Sunday, January 30, 2011

Honors Novel: Brief Syllabus

Hi All--The theme for my Novel course this Spring is Family Disturbances: Secrets and Lies; Love, Loss, Redemption. My syllabus, including texts, thematic questions, and tags may be found at this url: (drafting all this month)

I'm looking forward to reading others' postings so I can get an idea of common themes, especially from those teaching English 102. The novels I have chosen offer very different examples of tone, style, voice: from realism to lyricism to surrealism and magical realism--possibly with 102 we could share a small excerpt (or compare writers across classes with students choosing representative passages) and examine literary devices. Since I am doing Kafka's Metamorphosis, it occurred to me that Biology students of Karim might want to test the veracity, realism of Kafka's "monstrous vermin." Another novel whose main character is a hermaphrodite also offers possibilities for biology, sociology, and any course dealing with culture and difference. That's all for now; to be continued. . .see my syllabus for more detailed themes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A (Very Late) Midyear Reflection

Hope all are well and enjoying all the snow Northern Canada should be getting -- I read yesterday that they have had to cancel a number of dogsled races and snowmobile rallies across Canada due to slushy, rather than snowy conditions and the fear of falling through usually solidly-frozen lakes and rivers. A pack of irritated Huskies stated last week, "Give us back our snow, New York."

So, there's that.

(This is by way of an apology for my late submission of work.)

Goals for MYSELF for the Spring (because I matter):

1) To lighten up and have more fun. This is a personal goal as well as a classroom goal, and my ultimate hope is to make it my students' goal as well.

2) To streamline the web tools I use and go paperless. I'm going Blackboard (gasp), with quite a few reservations, least among them is my perhaps paranoid fear that the school will spy on my students and my various Mohammeds will end up on some no-fly list due to their discussion forum responses to "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways" or something. Nonetheless, taking a chapter out of Jason's book (and perhaps others), and ever so tired of schlepping three course loads of paperwork between two different schools with no real office in which to leave things, and tired of back pain, accompanied by the fear of losing or misplacing papers, or spilling wine and coffee on them, or having them damaged by the water that inevitably finds its way into my bag, or eaten by my adolescent razor-toothed mammal, I have been having students submit all work to Blackboard, and it's been working out quite well so far. I have also been having students do more brainstorming and prewriting and reflecting on their essays prior to the submission of the first draft I see, and Blackboard submissions allow me to respond to these initial steps immediately after class so that I can see what they are working on and they can get my feedback about that prior to their moving on to the next step. This has been really invaluable in the six-week semester: with classes meeting 4 days a week, the turn around time on small-stakes work like this is really helping the students stay focused.

3) To facilitate better discussions in class by focusing more on the students discussion forum responses. I am bumping up the deadline for discussion forum responses to readings so that I can have more time to review what students are interested in discussing or confused about before class. In the past I have had the deadline be one hour before class, but by making it Midnight the night before, i can better target my lectures to address their interests and concerns.

4) To stage the writing process more BEFORE submissions of essays, especially in 102. I've always had problems balancing the discussion of reading in 102 with the prewriting process, and we end up getting bogged down in revisions because first drafts end up so far off the map. I've had great planning/prewriting success in 101 this semester, so I'm working on adapting it to 102.

5) To keep it simple, to avoid confusion about deadlines or web tools. Nothing too ambitious this semester -- I'm scaling back reading and odd assignments, trying to focus on the big assignments more, and staging them in a more transparent fashion.

Goals for STUDENTS for the Spring:

1) To become more comfortable with web-based tools and research.

2) To feel the rush of seeing themselves "published" on the web (via wiki-project which will still be Wetpaint -- not moving to Blackboard for that).

3) To feel like a member of a community of learning at all times -- not just when they're in the classroom.

4) To take control of their own learning and learn to access the massive wealth of online tools available to them. I'm going to make them find documents on the Internet that help them learn about writing topics and reading topics, and to present them to the class.

5) To feel more confident in their reading, writing and critical thinking skills. To learn to think for themselves.

6) To stop hating poetry. Why, oh why do you hate poetry so?

Reflection on my own entries:

What entries? Did I do any entries? Oh, look there's one.

OK, I've been awful about posting. It's embarrassing really, and I'm sure I will not be invited back for another year. Some part of my brain thinks that if i just write a lot every third week that I am making up for it. But I don't think it works like that.

I will have a seven hour gap on Fridays between classes and tutoring, so I should be able to get my butt in a chair to post more often.

The few times I did manage to post: Plagiarism seems a major concern (maybe I only post when I'm annoyed about something). I will try to find more positive things to discuss in my posts (add this to goals). I also want to start using the forums more and reading other people's posts more often. Oddly, my mother does that. "Did you read the comment Dr. X put on your latest Community 2.0 post?" Do other people's mothers follow our blog? Some people should not retire to Palm Desert.

Not much of a reflection, but there's not much to reflect on.

Inspirations and Influences

One thing I am hoping to do is to open up the research paper topics in all my classes this semester. It's been easy to do in 101, but 102 and 220 (Hunter) have been more difficult -- still working on it. One of the things that worries me about not assigning specific topics and letting students choose their own topics, or at least from a wide range of topics I have prescreened, is that it is difficult for me to give them specific guidance in their research projects and it is difficult for me to keep track of their progress. I love Professor Dragan's idea of creating personal research pages for students' projects to give them a place to keep track of their research and link to their sources and their actual work. Inspired. And yes, seeing other students surfing their classmates' research pages and commenting on them would make that research process (so often isolating) seem that much more community based. I love it.

