Whenever I hear about a new web application or digital writing tool, I immediately think, “How can I use that in my classes?!” I wanted to share a list of some pretty random web sites that might interest teachers who want to explore new technologies for collaboration and nontraditional writing modes. Maybe you’ve heard about these, maybe you haven’t… but I’m having fun imagining the possibilities for English classes and beyond…
Most English students use their eyes. A lot. They use their eyes to compose essays on a word processor, conduct research on the internet, and create presentations with PowerPoint or even Prezi. And of course, for sighted students, words on a page need eyes. Novels, essays, poems, paper drafts, and instructor comments almost always appear broken down into letters of the alphabet. This workshop hopes to open the door to another sense that is handy for making and perceiving compositions: hearing. What are the possibilities of sound for writing classrooms? How can instructors, especially those who teach online, engage students differently through a voice as opposed to a written text?
For easy clicking, here are some links to tools and/or resources that will accompany today’s upcoming workshop, “Composing with Sound” featuring Sarah Etlinger.
Archives of sounds and music for use in audio compositions
Know about more resources? Put them in the comments!
Last Friday (Nov. 11) was our first technology/pedagogy event of the semester, “Using D2L in the English Department.” This roundtable discussion raised many questions, provoked lively conversation, and also stirred up a wealth of knowledge and best practices related to using D2L in writing and literature courses.
Panel participants were Diane Unterweger (who teaches composition online and face-to-face), Kristi Prins (who is the English 101 coordinator and teaches composition and media studies online and face-to-face), Adam Pacton (who teaches composition, and is teaching online for the first time this semester), Rebecca Dunham (who teaches creative writing and literature online and face-to-face), Paige Conley (who is the English 095 coordinator and, while she has never taught online, had valuable comments about being an online student), Kris Terwelp (who is the English 101/102 online coordinator and has taught online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses), Laretta Henderson (who teaches online and face-to-face literature courses in the School of Information Studies), and Dylan Barth (who is a composition instructor, D2L systems administrator, and online learning guru). Adam Andrews and Sandy Brusin also contributed much to the discussion.
We covered a wide range of topics, but the primary strands I noticed were:
Unsurprisingly, the use of D2L Discussions for English courses was a major topic in the roundtable. Adam P. talked about instructor presence in a discussion forum and how he minimizes his voice as “the authority.” He treats the discussion forum as a place for students to talk. When he contributes, he tries to link different threads into a larger narrative of discussion, so that he doesn’t appear to be saying “you students missed ideas and here they are.” He writes a “discussion narrative” to recap the points that students discussed and to have the opportunity for discourse analysis. These discussion narratives then become course texts students use to get information.
Kris and Anne Wysocki picked up on this thread later in the conversation. Anne said that a benefit of having the class discussions written out online is that students have transcripts to go back and analyze. She has found it productive to ask students to re-read the discussions and look at how their ideas have changed over the course of the semester. Interestingly, Kris observed that composition students seem to write better reflective essays when the class is online. She suggested that one explanation could be the fact that students have all the class discussions as archived resources to retrace and reconsider, which is particularly valuable for reflective work.
Echoing Adam’s strategy of leaving the Discussion forum to the students, Kris quotes students in the D2L News or Announcements page rather than highlighting points within the discussion forum itself. This allows Kris to have a voice in the discussion and pull out useful comments, but she can still leave the Discussion forum to the students and avoid interfering in that space. Kris mentioned that her Discussions grow very large, sometimes with over 90 posts in one forum. In contrast, Laretta does contribute to the actual Discussion forums. She participates by asking questions and pushing students to be clearer or re-think a response. The questioning format is less didactic than making “you got this wrong, here’s the answer” types of statements in response to student posts.
Rebecca uses Discussion forums a lot in English 233 (intro to creative writing). In this course, students read model texts and talk about them, and then students generate their own work as a subject of discussion. Rebecca uses the Discussion forum to recreate the workshop environment. She tries to make it a space to give feedback, and a space where students feel like they can contribute freely. Her discussions often grow very large, as students get interested in each other’s work and become comfortable with their classmates. She said that she is fortunate to have taught Education students online, since they are eager and willing to participate in discussions. Many instructors agreed that we need to push some students harder than others, depending on whether or not the students are interested in the course. Diverse groups of students have different needs for guidance and assessment.
