TFT and Grading

I just finished reading Responding to Student Writers by Nancy Sommers. As an English professor i’ve struggled with finding ways of increasing the need (manufacturing the need) for students to read and integrate feedback comments. Now that I’m teaching Freshmen composition again, this need is even greater as my comments can lead to long-term learning about writing (thanks #transfer and #TFT theory). But, the struggle is always how… to engage students with your feedback.

Two recommendations made by Sommers resonated with me:


Tie the responses back to the shared language of the course – preferably composition focused language. This has connections/implications to Teaching for Transfer (which is how I initially found this book).

This reminded me of a grad course I completed (I still call it “The Hardest Class I’ve Ever Taken” when referring to it) where the professor provided an ‘editing marks’ handout early in the semester to help students with writing. Then after receiving a disappointing grade on my first essay – the editing marks didn’t help me I just had a “Come to Office Hours” remark. I had no idea what to do, AND the professor was super intimidating. Due to this experience, Sommer’s remark that edit marks don’t resonate well with students really hit home for me. While I work to avoid these edit remarks, building a shared vocabulary is currently missing – again, I’m working on this.


Sommers develops ‘manifesto’s’ of the purpose of feedback (from a student and instructor point of view) to clearly indicate the purpose of feedback, what students should do with it, how students should understand it.

As we move forward with a TFT curriculum that also utilizes theme based readings I want to develop a similar ‘manifesto.’ I really need a better title that fits the students at my institution and our goals for this curriculum.

The interesting thing about this process of creating a manifesto and tying it to the new curriculum is the need to map curriculum to not just assessment AND research design – but also to expectations for transfer as it relates to the expectations for transfer (transfer to future assignments in the course, transfer across courses). While this seems like obvious connections – in discussions we tend to treat these as discrete entities.

Assignments exist and we create assignments – we tie this to learning. This is normal for instructors.

Assessment exists and we create assessment – we construct rubrics to help – we tie assessment to assignments. Occasionally we’re asked to develop programatic assessment – but this larger assessment goal is less common so much much harder! Some of this is normal for instructors, some is difficult.

Manifesto’s exist as a genre of writing, but normally as more political documents. The idea of using a manifesto type approach to aid student revision and transfer of writing knowledge is a new idea to me – one I’m SUPER excited about.

So, moving forward, I am working on a way of developing this working manifesto as an in-flux document to be developed by courses to provide space and agency to writers to control their connection to revision AND their understanding of transfer. YAY Revision/Transfer manifesto’s as a way to support writing self-awareness!

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tech integration to save the world

As I was reading this article on Open Educational Resources (OERs) and the cost of ‘free’ textbooks, I was also reminded why I began using Twitter (which I also recently discussed for a CAE post here) and the connection to teaching college students to be college students.

While I begin exploring the use of Twitter in online only grad classes – the idea still holds, how do *we* (faculty, staff and administrators of higher education institutions) teach students to be students? Not to pat myself on the back but a couple of my current students started a discussion on Twitter about the ease of completing my hybrid course because of the repetitive curriculum design. They always know when materials are due. I designed the curriculum specifically considering how students would interact with the curriculum and stay on-task with all assignments. Sometimes this is difficult – letting the calendar dictate time on assignments instead of the time I think assignments need. But, if students feel more organized, they *in theory* will actually spend the amount of time I feel is required on the assignment, because of organization. Again, I’m designing the curriculum influenced by a calendar, and the need to develop student awareness of what it means to be a student.

Returning to the Inside Higher Ed article – Feldmen’s discussions of OER focuses on graduation rates. For me this is an incredibly interesting discussion that I have not seen enough written about. In working to reduce costs of education, one of the biggest costs is student loans with no degree. Tying this in to my use of Twiiter and other technology – can technology integration into classrooms help support students more effectively to improve graduation rates?

