Tag Archives: betterwriting

More on Twitter and SNS

This also appears in my working annotated bibliography pages.

Tess, P.A. (2013). The role of social media in higher education classes (real and virtual) – A literature review. Computers in Human Behavior, 29.

In this review article, Tess discusses articles published prior to 2012 that discuss social media in higher education classrooms. Tess found that most of the articles published about social networking sites in the classroom relied on surveys and questionnaires for evidence of outcomes.

While a bit dated in 2016 (year of my posting), his concluding question still stands up 4 years after data collection. Tess asks “Can the same affordances of social networking sites that support individual level use, commend the integration of SNSs into the higher education class?” (p. A66). This question continues to be researched. I continue to grapple with this question when I assign not just SNSs as required technology for the course, but with Web 2.0 technologies (such as Word Clouds and Infographics), and with the learning management system.

This is also a very complex question – do instructors use SNSs in similar ways that influence how a site is assigned? I’ve discussed Twitter with various colleagues, many implement the tool in their classrooms very differently than I do while our learning goals are similar. So in asking if individual level use can be integrated into the higher ed classroom, the researcher also needs to consider practices associated with the SNSs realizing practices are not uniform across users.

It’s this question that I want to focus on here. When I assign Twitter to students, I build the assignment as a “Live Tweeting Class Notes” and “Live Tweeting Reading Notes” assignment, that also requires engagement with peers in the course hashtag. Have I just recreated the discussion board differently? I drew on ideas of Writing about Writing in developing this assignment, where students write informally about their own writing and learning.

What I know so far:

  • students are writing about writing
  • students are practicing writing for a known audience
  • students are writing in a shorthand form that must convey an argument (elevator pitch)
  • students are more engaged
    • favorite created hashtag so far #drphelpmegetthatdegree

Next steps –

  • beyond surveys and questionnaires, how can I measure the effectiveness of Twitter in the classroom?
  • is there a measured difference based on major? Now that I’m teaching a junior level writing with next to no English majors – how does this space help students further along in their majors write about writing?

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OER: how do students use them in the classroom?

A year ago this summer I began using Twitter in my classroom with the long term goal of implementing OER (Open Educational Resources). I attended all the teach-ins presented by Faculty Professional Development at my previous institution, and often heard professors struggle in the ed tech sessions with how students learn from technology. While I try to use technology for meaningful learning I struggled with a more basic problem: how do students learn from Reading Online. As yet I haven’t seen an answer. I haven’t even seen much of an engaged discussion about this in relation to OER (and I’ve found nothing on Pinterest but hand notes for K-12 reading, Pinterest is now failing me in sparking brilliance!!!)

Here I will outline my reasons for seeing struggle in a fairly one sided argument (with myself) to continue to move toward the adoption of OER in the classroom. I want to cut down book costs, but I’m still finding students learn better when I assign a book versus an article (accounting for equal level of density between the two). I see huge connections to information literacy development that is necessary outside the classroom, so this isn’t just a cost thing for me.

Problem #1: It’s RARE that  student will come to class with the article printed, while mine is all marked up, noted, questions listed for class on the front, and often color tabbed so I can direct the discussion, check understanding and use the article for engaged learning in game days. On Game Days when students were asked to reference sections of an article, students flipped through pages, back and forth, back and forth, with what seemed like little direction or idea on how to focus and find what they needed in the text.

Problem #2: I don’t know how to transfer my own reading process to an online resource – so how can I guide students to do the same in a freshmen comp course using only OER?

Problem #3: OER are not designed to be printed, so what is the relationship between reading and taking usable notes? Similar to other online debates in relation to education (how do you authenticate the identity of an online student? – ummmm do you check id’s in f2f courses? like that debate) – this is a fine point question. Students don’t always/usually know how to take notes on their reading in a usable way to begin with so why would they know online – so then what do I do?

