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Making Videos: First Attempts

posted: 10.5.12 by archived

It’s been a couple of weeks since my first experiment with digital storytelling in my composition class. Because I didn’t want to take too much class time, the assignment was a group one: as part of my scaffolded series, each group of students was to compose a 60-second video that in some way illustrated curiosity, creativity, or persistence. In response to that experience, Traci Gardner’s thoughtful post about A Justification for Composing with Video, and several of my students’ questions about its relevance, I’ve been considering my own defense of its place in my writing classes.

Here’s what I’ve come up with as objectives (or unintended consequences):

  •  Students become familiar with how easy it is to use video-editing software in a low-stakes assignment, where the tech-savvy can help the less experienced. Most groups could complete their videos within our one-hour-and-fifteen-minute class period.
  • As Traci points out, the composition process involved in video production can profitably be linked to the writing process, giving students a visual model that may help them reflect on the stages of composition both of image- and word-based texts.
  • For this class (with my curiosity/creativity/persistence theme), digital composition lets students experience the pleasures of creativity (and maybe the rewards of persistence as well, for those few who struggled with tech difficulties).
  • In addition to the many students who said they enjoyed the project (several made multiple personal videos, which they posted to either YouTube or Facebook), one student pointed out how the project got students talking to each other, which can only help to build the sense of community I hope for in a writing class.

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Teaching in a Computer Lab: First Mistakes

posted: 9.21.12 by archived

Though I’ve taught in a computer lab before, this semester feels new: I’m teaching most of my sections in our brand new English dept. labs, inspired by Texas Wesleyan’s classroom, NEXT. (The Campus Technology article describes this design as  “’radically flexible,’ with an emphasis on four themes: flexibility, sensory stimulation, technology support, and ‘decenteredness.’”) Our version is a large classroom, its instructor’s desk and rows of chairs with those small wrap-around writing “desks” (just barely big enough for a notebook) replaced with  odd-shaped wheeled tables that fit together in various ways, chairs also with wheels, moveable whiteboards, and a locked cart of slim new laptops. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking about how best I can make use of these swanky new digs and, more generally, how the classroom space affects teaching and learning.

The space is certainly designed to accommodate the flipped classroom that fills Ed Tech pages these days, where lecture (content-acquisition) is flipped out of class via technology, leaving in-class time for more active and interactive pursuits. In a writing classroom that means talking and writing and, come research paper time, finding sources. [read more]

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Debriefing the MOOC

posted: 8.31.12 by archived

To start my promised report on my MOOC MOOC experience, I’m embarrassed to admit that, like 90% of the students who enroll in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), I did not complete the course.  (You can find this figure, along with much more info about MOOCs, on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s page “What You Need to Know about MOOC’s.”) Given the general attitude that it was fine to jump in and do as much or little as one wished, this was no big deal, and even my limited participation both taught me a lot and raised a lot of questions.

The speed of the course did me in, with so much to read and watch and produce in a single week. The demands of life that prevented me from engaging as deeply as I would have liked served to remind me of the “real-life” pressures my community college students face.  I also reflected on the usefulness of deadlines: to what extent their pressure is necessary to get work done and how they serve the practical need for students to be at similar places in order to share and reflect on each other’s products, but also how the difficulty in meeting one deadline can derail student progress in the entire course. For my own courses, it led me to think about what interventions I might make to help in these types of situations, that seem so common for my students. [read more]

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Trying out a MOOC

posted: 8.17.12 by archived

I don’t have much patience for deciphering strings of initials. It took me years to finally get straight what MMORPG stands for. I’ve been a little quicker with MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), which has increasingly peppered my daily email digests from IHE and CHE. I’ve been interested to read Steven Krause’s series of blog posts on his experiences in a MOOC titled “World Music” (starting here and continuing here and here). Then last week, one of my colleagues in a professional development course that is surveying educational technology posted Daphne Koller’s TED talk video on MOOC’s:

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Hollering Between the Silos

posted: 8.3.12 by archived

This morning my daily post from IHE brought a link to Showcasing Academic Technology, which describes a collaborative e-Book (PDF) produced in ten weeks (!) by the University of Minnesota. That (along with a few other things I’ve been up to this summer) got me thinking about how to get interdisciplinary conversations and cross-pollinations happening on campus.

One such initiative at my college last year was a pedagogy discussion group. I only had the chance to participate once last year, but I hope to join more this coming semester. Although it was top-heavy with English folks, it did include faculty from psychology, history, and astronomy. The plan, as I understand it, will be to choose reading books for discussion, in addition to other topics that may interest the group.

Another project that aims to forge interdisciplinary connections for both students and faculty is our college’s One Book program; the selection for the upcoming year is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It’s always a bit of a balancing act selecting a book, finding something interdisciplinary in focus that’s both engaging and accessible. It seems very helpful to find some way for faculty to share their approaches ahead of time. For last year’s book, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a group of faculty presented a panel discussion about approaches they would use in their various disciplines, handily capturing the session for the college YouTube channel:

I’m planning to have most of my classes read the Skloot book this fall, so I’m hoping to get a chance to talk this summer or early in the fall with my colleagues across campus. [read more]

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Scaffolding Assignments: The Habits Redux

posted: 7.20.12 by archived

Before I get into specifics of assignment design, I just wanted to mention a couple articles I’ve come across that respond to the habits of mind that have been on my mind this summer:

  • Clancy Ratliffe  at CultureCat blogged about how the habits of mind described in the Framework could be aligned with WPA outcomes;
  • The most recent issue of College English includes a symposium on the Framework, which seems to have excited quite a bit of not-entirely-positive feedback.

I’ve been thinking lately about how to structure a series of assignments “inspired” by the habits of curiosity, creativity, and persistence.