In my recent Twitter feed i’ve circulated an article on topic selection for undergrads (engl110mu), ‘free’ speech in online communities (engl311mu), articles to support future semester courses, advertisements for campus events to benefit undergrads, etc. While Twitter can be a way for institutions to further develop their brands, could this medium be used to better support student retention and graduation? Could ‘just in time’ messaging be used to send students notes (if they are following the *right* handle or *right* hashtag) to support students with the resources they need at different times in the semester? Could the use of Twitter empower students unaware of the requirements of being a student without outing students not in the know?

While I continue to ponder ways of supporting students through twitter use (I still work with my former students through Twitter – so I know it remains a place to stay in contact), I think we (again faculty, staff, administration) as administrators of students should consider alternate ways of supporting students, inside and outside our classrooms. I truly hope future discussions of OERs focus on their value for the types of material, and the content of the material they provide instead of the dismal graduation rates.

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Bots and Mapping

Over the last few class periods I’ve had students exploring parts of an essay using Ozobots, Ozobot codes, and maps. The goal was to use robot dance moves, turns, spins, and colors as a way to design a new way of ‘seeing’, ‘writing’, and ‘reading’ an essay.

Despite starting with pre-drawn mazes, learning to draw the codes in a way that Ozobot recognizes them took some getting used to.

I had the students begin the assignment by reading an academic article to explore the decisions authors make to develop content and structure. Students then selected a maze to map their article content and article structure findings.

At this stage students struggled a bit with separating content from structure. While they were able to identify both content moves and structural moves – they still saw the two as interdependent. This caused them difficulty with determining the perspective of the robot – would the robot be a ‘reader’, the author? These decisions then changed and influenced how they mapped the Ozobot through the maze. While I pushed them to choose, I am now considering ways of implementing this assignment more effectively next semester.

To begin, seeing students struggle with separating content and structure in an article (the class period after we discussed academic structure in articles) means I need to do more with active reading, especially active reading and engagement with academic articles.

As part of the Teaching for Transfer curriculum i’m developing (based on Yancey, Robertson and Taczak’s) I’m also exploring ways active reading can fit within the curriculum to support student sense making of academic writing. Since we’ll be using predominantly academic articles for the readings – they’ll have tons of practice. I was able to use the Ozobot codes to help students recognize parts of content and parts of structure – so how can I take a step back and use Ozobots to help students recognize active reading? Where in the curriculum do discussions of active reading belong to best support students writing practices development?

I have so many more things to discuss about our play with the Ozobots – I’ll post more on them soon!

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After attending CampIDEA I used the technology funds to purchase Ozobots. I included a conference workshop proposal a few posts ago – now I’m finalizing the Quest Day devoted to using these tiny robots.

As robots designed to help students learn to code, it’s not surprising there are limited discussions of how to use these in Humanities based classrooms. I found some really interesting ideas in STREAM education (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math) about designing sets to accompany stories, and then coding the ozobots to ‘navigate’ the story. While interesting, what i’m hoping for is a version of transfer of threshold concepts with this activity – students will brainstorm key concepts (parts of an academic essay), then they’ll annotate an actual academic essay to refine the brainstorm list, then they’ll design a path for the ozobot that emphasizes key concepts (by coding dance moves, or turns, or lights at important points in their path). Side note: I need to work on my terminology before students begin this assignment on Wednesday.

What I’m considering right now is how I demonstrate the ozobots to students. I could write a code to have ozobots navigate a story – but is that demonstrative enough of what I want them to learn from this activity or distracting? I could create my own threshold concept map – but would that hinder creativity? I’m thinking I could design both – demonstrating the story navigation as an idea of how to apply the ozobot technology, then my concept map would be demonstrated when theirs are – then I’m not influencing or hindering their creativity. The ozobots also include general maps for the ozobots to navigate, while demonstrating my story navigation I can also put an ozobot on the standard-delivered path to show different application and increase creativity.

The struggle here is heavily tied to makerspace discussions – how do we create a space for usable projects that are tied to learning while also encouraging creative and critical thinking? Additionally, I’m adding a creative robot element to a traditional humanities class – how do I support the students exploration with new technology that isn’t traditionally tied to composition (robots)?

