I started putting my reflections on paper between too many end of semester activities. When I read over what I wrote, I decided to wait until after the first meeting of the new group of participants. This was a conscious decision since my experience was not as rewarding as so many of the others that I did not want to put a damper on the first day for the new folks. However, since I try to follow through on all the activities that we were assigned, I am posting my thoughts.
When I started in the seminar in Fall 2010, I had mixed feelings as to whether I should even be there. I have been teaching online and hybrid for almost a decade and have used many different activities integrating technology into my courses and utilizing the options that Blackboard provides plus Web 2.0 technologies (including “cloud-based”) – wikis, Voice Thread, Voki, Google Docs, PortableApps, OfficeWebApps. My classes are also designed to be the introductory courses for the creation of ePortfolio – not that students take it when they should – so I am involved heavily with Digication. After a number of requests from colleagues and suggestions from my chair that I participate in one of the seminars in 2010-11 (I did none in 2009-10), I decided that Community 2.0 seemed to represent an interest and I needed more exposure to blogs and Facebook to see if this was viable for my classes. As a licensed social worker, I have always been concerned about privacy and confidentiality issues, encouraging students NOT to reveal too much personal information on their ePortfolios, etc. I was wary of using some of the social networking tools for academic purposes. Perhaps some of this is generational and I may be too old to think we always need to work outside of organizational structures. While Blackboard is not perfect, it represents a CMS that works for so many of our activities. I also think that working with many organizations through the internship process, I understand about how individuals need to function within these structures. That does not mean I am unwilling to utilize new techniques just that I am not necessarily ready to throw out the old. As most of you know, my courses are generally technology heavy.
Starting in September 2010, after my syllabi had been created for the semester, there was discussion in the first seminar meeting about creating linking opportunities with our colleagues in different departments. I think at that point I was already concerned. I felt like I was in a time-warp seminar created for English faculty. There were only a few of us outside the English department and we were all “singles” from our departments. It is not so easy to make connections for students across disciplines when content and timing are difficult to mesh. It was much easier for the English faculty to connect their classes and many did so for editing/researching, etc. I was able to connect my own classes but the heavier portion of my teaching load was in Fall I & II since I was anticipating major transitional issues with the Co-op restructuring for Spring. So….plans for Fall I were established over the summer before the seminar began so I connected my own classes on a number of assignments without changing my syllabi too much. In fact, one of the activities is the Voice Thread interview preparation that I add to each semester since 2009 only this time I made a conscious effort to connect classes. That was continued also in Spring I. In Fall I, the students in the internship seminar added content to the wiki that was started in Fall II 2009/10. In Fall II, I connected two of my classes to work jointly on a wiki based on internship experiences.
Wikis have been one of the collaborative activities that I will continue to use. They are easy enough to create and you can keep them very private so they are almost impossible to find. Students are generally willing to share their work here but some often ask that if I decide to make the wiki public, to remove their names. They seem to be willing to share with other classes but often not the rest of the world. As we discussed in the seminar, the rest of the world may not be so interested in reading their work.
I like the structure of a wiki and find it easy to organize. While I posted on our blog weekly (not easy for me to do) and reviewed some of the class blog links, I do not believe that blogs would work as well in a career development class. The blog format works better for a writing intensive class since the focus is also to get them writing more. My classes have written assignments that are submitted and students also need to write/respond on the discussion board. Personally, I don’t like scrolling to locate a post and tags don’t always work the way we’d like. Blogs is not a function that I activated in Blackboard nor did I use their wikis since I have been using PBWorks for a number of years.
Google Docs, PortableApps, OpenOffice, have been used by students in my classes for a few years now. It is a great way to provide open source software for those who select not to, or cannot afford to, purchase software. Last Spring, I started using OfficeWebApps which is the Microsoft Live applications that students can access with their LaGuardia email accounts. I created a Live account myself so that I can easily share folders of documents for students. I have continued to use all for various purposes and to promote technological literacy in my classes. However, some of the documents and presentations that students create with these applications may also be shared within their groups in Blackboard.
Using audio activities prepares students for presentations so I continue to use some low stakes audio and video activities. These are shared within the Blackboard and Digication accounts. We have used VoiceThread, Voki, MovieMaker, webcams and started with Voice Board in Blackboard. We have listened to podcasts and created our own. We used to use Gcast but like so many of the former “free” tools, times have changed so we look for alternatives. It was easy enough to export and stream the recordings from VoiceBoard to share across classes.
Even though I was not convinced at year’s end that blogs or Facebook are better alternatives to Blackboard and Digication, I acknowledge that they serve a purpose. If it meets the objective of the assignment and it engages students, then that’s a good idea. I also think though that we need to acknowledge what engages us as faculty. If it works for both, wonderful! As Corbett mentioned, she now receives so many more messages with a different sense of familiarity that some of the professional role is lost. Preparing students for internships and the professional environment pushes me to establish clearer boundaries.
The best part of the seminar has always been the opportunity to interact with colleagues and share, discuss, and learn from each other. I appreciated Rich’s technological expertise, Ximena and Jason’s energy in all things Community 2.0 and the multiple links they created for us. I would have liked more hands-on, structured activities when we did have f2f meetings. I also think it would have been better if those who committed to the seminar were available and able to attend the meetings since faces varied when we met and this changes the dynamics. While it was nice to meet the new participants for the Spring, this is the first time I participated in a seminar where additional participants were added…..and they were English faculty. There needed to be a more diverse representation of departments if one of the objectives is to connect across the college. I did share this with Center staff before the new applications were submitted so I hope this is reflected in the new group.
I encourage the new participants not to be overwhelmed. Start small and test out the activities/technology. Don’t go jumping around too much the first semester since you may feel that nothing works. This all takes time and what you think is wonderful may not be so wonderful in the eyes of the students. While many are digital natives, there are still students who are technologically challenged so you need patience. As Steve mentioned, some may not be interested in the technology component. I have created a number of “tutorials” with screenshots when I anticipate potential problems and then recycle them each system. Think about what you are asking and then if a technology novice could handle it. I also search online for other schools who have, what I consider to be, Blackboard for Dummies since we don’t have quick guidelines for students who rarely use Blackboard. I have used digital stories in my classes and adapted that also for my own purposes by creating a “movie” (using MovieMaker) to walk students through my syllabus for my online courses. Web 2.0 tools change constantly and new ones replace the old especially when the old start charging fees even for educational accounts. Most of us use the “free” tools since the college will not cover the cost and often we are not willing to pay for this either. Find a good source to locate what you need. Here’s one place to start that I like: Go2Web - and another that I have used Web 2.0: Cool Tools for Schools. Technology takes time but when used creatively can add much to the classroom.
I see much of this changing and expanding over the next decade as we run out of classroom space and begin to offer more hybrid and online courses. There will probably be the introduction of more online degrees within CUNY also but then there needs to be more technology support for staff who are willing to teach in these programs. Personally in 5-10 years, I may be teaching online as an adjunct and will be checking in on you as I will be retired traveling The Great Loop in my trawler.