How to link up with other classes. No idea. Lost in the woods. Wandering, lonely as a cloud.

OK, I'm going through a Wordsworth phase.

I look forward to seeing you all soon.

Corbett Out.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Note on My ENG 220 students' Exchange with Dr. X's 099 students

This past fall, for the second time, I had my tutors-in-training respond to Dr. X's 099 students' practice exams. It was a great experience for my students and for me as their instructor. One of the hardest things about training tutors is that you cannot observe them very often, not 100% of the time. For the most part, you train them, you quiz them, you run practice drills in class, and then you let them tutor real actual 099 students in-person, in a cubicle at the Writing Center, and then the tutoring students write about what they did, essentially telling you for themselves how they did, how they felt, what strategies they used. The ability to summarize this effectively shows alot---but still, one wants to be sure they are doing the most effective job possible, given the vulnerable state of Basic Writing students. What's great about having tutors work online is not only that they have more time to think through what they want to tell an 099 student about his/her writing, but that they get to say to me, "hey professor, can you read what I'm saying here and tell me if it sounds right?" This gives me a chance to help them figure out exactly how to say what they want to say. And this ALSO seems to help them in their overall efforts to find the language they will need in the face-to-face tutoring in the cubicles at the Writing Center.

Having the blogging component added to this tutoring course has been extremely helpful. I feel very sure it has made the ENG 220 course better. I wouldn't teach the course without the blogging component now! I see it as integral.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Excellent article folks!

Since many of us are new iPad owners, this great article reviews apps for teaching and research.  This may also add to the iPad's hypnotic effects - Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year's 2.0 Resolutions!


I apologize for being such a prodigal 2.0-er.  A real world cold virus has crashed yours truly for a week......I'm looking forward to all our projects this spring!

My goals for the Spring:

Streamline Writing Assignments - As mentioned in earlier posts, I would like to resist having so many levels and media for writing.  I am going to reduce the number of student writing assignments, but develop their complexity.   I'd like to be smarter about which technology I will use for staging assignments. 

Revisit the links between specific technology and paper development
 In the past, I was using the blogs for pre-writing, as the "developmental" media for building an essay - the formal papers, while pasted to the blog, were conceived of and graded as old-fashioed 2D paper documents.  Now, I'd like to ask students to use the specific capacities of blog technology to "enhance" formal writing assignments by requiring them to embed links, images, sound and/or video so that the 2.0 document is the "final" one.

Use the technology more consistently between classes
In the fall, I had wonderful experiences with my modest experiments in cross-class editing over the internet.  I've also learned from my colleagues in 2.0 about their very positive experiences doing so.

This semester I have two 101 classes (one a stand-alone and the other a part of a cluster).  They are working on different themes, though.  I'm going to assign a LOT more peer editing across these sections.

In addition, I'd like to team up with an ENG 099 class (perhaps Dr. X) to do some of this as well....

Use 2.0 technology to enhance students use of the Archives
My 101 students will be using the archives this semester to research Food Politics in NYC.  I'm looking forward to letting them share their findings online.

Part Two - Yours, Mine and Ours
I really enjoyed being a part of the pilot over the fall - I learned an infinite amount from everyone.  Reviewing the blog today, its clear that in our own local/ individual ways we've been collectively doing an enormous amount of creative teaching and field testing of new ideas.  There's so much I want to do, but haven't yet (for a technological example, using animated avatars like Susan; pedagogically Rich's suggestion to explore the distance between professional writing and casual tech usages). 

There is one thing Ximena, Jason, Luke, Magda and I discussed at our CCHA panel that continues to interest me:  I'm curious to understand the extent to which the use of technology can "rewire" students' attitudes, abilities and affect in the classroom.   However, I'm not sure how to move beyond collecting anecdotal evidence for this phenomenon (which many of us "feel" to be true) to collecting data and writing papers about it (hopefully with a 2.0 collaborator of course!)

See you all soon!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Back

I. My Goals
Thanks to Jason's latest post, my goals for the students are very well delineated :-). 
In terms of the networks and because I am teaching Basic Writing, I intend to use the networks to hopefully fulfill three more goals:
I want my students to understand that they are not alone in their struggles. Too often Basic Writing students feel (or have been told) they are "not good enough" for college and many drop out after one semester of school. I believe the networks can offer the intellectual support system they may not be getting in other parts of their lives. Moreover, the transparency and permanence of the online component (which allows students to constantly check and compare how others responded to an assignment) encourages students to move from self-centered, isolated learning to recognizing that their learning owes and also contributes to the learning of others.
I want my students to get a taste of future possibilities. Since the network offers my Basic Writing students the possibility of checking the work of students in higher level courses, they can anticipate and perhaps even looking forward to what is to come. (This semester, for example, I had one Basic Writing student who admitted he would have never though of taking Shakespeare until he checked my Ning out of curiosity and realized my students were truly enjoying themselves).
I want my students to help others and learn to accept help from others. Our present culture stresses individual achievement and "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" to an unhealthy degree. I want my students to know there is no disgrace in getting help or even asking for help, and that the best way to learn something (if not to achieve happiness) is to help others.
As for myself, my goals are to be clear, consistent, and more spontaneous. I say so because I am not very good at spontaneity yet. And that is one more aspect of Community 2.0 I like. Like my students, I am no longer working in isolation, but have the amazing resources that your courses offer at my fingertips, and thus can introduce a new assignment or give a new spin to an old one based on what you are doing.

