Blog Post

Things I Found This Week: Dissertation Distractions Edition

The best/worst part of a dissertation project involving social media and technology is the constant discovery of blogs, online journals, and tech tools for teaching and researching. After reading any book or article, after every discussion with a peer or scholar, I’m left with a lengthy list of new resources – which at the moment seem far more interesting and exciting than the harder work of sitting down to, you know, actually think, read, and write about my topic. For instance:

I’m itching to play around with Omeka and Scalar, two resources a fellow Drew student, Jessica Brandt, was good enough to alert me to.

Omeka looks like a more traditional blog/website platform, but it’s designed to assist scholars (amateur and professional) and institutions in creating top-notch online archives, exhibits, and narratives. The platform allows for beautiful image collections, searchable tags, interactive images, and customizable themes, fonts, etc. The software is free and open source and looks like a powerful story-telling tool.

(What Is Omeka from Omeka on Vimeo.)

Scalar is exciting for the way it allows scholars to structure their narratives in fully digital ways. The platform’s purpose, according to creators, is to give “authors tools to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats.” Authors can create multiple paths through the same project, tag paragraphs and sections to create relationships throughout the “document”, and insert multimedia content related to the text portions of the project. My project could, I think, benefit from all of these possibilities and I’m excited to give it a test run once the topic is a little more structured.

(Scalar Platform — Trailer from MA+P @ USC on Vimeo.)

I’m also super tempted to enroll in one (or…all) of the online courses offered by Hybrid Pedagogy. The upcoming course topics are “The Flipped Classroom,” “Teaching with Twitter,” and “Learning Online” – all topics of interest to me and all for very reasonable prices ($250-350, with discounts for adjuncts and students). Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that adding an online class to the mix of dissertation prospectus + two classes + training for half-marathon would turn out to be a little much… Alas. I’ll just have to keep an eye on the offerings in the Digital Pedagogy Lab in the future.

Two final resources/projects on my radar this week: Educause Review (my thanks to Gamin Bartle for this one), which looks to be full of all sorts of thoughtful pieces regarding technology and the digital age in and education, and the Wikipedia page for the feminist sci-fi film, Advantageous. The film is gorgeous and provocative and made my cyborg-loving self terribly happy. The Wikipedia page doesn’t do it credit – by which I mean the information is super basic. So I added a link for one of the actresses last night and today (or tomorrow or whenever I decide to neglect other work), I’d really like to add a plot summary or something about critical reception, and them maybe begin work on pages for Freya Adams and Samantha Kim. I’ve been meaning to make a foray into editing Wikipedia for awhile and this seems like a good place to start.

Leave a comment if you’re using similar resources or if you want to talk ed-tech, social media in the classroom, or dissertations. Or anything else. Now to the real work of the day for me – updating my class website to include the new syllabus and a list of topics for the semester’s portfolio project. (Will provide links for those once they’re ready to go…) I also need to finish off an e-book of last semester’s blog posts for my students – it’s the closest I can get to preserving their work for the moment and that task has been on the back burner for far too long.

Blog Post

Streamlining Classroom Technologies

I get a little over-exuberant about educational technologies – and can go a little overboard with the number of tech tools I use in the classroom. This semester, I started with three technologies: Socrative, a Facebook Group, and a class website where I’m hosting the syllabus, Google forms for assignment submission, and our class blog (currently private, per our class consensus). Those three technologies all have different advantages that I hoped to tap into:

Socrative is a free clicker app that lets me do real-time polls in class, collect attendance, and ask for feedback at the end of class. I used it last semester and I liked the platform – though it can be a little unpredictable. (The mobile app simply refuses to respond sometimes.) The responses are neatly compiled into a spreadsheet that I can either store for later or send to my Google Drive immediately. I can open and close polls – which means I can track which students are late based on who responds to the exit quiz at the end of class, but not the attendance quiz at the beginning. I can also switch up the room name, which reduces the possibility of students logging in remotely, thereby receiving credit for attendance without showing up in class. (For a variety of reasons, that happens from time to time.)