I’ll update as I continue to explore – if I design my own story navigations I’ll have to try to post a video (because it will be jane austen related….of course!).

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the content question

I was asked to provide information for a Summer Graduate Institute – and my area of focus is videogames. I was asked a while ago if I as interested, so this was an opportunity I was aware would be forthcoming. Yesterday I was then tagged in a Facebook post about this summer Media Institute with a note about the value of the course in teaching media literacy to educators.

I have half a day and then a workshop to cover videogames and education, so now I’m asking myself “the content question” that is so often asked of videogames and education in general.

The exciting part is there is workshop time, so students of the course will have time to engage with these ideas, to apply them, to do something. I can exemplify the principles of game based learning through application. The bad part is, THERE IS SO MUCH I WANT TO COVER!!! Now I also have the challenge of addressing media literacy and the classroom application of these ideas.

So, what should I cover in the content?

  1. Game-Based Teaching and Learning (GBTL)
    1. Game-Based Learning
    2. Gamification
    3. Game Inspired
    4. Game-like learning
  2. The content question
    1. Good learning
    2. Instrinsic and extrinisic rewards
    3. Group work
    4. Transfer
    5. James Paul Gee
    6. Jane McGonigal
    7. Betty Hayes Gee – Holmes
  3. Multiliteracies
    1. Which raises the question in my mind what is the relationship among multiliteracies, learning, and media literacy (with the critical reflection and questioning inherent in media literacy practices in the current media environment)
  4. Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
  5. Reflection on game-based learning – media literacy connections
  6. Games in the classroom
    1. popular games
    2. educational games
    3. serious games
    4. how much vocab can I really expect them to remember even with cheat sheets…….
  7. Game design in the classroom
  8. Gaming the classroom
  9. Connections to Hour of Code (do schools still support these?)

Well as I made the list I started drawing connections between some of my ideas at least, so that’s a start. I’ll have to work through mind maps to draw better, stronger connections and to provide useful overviews to the students participating! I have a start to the content, now to determine how much can be covered with game-based learning (to design a game) and how much can be game-inspired during the more traditional ‘lecture’ pieces.


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Makerspaces, maker lab, mini makerspaces?

I’m currently catching up on my classes following a big conference held on my campus that I helped organize – and prepping for a forthcoming conference (on Friday). So this brief post is not fully-formed ideas that I want to record for next week’s writing goal planning meeting i’m holding for myself.

Makerspaces have become popular in higher ed in libraries and design and engineering schools. What can makerspaces and digital makerspaces bring to composition and writing studies? I’ve been exploring the ways creative making can support digital making in conference presentations – what does this mean for composition? Can I tie any of this back to ideas of teaching for transfer?

Mini makerspaces are interesting too – what happens when we move away from the formal structure of a makerspace? Makerspaces aim to not be ‘formal spaces’ – my use here is to indicate a designated space for the makerspace. Mini makerspaces seem to be mobile units that can be brought into classrooms to support specific learning. While more research is necessary, my approach to creative making in the classroom seems to closely resemble the set-up of a mini makerspace. My questions here – and these tie to my own use in the classroom – does bringing the mini makerspace into the classroom (instead of moving to a makerspace) change student perception? Change the support tied to transfer of knowledge? Since i’ve been working closely with librarians and information literacy – this idea of transfer when in the classroom versus moving the whole classroom could have implications for how we conduct library sessions.

Maker lab is a new term I ran across this week. I saw Digital Humanities Lab, Humanities Lab and Maker Lab in different articles. What I found of particular note with the use of “lab” is an emphasis on approaches to thinking NOT technologies. I love that approach. There were some labs and projects with incredibly low digital technology. The goal is to focus on asking questions, observing, questioning the world, experimenting, gathering data, and interpreting. All thinking Humanities majors excel at. The labs I read about started from independent studies and a quest for knowledge. Faculty asked students simple questions like “What are you interested in studying” then developed long-term projects from there.