Which brings me to the second part of the reflection:

II. My Entries And What You Have Said That Inspired Me

My entries seem to be a mix of reporting class happenings and praising the online environment. (Correspondingly, both my classes declared themselves openly enthusiastic about their online environments, Ning and Blogger). I seem to have experimented with many new features (Google Docs for the gradebook was the most onerous but also most satisfying) and my students connected to a variety of courses (ENG 099, ENG 101, and ENG 220, and even, thanks to Steve, to a Food Nutritionist!) all with satisfactory results (and also irritating glitches--remember the "spam" filter, Luke?) 

High moments: when I realized that students that had dropped the classes were still participating in them! (See post HERE). When my ENG099 students finally fell in the habit of working on their blogs uninterruptedly (no Facebook!) before the class started, some not even taking breaks. Going to the Community College Humanities Association Conference and listening to the amazing accounts of Lizzie, Luke, and Magda about their experiences with the networks and composition courses--We Rocked!!

Low moments: when, due to technical difficulties, Dr. Van and I could not connect our classes. When I overdid it with technology at the expense of the pedagogy and had to recap the class to fulfill my objectives. (It's a long story, but it involves me experimenting with Google Docs for group work).

Lastly, and honestly, I had a blast reading your posts, from Anne's map of online communities to Luke's grumbling about the darned Blogger features that make our life difficult to Susan's amazing display of knowledge concerning online tools and how to put them to good use for student learning (she has so many good entries, it is hard to link to just one) to Rich's warranted concern about how to "translate" online writing to academic writing and his suggestions to use video to maybe bridge the gap and much, much more. Keep 'em coming!

Waiting for Spring….

With another six inches of snow last Friday (I am tired of shoveling) and another 6-12 inches predicted for late Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday, I am anxiously awaiting Spring even though I do not know what it will mean for me professionally.

As many of you know, Cooperative Education is undergoing a restructuring – a plan that has not been clearly thought out since no operational issues have been addressed. However, it looks as though I will be transferring to the Business & Technology Department which makes sense since these are the students I have been working with most closely these past 17 years. My discipline situates me in Social Sciences but that’s another story.

Because of the upcoming restructuring and our split classroom/advising credit distribution, I utilized some banked released time, some grant released time and taught four classes in Fall I to satisfy my teaching obligations for academic year 2010-2011. This means that my plans for Spring are tentative. I am currently teaching two hybrid seminars in Fall II and have built in some of the activities from the Fall such as wikis and VoiceBoard. These worked well so I plan to continue this.

The plan for Spring has me teaching CEP 121-Fundamentals of Professional Advancement (FPA), the online section and a section of IND100-Portfolio Development. These are both technology rich classes with a sprinkling of Web 2.0 and Blackboard activities. FPA is so connected to Blackboard and Digication that I am cautious about moving away from using them since I will be more of an “adjunct” in Cooperative Education in the future.

Wishes (goals) for the Spring:
1. I want my students to complete their work.
2. I want Blackboard to be more responsive to with integration of Web 2.0 technologies.
3. I want to include more tips and tricks worksheets for Blackboard usage.
4. I want to utilize more audio files – mine and the students.
5. I want to utilize cloud computing more – Microsoft Skydrive/Web Apps and Google Apps – since many students do not own the software of the business world.
6. I want the college to stop changing particular aspects of how to use/share ePortfolios and recognize the online sections need immediate access to Digication.
7. I want the Cooperative Education transition to be smoother than I anticipate so that I can actually concentrate on my work with students.

I read over my postings for the Fall and realized that once again I pushed my students to do quite a bit of work. I know though that they are better prepared to move into internships and the workplace when they complete my course but it is hard to get them to understand this. There is a continued resistance and delay in taking FPA that I start with an uphill battle each cycle.

We use more technology than other FPA sections and this works against students who are not tech savvy – yes, there are still a large number of them. We do many short, low-stakes assignments that it may be easier if I redesign the course but with a change in my own status, I do not plan to do this for Spring. With my technology background (I also have a doctoral certificate in Interactive Technology & Pedagogy) perhaps I will be looking at doing more in my new department.

One thing that surprised me about my postings is that I wrote more than I thought I would. As many know, I am somewhat resistant to posting on a blog but since it was more of a “reporting” of weekly activities, successes and failures, it was easy enough to do. I appreciated the comments that other made to my posts and the positive feedback on what I was doing reinforced my plans to continue to include this in the course. VoiceBoard is new and worked well – so much better than the VoiceThread assignment that I need to find a way to make this work better in Spring since my class will only be meeting online. One new piece I plan to do in Blackboard is have students complete their HomePage as an introduction, uploading a photo so that we can make connections earlier in the semester.

