This year has been a whirlwind of data and technology and web tools. I entered into this after just starting to integrate tech into my classroom. I’d tried Blogger, and a wiki creation page (WikiSpaces), but was having a hard time trying to figure out how to streamline the tech I was using in a classroom, how to make the tools out there work for me and for my students. For me, the most important and valuable aspect of this seminar has been seeing all of the various forms of web tools that other instructors have been integrating into their classrooms and the amount of variety I’m seeing in the use of Web tools and platforms. I’m particularly inspired by the use of Facebook as a Course management and networking tool for students, such as the Facebook groups set up by Jeremy, Michelle, and the presentations given during the seminar about GoogleDocs.
In one way this has been extremely helpful for me to see all the possibilities out there for integrating this technology into my teaching, and in another, it presents an overwhelming obstacle for learning these tools. I’m learning that my technical savvy about Web Tools is not nearly as advanced as it could be, and that embarking on a journey to learn as many of the tools available to me is possibly unrealistic. So, my goal for my summer classes is to try to get everything all in one place or at most two: I’ve been working on trying to become more familiar with Facebook to use it as a place to post assigned texts that link to a discussion forum of them (especially poems and short stories, short films, links to sites, surveys, etc.) and Google Docs to see if I can use it to replace Blackboard for essay and assignment submission. I’m pretty wary of the latter, but so many C2.0 folks are using it successfully that I’m going to give it a try. If any one has any trial-by-fire suggestions for how this can go horribly wrong and how to avoid disaster, I’d appreciate any advice I can get.
Beyond the Seminar, my use of the tech in the classroom has met with pretty mixed success. I’ll try starting with the success. Being able to have access to all of my materials online and being able to make all of the materials available to students online is something I simply can’t do without anymore. Using an online tool to have students generate small stakes work about a text they are reading before we discuss it in class is also something I just can’t do without anymore. Having a projector to be able to put poems and assignments up on the wall is something I can’t do without (especially because students never bring their materials!!).
But these are all really just conveniences. Inspiration comes from having the students be responsible for a complete space, and having them build and create the content for a wiki. This is especially satisfying when I see at the end of the semester that some students are still building the wiki and tweaking it even after their project has been graded, and when they are still visiting eachother’s wikis and commenting on them. Some students have approached me for information about how they can start their own wiki outside of school. This is cool, and it makes it feel like the learning process in my classroom extends beyond literature and composition, which, after all, is what composition classes should be doing --teaching you ways to use writing in all aspects of life. So that’s exciting.
Problems with the tools: some students are really easily confused by steps and have trouble following instructions. And I don’t have a computer lab, so I can’t easily show them how to do things. I put the instructions in writing and include pictures (which takes forever) but many don’t bother to read instructions at all, so things get messed up. I haven’t had anyone completely delete anyone else’s work yet, but I’m worried about it. They put their documents in the wrong places, upload assignments with file extensions I have no way of opening, and no matter how many times I tell them what are acceptable file extensions, they keep messing it up because of the aforementioned difficulties with following instructions (and not knowing what a file extension is in the first place). And then there are the plagiarism issues! And, also, no matter how many times I tell them, they don’t backup their work, so suddenly they mess something up and delete their entire wiki 2 days before the due date, and I’m stuck giving them extensions so they don’t fail the class, waiting until 10 minutes before grades are due to see if they’ve resubmitted their work. ETC.
And here’s one I’m just starting to realize is a problem: once I open the room up to FB and blogger and online office hours by chat, they just message me and email me incessantly and about anything and everything and never sign their name or address me in a professional way, because I am their “friend” apparently. So there are some politeness issues that I’m not too thrilled about and that don’t set up a very good precedent for students learning what are appropriate modes of and means of communication with people in positions of authority. Has anyone else noticed this?
As I mentioned earlier, the support network created in this seminar has been one of the most important elements for me, not just in terms of helping me come up with ideas for making a class more webby, but for the discussions that surround the benefits and also the obstacles created by webbiness (?). I’ve found Luke’s posts really helpful here (Esp Nov 6) Jason’s March 14th posting on techno-anxiety, and Richard’s techno-savvy posts that verge on a Rain-Manish expertise, when I can understand the technical side, can be very helpful (though often a bit like reading a William Gibson novel). His April 25th post discussing issues of transferability and moveability of course materials to alternate online platforms came at a time when I was struggling between Blackboard and Wetpaint and trying to get all the materials for two different classes transferred from older classes. Very frustrating activity and very helpful blog.
Where am I going with all of this? Oh, gawd I don’t know. I can’t seem to figure out a way to be happy and satisfied with anything that I do in these classes. Nothing seems to work all the tome or with any regularity. I’m constantly frustrated by other people’s frustrations, but I can’t go back to just making copies of everything at the print center 48 hours in advance and having a giant stack of handwritten papers handed to me every day; I can’t deal with writing comments by hand until my arm falls off; but if one more student complains that they forgot their password and can’t login to the Wetpaint or Blogger, or that Blackboard just doesn’t work for them because their name is too long or because the registrar’s office has them mixed up with their brother, or only their classes from 3 semesters show up on their class list… Argh. I know in 10 years that my classes will involve a large amount of material submission and class participation online, so I just want to develop a system that I and my students are all comfortable with and that is conducive to both critical thinking and development of better composition skills.
But honestly this year is making me hope for some sort of wide-scale technology breakdown, a technological devolution. In such a case, I will be happy to go back to teaching with individual slates and chalk. Construction paper. Dioramas. Dumb Shows. Smoke signals. Morality Plays. Cave painting.