagement, I assume...suggestions for stimulating the laggards welcome...not a huge issue--just a few in each class...

Hate crimes is our next topic in 101 and subject of research paper--painfully timely as we start laramie and kidnapping and abuse of teenager in the bronx just hit the news...if anyone wants to chat with my students on this topic, they are looking for interviewees who will function as "chorus"--people in the community who have comments, opinions...
That's all for now...from Dr Van

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Beyond Google: 3 Software Recommendations

I just posted for last week, so I'll keep this short. We've been reading "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr. It's good to remember that Web 2.0 isn't just about Google software (and its many acquisitions). I reminded my students that such popular Google 'inventions' were bought from existing tech companies (Google Docs from Writely and Google Earth from Keyhole Pro.) I used to review software for national print magazines (remember those?)....

Anyway, in my ENG 101/103 cluster, we're using, which is by far a much more flexible word processor than Google Docs. You will need Flash (so it won't work on an iPhone and other smart phones), but it's an excellent online word processor. It's free and offers apparently unlimited storage. I really like that you can scale your text just by zooming in, so that this makes it a great tool for class demos. (We have the computer lab in E-259 on Thursdays. The screen is too close to the projector, and unreadable without it.) My students seem to have no problem with it. They can work on their research paper documents and save them automatically during lab. Printing works really well too.

All of us probably know about Google Docs, but today there are number of free 'cloud-based' file storage services. A good one is Dropbox (, free for 2GB of storage and a lot easier to use than Googles Docs (or Gspace) as far as getting files in and out of remote storage. Dropbox places an icon on your desktop with your remote files. It comes with a client to install on both Windows and Mac machines. (There doesn't seem to be a web interface, though. This will probably mean you can't use in class for demos.) But for your home and office systems, laptops (and even your iPad!), it really shines. It's a lifesaver for getting files synced up between systems, and just faster than Google Docs (sorry Google).

Last, if you've ever been frustrated by limitations on computers in smart classrooms and want a backup solution (just in case), you might try GoToMyPC ( It's about $18 a month--with discounts available, but an essential part of my repertoire. It lets you control a home PC from anywhere--even from a smart classroom. Don't have a PDF viewer that works (as in some of my rooms this year), frustrated by our overworked IT staff (I often am)? Then DIY, with this utility. No installation required on a remote system. It's saved many a class demo. from getting lost over the past few years. Just in case that class demo. doesn't work on your instructor's machine, you can show something on a remote screen instead. Video clips will be a little jumpy, but everything else will work fine. I also use this as a backup when I go to conferences. Highly recommended!

Trials and Tribulations...

Currently, both of my classes are in a computer room which has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the main advantages is having a direct access to computers in class so that students can complete their blog entries before exiting. However, some students have difficulties staying on task and are easily distracted by the Internet. Also, the computer labs do not provide the most conducive environment for group work due to the room setup (e.g., table setup, pillars, dividers, etc.). I’m planning on changing the in-class activities and agenda a bit for next week and see if that makes a difference. Up to this point, we have visited the blogs briefly in the beginning of the class for comments and discussion points, gathered for small/large group discussions, and worked on our reflections at the end of the class. Next week, I’m planning on starting with group work first and finishing with blog entries and comments.

It has also been interesting to notice how the two groups embrace blogging very differently. One of my groups had hard time setting up their accounts, but regardless of the difficulties in the beginning, they are quite receptive to blogging and manage to stay on task. The other group, on the other hand, are very savvy technologically, but have harder time staying focused in-class and are more resistant to blogging. They were also resistant to the idea that other students would be posting comments on their blogs.

