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spring digital technolgy roundup

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.

PBWorks (wiki)
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.

Twitter (microblogging)
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.

Looking ahead
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 kkprins@uwm.edu.

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using your UWM webspace for teaching

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:

  • Andy Buchenot’s English 240 blog
  • Trent Hergenrader’s website (check out the English 102 and 233 websites under Teaching)
  • Gregory Jay’s website (check out the Highlights links)
  • Anne Wysocki’s website (check out the Classes link)

(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:

  • Andy posts things of interest that relate to the class and keeps a list of links to his students’ blogs.
  • Trent includes several pages about his work, from what he’s writing and reading to his coursework. Additionally, though, in the pages linked from the Teaching section, Trent includes his course description, calendar, policies, goals and contact information (syllabus stuff) and includes major assignments.
  • Greg Jay’s site is a compendium of his own work, including publications, PowerPoints from talks, photos from travels and an extensive page on Whiteness Studies (which could almost function as its own mini-course).
  • Under Classes, Anne includes links to several course websites with syllabus and assignment information and other course-related documents, but her site also links to her own work, the department and the university.

More generally, I see three major ways that these and other instructors use websites for their courses:

  • to house syllabus/course documents/assignments (in addition to or replacing paper copies)
  • to house links for student research and reference (including links to other course sites/pages)
  • to house student work (such as links to student blogs, etc.)

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?

Blogging 101

Update: Here is a downloadable PDF version of this post: Blogging 101.

Using blogs for reflection, response, and classroom engagement… among other possibilities

Setting up a blog
Many websites host blogs for free and provide relatively easy-to-use templates you can use to shape a blog’s look and functions. Two popular — and free — sites are:
Blogger (owned and managed by Google)
WordPress (an open-source company)

Both sites offer some level of customization for the look of your blog. Your ability to manipulate your blog’s look beyond template options will depend your familiarity with coding languages like HTML and CSS. (Update: learn more about using HTML here, and CSS here.)

Considerations

  • A class blog or individual student blogs, or both?
  • A class blog can be used to record what happens in class, or any definitions or discussions that you want to “keep.”
  • Do you want students to use this blog only for the class, or is it okay if they post other writing and thoughts?
  • Will students mind that “anyone” can read their work? You might want to discuss with students the security settings for class blogs. Many blog hosts allow you to set your blog so that it is unsearchable by web crawlers like Google or so that only subscribers can comment on or even view the blog.
  • How will you discuss with students the publicness of their posts — and their responses?
  • Will you, as teacher, post responses? What tone of voice and level of formality will you use?
  • Will you ask students to respond to each other? What considerations about respect and questioning do you want to discuss with them?
  • Will you keep a class blog as well?
  • Many uses of blogs for class could include linking to or embedding images, text, etc., from other sources (such as YouTube or Flickr) in blog posts. While many of your class activities will fall under fair use, you might find it worthwhile to initiate a conversation about uses of digital and other media by your students for your class. This conversation could include the doctrine of fair use, copyright law, Creative Commons, and other legal stances on the use of existing material, as well as traditional academic practices of criticism or artistic practices of borrowing, parody and pastiche.

How to link blogs to each other

  • You can use your UWM website to link to each class member’s blog. (Here is just one possible example.)
  • You can use your blog as a “home” with sidebar links to each class member’s blog.
  • You can also invite or require class members to provide links to each others’ blogs on their blog sidebars.

Using blogs in a class
Blogs as research, or for creating annotated bibliographies:

  • This allows students to share research with each other in their posts.
  • Students can use comments to share suggestions.

Blogs as responses to readings:

  • This is an easy, paper-free for students to write responses to readings.
  • Students’ understandings of blogs might lead them to write more informally than you’d like, so you might want to be specific about the amount of writing you want them to do, or the level of formality you seek.
  • You can require students to have written their responses some number of hours before class starts, so that you can read them to prepare for class discussion. If you do this, you can also have students read and respond to each other’s comments, or formulate questions together, as a way of preparing for discussion.
  • Comments allow the whole class to build conversations from each other’s responses

“Live blogging” class:

  • In each class, have a student in each class post to a class blog as a class proceeds, to record what happens, to save as reference.
  • Have multiple students record the class, to show multiple perspectives on class discussions and activities.

Blogs as reflective writing:

  • Because students expect blog writing to be informal and incomplete, they are often at ease in writing online, and will think relaxedly in their writing.
  • Blogging can be a way to “capture” and extend thinking before more formal and formalized writing.
  • After a discussion, ask students, in class, to reflect on a discussion by writing for a few minutes in their blogs.

Blogs for reference
Depending on your class and how you’ll be using blogs, you might want to use class time to introduce blogs and have students set theirs up, or you might consider making blog setup an assignment due by the first day of class.

  • To read a student blog from two UWM graduate classes, see Kristi Prins’ blog for Eng 709 (spring 08) and 737 (spring 09). See the archives on the right sidebar, as well as links to the course homepages. These homepages include links to other students’ blogs, some of which might still be active.
  • AcademHack is a blog written by David Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas: “Tech should make teaching easier and more effective, not harder and more frustrating.” See his Blog Project and Blogs/Wikis.
  • Matthew Kirschenbaum. “Intellectual Property Online: The Case of Student Writing.” Kairos 3.1
  • A new faculty member at Eastern Michigan University’s Department of English Language and Literature, Derek Mueller’s blog Earth Wide Moth mixes bibliographic entries, ponderings about academic concerns, and observations about his family.

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