I was surprised to see so many others using personality type activities and career focused activities. There needs to be a better way to work collaboratively so that students do not see these assignments as duplication but another way of looking at themselves and their future. I look forward to continuing my reading of other posts and enjoy Rich’s technology skills.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Theatrical Metaphor and Web 2.0

I came across an interesting journal article (Educational Media International
Vol. 45, No. 4, December 2008, 253–269) "Constructs for Web 2.0 learning environments: a theatrical metaphor" written by Chih-Hsiung Tua*, Michael Blochera and Gayle Robertsb that I found particularly enlightening, especially as it pertains to us, not only as teachers, but of us as actors engaged in a social dimension here as well. The theatrical metaphor is said to have " four dimensions: cognitive dimension (scripts actors create/follow); social dimension(actors engage in social relationships); networking dimension (stages where actors perform);and interaction dimension (act that actors interact). Each individual is an actor and has self/me and identity."
Even in cyberspace, all the world is a stage. We are a community of purpose, but we are also individuals trying our best to fit together and blend our teaching and learning. However, as we collaborate, we are also actors on a virtual stage. I find this particularly fascinating because each engagement/activity that we contribute to our posts are also personal and social.
Here is the link:

Fall 2010 Reflections

I will be teaching FSG011 (College Discovery Second Semester Seminar) in the Spring 2011 semester. My goals for the Spring semester include:

1. Utilize a student-friendly web 2.0 platform (Facebook) that encourages (and enables) active communication among its members.

2. Maintain an online platform where students can offer advice and feedback to each other on issues around careers, academics and college life.

3. Facilitate students’ personal growth and knowledge in the areas of Life Skills, Career Planning, Learning and Study Strategies, and Health and Wellness.

Late last semester, I developed a brief survey to gauge students’ feelings about Blogger and the class structure. I “borrowed” some of Dr. Z’s questions and wrote a few of my own. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to solicit the group’s feedback on my questions because I created the survey so late, but all in all, I’m very pleased with the range of responses I received. There were seven questions in total with six of them requiring answers before moving on to the next one (question #7 was “optional”). Twenty-nine students completed the survey online during the last week of classes (SurveyMonkey). The questions were:

1. Describe one assignment that was fun to do and why?
2. Describe one assignment that made you learn something about something (what are those “somethings”?)
3. In your opinion, what are the advantages (if any) of completing FSM activities online (e.g., Blogger) versus in groups?
4. What are the disadvantages (if any) of using Blogger in FSM011?
5. Next semester, would you rather participate in a traditional FSG011 (CD Second Semester Seminar) or a course section that utilizes one of the social media networks (Facebook, Ning, Blogger, etc.)?
6. Overall, do you think the Blogger was a useful educational tool in FSM011? (in what ways?)
7. Please list any suggestions for future FSM011 courses.

My initial reaction was total awe and amazement. All semester long, I had second-guessed my decision to use Blogger and I (slightly) regretted for not using Facebook instead. I am extremely pleased with my decision to go with Blogger based on the students’ responses. As stated in my blog entries, some students appeared to enjoy blogging whereas others were easily distracted during in-class activities. However, most of the students did enjoy using social media for classroom assignments and found the online activities useful according to the survey. The majority of the students also reported a preference for another technology enhanced class over a traditional classroom. A few students would rather take a traditional class in the future and a couple of the students weren’t sure. See complete survey here

The biggest criticism that came out of this survey was students’ desire for groups. Even though the majority of them enjoyed blogging and online activities, several students would have liked to see more and/or participate in group activities. This is another question that I struggled with during the semester, and at times, I found it difficult to divide class time effectively between group work and individual work. It seems to be that students enjoyed those classes and activities the most where I was able to incorporate both components into a single class. In other words, first students worked in small groups, then wrote their individual reflective blog entries, and finally, processed the activity as a one large group (everybody was asked to say one thing that they had learned as a result of the activity). In theory, this structure does promote a cohesive community where students are encouraged to exchange their thoughts and feelings about college life. A problem, however, lies in the limited time I have with the group on a weekly basis (1 hr.). This structure takes up a lot of time and I often feel (felt) rushed as the turn gets passed on from student to student at the end of the class.

Overall, I do feel that blogging facilitated a greater student learning than discussions alone. “Good” writing requires one to organize his or her thoughts before articulating them in writing. The act of organizing and articulating adds an extra (and deeper) level of processing that ultimately, may enable students to internalize some of the concepts and ideas that we discussed in class. When I have done similar surveys in the past (paper-pencil), students have had difficult time identifying what they did in class and what they learned as a result of the activities. Thus, based on my personal observations and the brief survey answers, I truly believe that a small change has happened in that regard.

As a result of our Community 2.0, my blogging experience, and the survey results, I’m very enthusiastic about the continued use of technology in my seminars. I have decided to use Facebook in my Spring seminar/s regardless of the relatively positive feedback I received on Blogger. I believe that experimenting with another tool will provide me with additional reference points for future use. I’m also very pleased that I was able to design a brief survey for my seminars because this simple tool made all the work and Blogger “uncertainty” worthwhile. SurveyMonkey was very easy to use and I would recommend it to anybody who wishes to design a basic survey for their class/es. Many thanks to the Community 2.0 group for taking interest in my blog entry about assessment. That exchange really motivated me to implement a survey even if just a basic one.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Goals for Spring and Reflections on Others Comments

