Sunday, June 5, 2011

Final Reflection of a Christmas Past: My Web 2.0 Ghosts

I realize that the title of this reflection leads one to recall Dickens’ ghost story. As I reflect on the past year of Web 2.0, I am left feeling that there are ghosts that lurk in my mind. These are the ghosts (like Marley) of things that I meant to, wanted to, but did not achieve during the Web 2.0 seminar.

My early zeal drove me to attempt to achieve the impossible: a blog site that was so much more than a blog: a repository for music, podcast, student art work, student poetry, news stories, and literary analysis. As such, I created the now defunct virtual city, “Lautrec Ville.” Each area of the city had its own virtual office complete with pictures. For example, the newsroom had a photo of an old fashioned news room, the “city hall” had a picture of a government building, the music/radio station had an image that also was reminiscent of a radio station. Lautrec Ville even had its own tea salon (as I had incorporated a field trip to a nearby location where the students experienced “high tea” at a nominal price, and could write a process essay on the experience). My heart was in the right place; my skills were not at the same level.

Ximena generously offered to assist me with Ning or Spruz. She demonstrated Ning, but, at that time, Ning cost money that I could not afford to pay. Therefore, Ximena helped me with Spruz. She gave of her time freely. However, Spruze proved much more difficult and less adaptable to my concept of the city. I decided to try Tumblr, a new blogging social network site that some students told me to try. It was easy, but…too easy…not up to the “enhanced capability” that I wanted my blog site to be. I didn’t want to just have the students blog; I wanted the students to create…each contribution to the “city” was supposed to live up to higher expectations, than a mere blog.

Complicating the issue was the fact that my class still did not have a lab assigned to it, although I had specifically requested one. We went over 5 weeks with no lab. Meanwhile, I was showing the class in the smart room where to sign up, how to do it. It didn’t translate. In addition, one of my English 101 classes during that semester was composed of many unskilled, immature, disruptive students….the kind of class for which you steel yourself, take a deep breath, and get through the semester. They were not even handing in assignments, let alone blogging and/or signing into a site that we could not access in school. This was not a class that would work well with one on one peer review, let alone peer review with another more skilled, more functional, operational class. In addition, I must confess that my previous experience with peer review of student works was that it was fraught with problems, least of which was the fact that students seemed to “like” the essays replete with grammatical errors, and dislike the ones that really did the job. The analogy that comes to mind is that of an unreliable narrator telling one a story; it lacks accuracy.

I decided to try Blogger. Blogger worked, but did not live up to my elaborate scheme of building a city. The second class that I had would have been willing, but due to a lack of lab time, they performed minimal blogs. Finally, I decided to use Wiki wet paint. I knew that Corbett was using it, and I liked her blogs. But, the Lautrec Ville city concept didn’t translate to Wet paint either, so I decided to revise my concept altogether, and made my Wiki Wet Paint, a vocabulary site. Each student was to define a word, write a sentence utilizing that word, and add or comment or correct other students’ works. Both classes were connected to each other, but not to other Web 2.0 participants. The students did define the words, but did not address the inaccuracies of the other definitions. Just getting the students to sign in to the site was a major task. There was no way that I could conceive of connecting to other classes.

We were assigned a buddy in the Web 2.0 seminar. This was a "smart move." Unfortunately, the day of our assignment, my buddy was out due to a departmental conflict. The next time the seminar met, I was out due to a delay in travel. To be honest, by the next meeting, I forgot that I had a buddy. Had I remembered, I would have definitely contacted her. However, I also had other issues to deal with in the second semester of Web 2.0.