  1. I usually begin the semester with the generic “writer’s autobiography,” asking students to tell me and the rest of their classmates something about their history as a writer, how they assess themselves, what writing they do now, and what they hope to get out of the class. As a first informal assignment this fall, I’m thinking of asking students to write about how they are curious and creative and persistent (hereafter C, C, and P); this may have involved learning about dinosaurs or experimenting with make-up or practicing one’s foul shot. I will also ask them to comment on whether and how this connects to their experiences as a writer. This will be an informal first post on their individual blogs set up this first week of class. [read more]

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Habits of Mind: Persistence

posted: 7.6.12 by archived

In my plan for re-focusing my comp class, I’ve saved for last the one that’s hardest for me to grapple with and also most crucial (in some ways) for my students’ success. In many of the classes I’ve taught, between 20 and 30% of the students either disappear without officially withdrawing or continue to come to class without turning in any (or many) assignments. I look back at the report I’ve cited earlier (“Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing”) to copy out the definition of persistence: “the ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects.” Many of these students had the ability to pass the class, but something gets in the way of their completing the work of the course, or sometimes of even starting it.

I’d like to be able to poll them to find out why this is so. In particularly bad semesters I sometimes ask students to write an anonymous page about how they assess their progress in the class and, if they’re not happy with how they’ve been doing, what’s been going on to interfere. Pens fly, and the mood seems to be one of eager confession. Generally the resulting pages speak of difficulties balancing schoolwork and the rest of life (my students often work at least twenty hours a week, and many have family obligations as well) or of chronic problems with procrastination.  In my more insecure moments I worry that it’s something about me or how I’ve taught the class, that I haven’t designed assignments that are sufficiently engaging, or that assignments are too difficult for students to approach. [read more]

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Being a Writer

posted: 6.22.12 by archived

When I ask my students at the beginning of each semester to tell me and the rest of the class a little bit about their history as a writer, I anticipate the objection that sometimes comes: But I’m not a writer. I insist that they are writers and have been for fifteen years or more. As evidence I show a letter written by my daughter when she was (I’m guessing) four and a half:

I can’t decipher much of this letter to Santa Claus except its salutation, its closing, and the line I’m sure says, “Say hello to the elves for me,” but it most definitely shows an awareness of audience, purpose, and genre. [read more]

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Habits of Mind: Creativity

posted: 6.1.12 by archived

To continue my tentative course design inspired by “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing,” we’ll move from asking questions to writing text, from the ghost-essays that exist perfectly formed (maybe) in the writer’s mind to the dribble or flood of words that move across the page. Like so many adolescents who lose the joy of drawing they all felt as children, many of my students seem paralyzed by fear that keeps them silent or limited to brief outbursts. For this students, my goal is more basic than an introduction to academic writing: to give them the confidence that they can write and to have them see a value to writing on a personal level, an appreciation of the discoveries the writing process can enable and a sense of pride at what they can produce. (A disclosure: with a background in creative writing rather than comp-rhet, I prefer teaching students how to juggle rather than how to understand the physics of projectile motion.)

Thinking about creativity (or, to paraphrase the Wizard, you had the power all along). I might start by asking students to consider in what ways they are creative, not just traditional art forms but also cooking, carpentry, gardening, make-up or tattoos. Is making something always a creative act? Does a creative act always produce an object of some sort? Can there be creativity in science or in sports? What would that look like? I would encourage students to theorize based on their examples: what are the elements of creativity? how can creativity be a habit? what inspires or inhibits creativity? in what ways is it useful (or not) to judge creative acts, and how does one make those judgments?

Some additional sources. I’ve been collecting these up over the past few weeks, in the adrenaline rush that comes at the end of semesters. There’s Sir Ken Robinson’s oft-cited TED talk on how schools kill creativity, of course, but also Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys, James L. Adams’s Conceptual Blockbusting, and Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine. The Atlantic had a great series last year on the creative process of nearly twenty artists from Chuck Close to Tim Burton to Frank Gehry, titled “How Genius Works.” This might work as an introduction to invite students to brainstorm other “creative geniuses,” and then to do their own research to find what these people have said or written about their own inspirations and work habits. [read more]

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Habits of mind: Curiosity

posted: 5.11.12 by archived

The end of the semester brings a predictable series of emotions: from excitement about the semester to come, to frustration and exhaustion as I respond to a deluge of late papers, and finally, if all goes well, surprise of satisfaction at the work my students end up collecting in their portfolios. Right now, though, I’m at glum. In chance meetings with the colleagues with whom I dare to be frank, we compare our students’ projected completion rates. I’m realizing this semester how much the issue is not my students’ lack of writing skills but rather something deeper that underlies their ability to get writing projects started and completed.

I’ve been thinking a lot, again, about that WPA/NCTE/NWP document “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” that lists these eight habits of mind as crucial: curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and metacognition. I’m starting to see this not as a wish list or a series of prerequisites but rather as my agenda: to foster these habits of mind through more explicit discussion, through modeling, and through the design of my assignments.

So I’ve been thinking about organizing my next iteration of first-year comp around these habits of mind, starting with curiosity. I’ve written before Bruce Ballenger’s Myth of the Boring Topic and Larry Weinstein’s list of Fifty-seven difficult questions. I just ran across Chris Anderson’s inaugural video for the new TED Ed site, Questions No One Knows the Answers To, which would be worth a quick viewing as a conversation starter. Another, more concrete way to begin might be asking students to bring in objects for a show-and-ask questions session, to see what sort of questions even very simple objects might elicit (cf. Henry Petrosky on the toothpick, Colin McSwiggen’s recent meditation “Against Chairs”, any of Nicholson Baker’s loving descriptions of staplers or drinking straws or paper towels). [read more]

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