Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Final Reflection

I had never taught in a computer lab before I joined this seminar. In fact, I had never even taken a class in a computer lab. Needless to say, teaching an ENG102 course in a computer lab every Tuesday for two hours (we spent one hour on Thursdays in a traditional classroom) was an experience drenched in NEW. And for this reason, mistakes were made.

One major mistake I made (and I mention this so that future participants might avoid the error) was beginning this semester with a course already fully designed—and without much desire to budge from the scheme. I was a late addition to the seminar and therefore had neither intended to integrate web 2.0 technology nor teach in a computer lab. My misstep was to expect that this preparation would directly translate to a course with new requirements, concerns, and objectives. This semester would have certainly been more productive for everyone if I had come to the course without presumption: nothing planned, nothing prepared—willing to bake the integration of 2.0 technology into the very design of the course.

Actually, I do not believe that I ever gained a proper footing in the computer lab. Awkwardness prevailed throughout the semester. For example, the layout of the computer lab made discussion extraordinarily difficult. Many students did not even have a direct eye line to the dry erase board in the room and were forced to change seats momentarily while I did what teachers are often wont to do: write on the board. This particular problem remained one of several inconveniences our class faced every Tuesday. Because of my unfamiliarity with the space (and the stress and anxiety this unfamiliarity produced), I felt that in many instances I became a “salesman” for the course in ways that I had not previously experienced. Of course, part of the “selling” was meant to reassure myself that the course would move ahead smoothly and that the newness—that is, the “added” element of having to use a computer during most of our time together every week—would not hinder our progress. My attitude betrayed my belief that the technology was something I needed to “get through” so that I could move to more familiar space: the traditional classroom. I suspect this approach is common among neophytes.

Near the end of the semester, several students sought me out to privately voice their own uncensored evaluation of the course. The repeating factor in their criticism was the feeling of boredom and detachment. At least three students told me (separately) that they missed the student-to-student interaction they experienced in their ENG101 classes. I had supposed that being connected virtually, via Facebook, would supplant the need for actual group work activities. I had anticipated that students would feel more comfortable interacting without the anxiety and responsibility of traditional group work activities. I was wrong. With more time in the traditional classroom, more interaction among students would have certainly occurred. However, with only one hour per week, I reserved that time for discussion of the weekly readings as well as preparation for upcoming essay assignments. Before the semester began, I hoped to have two hours in the traditional classroom and one hour in the computer lab. Due to limited resources, this was not an option.

That said, Tuesdays in the lab certainly facilitated what I believe is the most positive outcome of my experience. My students wrote at least 600 words each week. We saved, literally, dozens of reams of paper this semester. I feel deeply satisfied about this fact. Perhaps I feel more satisfied about our paper saving than I should. However, several of my students commented during class that they also felt very pleased that they did not need to use as much paper in this semester as they did in their previous English classes.  

In a final analysis, did working with web 2.0 technologies and networking with Michelle Pacht’s ENG102 class engender a supportive and collaborative environment? Yes. Like other seminar participants, I also enjoyed the positive aspects of employing a very familiar platform—Facebook—and seeing students “like” homework assignments as well as one another’s work. I would probably label this level of interaction a favorite moment. Furthermore, having students evaluate and respond to the written work of their “virtual partners” from another ENG102 class was a valuable experience. I believe they not only sharpened their critical thinking skills, but also returned from this activity writing more finely crafted essays. In other words, they learned. They became better thinkers and writers. Nevertheless, networking assignments and activities should have been a primary element in my course design, not an “added” or “extra” component.

However, Facebook’s familiarity has its thorns as well. Students often posted questions and/or comments at inopportune moments. I would have preferred that these students visited me during office hours. Because Facebook was a more convenient option for students (convenience, to me, is not always King), I felt that I became something of a “Facebook Watchdog” this semester—a catcher in the rye (if you will), making sure that student concerns did not go unanswered. This was not to my liking. Because I did not set boundaries (again, my failure) regarding proper times to post, I found myself scanning Facebook much more often than I desired. In effect, I felt tethered to my laptop during my “off hours,” and thus experienced the onset of early burnout. By the time this situation became a major frustration for me, it was already too late in the semester to introduce “New Rules and Regulations” for my students.

By extension, I believe that learning more about Google Docs would be helpful for me. With Google Docs I can save paper, and still enjoy the collaborative aspects that I witnessed during this semester. Most of what I learned this semester was how to fail. I see this as an extremely positive outcome, actually. The next time I teach in a computer lab, or decide to integrate web 2.0 technology, I will have much more confidence. I will fail better.

2 comments:

  1. I appreciate your candid reflections on the course, Jeremy, and applaud your willingness to see gains in what are ostensibly "failures." There are always at least two outcomes to every classroom experiment, and failure is one of them, but that's why we experiment--to see what works and what we can do differently.

    Given that the rest of the seminar group had an extra semester to try things out, I'd say you're right where you ought to be--and with great insights into teaching the course next time.

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  2. Very helpful to hear about misses as well as hits. I love this final declaration, "I will fail better." I think I need to adopt this as a mantra.

    Some themes focused on:
    = what works and what doesn't
    = importance of classroom setup and the physical space (a major hurdle for us - not enough of it and totally inadequate)
    = some students miss traditional facetime activities
    = having to "sell" technological approaches to students
    = Facebook, the good and the bad

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