Regardless of these trials and tribulations, both groups have blogged about (1) common challenges that students are faced with in their first year of college and (2) differences between high school and college as well as their expectations about college. Steve’s SSY260 class will join the discussion on Saturday by responding to my students’ blog entries.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Another exciting week in wiki-world and some concerns about blog-content theft

All you blog folks out there, not that I want to sway you over, but I do. Here's what I love about wikis, especially Wetpaint. (If you're not sure of the difference, as many of my students are not when the semester begins, this awesome video on YouTube called "Wikis in Plain English" is a must see.)I can put all the course documents up just like I could on blackboard. I can put all the assignments up just like you can on blogspot, but they are linear, so it's a great way to organize the actual course. They have stackable headers, so I can embed pages inside other pages inside other pages, which creates a nice neat system of pull down items. But the really cool part is giving them a project and having them create a page that is fully their own, and is editable (which is really important for larger projects). But I have each student assigned a literary term, and their project requires that they write their own definition of the term and find and comment on a variety of both literary and popular examples. And in they end, they are the producers and purveyors of knowledge. And they can always go back and add more. In fact a student from my Summer class was watching a movie apparently and recognized another good example of his term monthes after the thing was graded, and he went back to his page and added another example. That was super cool. And then, because it is a wiki, other students are asked to add or augment the page with additional explanations and examples.

Here are some of the pages students have created in the past (the current class is just getting started, so their work is not quite ready for viewing):

It's always rocky at first, as so many of our students are really virgins when it comes to the world of internet participation--sure they all have email, but how many of them are participate in activities like blogging, or fansites, or wiki-writing?--and there are some compatability issues. Safari is not really compatible with wetpaint, so you have limited functionality, and I have to help walk students through how to download and install Firefox, but, at the end of the day, they have this thing they've created, and it is new, and all their own. And it lives in the great big cyber-world. When the most viginy or the internet virgins sees her page up there, all full of color and pictures and videos and fancy text boxes, there is a pride of ownership and authorship that I just don't see when I have them blog.

Wetpaint also has discussion forum features, so one of the other ways I use it is to help them prethink about the literature (ENG102) we are reading and contribute a 200 word minimum blog just to help me see where our class discussions need to go and to help me know they are prepared to discuss a poem or story, and to help it so that their learning during that discussion is not static. I post a bunch of discussion questions below each text, and they are asked to respond to as many of the questions as they are comfortable with. But one MAJOR problem is the amount of simple copying I'm seeing and the amount of repetition I'm seeing. I can tell that rather than doing any actual thinking about the text, many of them simply read what others have written and spin a version of exactly the same thing but in their own slightly altered words. Or they answer one question and then just rewrite the same sentence over and over and over to fill up the 200 words. True, this is not the majority of the class (though, still, only slightly more than HALF of the class bothers to do this work despite, as I keep reminding them, it being both a full 20% of their grade). But i don't know how to get around the copying and the reluctance to respond to more complex or difficult discussion questions. Can I require that they make some new and interesting contribution to the discussion? In a classroom discussion we have no problem with people making new and different and interesting fresh points, but for some reason the blogging seems to result in so much repetition that it begins to feel like an exercise in futility. And it isn't that they acknowledge eachothers points or observations that much. It seems that each student is writing in a vacuum without reading what others are saying, except for the students that just copy what others are saying. So the Online Discussion Forum is not functioning as a discussion forum at all.

So, the wiki is sticky, but the blog is just blah. Which is as good as any place to end.

Witches, CATWs, and Collective Thinking

The Weird Sisters--The Great Lakes Theater Festival, 2008
So, this week was spent planning for new types of interactions among students. Dr. Van and I had a brief discussion about my Shakespeare class commenting on videos of her Justice for All students' staging scenes from Macbeth via the Ning sometime late in October. Since the scenes involve The Weird Sisters, it may be an excellent way to celebrate Halloween. :-)

Jason and I also discussed ways to connect our Basic Writing students. One simple way is to have them take the same practice CUNY Writing tests and then have them comment on each other's responses. Jason has chosen to have his students revise their responses while I have asked mine to leave them as they originally wrote them to get a sense of what/how they can write in 90 minutes.