So it’s problem #3 that I believe provides the entry point (and the connection between maker education, digital rhetoric, and education that I strive for in my research) to OER. But I feel like I need to *solve* #2 to address #3. I need to find ways to take and retain usable notes from all my online reading. I need to find a way to store and access information, article references, annotated bibs for all my school-related reading first. If I can model one approach, and recommend good approaches that didn’t work for me, I’ll be in a place to help guide students through OER.

I think this is a good time to jump in with the why – why is this important. When I first started working at ASU with the hopes of a job paying for my master’s I worked at the front desk of a department. I had calls for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week asking for information that could easily be found on the ASU webpages. I became really good at finding those sources and sending them. Information retrieval, search terminology, all of that is a necessary information literacy skill (yay one more thing that needs to be taught and discussed in an already jam packed semester). The good news here, if I have an ARG for this!! The point is, in a job, this was one of the first skills I was expected to develop, QUICKLY. When I mastered that skill, I was promoted because information retrieval is a skill not many fine tuned. Hopefully the connection here is a bit obvious, students may have to search for articles and ideas for school, but they’ll similarly search in the work world based on modern uses of computers. So reading the internet and retaining/using information read is both an important school-based AND work-based skill (we’re mattress shopping right now, it’s also an adult skill).

The difference here, using my example (and drawing from Gee’s works) is need – I needed to demonstrate strong information literacy so I didn’t sit behind a desk my entire career (plus moving on helped my grad class schedule – so double need). I retain articles and blogs better when I consider using the information in class. I remember romance novels in more detail when I imagine the blog review I would write when I work up the nerve to start my romance review blog. Just like in videogames (Gee) the need to use information increases retention.

So my struggle with OER won’t be solved today, because I don’t know how (similar to textbooks and in-class articles) to make it seem necessary to students. I also don’t think enough research has been conducted on how students approach reading OER versus textbooks to begin to know how to address it. Through my Twitter assignment, I assign necessary tweets reflecting on readings, connecting performance to grade to artificially inflate ‘need’ but I think there are better approaches. So for the next 3 months (Fall term) my goal is to find ways to use online resources without printing. Wish me luck 😉

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online courses and twitter

when I initially began requiring twitter use in an online graduate class, the goal was to understand note taking behavior to attempt to help future students as textbooks for purchase phase out of the lower division undergraduate curriculum. Graduate students and upper division students continue to purchase textbooks for a variety of reasons, so their note taking could be similar to mine with underlining physical pages. There is the possibility in all cases that students simply purchase the electronic book for cost or preference reasons. All together, the goal is to find alternative ways of taking, tracking and keeping notes.

During the first semester I saw bonds begin to form with groups of students, who then used twitter to maintain and continue class connections. Students began directing tweets at each other as part of their normal course tweeting. In this way, the course twitter feed began to resemble a class discussion more than a forum based discussion board does. yes, there are character limits, but the overall feel of the space became conversational and bonding.

So this semester I began requiring twitter use in 1 face-to-face senior-level undergrad course and 1 online graduate course. I also offered the option to online grads in a second course – although as expected the use has been extremely limited here, mostly my previous twitter students posting messages and directly contacting me for immediate feedback.

In my online graduate course, now in week 4 i’m finding an amazing amount of engagement, interaction and discussion through twitter. Observations:

  1. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after I posted grades
  2. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after students began conversing more and note taking less, but the conversations are still mostly focused on the readings and highly engaged
  3. Not all students read and post at the same time, so groupings of high conversation activity form around people reading and posting together – which adds to engagement and conversation
  4. Students (online AND f2f) enjoy the direct contact to me – they run ideas by me, let me know when assignments will be late and generally keep me updated.

Potential updates in future use

  1. I’m intending to implement Twitter in the other online course. I really think the combination of twitter engagement and DB forum engagement is adding to learning – i have no data for this, it’s all observational based on conversation. The conversation in the twitter class is amazing
  2. I’m intending to build twitter into the questing in my upper division undergrad course. I have blog posting, as blogs are a requirement, but I think there are ways twitter can develop as professional a connection
  3. I still have students not filling out profile entirely who don’t appear in the class hashtag list – I need to play with settings more to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to share in the conversation

Overall, while Twitter sets a character limit for messages, when used appropriately, it can provide space for conversation and engagement with course readings that compliments the DB forums provided in an LMS. I feel online students can learn more from the combination of interaction types.