As far as encouraging and assessing student participation in discussions, Laretta is consistent and clear about her expectations. She uses an A-through-F grading scale and a rubric. Each week, students get points for the level of discussion. She has detailed descriptions about what students must do to get specific grades for discussion; abstract guidelines don’t work, she said. It takes more time to assign points every week, but it makes a difference in how much people actually use the discussion. Katie Morrissey (who teaches film and media studies online) agreed. She said that when she first taught film studies online, her guidelines were more abstract and she was more lenient. Now, she uses a more detailed rubric, and she reports improvement in the quality and quantity of discussion posts.
One final best practice related to discussions: for online classes of 25 or more students, breaking them into discussion groups is a great idea. Laretta suggested putting students in groups as “teams” writing responses to each other. This teamwork can make a discussion more manageable. She also advised the use of “conditional releases” which permit only students in certain groups to see and respond to certain topics. Adam A. stressed the importance of peer response groups, especially in blogs, which to him seem more interactive than the D2L discussion feature. Adam uses a multi-author blog outside of D2L, and then assigns students into response groups of 6. This way, every post gets at least six responses and the responses become part of the participation grade. Adam A. here emphasized that it is a student space, and he saw major pedagogical pay-off just by requiring them to get in there and talk to each other.
A good size for discussion groups is about 7 people, according to Laretta, and responses to classmates are part of the students’ grade. Some instructors advocated varying the groups and getting students to talk to different classmates throughout the semester. Rebecca said that, in creative writing workshops online, that becomes difficult because students like to build up trust. Sandy Brusin waits to learn about her students’ interests and writing abilities before assigning the groups, and then (like Rebecca) she keeps those groups the same all semester.
For the purposes of online-only peer review, Diane puts her students in groups and creates a group submission folder in the D2L dropbox. Students in the same group can retrieve each other’s papers.
Kris said that a point of frustration for her is group conferencing. She appreciates the value of getting students into groups so they can hear from more than one person, but she advised that D2L doesn’t work well for group conferencing. She has tried Skype for conferencing as a group, which works well as long as students have a microphone and a headset. She is also using Scriblink with some success this semester.
A good tip Kristi offered is the ability to customize links on the navigation bar of your D2L site. As an alternative to the group dropbox for peer review, she uses GoogleDocs. Kristi creates a link to “GoogleDocs” in her navigation bar to give students quick access to that website and to make it part of the primary web interface of the course. Dylan mentioned that customizing the navbar can be tricky.
Kristi also uses the D2L Links page to point to other things, such as research blogs that she asks her students to keep in English 102 online. Adam P. uses images in his links page. For example, to link to the library homepage, Adam uses the library’s logo as the link, rather than just linking text. It gives the Links page a less intimidating, more inviting look.
To help students navigate the announcements, Dylan recommends using large text for the title of the announcement (for example, “Week 1”) and putting the most recent things at the top so they are not hard to find.
Kristi discussed her use of D2L as an assignment archive and learning storehouse for documents. She structures the “Content” area of her D2L site to facilitate students’ reading and responding. Adam A. and Dylan mentioned the option of using an HTML editor to upload assignments, however they both concluded that the HTML editor is not reliable and they both prefer to upload PDF files of all their documents. Adam said the PDF works for him because he is assured that nothing about the appearance of the document will change once it goes online.
Kristi uses primarily text to deliver her course content. Many instructors agreed that they relied mostly on text, whether in announcements, emails, PDF files, or discussion posts.