We are also planning a second connection starting sometime next week using the Sharing option in Blogger to have students do some creative/critical collective thinking about the shared topics of our courses (illusion/simulation vs. reality, dystopia, identity, media culture, etc.). I am very excited about the possibilities of this exercise, and I think it may become a staple seminar interaction. Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wiki for Research Rollout for ENG 103

This week in my ENG 101 / ENG 103 cluster, we worked on our research topics on our class wiki. (Have a look at After a previous computer lab session in which we looked at the organization of our wiki pages, I had my students request access with their e-mail addresses. Behind the scenes, I approved their requests. I also created default ‘personal research pages’ with sections for their topics, and the different kinds of sources they will be finding over the next month or so—scholarly articles or psychological studies, newspaper or magazines, and encyclopedia or disctionary articles. Here is an example. Check out the excellent, supportive comments at the bottom. A ’win’ here is that I have included live links to the recommended LaGuardia Library subscription databases to help them locate each kind of source. I hope they will use this online ‘scratch pad’ to collect, annotate and store their growing list of sources. Commenting is also supported—and encouraged. Supplementary instructor pages on our five large research topics (see an example) enhances a paper-based handout with live links to recommended printed and cinematic texts, so students can make an informed choice on a a topic they are interested in, then develop sources and collaborate (a bit) during the research process. I will also post additional shared sources on these pages to facilitate their research. (Students can also do the same, but I will play webmaster and 'harvest' their links occasionally from their individual pages.) I was surprised how adept my students were at understanding the big picture here. Using wikis in this way looks to have potential. Their links will be posted in one place, and other students can browse to see what others are doing in class. I like that wikis are project-based, easy to modify and share. Blogging is for brain-storming and developing topics and engagement with our source texts for the class. So far so good!

Monday, October 4, 2010

How to see the Comments (and Spam) Folder on Blogger

Teams are Cool and Other Errata

Ok, so that was a tough week with a lot of little issues, but the students are hanging in there and seem to be having a good time. Trying to coordinate the blogs and links and getting the proper emails to use Google Docs as a grade-book was a bit much even for me, especially considering that two of my classes only meet once a week, so if I forget something it may be a week before I can pass along more information and etc. However, it seems that the majority of the students have latched on to the idea that “class” is really our collective blogging and when we meet is more like “lab” so if I need to make an announcement after the actual “class meeting” they are getting it pretty quick. You all may remember that I decided early on to have students break off into teams with a team name that they use as an online last name. For example, I might be Jason Dragon. This idea seems to be having some interesting effects.

One thing I have noticed so far is that team members tend to behave similarly—such as making the same mistake, forgetting the same step in a process, or, on the positive side, proofreading one another’s’ prose, all using some new web tool to great effect, and etc. At this point in the semester it is much easier for me to notice the negative (none of team A posted their email address as directed whereas all the other teams did) but overall I think the dynamic is potentially useful if I can spin it the right way. I am trying to push the idea a bit by having them always use their team name for class work rather than their surname and, strangely enough, I have learned my students’ names much faster than usual.

And now, on to the Google Docs grade-book. I thought this was going to be a nightmare, but it is actually pretty easy and certainly takes no longer than it used to take me to fill in my old pen and paper one. I like it because I can share the grades and comments in the same space and students can see the narrative for the whole semester (and hopefully, their improvements) and this should be really handy for reflective purposes. I am sure some issues will creep up. They always do. But, I am pretty happy so far.
As to connections, my 102 classes are pretty much fully integrated. I have already seen the Tuesday class students reading the Thursday class’ blog entries as models for what they should (and should not, in some cases) do, so that is kind of nice and next week we will begin interactions between the classes on our collective Google Groups. 099 is a more difficult matter because there is just so much we have to do in that class to get them ready for the final essay (the terribly labeled CATW) but I think they are ready to make a visit to Ximena’s class blogs and etc. I think we will foray this Thursday.