I was starting to work on a cluster on the Supernatural. I had wanted to work in a cluster (and bugging Phyllis) for years. The concept of the Supernatural was one that I found intriguing, and I was (here we go again) filled with indefatigable energy and zeal to create a highly sophisticated course. I read and reread and reviewed many, many books, stories and films trying to decide upon the “perfect” syllabus for this course. I was also trying to make English 101 fit within the guidelines. To be honest, I blogged on Web 2.0, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to connect with a more global concept. I did want to connect with other Web 2.0 participants, and did request connections, but they didn’t happen. Here is where one of my ghosts (a la Marley) rears its ugly head. I requested, but did not pursue a connection. Moreover, I was (yep!) now trying to find a new “home” for my blog site. I was eager to create a graphic novel online whereby my students could write up summaries of their stories, add pictures and connect with others. Where did/does blogging fit into this paradigm? It does and did not. Therein lays the next ghost of my Christmas past. Moreover, I was struggling to figure out what tool to use. I discovered Scrivener, software for creating books that could be delivered online, as well as in print. Ximena, again, in her true charitable and kind nature gave me a heads up. I will always be grateful to Ximena and Jason for their support in what I was trying to do. I couldn’t purchase Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows/)and it looked like I was going to be in the second semester without any kind of successful collaboration or connection. Rich Dragon’s blogs always seemed to initiate discussion that came closest to my interest. But, as has been pointed out, one of the ongoing problems was that, in addition to other struggles, many of us were on different platforms. Even if we wanted to connect, we would have to transform our platform to that of a participant. I finally landed (as I noted in a blog) on Wordpress…not because it was perfect, but because it had a fairly low learning curve (for me as well as the classes), and because…just like someone who decides to marry…it was high time that I did so.
Now that I had abandoned the “city concept” and had arrived at the graphic novel-comic, that was my focus. Fortunately, it seemed to work whereas other blogging had not. We worked as a group, some students investing more than others. What I liked about word press was that it gave me the ability to assign roles of author, editor, and writer. The more skilled students became editors (photo and content), and they took the roles seriously. As time went on, I increased the roles of editors to include those students who became more engaged. These students were able to successfully (although …not completely. Except for one older student) correct grammar. However, they were reluctant to call attention to incorrect content. I became “Chief Editor,” receiving all print and photos. One example of our graphic novel (http://pennydreadful2011.wordpress.com/cagliuso/)
I had decided that we would use slide share to import our graphic novel into our online environment. In the meantime, I discovered that the students were having difficulty importing into PowerPoint. At this point, I chose InDesign. Of course, we had still not connected successfully with another class. Would I have liked to do so? Yes. Did we have some common themes with other classes? Yes. But the issue here was that we, like most participants had arrived at a certain style, way of doing things, with clear cut tasks to complete, and I did not (third ghost) make further repetitive attempts to connect with other participants.

I was headed out to a conference in Boston on International Educational Collaboration, a prime interest of mine. I made meaningful connections for global collaborations within an online environment, but now that I had worked so hard on our graphic novel, the Penny Dreadful, a recreation of the Victorian pulp comics (http://library.stanford.edu/depts/dp/pennies/home.html)(in its final stage, and should be ready for press by Tuesday), I was/am invested in completing that task.

My final reflection/ghost is that I didn’t use some of the techniques that others did, such as Phyllis’ skilled prompts. I do have a better understanding, however, of what I want to do online, the scope and breadth of connections, their advantages, benefits, and difficulties. I have learned much in this Web 2.0 seminar, not the least of which is that Ximena and Jason are wonderful people who live and breathe this stuff 24/7 with kind commitment. Thank you.

6 comments:

  1. Having to reign in one's ambitions and settle for what's feasible in a twelve-week course is by no means unique to teaching with technology, but it seems like the possibilities of Web 2.0 really got you reaching for the stars this time around! It will be interesting to see how your lessons learned from this experimentation lead to a more effective learning experience for your students next time around.

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  2. I should say that all was not wasted/lost....far from it! Dealing with the newness of the cluster as well as the reluctance of students to connect virtually became an additional challenge. BUT, we did succeed in creating a replication of the old Penny Dreadful as a print publication. In addition, becaue of Web 2.0, I felt more comfortable pitching my virtual study concept and have made a terrific connection with a college in Austria. It looks like it just might happen. It always surprises me when sometimes, as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while we are busy making plans," and I'm oft times reminded of that other old "prophet" Mick Jagger..."You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need." Who'd have thought I'd be quoting rock stars as deep thinkers?

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  3. I think Linda's post reflects a common obstacle faced by faculty members trying to update or change their pedagogy in some way -- the desire to create an entirely new concept to suit the new tool. While it seems to make sense at the time, difficulties are more likely to arise when absolutely everything is new. I find it more useful to take one or two elements related to whatever the new concept/tool is and incorporate them into what already works to some degree. This makes me feel more comfortable, which in turn makes my students feel more comfortable. As I get used to the new concepts, I can adapt and/or add more in subsequent semesters. Having said that, I love the idea of Lautrec Ville and would be curious to visit. Maybe it's something that can be built on in the future...

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  4. Some themes focused on, good questions to ponder:
    = Is it too easy to be overly ambitious in our technological planning?
    = Importance of classroom setup and physical space
    = what worked and what didn't
    = recommendations for using tools for a great class graphic novel project
    = this was a great use of our time

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