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Gamification and PBL

Gamification is, most simply, the use of game elements and game-like learning in non game settings with the goal of improving learning and outcomes. Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a similar idea that engages learners in real-world problems to encourage deeper learning, with the goal of improving learning and outcomes. In both cases, the similar emphasis is clear, how can we help students learn better, learn more effectively. In both cases I also wonder how can we help students critically reflect on that learning so they know the type of learning they’ve accomplished.

Yesterday during our beginning of the year convocation the Dean of CAL mentioned that our goal in Humanities is not to help students write better so they can be industry leaders in X, Y, Z, devolving the humanities to a school room for future factory workers, but to continue to help students engage in critical thinking – critical thinking skills that are necessary for industry to continue, to innovate, to move forward, to make the world a better place. Our mission in engaging in discussions about professional development is not to tell students how to get jobs, necessarily, but to help make them aware of the thinking they’re comfortable with, and how that approach to learning and thinking makes them the best candidate for the job of their dreams. While I’m expanding on the Dean’s ideas here, his focus on critical thinking and critical engagement had me self-reflecting on my new course designs for Fall 2015.

I teach a Principles of Rhetoric class that i’ve gamified, I teach a Rhetoric Capstone that I’ve designed quests and gamification for, and I teach a Graduate level Participatory Culture and Social Media course that I’ve gamified and designed PBL for their final project. In each of these cases I’ve taken steps to incorporate the gamification in a way that integrates with the course and doesn’t seem forced. The next step in this thinking, especially for the upper division courses, is how to help students reflect on learning, so they can discuss their learning and problem-solving skills in resumes, cover letters and job interviews. The quests and problems become demonstrated examples and situations where students were tasked with solving problems, on student budgets which means with little to no money expended. This is the type of thinking almost all companies appreciate and want.

As I finalize my course syllabi, I’m building in final reflective papers, to ask students what they think they learned, and what they think they can do with this learning. My next step is to find a way to incorporate this question into the curriculum at various points to ensure students understand  and receive feedback on their discussion of learning and their demonstration of learning through discussion. I think a goal within humanities should be this reflective piece. How do we include reflective spaces within our curriculums to help students become aware of learning, and their own critical thinking? How do we make this meaningful to students? How do we then get industry jobs to take this idea seriously, to see the value in humanities students for their companies?

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Backchannel and Notes

In a summer grad class I taught I began using Twitter. I’ve heard amazing ideas and stories of uses in f2f courses for creating a backchannel for students to participate in class, and to identify when information needs further discussion. This second idea influenced my adoption of this technology in an online only grad class – could I use Twitter to create a digital archive of the course, similar to class discussions, and also use those notes to address any struggles with course materials. I specifically designed the assignment to create a store house of notes from reading, so students could use all the notes from all the students, plus LMS discussions, as they created their theory papers. It provided alternative approaches to course material, requiring students to find ways to write virtual notes about each reading in 140 characters or less.

Many students struggled in the beginning – thinking of notes in such short bursts was difficult to them. They wanted to write paragraph length notes. After the first couple weeks, Tweets were more effective for note purposes, and more useful to students as they wrote their paper.

Additionally, these notes demonstrated the learning and focus of students, so they served as an unofficial backchannel for me – I could gauge the responses of students and prepare for their projects more effectively based on their understanding, discussion and embracing of the course readings.

Moving forward with this assignment, I’ll be more overt with the backchannel. Students who experimented with Twitter were willing to include my handle when questions arose, and they were happy to engage with my posts when I responded, but few reached out to other students, instead preferring to post in isolation. I’ll work on engagement in the Fall as I use Twitter again in courses to further support engagement with the course, course materials, course concepts, and Twitter as a learning tool.