I am also VERY happy with the 102 blogs overall. Those guys are having a lot of fun and producing some interesting work. I am ready to get a bit more creative over the next few weeks and try something like Phyllis' bricolage assignment.

Freerice is a complete and total hit and I have them making accounts in the 2.0 version so we can start competitions with other classes. I bet we are not the only ones doing this, so I am going to try and find other class groups on Freerice for some healthy competition!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Disappointing turn out for inclass-paper-drafting session and possible match with another C2 participant

Unfortunately, this post will be a bit brief as my eyes are failing me since I've been commenting on my students' first draft of ad analysis throughout most of the weekend. While I'm very pleased by the work students have posted, I still can't quite figure out why, whenever I give my students an entire two hour class to compose their first drafts- this way they can consult me on the spot if they have questions, they can consult their classmates and they have less work to do outside of class-a third or almost half of them do not show up to class? Of course, none of the absent students posted their first drafts by Friday which was the deadline.

But on to my second part of the post, which is a possible connection with Ann Matsuuchi's research class. Ann and I are hoping to pair up our students in order for her students to help/advise my students on research strategies. Also, it this works, maybe the students can peer review each others papers later in the term.

Last but not least, I have a technical question about Google Docs for those of you who are more tech savvy. Is it possible for me to post a link to a handout in Google Docs and have my students save the handout to their Google Docs and complete/fill out the handout? Does this make sense? In other words, is it possible for another party to alter a document in Google Docs?

Wiki Work and Audio Files

We continued to experience difficult with our avatars from Voki. Students are thrilled when they work but have been frustrated. Instead of using the same tool for the next audio file, I'm planning to use the Voice Board in Blackboard. It seems to be fairly easy to use and we don't have to worry about conflicts with the software since it is designed to work within the system.

Students in my Future of Work seminar will continue the work from last Fall II's seminar on the Outliers wiki. The link will be posted here so you can check it out. This is only one activity for this six session seminar but they are to either add comments or edit/add pages as they wish. I am requiring five posts. This is an adjusted assignment since we usually do something with ePortfolio but with the change in platforms, I have decided not to do this in the Fall. We'll see what progress is made with Digication before I add yet another frustrating assignment.

When Bad Things Happen to Blog Enthusiasts

As it happens, this was the week my faith in technology turned to agnosticism. Ximena and I had set our classes for an asynchronous online interaction: her students wrote summaries of "the allegory of the cave." My students would use a list provided by Ximena to evaluate these summaries. Ximena's students get feedback, my students get awareness of what a summary must include, and they all get to leave the limits of their classroom: win-win all over. Not so fast.

Half my students were able to post comments with no problem. For the other half, they would post a comment, see it posted, and when the page would reload the comment would not be there. Post again, and the same process was repeated. Those who had not saved to MS word learned the hard way to do so. But even those who had were frustrated, posting again and again to no avail.; I tried posting, then Ximena tried posting (she had posted comments before to these students' blogs), and at some point neither of us were able to. Finally when Ximena had students go over their accounts, she discovered that a new feature blogger added, the spam folder, was sending all these lost comments to the spam area and keeping them there. Now that her students have replied to mine, it will be my turn to introduce them to the spam folder next time we are in the lab.

Now I am curious as to how blogger chooses which comments were spam. Was it the fact that all comments had that list of criteria enumerated? That they had been copied and pasted? That they were posted around the same time? Who knows but blogger? It sure as hell was frustrating for all involved, I can tell you that. Next week we will spend some time discussing this in my class--my main irritation with what happened is that instead of discussing the actual experience of interacting with the students we will also have to discuss technology, although I must say that my students were annoyed but not as irritated as I was--probably because they have had more experience with a life where things you need (subways, electric power, what have you) do not work as opposed to me who is a more recent NYC transplant. More to come this week...

Labels I decided to leave out for this post but I feel were appropriate: dystopia, hate crimes (me against blogger designers)