Monday, June 13, 2011

Reflecting on the 2010-2011 Seminar

Overall, this has been a really fantastic and productive year for the seminar and for my classes: and I say this with the perspective that it was a very tough year for me professionally, not in the sense of "things going wrong" but in the sense of "things that must be completed".

Data, Retention, and Success 
I am in a data mood, so I'll admit right up front that I have specific quantifiable goals for my classes. I know some of you may consider this evil, or at least the spawn of evil, but it helps me plan my courses for the future. For the past several years, particularly in Basic Skills (ENG099), I have had a target every semester of a 90% retention rate and an 80% success rate. Since I started using Web 2.0 tools (and, admittedly, a computer classroom for every class session), I have hit that 90% retention rate on average for the last several years. Let's face it: if done right, our students LOVE being in the computer classrooms, and I have been teaching in one, off and on, for 20 years now. If your virtual environment is designed well students will be engaged, and engaged students learn. Great. I effectively use technology to keep them in their seats and, ostensibly, working.

Now, more complex is that "success rate". (If you feel the need for a massage, this should help.) In ENG 099 we now have the CAT-W as the exit test. With the previous test, the CUNY-ACT, my students were inching up from around 50% to around 75% when we killed the CUNY-ACT. With the CAT-W it looks like an average of around 60%, but I am also seeing a lot of "near misses" with students getting scores of 55 and 54 with 56 being the cut-off. Those students can advance to an "express" class, so if I include them we are looking at a 75% "success rate".

Anecdotal Evidence (which is not de facto "bad")
But what does any of that have to do with the seminar and Web 2.0? Here comes the anecdotal evidence which I have been trained to deliver (despite some institutional claims that we are not trained to assess our own outcomes). I can tell you that I am a more effective teacher using technology than without. As a person, in person, I speak really fast, my thoughts tend to wander in and out of ideas spontaneously, and if I have a "plan" for class, no matter how well prepared, I often ignore it when the time comes. Which is not to say my courses were not fun or educational. Students used to tell me that I should be a professional comedian or that I sounded "smart". Did they learn anything? I had no idea, really. But now, when I use the internet, I tend to plan the course meticulously, follow the design, modify where needed, and I can see what the students are actually doing--and so can they! They can see one another working and see the work.

Newsroom Approach
I grew up in a newspaper/journalist family, so I tend to call this the "newsroom" approach. In my father's newspaper when I was in high-school, all of the departments (sans the actual folks who ran the printing press) were in one large room. Reporters, editors, advertising reps, the layout team, all of them were in one shared space and worked together to produce something every single day. My father was the publisher of the paper and his job was, essentially, to set the timelines, the context, the tone, and to connect with the larger community (and, of course, deal with the budget and his bosses). I think my Web 2.0 experience is very much like that.

Internet Pedagogical Ethics 
As you all probably know, I have become very interested in the "ethics of the internet" in regards to higher education including issues of privacy, agency, and advocacy (OK, I am not exactly sure what I mean by "advocacy" there, but it sounds right, so I am sticking with it) and may plan a larger research project around those issues. I suppose this harkens back to my previous aspirations to become a lawyer. I would like to draw your attention to the discussion about how to handle inappropriate posts (and etc.) HERE. I find this subject very interesting as we move forward towards more "open" "classrooms" (and I find the necessity for quotation marks here intriguing).

That Said . . .
I think this is the best seminar and project ever. The participants ARE the content! All the wonderful things you guys do, even the glorious failures, we learn from and build on. I can feel (anecdotal evidence again) that this is a serious move in academe and pedagogy and that we are giving it serious attention and having a great time doing it. I almost feel like I am in my first semester of graduate school again. "Wow!", "What the heck does that mean?" and "How do I learn more about that?" are my favorite phrases again.

Thanks to you all. Really. (Or as Dr. X is prone to say, "Really, really, really. really, really, really, really.") And finally, I must say thanks to Dean Arcario and Dr. Van for envisioning my little Web 2.0 experiment as a project and seminar and to Dr. X for doing the really hard work every day and pulling it off. You go grrrl!


  1. (I love the idea of a writing classroom as a newsroom!) Thank you for your leadership and vision with the seminar. The value of Web 2.0 is sure to be even more recognized by the College, esp. with such successful numbers in retention and improved academic success for your students!


  2. I agree that this was a fantastic seminar and I loved that the work done by participants -- the good,the bad, and the ugly -- was the content. I think there is no better way to learn than by trying something new and then sharing, evaluating, and reflecting on the results so that it can be adapted for future use. This seminar provided a safe space within which to experiment with the added bonus of general guidance and hands-on assistance from the seminar leaders -- thanks Jason and Ximena! -- and fellow participants. Using technology in class can be intimidating but I always felt like I had the support I needed to keep moving forward and trying new things. I also loved seeing what other people were doing and was constantly impressed and inspired by the group's efforts. As I wrote in my final reflection, I look forward to continuing on this journey and to participating in Community 2.0 next year.