1. Planning to refine Pearson Mini-Ning to work for group projects or find new platform--maybe wiki? I like idea of students composing profiles and critical highlights of the authors we are reading--like the way Corbett does; would welcome feedback about effective platforms--am browsing to see what others are using. Still a Ning afficionado but with reservations, concerns.
2. Goal 1 is related to goal 2: really like Luke's comment that we get to teach to others and students need to do that too--all related to voice and ownership: traditionally I have had students do group presentations on the authors in class--goal would be to make this a combo (hybrid) in class-online presentation and to think about how to get them to respond to each group's presentation in the online site.
3. I want to make the move from in-class close reading to research more seamless--agree with Ann and Rich (point a to point b--web activities to research) that this is difficult so a question would be, how can we make the online area a powerful and effective space for starting to love research? My biggest success this Fall was with hate crimes research--they really dove in, even writing to relatives of victims, journalists and received some responses which made them proud! So the goal would be consonant with Jason's comment that the wants students to experience the joy and rebelliousness of intellectual life. I want them to experience ownership and to lose the sense of being overwhelmed by the very word RESEARCH. Have partly achieved this by having them do collaborative research but want to develop more focused (staged) online ways of doing this.
4. I think we are already doing good work in terms of moving students, as Dr X says, from self-centered isolated learners to recognizing their learning counts to others--in this context I am eager to redo a failed project (for reasons external to our efforts) where her Shakespeare students comment on my Eng 101 class's dramatizations of scenes in the cluster--but it will have to wait till Fall when I teach Othello.
5. I am extremely happy with the way blogging on Ning worked with my more advanced class (World Lit in English)--students (as Luke frames it) saw themselves as writers and critics--they applied concepts studied in postcolonial theory to texts and films with gusto and talked to each other, argued--in many cases something that started as a blog response ended up expanding into an essay; I commented on this in class and encouraged it--more of this going forward.
6. the big question for me will be how to find colleague/students to interact with my novel course--theme is family disturbances: secrets, lies, love, loss, redemption. More about that in February 4 posting.
7. Finally, I want to learn more from others in this group about best (and easiest to use) technologies (best and easiest might be an oxymoron); special shout out to Rich: I got a Nook too and want help cracking it!--and am both thrilled (the reading part) and frustrated: can't get as many current texts as on Kindle--and am APPALLED at the number of "cheat" pamphlets B and N has for sale--for example you cannot get Love in the Time of Cholera on Nook but you can get several crappy plot summaries--this spells great danger and means I may have to buy and read them! YUCK I went to B and N to complain--guess what they said: publishers are losing so much money on e-texts that the cheat books are the only way to make money! HELP! This is really serious!
8. Finally, finally I am really excited about SPONTANEITY--that is the way students find new ways to interact and the way our group discusses and shares strategies that help me make leaps in my own thinking about pedagogy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Reflecting Pool

A) Goals for the Spring:
I want students to practice the skills they learn in situations where other students need their help or, alternately, can offer them help.  These skills can be anything from commenting on summaries as my class did with Ximena's in the fall or even just helping another class with technical issues. One of the reasons we find our subject matters fascinating and students do not is that we get to apply it and teach it to others, and I believe the more chances students have for such practice the more engaged and interested they become.

I want students to see themselves as writers, not as students in a writing class. This goal extends beyond this seminar, but I have always found the service model for composition classes, and indeed general education, too much capitalist propaganda for my taste. I don't want my students to learn to write better "for other classes," "for their major," or "for their career." I have to claim I want these things on a variety of annual reports, conference presentations and what not, but that is exactly the kind of writing which we do in academia that I want my students to avoid. Having a blog gave students a sense of themselves as agents and possible generators of ideas, and got them to explore the means and possibilities they have to communicate with and affect others, and I want that to happen more in the spring. 

I want students to care about the presentation of their writing. I don't want them to write flawless sentences because they need good grammar or because it is some writing decorum but because they understand that the whole ethos they create is also reflected in their presentation. I was not very good with that in the fall as I wanted to emphasize ideas more and by the time I wanted to switch emphasis to presentation they had established bad habits. I hope to find a way to interact with other classes so students can read each others' blogs and be even more aware of the persona they create, consciously or not.

B) The Mirror Stage: My posts, the other, and the others' posts

My high point was when I discovered that one of my students had created a second blog, separate from the class one, and was running with it and rambling in it about his skateboarding experiences. Not my most in-depth post, but the one that describes a rewarding moment for me in using the networks concept.

In terms of good discussion, I enjoyed the exploration of what it means to be online which started with a post by Richard and continued with posts by Magda and Ximena . Something I saw in my posts and all the other posts also was how often we would discuss the uses and pitfalls of technology, which given the newness of what we were doing, the different platforms, the experimentation etc was very understandable, but my task master personality wishes, in retrospect, that I had been more focused on the connections between classes than on these issues. Maybe a goal for spring.

Finally, I enjoyed being able to connect to all these other classes and see what others were doing. I liked being able to eavesdrop on Magda's study of gender, for instance (and having my students do that too); I enjoyed being able to follow the blogs of two former students who were taking Jason's ENG 102 and see what kind of writers they were; I liked how, when I joined Dr. Van's class ning, some of her students started friending me as if I was another student; and I really appreciated the weird visits on the flag counter that indicated how people were reading my class' blog in places where I would never imagine they would care to come across such a blog.

second time around

As I reviewed/reread my Community 2.0 seminar posts from last semester, and began reflecting on them, I realized that my course from the previous semester, even though at the time it seemed like poorly organized chaos, had a strong foundation. But for the upcoming semester I’d like to reconsider, revise/restructure and replace some of the assignments, their stages and readings. And to begin this process of revamping my ENG101 Masculinities course, I’ll draw on the wonderful feedback I received last semester from my students in their final blog posts.

