Saturday, March 26, 2011

A tale of two labs

Last week the liberal arts cluster students and the students in my ENG 99 class had their first networked interaction with each other on blogger; while I have interacted with other classes before I never had students of my own do so across sections, so it was a new experience which required some planning. Both sections are currently working on Plato’s allegory of the cave excerpt (or, as a ENG 99 student called it, allegory of the cave men, which is not altogether as unreasonable a title as it first sounds) , albeit in different contexts. ENG 99 students had to summarize it since that is a bread and butter skill for the CATW. This, by the way, was not their first summary. In order to have ENG 101/103 students appreciate the difficulty of summarizing, I also had them write a summary on the spot before the activity and we then discussed the products they created; many expressed concern over how they know what to include and why, which was very good and which surprisingly has not come up much in my ENG 99 class. I then paired them with ENG 99 students so they would give them feedback. As has happened before with such an activity, students generally gave a lot of well thought-out feedback and some useful suggestions; at the end of the activity a lot commented, on their own, that giving feedback helped them go back to their own summaries and see what was wrong with them—they had gotten a whole lesson on the value of peer review for self-critique without me saying anything. But it was a more difficult situation in ENG 99.

Because I had ENG 99 students read and comment on ENG 101 students’ blogs also, and they commented on blogs that were not summaries, they more or less accepted them as better writers and students—yet problems started showing up when an ENG 99 student would have two differing sets of feedback. The directions I gave in ENG 99 was for them to “use the feedback they find useful” in revising their summary, but they did not know how to make such a choice. First some thought of using me as a shortcut and asking me which one I thought was better (really lazy attempt for them to use me), then some asked me which student was a better student of the two (arguably a notch up in terms of avoiding thinking). I did not help matters when I shared a story of a student last fall II who was not good enough as a writer to produce an A or even strong B paper but always gave spot-on peer review comments. Another complication was that a couple of ENG 101 students were missing, so some ENG 99 students did not have two reviewers. I can’t say that the class overall had a breakthrough as big as the ENG 101 had, but it did allow me to experience how easy it is to promote critical thinking and use of judgment even in such a simple interaction such as peer review. In a face to face class students at this point would know some things about each person’s behavior and the “good” and “bad” students would have taken shape, in their minds at least, but here they only had text to deal with, a benefit of doing this in a networked environment. For the record, a few students started looking at personalization and even the other blog entries their reviewers wrote as means of finding out more about their reviewers’ ethos, which can be a lesson in and of itself.

1 comment:

  1. Very good points, especially about how uncertainty can be a plus to critical thinking (but only if you have set your ENG099 students up by saying their readers are ENG101 students) :-)