Anne raised the issue of “reading overload” that often plagues students in online-only courses. There comes point when you just want to stop reading. She asked if any instructors use visual, audio, or other multimedia to deliver content. Katie said that she delivers her lectures in text, though (if she had more time) she would like to create slideshow lectures or video lectures. Matt Trease concurred that writing lectures for online delivery takes a lot of time, though he said it might be easier to deliver a lecture as a podcast or video. Speaking out loud to students is less formal and requires less calculation than crafting a written lecture.
Paige stressed that, when she was a student in past Art courses online, the weekly video lecture was so welcome. She recalled how it made her feel like she was part of a face-to-face class, she appreciated having the ability to pause the lecture when needed.
Laretta mentioned her use of Camtasia lectures, but advised us that students don’t necessarily like too many of these lectures. She said that a Camtasia presentation is good once in a while, but it’s best not to use too many. In her experience, students prefer to have the information in writing. Kris agreed that her students mostly like plain and simple text, though Adam P. said he’s gotten positive feedback about his informal video messages to students.
The Learning Technology Center (LTC) has workshops on using multimedia to deliver content in D2L.
I could not find instructions for using video within D2L, as far as clear direction about the preferred file type, or any guidance on how to upload the video directly to D2L. If you know how, please add a link or some tips in the comments.
Rebecca mentioned that it seems more challenging to get through the material in an online class compared to a face-to-face class. She said that everything seems to take more time online, and she advised us to remember that it is true for the students as well as for the instructor. It’s not just a matter of being concise, but also covering less. Many participants in the roundtable agreed with her. They said they have had to eliminate activities and lessons from a course when they move it to an online-only format.
One practice that Rebecca has adopted for her online classes is the use of a textbook. Though she usually doesn’t use textbooks in her face-to-face creative writing and literature courses, using a textbook in the online class is helpful and gives students a place to go to “fill in the gaps” for content that was skipped or rushed online.
Laretta advised us that, if you are teaching multiple sections of the same course online, it can be pedagogically and practically useful to combine the D2L course sites. For pedagogical reasons, Laretta says that having more students on one site adds a more diverse range of responses and more options for creating student groups. Practically, it saves Laretta a lot of time since she only has to update one D2L site instead of three. She mentioned that, if you have combined multiple sections into one D2L site, you can sort the email list by section and then email specific groups in each section.
You can use this online form to request that two sections be combined in one site.
Kristi uses the Announcements area of her D2L site to add some personality and humor to her updates. She posts photos, YouTube videos, and random links so that her D2L site might be a place students enjoy checking.
One potentially negative aspect of instructor persona on D2L is the “Big Brother” feature that allows instructors to track and monitor students in an online course. Instructors can see how many and how often students have read discussion posts, opened course content, or checked into the site. Though, a few instructors agreed that the Big Brother feature can backfire, since technically it’s not perfect and also it can be deceptive. It can tell you a student has read fewer posts than he/she actually has.
When Laretta teaches about race, she prefers the online environment since students are anonymous and they are inclined to be more open to issues of race. In a face-to-face discussion, students are not as open to commenting on sensitive issues, and I’d imagine gender, religion, and ethnicity also fall into a similar category. Sandy mentioned that D2L can put students on the same level and give them a neutral space to feel protected and free to be honest/open. The more silent students will be more likely to talk if they are online – it equalizes the students who never stop talking online. Another benefit is that students can take their time and compose their responses rather than feeling rushed to say something in a face-to-face class.
Another point Laretta mentioned about student identity is the creation of profiles and avatars on D2L. Students can create a custom profile and add a photo. This can help instructors feel like they really know students.
Does anyone know how to make avatars appear in the discussion threads? Laretta implied that was possible, but I am not sure how. If you know, please leave a tip in the comments.
Paige, who has taught face-to-face courses for the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), uses D2L as an archive and a way for students to keep up with the class if they need to be absent for legitimate reasons. Given the interests of students she encounters at MIAD, she uses D2L as a way to extend the conversation visually. She uses the announcements page to do a lot of visual work, which is a simple way to engage students without overcomplicating the site with an extra space that students have to deal with.