So, this post with just information dump is to help me further theorize how I’m using Ozobots in my classroom to support composition learning. How do I develop a makerspace, or mini makerspace, or Composition Lab (I can create names too!) – how does that help support good writing?

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Public Teaching

Two of my classes have been reading Learning {Re}Imagined  to begin our discussions of the purpose of academic writing, from shared background readings on goals of education – especially technology and education. The Twitter discussions from one class in particular have been fantastic! The types of tweets and content engagement that remind me why I teach.

This class has also enjoyed adding and circulating (retweeting) additional content – articles on current events, additional articles on writing, additional articles on education. As we’re going through this, these additional articles are then spurred tons of discussion about the goals of education – students began applying these ideas to their majors (sciences and education) to make the information relevant to them and their goals for the class.

Then, we were trolled.

This happens when you discuss current event articles and other Twitter users follow that information, but it’s always a bit jarring to me. This particular trolling moment, in combination with current political events, made me consider what it means to publicly teach.

The traditional model of the college learning process, the college classroom, is students come to class and all learning is confined to the classroom space. Learning occurs through reading and lectures, sometimes tests/exams or papers to test knowledge. This traditional model has also become popular in online courses – MIT and other institutions have public courses (available for free or a fee). Most of these free courses consist of video recorded lectures, discussion boards, exams and papers. I’m reading Desiging Your Life as a possible #villeonebook selection and the authors mention the perceived unfairness that only students at their university could access their class and how design thinking can help college students (especially those graduating) – so they wrote a book and created a website with supplemental information. Additionally, MOOCs publish courses. Technology has made public teaching more possible, and in many ways reinforced the ‘traditional’ college model of reading, lectures, exams and papers.

These ‘traditional’ public teachings don’t operate the same as holding class through Twitter. While the content may be controversial, the course structure embeds that controversy within a ‘classroom’. On Twitter, my students may have discussion about these topics at any time. A course hashtag doesn’t put up the imaginary classroom boundary walls that exist with online courses. This open discussion, then becomes an open discussion – open to the trolls of twitter.

This moment of trolling is the moment of public teaching – even if I don’t engage the trolls, my content and my pedagogy with Twitter led to the moment where my students and I were trolled. While this can happen in a MOOC or an open course, the imaginary boundaries seem less likely to inspire this approach to ‘entering’ a conversation.

I don’t intend to change or modify my Twitter practices. I continued on the conversation with my students leaving out the troll, and I will continue to engage my students with these public conversations and this public inclusion of articles and ideas. But, I am grappling with ‘what does it mean to teach publicly’. How do students feel about the public nature of class when they are identified by the troll? How do we deal with outside influences within our artificially created ‘online’ class?

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Goal of Education

This semester I began my courses with discussions of education. Referencing interviews from Learning {Re}Imagined we’ve discussed how technology has been the ‘savior’ of education, and also changed little. Despite the small changes, technology is often still viewed as a salvation. Ideas such as: if we automate some school and save money everyone will learn better – continue to circulate despite repeated disagreement by teachers about learning.

For these classes I’ve tweeted a lot of education articles to supplement their work. Wednesday as I was working through a conference proposal and a tech funding proposal I referenced and tweeted this article about a tech CEO hiring and highly valuing humanities majors on his innovation teams because of their ability to think. Yesterday, a former student of mine commented on the article.

The changing of education is not a new discussion, and I’ve been having this discussion with various classes of students – and this particular student was in one of the first classes where these discussions began. He was a liberal arts major who also had a job in the tech industry (both while in college and guaranteed full time after graduation). He completed MOOCs and learned to Google programming help so he would excel at his job. He saw the huge benefits from on-demand learning, and often argued for these benefits during our discussions.

The questions boiled down to: If students could select what they needed, wouldn’t they be more engaged, wouldn’t they be better prepared for the jobs they wanted, wouldn’t they be better equipped to continue life-long education?