On the last day of class, I asked my students to post a final post which required that they answer few questions-I borrowed these from Dr. Van's wiki- about the course (which assignments did they enjoy? which they did not enjoy? did they learn anything interesting or new? etc.). The two top activities were the in-class “Worst Date” post and response comments (this was the lesson during which my class was observed) and the debate, which I posted on the class blog as a YouTube video, on whether women or men are more hurt by double standards. The texts most students alluded to in their final post were those by Susan Bordo on portrayal of male models, and double binds of masculinity and, the movie, The Wedding Crashers. Also I was pleasantly surprised to read, that all the students felt blogger was a helpful learning tool for the class; most said that composing drafts, as well as in-class quick writes followed by comments on classmates' posts was fun and enabled them to get to know each other. This was further confirmed as on the day of the final conferences seven students, who did not sit next to each other in class nor spoke to each other very often, told each other they will be in touch via Facebook, and that they will see each other next term. But what was more surprising was that almost all of the eighteen students stated that they often viewed their classmates' blogs in order to get ideas/compare writing assignments. I was absolutely ecstatic when I read this J. Although ideally I would have liked them to leave comments on each other’s work when they viewed each other’s blogs, I’m glad they took advantage of the technology and got to know their classmates via blogger.  Ultimately these were the course objectives: create a community of writers who through working together become better writers. Yet, and here I am drawing on Prof. Smith's point number 8 from Student's wish list, I want my students to realize that each and everyone of them has a unique and important voice, but being a good writer is contingent on knowing one's audience and communicating in a manner which will reach that audience.
Aside from creating a learning community and helping students improve their writing skills, there are several other objectives that I’d like to strive for and accomplish in the Spring semester. These I’ve complied or aligned with those I came across the Education Week’s special report on policy debates in virtual education. Though many of the topics and issues discussed in  Education Week’s  “A Special Report on the Emerging Policy Debates in Virtual Education” are similar to what we have been discussing in the Community 2.0 seminar, it is interesting that educators and researchers, who collaborated on this report, unanimously agree that hybrid courses, or “blended classes” effectively combine traditional classroom learning with e-learning. Blended courses, in most K-12 classes, follow a process which begins in a traditional classroom and transitions to a computer lab; a new concept is introduced by the teacher in a traditional classroom, and on the following day, the class reviews that concept and technology tools/software are incorporated to further explain/clarify the concept, and on the third day, students begin to apply the concept, actively engage with it, in a computer lab (Ash 8). In the “blended classes” the responsibility for knowledge and skill acquisition is a collaborative effort, but since students spend as much as eighty percent of their time in school working in computer labs on individual and group projects, and only twenty percent in a traditional classroom, this approach is much more student centered. And as each student is an individual, who learns in her/his unique way and pace, technology is a means to a successful end. In other words, teachers are able to view students’ work and progress, and identify specific areas in which students demonstrate aptitude or need help- I’ve seen this done in traditional classrooms in I.S. 93 where America’s Choice was implemented, and students sat/worked in groups and their homework assignments were determined based on their specific needs.  John Danner, the co-founder and chief executive of Rocketship Education, an elementary charter school in San Jose, Cali.,  reports that the traditional classroom instruction  works best for the middle 50 percent, while the computer lab/hands-on application challenges and facilitates the learning of the top and bottom quarters (Ash 7).

Thus drawing on my students’ feedback about the course and the Education Week report, here are my course objectives:
1.      Though as I mentioned above I think I have a strong foundation for the course, I’d like to rework the course’s design. One aspect is the stages of the writing assignments, as this was what students enjoyed the least and many simply chose not to complete. This in the end had a significant impact on their grades. This term I’ll give students options to complete a number of pre-writing, organizational, and compilation of research material activities, rather than assign a particular format. I think that by giving them more room for creativity and exploration, they will enjoy the writing process much more and hopefully develop their own writing processes which will help them become more confident writers. Also, I really like the idea mentioned in EdWeek special report regarding assignments and activities geared directly to students’ strengths and weaknesses; I wanted to incorporate this last term, but simply could not find the time to do so. I think it will really help students to work in groups on issues such as sentence structure, MLA format, paragraphing and so on. I’ll try to create the groups by the third or fourth week, and research some time every week for the group to work together on the particular aspect of writing or research. Ann M. and R. Dragan both also mentioned this in their reflections. The marriage between conducting research and doing so responsibly is something that I thought I would be able to help my students with by reviewing certain qualities a reliable source should have and asking them to compose annotated bibliographies, but in fact many students' found this to be the most daunting part of the course :( Also, as Ann notes the clear distinction between reliable and unreliable Internet sources is becoming more and more unclear, or changes on daily basis. No wonder my students get frustrated. So how do I help them?
2.      The group activities actually overlap with the second objective, the course’s learning objectives. I want to make the connections between each of the subsequent assignments as well as the benefits of connecting with another hybrid course much clearer. Particularly the latter as it did not work out so well last semester.
3.      In regard to assessments, while I have several rubrics which I’ll amend to fit the new design of writing assignments and blog assessment, I will use the grade book feature on blogger. I really liked what Prof. Smith did with this feature and would like to do the same for my students. While I’m quite good with getting back to students with feedback-usually the next class meeting after an assignment was due or the same day if a student posts a question on class or her/his blog, and I make comments on students’ drafts using the Microsoft Word feature or Docs in Blogger, the running grade book, or list containing all of the comments and grades for all assignments would allow students to have a better sense of how well they are doing in the course and what they need to improve.
4.      As briefly mentioned above, I’m planning on changing/dropping some of the reading materials. While most of the readings I have used in the past semester are researched and make for great initial sources for research papers, many are more than ten pages long. I think it will work best if I assign only a reading for the day my class meets in the smart classroom, and then when the class meets in a computer lab, have the students work on activities based on that reading. I need to consult other Community 2.0 participants’ syllabi as I might be overloading my students with reading assignments?
5.      As most of my students really liked blogger, and particularly activities which require them to compose a post, and then have their classmates comment on that post and vice versa, I want to take this activity a develop a few variations of it so that it doesn’t become too repetitive and boring. Any suggestions?
6.      Lastly, I’d like to balance the face-to-face and online course components, as well as inquire about the availability of computers on our campus. Last term, Prof. McCormick and Prof. Gallardo gave me contact information regarding the latter, but I just failed to follow up with it. But I really want to put together a list of available computer labs on campus to students in the afternoons and on weekends. While I tried to create a balance between the traditional classroom and blogger activities, at times I found myself intruding on students’ blogging time in the computer lab, explaining the previous lesson all over again. The key to creating and maintaining a balance between the two is a well-designed syllabus.