A tip for student engagement that Dylan offered is the mobile D2L. There is no “app,” but students can access content and discussions on their smart phone. The mobile D2L is limited, but still could be useful for students on-the-go. Dylan also recommended trying to build your syllabus as an HTML document, rather than simply uploading it as Word document. The HTML format would make it easier for students to access the syllabus on a mobile device.
That wraps it up for me. Thanks to all who attended and participated!
Interested in using gaming theory to shape your classes and web 2.0 technologies in your classes?
On Thursday, April 21, Trent Hergenrader will discuss his experiences teaching English 236: Intro Topics in Creative Writing: Gaming, World Building, and Narrative this spring.
The course was divided into three roughly equal sections:
Trent will talk about the pedagogical theories behind this approach, the successes and challenges in using gaming theory, and exciting new narrative possibilities afforded by Web 2.0 technologies.
Rachael Sullivan’s iMovie workshop was fantastic! Although she prepared the workshop for iMovie 09 (per the loaner computer from L&S IT that was supposed to mirror the computers in CRT 108), the room actually has iMovie 08. Details…
In spite of this, we got a great introduction to the general layout and workings of iMovie, learning basic skills that could transfer to all versions of iMovie. Here are the topics we covered:
You can download the iMovie basics handout to see exactly what we covered during the workshop. It includes lots of screen captures that any first-time iMovie users could follow to create their first video—but remember, the handout is written for iMovie 09. Feel free to distribute it to students, or email Rachael for the editable file (sulliv97 [at] uwm.edu). Thanks to everyone who attended the workshop!
And for those who are interested, here are some of the resources and links that Rachael has gathered over the years. (She credits Ken Stone for his excellent iMovie guide, from which she adapted a few screen captures and some instructions for my own handout.)
Material Licensed for Remixing
Free Sound (just sound, no music)
Flickr (go to Search > Advanced Search > Creative Commons)
Possible Assignments, Student Samples, etc.
Know about more resources? Put them in the comments!
This semester’s workshops focus on digital creative writing practice and pedagogy. Here’s the schedule:
These workshops are held from 11:00 am – 12:30 pm in Curtin 108. See you there!
I’d like to mention here several digital technologies we haven’t necessarily covered in a workshop — they’re fairly popular programs that I’ve used as a student this semester, and in case you’re looking for non-D2L options for online course spaces, these might prove useful.
Several graduate students and instructors at UWM have already used wikis for their own professional development and teaching — from a place to gather their writing for preliminary exams, to looking at Wikipedia as a site of collaborative research writing and debate, to using wikis as a site for collaborative creative writing or to build collective definitions of key course terms.
This spring, one of my classes used PBWorks, one of several collaboration sites that allows educators to build a free wiki for their students to use. (They have a free education edition that allows up to 100 users.) Our class used PBWorks as a place to develop definitions of key terms that we worked with throughout the semester, and we also embarked on a collaborative story and end-of-semester reflection.
Ning (social network)
Ning is one of several social networking sites educators use, but as of July 2010 Ning plans to end all free/ad-supported networks, so it’s not really a practical option for instructors at UWM going forward.
There are several alternatives to Ning, including SocialGo, which I tested out, making a mock-up site for English 102. The set-up was a little overwhelming at first, but I’m betting that SocialGo isn’t much more complicated than any other social network — it’s just a matter of taking in all the elements of the site. My one complaint is that discussions aren’t very well “threaded,” from what I can tell, but a different setup or template from the one I used might thread differently.
Social networks are a nice alternative to D2L’s discussion threads, as they give you and your students a much greater measure of control over the look and feel of the space that you communicate in. If you depend on D2L’s digital dropbox or surveillance mechanisms (tracking of student activity on the site), a social network might not answer all your needs — but I can imagine using D2L just for the “administrative” side of class and using a social networking site for discussion, for example.
Jing (screen capture and screencasting)
Jing is downloadable software that lets you take and share screen captures and screencasting fairly easily. (Screencasts can last up to five minutes.) This is helpful especially for instructors of online classes, as it allows you to show your students how, for example, to upload an assignment to D2L or to change the file type of a document or start searching the library’s website. (I have also used Jing to make a short presentation for class, kind of like talking over PowerPoint slides as they appear on screen.)