So when he commented on my link today I was reminded of these former conversations. While I don’t think these are easy questions, I don’t feel any closer to resolutions years later. I’ve adjusted my teaching and added problem-based learning, group exercises, focused on what student-centered learning looks like so the classroom better resembles the thinking required of innovative employees, and critical thinking of content.

What struck me about his comment is that I still feel like I’m arguing for the importance  and value of humanities. I wasn’t totally satisfied with my post yesterday, so I’m still thinking about better ways to argue for the value of humanities. In the case of this former student – he was able to look up the programming information he needed to keep and excel at his job with a tech start-up. Was that due to his experience as a humanities major, or his experience with school in general? If he’d completed MOOCs instead of ‘traditional’ education would that critical awareness of information seeking still be so strongly developed?

I really think his humanities education supported and developed his critical awareness of information seeking. But again, these are patterns of thought, behaviors, ability to excel and innovate in the real-world that develop after graduation. I have so many amazing former students who have jobs they like, internships they love, because of their ability to think. But, these numbers are no longer effective for this conversation (big data and neoliberalism are killing numbers speaking for themselves – long live critical thinking!). What would be arguable proof of the value of this thinking? Maybe then, we can begin more productive public humanities discussions on the value of humanities.

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Making and Writing Practices

I was reading an article in Inside Higher Ed about how Humanities need to engage with public intellectualism to help address the negativity surrounding humanities degrees AND to use humanities thinking to help address real-world issues. I both agree and disagree with this call for action. So, to show my support I’ll try to address this issue, repeatedly, in public appropriate discussions here. The obvious problem is my lack of high circulation, but that will be addressed another day.

I’ve been interested (as this blog shows) in gamification and education for years. I’m especially interested in the ways game-like learning, or game-like thinking, or gamified system design can improve composition learning – more recently composition learning and transfer. I want students to succeed in composition courses, but I want them to have a stronger understanding of the writing practices they develop and how to access and apply those in various writing situations (both disciplinary and work related). This is a real public conversation – there is a real need for effective writers and effective writing.

I would like to put that in conversation with current calls for change to education that focus on on-demand, or on-time learning. This pushes away from traditional college models with their liberal arts educations – some of the thinking is there is no need for breadth of education when MOOCs and other public/private credentialing services can provide on-demand or on-time learning that significantly benefits the learner and may have immediate affect on their job (then the US economy, etc.).

This is exactly where public humanities discussions are 100% necessary. Sure, an employee could complete a C++ MOOC, then obtain the necessary credentials to advance in their position, or to obtain a new better job. On-demand learning could be more ‘valuable’ as it’s not just a hoop toward a bachelor’s degree, but a course that has immediate application in a learner’s life. I truly understand the theory – I also see how games thinking (and mindset and design, etc.) have demonstrated the importance of this approach to learning for ‘good’ learning (see any number of publications by Gee or Gee and Hayes for discussions of ‘good’ learning).

BUT, and this is where the humanities need to have public conversation about the purposes, functions and goals of liberal arts education, where do students learn critical thinking? Where do students learn to value critical thinking and critical engagement? Where do students learn to write?

I worked as a functional technologist while earning my doctorate. Most of my job was testing systems that had been designed by programers to meet the needs of administrators, faculty and students. My job boiled down to working really hard to THINK of ways to break systems because not all learners progress through systems in the ‘right’ way nor in expected ways. These systems needed to be intuitive as most students would access them once, so a low learning curve was necessary. This approach to thinking was a result of my humanities experience. I cared about the Human experience with these technology systems so they could use them to achieve their goals. I wrote documents to train faculty, staff, administrators and students. I presented workshops to aid staff users, to aid faculty users, to aid administrators, paying special attention to how we designed each unique workflow. These workflows may have been programmed by the programmers (who could have learned from C++ MOOCs) – but they wouldn’t have had a job unless my job existed. In fact, several of my coworkers now fill the role I once filled because the job has become more necessary. This on-demand learning may prepare students will skills and theories related to a topic – but it’s the Humanities classes that teach the critical thinking and critical engagement and writing necessary to support the job in the real workforce.