Mid-year reflection hw: problems with internet research

Internet research is the main focus of my online class, and it really can be challenging communicating what is going on online, particularly since these issues aren't well-known amongst the general (and even academic) public. The main thing I was emphasizing this semester was how important it is to think about what is going on when we search (where was it published, what kind of site hosts it, who wrote it originally).

Has anyone noticed how Google searches have gotten worse in recent times? Here's a roundup of some of the SEO/spam/content mill issues.
There was also that NY Times article about a vendor who gamed the rankings by getting as many negative reviews on consumer sites as possible (Internet research is the main focus of my online class, and it really can be challenging communicating what is going on online, particularly since these issues aren't well-known amongst the general (and even academic) public. The main thing I was emphasizing this semester was how important it is to think about what is going on when we search (where was it published, what kind of site hosts it, who wrote it originally).

There was also Google fixed this a few days later by essentially blacklisting the guy's site, but guess what? It appears that NY Times coverage (a reputable site, of course) has bumped him back to the top:

My Wish List for Students

Hi all! Here is my developing wish list for students.
  1. I think college students should know how to use a computer.
  2. I would like my students to understand that reading is a method of thinking critically about something that is important to them and that by reading they engage with the the thoughts of the author and give validity to their intellectual labor.
  3. I would like my students to understand that writing is a method of thinking critically about something that is important to them and that by writing they communicate that import to others.
  4. I want my students to be able to conduct research on the Internet.
  5. I want my students to be able to discern the difference between fact and unsupported opinion or belief.
  6. I would like for my students to value their own experiences of life.
  7. I want my students to engage in online communities effectively and responsibly.
  8. I want my students to understand that “writing well” means knowing your audience and that different types of “writing” work for different audiences and in different situations and that the only “good” writing is writing that achieves the desired effect.
  9. I want my students to be able to think critically about media and the colossal effect that it has on their lives.
  10. I want my students to think critically about capitalism and consumerism so they have at least the smallest chance to engage the system in life-affirming ways.
  11. I want my students to have access to the richness of an intellectual life--if they so choose.
  12. I want my students to have the chance to experience the joy and potential rebelliousness of art in all its forms.
I am thinking more about how all of this works with Community 2.0. :)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

They like us, they really like us

Heads up fellow Community 2.0 bloggers: our little ones-and-zeros are making their way in the world and people, like real people, are reading them.

I found a posting of mine in which I describe the wiki project I use in ENG102 discussed on another website; Rachel Buyes a blogger interested in education and the use of technology in the classroom discusses and quotes from my Community 2.0 post on her October 9th blog.

I quoteth: "Corbett Treece blogs about how effective wiki’s could be for a student’s sense of achievement, '[She] 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.” I love the way Treece has chosen to use wikis for her class. She has used it for topics as simple as “What is a hyperbole.' The students would use this wiki to post definitions of what it is, their own examples of it, literary examples of a hyperbole, and even examples from movies with it. It’s a simple idea but the students learn to recognize what it a hyperbole is by sharing/learning with each other through their wiki. It becomes fun to discover examples of what you are learning, even when you are not looking (i.e. watching TV or reading a book) for it, and then being able to share it with classmates who are doing the same thing."

I'm proud like a new Mama.