Related software, Camtasia, is from the company that makes Jing (TechSmith). Camtasia is not free software, but you can get a free 30-day trial. Camtasia allows you to record a screencast and do postproduction work on the file, allowing for much more polish than Jing.
One of my classes required that we post to twitter at least once a week this semester, and another professor openly and strongly encouraged students to get on twitter and at least start following people in the field.
In the class that requited twitter, my classmates and I found it to be a good space to post links that were tangentially related to class, as well as to have some of those hallway or water fountain (I mean… um… bubbler) conversations that occur before and after class meetings. I also found that twitter was a good place to follow events, such as the Olympics and conferences, as they were happening.
More on the blog front
There are several ways instructors are working with blogs in our department, but I heard about one at the last workshop that I found fascinating: Adam Andrews, a lecturer in our department, maintains an open blog that all of his online students post to. Students talk to each other across sections about their writing and non-class-related things. Adam sees this as an online space where the “underlife” of these comp classes can develop, giving students another way to interact with each other “outside” of the formal structure of class. I wonder if a cross-section wiki could work similarly.
Is there something here or anything else you’d like us to cover in a workshop next fall? I’m going to be spending part of my summer thinking up workshops for next year, but without your input, I have no idea what would be most helpful: a session on Prezi and creative writing? another look at Dreamweaver? Flash? course document design?
You name it. Feel free to comment on this post or email me at email@example.com.
This fall’s workshops all focused on different aspects of getting your UWM webspace up and running. In this workshop, we focus on how you might use your website for teaching.
To get started, check out these examples of course-related webpages:
(Using your UWM webspace or other websites to teach? Send ‘em in, and we’ll add them to the list!)
As you can see, there are several ways instructors use websites for their classes:
More generally, I see three major ways that these and other instructors use websites for their courses:
What other uses do you see on these sites? On others? What other uses can you imagine being beneficial for the classes you teach?
Finally, why would you want to do any of this? What benefits and limitations do you see to moving these and other kinds of work for class online?
Our conversation on remix started by looking at how remix was framed as the theme of CCCC 2010: Remix is there used as a metaphor for “changing it up,” “looking at things in a new way.” Not quite “remix,” but not too shabby.
According to the Wikipedia, “a remix is an alternative version of a song, made from an original version. This term is also used for any alterations of media other than song (film, literature etc.).” The notions of “remix” and “mashup” (a mix of two or more songs together) come from music. This has been reinterpreted and translated to image (think AdBusters or Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans or comic strip mashups) and video (think sweded movies, montage, changing the audio track of a video clip— stretching out to Auto-Tune the News, etc.). It can also extend to writing.
There are images, sounds, video clips and text aplenty online. Copying those and reworking them with software (or printing images and text and reworking them on paper) is one way to accomplish a remix.
So why do it?
Appropriation and remix are primarily used to make some kind of commentary—but it can also just be a lot of fun to work with a song or image you really like. But “why?” is an important question: why would or should your students should make a remix of something? What does that help them to accomplish?
Other issues surrounding remix
If you’d like this post in a PDF, here is the workshop handout.
Links from handout
Hannah H. Reeves: What’s a Wiki?
Baldwin, Peter and David Price. Debategraph. A “wiki debate visualization tool” and online Creative Commons project: “Our goal is to make the best arguments on all sides of any public debate freely available to all and continuously open to challenge and improvement by all.”
Cummings, Robert E. “Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?” Inside Higher Ed. March 12, 2009.
Garza, Susan Loudermilk and Tommy Hern. “Using Wikis as Collaborative Writing Tools: Something Wiki This Way Comes–Or Not!” Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Hood, Carra. “Wikipedia and Writing Pedagogy” Computers and Composition Online.
Kairos Praxis Wiki. A collection of articles about wikis and other digital technologies in rhetoric and composition.
School and University Projects. Secondary and higher ed teachers using Wikipedia as an assignment space.