What i’m struggling with is how to engage a public with these types of questions. I’ve worked in the workforce, I have any number of real work experiences to support this discussion, but what actually appeals to ‘the public’. The current change over of power and the slow dying of neoliberalism both demonstrate that numbers and facts don’t effectively support intellectual public discussions (even the sciences are failing here….global warming). So while I attempt to have public conversations about the value of humanities education I’m in an uncomfortable position of not understanding my rhetorical situation. How do I effectively support my argument that humanities and composition critical thinking and critical engagement can lead to thinking that will allow a student to advance to CEO of a company? To solve unique problems that haven’t been imagined yet? The skill they learn is thinking – what employer would hire a student who listed critical thinking as a skill on their resume.

Can I just add an aside here that there is amazing value to adding critical thinking as a skill to a resume. Fellow humanists – let’s make this happen. Then when asked about it (and some of this is design and gaming thinking) we can discuss how our approach to critical thinking puts the human at the center of the discussion, then attempts to address problems from there. Our humanities is showing, and our value to the company should be obvious – long time workers, stability.

So, to answer the call for public conversation about humanities, here I am, writing about the value of thinking. I feel like my freshmen as i’m writing within a rhetorical situation I don’t understand (but at least I recognize my misunderstanding) so my argument flow lacks cohesion. My audience is unsure if they should be reading. My support is real world experience, the often cringed at example. With a public in flux, traditional data no longer effective, how do we expect humanists to engage in public intellectualism. If we flood the discussion chains with our conversations, each more exploratory than the other in an attempt to find an effective style will anyone continue reading?


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Video Lectures in Courses

When I was teaching at NAU in an online graduate degree program, I found that short video lectures for my courses helped students engage with the material. As an instructor of introductory theory courses (aka too much reading, too much new information, too valuable to the entire degree, too many brand new students) I found these videos became longer, and also provided ways for students to determine how to read for graduate school (specifically how to read for a rhetoric program). Creating videos can be time consuming, so I was slow to develop these videos, then ended up developing videos for specific semesters.

Today I read a blog on 6 ways to develop videos for longevity (found here at Faculty Focus). I appreciate that the author mentioned having made these mistakes previously as I’ve made them numerous times!!!  I list due dates in videos, I refer to other videos, I refer to pop culture. Oh my…..If you’re interested in my mistakes you can find them here.

As I work through finalizing my Spring 2017 curriculum I’m teaching a hybrid composition course and I’m continuing to focus class time on a flipped classroom approach – no lectures more hands on group assignments. But, I want to fulfill the expectations of students and departments for an advanced composition course – what non-compositionists call ‘grammar’. After spending a week at Camp IDEA (the Center for Academic Excellence week long technology and pedagogy ‘camp’), I’m finding that the video approaches matter – but integration into the course shell is so much more important.

In my new curriculum I’m trying out mini-lessons. These approaches to learning are common in most courses – let’s quickly review X before we move on to Y is a great example in a f2f course. Here are the questions I’m working through:

  • Why should a student watch the video?
  • What should a student do with the information?
  • How should a student integrate these ideas into your course?
  • How do these ideas relate to your course goals, activities, assignments?

As I work through these questions I’m looking for ways to integrate these ideas and make the material meaningful to the course (without lecturing!). My goal is to highlight composition concepts with importance to disciplinary writing, AND relevance within the course (not just points and quizzes). I’ve scheduled the mini-lessons based on their relevance to larger course projects to scaffold relevance.

So, after reading the what not to do in videos (again, really important) I’m also tying those ideas into how to integrate these videos so the students find them meaningful and learn more! It can’t be just about using good video, good video practices, I also want to focus on where the video lives in the course map so I can try to understand how and when students learn. When disciplinary faculty ask “what exactly do you teach because my students can’t write” I want to have better answers!

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