Mid-Year Reflection

My ideas on technology and education continue to evolve. Based on the experiences of the group, I really see many great ideas and practices going on, but I am continually struck by the simple fact that it is our diversity with technology that is a strength as we try to reach and engage our students. What works for your class may not work for mine; it might not even work next time around with the same material and different students. As 2011 opens, I am now well into my second decade of college teaching. While I am surprised at how different my pedagogical practices have been over the years, yet I see some common threads too. From the very beginning of the internet (the new Chicago Manual of Style now permits lowercase), I noticed I was drawn to doing it myself (for example, creating a simple website rather than relying on a platform like Blackboard). Of course, I used to teach programming and web development in a computer classroom even before the internet arrived. I see the free-for-all / DIY aspect of Web 2.0 technologies like blogs and wikis as a real plus. I like that we can try new things, even on the fly. I just discovered, for example, a super-clever tool called TiddlyWiki. Bad pun aside, it lets you create a small wiki on a single web page, which can be deployed wherever. How cool is that? For example, I might use this to provide an in-depth bit of web content for a particular topic in one of my upcoming classes.

As I reflect on current web technologies, I am still not sold on social networking for my classroom--again your mileage may differ, but it just doesn't work for me. Does that make me old-fashioned? I suppose it does. I think my ideal classroom would have students with similar eReaders--the text! including film and YouTube and Wikipedia, etc. etc.--and a very smart classroom (with a projector that works every time). Full disclosure--I took some holiday money and bought a Nook Color eReader. I spent 30 minutes 'jailbreaking' it, and it is now a very fine tablet computer and so much more portable than an iPad. I have over 600 books on it right now, and have access to all of Project Gutenberg, plus Kindle and Barnes and Nobles' titles. It reads PDF files for my 'personal research' (academic titles not yet in the maw of Google Books or Kindle or Nook bookstores.) I had to scan those in for this winter's reading--I owe an academic publisher a book proposal in a few weeks. Plus I can write on it too--sort of, though this is still under development. It's smaller than a paperback, and the text is brilliantly clear for actually reading.... Amazing technology!

More and more as I read and think about how we learn (and this based in part on my Consciousness / cognitive science Cluster from last semester AND my reading in evolution and literature), it is all about managing attention for our students. The 'Standard Model' of technology in the classroom seems to state that we can use Facebook and whiz-bang tools to get our students to engage and pay attention to class. We do a sleight-of-hand, don't we: turning enthusiasm for all things online into interest in our classes. This is largely true, or true enough, but our students today are ever more distracted, and just as you can't text while you drive, you can't learn very much if you don't know how not to be distracted in the classroom. I begin to see that less is sometimes more, and if we are all writing and checking our Facebook messages, etc., there isn't going to be much time to look carefully and critically at texts. (I am old fashioned this way--the text in whatever form!--is very important to me.)

In response to this week's guidelines, I noticed that several of us last semester noted how students don't always move from point A--the Web 2.0 activities-- to point B--research papers and exams and the graded stuff so successfully. Thus, my goals for the Spring are to promote success with my students through selective Web 2.0 activities as they look carefully at some challenging texts. I will be aiming to use mid to low-stakes blogging assignments to promote comprehension, critical thinking and synthesis on a variety of texts for ENG 101, ENG 102 and LIB 200. I will again be using wikis to promote successful research papers, finding topics and sources, then refining drafts and promoting community within and between classes. Web 2.0 is excellent at generating buzz and excitement, but I want to make sure that our blogging and wiki activities lead to 'higher-stakes' success--completing a research paper, being able to write a successful essay on a short story by Alice Walker, or a poem by Emily Dickinson, or a play by Shakespeare (The Tempest) or a graphic novel on the achievements in science by Rosalind Franklin or Madame Curie, to name a few of the texts and ideas we will be looking at in my classes.... Besides a new set of courses (versus last Fall), I will be substituting blogging assignments instead of ePortfolio for my ENG 102 class for the very first time. Otherwise, I will be building on what's worked before. Like I said, continual evolution now that I have some 'best practices' with these tools....


When I first began the seminar, I was overly eager and ambitious about what I thought I could accomplish. Part of this zeal stemmed from a background in technology. However, I have had to admit that my techy skills were not as sophisticated as I needed them to be in order to produce the scope and presence that I intended for my site. While my heart was in the right place, my skills were not. I tried Spruz, but found the specs difficult to work with, and I couldn't afford Ning, so I went headlong into Wetpaint. True, the Wiki afforded me much more control over the site, though I was now faced with a more difficult to incorporate the site into the classroom assignments.
I encouraged students to post their art, their writings, their music, their "pet projects." In the end, all that they posted (and not terribly successfully) were their vocabulary sentences. Even those were error filled.

My hope was to build a virtual community...much as Rich had suggested where our students could enter a virtual classroom. My idea was/is to have them be able to engage with students from other cultures, other schools, other countries. I have been wanting (and still intend) to work on creating a sister school environment whereby our students connect with other students on a similar level in English, virtually. I did find a site called ePal targeted at creating just this sort of operation. Yet, what did the schools discuss? Snowball fighting and how to deal with it! Very different from literary analyses.

I found Rich Dragon's visit to the CUNY workshop interesting. I do think that the world, the educational and business circuits, are bound to erupt into one gigantic blur. What , however, does this mean to us as educators? The answer that I have is: I have no clue.
I know that I want to continue to build the engagement of other cultures with web 2.O I know that I'd like to be on the cutting edge. I know that I can use my video and uploading skills. But, more than that, or how to get where I want to go, is a mystery.

This is definitely an adventure for us all. I hope we achieve at least part of what we want in the upcoming year.
For me, my next question is: How do I build Web 2.0 in the context of a cluster on the Supernatural? In the words of a wise man whom I consulted about a project, "What makes this different from all other projects?" I don't know.