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If we build it, will they come?

posted: 6.28.13 by archived

When I first started teaching at a community college in 2002, I was an adjunct who (except when I was in the classroom) felt isolated, invisible, and voiceless. Blogging, which I began a couple years later, helped to give me a voice and connect with a few people I had never met in “real life”; though I gradually found other ways of chatting with colleagues, I kept hoping to find ways for technology to deepen and broaden connections between the faculty in my department who seldom seemed to have time or opportunity for as much conversation as I craved. It seemed especially important for faculty in my department to be able to talk because the culture of academic freedom was so firmly established that our courses were so varied; with no common textbook or approach or assignments or syllabus, we were just bound by catalog course descriptions. As a new adjunct in the department, I worried about how my course requirements and grading standards matched the department norm, and later, as a more experienced full-timer, I worried about how the department could ensure some kind of consistency or standards.  Our Portfolio Project is one way we try to do this, while celebrating academic freedom, but I kept thinking that a way to share assignments, at least, in some kind of online space could be another.

But so far all of the technology-mediated forums we’ve tried over the past ten years have not worked. Here’s what we’ve tried, with corresponding results:

  • A free-for-all discussion board on WebCT: three or four participants contributed a few posts before activity rapidly dwindled to nothing
  • A “toolkit” of resources for our gateway courses, in the form of a community group in our LMS: this was a static site of general tools (rubric-makers, graphic organizers, and the like), moderated by an instructional designer and largely ignored by department
  • A wordpress group blog for faculty to share tech and other pedagogical strategies: faculty who wished to participate needed to request user name and password—the last substantive post is mine from September of 2012
  • An English Department Facebook page, with about half a dozen administrators: this does get several posts per week, but normally in the form of links out to writing , literature, education-related articles or sites, with little conversation

Why don’t these things work? Because no one has the time? Because people want to do their own thing and don’t want to talk teaching? Because they prefer face-to-face to online interaction?

Whatever it is, energized by portfolio assessment at the end of last semester (with the opportunity to see other faculty members’ assignments and the chance to talk a bit), I decided we should try again. So three or four us us got together at the beginning of the summer to decide on a plan of action: what we wanted in a site, whether it should open/closed, where it should be hosted, how it should be organized, who should control it. We decided to start small, with a simple repository for assignments to be hosted as a community group in our LMS. We decided early on that it was imperative that everyone in the department (who wanted to participate) had course editing privileges. I’ve set up a basic folder system, with a folder for each of our three composition courses (developmental, Comp 1, and Comp 2) and within the Comp 1 folder (the primary course I teach and the one I know best) folders for the different approaches used by faculty (modes-based, genre-based, and theme-based). Several of us are uploading assignments so that in the fall we can demonstrate the site and (we hope) get the buy-in of other people in the department. It’s crucial, I think, to get a critical mass of assignments posted and, as we get started, to outreach effectively to adjunct faculty and to encourage them to see this as a way to share their own work, in addition to seeing the approaches of other people.

For any readers who have experience with such a site, how it is organized and how do you keep it active and useful? I’d love some free advice in the comments below!

Categories: Holly Pappas
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