The Facebook Group is working well as a space to share links related to class and to post short announcements without flooding student inboxes. It also allows me to message students privately or as a group – and they’re wonderful at responding promptly. I’m hoping the FB Group will eventually grow into a space where students collaborate with one another and share links and articles they find as well.

The class website is the hub of all of our class information and is proving to be a super flexible online space. WordPress has a couple of limitations (most notably, there’s no way to create tables on pages or in posts) but there are workarounds (I upload screenshots if something must be presented in a table – like our blog post/comment rubric or the grade scale in the syllabus). Otherwise, it’s been easy to adapt the website to what I need it to accomplish – I started with pages for announcements, the syllabus, and a blog, and have since expanded the pages/categories to include a space for class slides, organizational resources, and the schedule for students’ blog posts.

My favorite feature by far, though, is the ability to embed Google Forms into pages and posts. This means I can ask students to submit discussion questions and other assignments directly through the class website. Their submissions are all compiled into a neat spreadsheet on Google Drive – just like Socrative.

Which brings me (finally) to the title of this blog post: I really need to streamline my classroom technologies.

Because, at the moment, I am using two technologies that are essentially accomplish the same things. Both Socrative and Google Forms can be used as polling mechanisms, I can take attendance through both (submissions through forms are time stamped), and asking for the exit quiz is a non-issue (I don’t read that until after class anyway). Plus both tools funnel collected information into spreadsheets on Google Drive. Socrative has a couple very slight advantages over Google Forms – it’s more aesthetically pleasing and updates more effectively for real-time responses – but Google Forms works more consistently. For me, that’s a decisive advantage and using Forms alone allows me to simplify the technologies used in the classroom.

So, for today’s class, I created a page for “Quizzes” on our class website and a post that contains Forms for today’s attendance quiz, a brainstorming/definition quiz, and the exit quiz. I’ve provided details regarding the path to access the Forms on my slides for each quiz (“Class Website -> Quizzes -> Quizzes for 2/4”) that I’m hoping will make the switch fairly seamless. Keep an eye out for future posts on the success or failure of this little experiment!

Blog Post

In Which My Students Create Their Own Rubric

Can I just brag about my students for a second?

I’ve assigned them a blogging project this semester for their long(er) writing assessment. Over the course of the semester, they’ll be asked to work in small groups to compose and submit three blog posts related to the class material. The posts can be about anything relevant to World Civ I – they can create comic strips, write satires, summarize research, give a reflection on what a part of the course means to them, or review films/tv series. In addition, I’ve made commenting on their peers’ posts a part of their overall grade for the project.

The problem with accepting such diverse material is that it’s beastly to grade. I felt completely stymied trying to come up with evaluation criteria when I wrote the assignment over the winter break.

So, during our first meeting on Wednesday, I gave them a rather unconventional assignment: as a class, compose your own rubric for the blog posts and comments plus decide how many points (or what letter grade) each post/comment will be worth. Mind you, this was the introductory class for a compulsory history module that most students are more than a little wary of – and usually professors set the evaluation standards, right? I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the exercise.

It was ridiculously easy and the responses were marvelous. The students, working in small groups, submitted their responses via Socrative. For the blog posts, criteria like “insightful,” “relevant,” “free of grammatical errors,” and “not too draggy” (meaning, as a student explained, engaging, entertaining, not dull) popped up on the screen immediately. Expectations for the comments included “respectful, not aggressive,” “focused,” and “constructive feedback.”

I highlighted the recurring words and ideas on the whiteboard, funneling them into a list of standards for an “A” blog post or comment. Within fifteen minutes, we had a working system of evaluation for the blogging project. The final results looks like this:

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In the future, I think there are ways to make this exercise even more student centered – maybe by having a couple of students lead the portion where we funnel common ideas into a final list or adding a Socrative exercise for voting on and finalizing criteria. But I’m pleased with the first round and excited to see how discussions, posts, and other class activities proceed with such an obviously thoughtful group of people.