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games in the classroom: article discussion

a discussion of Echeverria, A., Garcia-Campo, C., Nussbaum, M., Gil, F., Villalta, M., Amestica, M., and Echeverria, S. (2011). “A framework for the design and integration of collaborative classroom games.” Computers & Education, 57, 1127-1136.

Echeverria, et. al. (p. 1127) break the use of games in the classroom into three categories:

1. using variations of MMOs to have class virtually – peer-to-peer interaction and instructor-to-student interaction occurs virtually

2. using variations of MMOs to create virtual collaboration – ARG style mix of virtual and real-life to encourage group participation

3. using educational games for subject-based learning

Their article then focuses on alternative ways of engaging with games in the classroom, specifically how the integration of games needs to begin with strong pedagogy. They provide a framework to help with this implementation. While I absolutely agree games should be in the classroom, and games should be used *thoughtfully* I wonder how immediately prepared students are for that inclusion. Echeverria, et. al. offer a revised reading of Bloom’s taxonomy, mapping areas of the game (mechanics, story, technology, aesthetics) to discuss onto the revised taxonomy to demonstrate not just learning but higher order thinking (p. 1128). This mapping emphasizes the pedagogical integration of games, and does so successfully in their sample classrooms. But, when moving beyond educational games, to less serious, even flash-based games, what do students needs to know and consider to hold discussion about those games?

I integrate games into my classrooms, emphasizing games as cultural artifacts similar to television shows, movies, celebrities, politicians. For a rhetoric class this approach makes perfect sense. The approaches, the ways of thinking and discussion have been the focus of the class for at least one class period. As I work on an article about the integration of games into the classroom in just this way I’m still grappling with the way this idea can be universal across disciplines, how do all instructors/teachers/professors introduce games as artifacts to encourage the discussion desired?

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On Reflection and Failure

I received an email from a book publisher with information about the book Teaching Writing While Standing on One Foot. An interesting title, so I read the description. Based on the description, the author combines creative writing (poetry, etc) with reflections on pedagogy and recipes.

I find this a very interesting approach to a book, especially as it probably resembles most professors thought processes. I certainly have random writing I create (oh hello blog reading audience of my random writings), and I have times when I reflect and find my ideas for writing and teaching. I certainly think and reflect and consider while baking, but also while playing with my son or watching one of his shows, and while knitting. Most importantly, I have most of my pedagogical reflection moments while playing or watching my husband play (both successfully, but mostly in failure) videogames.

Last night my son asked to play the robot game – which for his is Castle Crashers. As he was not in the mood, my husband played Battle Block Theater as a compromise (same game designers). There was a part in the level where the evil mind controlling cat launched ice blocks that froze your shape-character, and you had to time your attach to both avoid being frozen and to take out the evil cat. The problem was, the timing seemed impossible. After trying and trying my husband gave up and moved on. he was no longer having fun, failure taking over at that moment, so he put that game down and moved on to something different.

This morning, I’m grading Final Reflective Essays for a course I’m teaching and finding it interesting how much MORE students learned if they felt as he did – they were being bombarded by ice blocks and the challenge was impossible (aka they wrote a persuasive, researched essay with a draft grade and final grade). The students that discussed this impossible challenge, then discussed how they put the revision work down, left it for two days, then forced themselves to return and work through revisions discussed their improvements to understanding writing process much more effectively in this final draft. In this case, the moment of failure and giving up we see in videogames happened in the writing process, and they returned to the quest and completed it. For many players, assuming the returning to the quest and beating it a few days later, or not experiencing continuous failure for a long duration of time motivates players to continue. In the case of writing and revising, students must find motivation elsewhere.

This is where I’m at in the thought process. Individual students, similar to players, find motivation differently. What kind of messages, ideas, examples, discussions, support can I as the professor provide to inspire the return to the quest despite the feelings that come with failure, to result in the confidence building that occurs once the quest/essay is complete? Many of these students mentioned using Pinterest and the information I provided on revision that emphasized “Don’t start over” – but some didn’t mention their motivation at all. Grades can be motivating, but they don’t emphasize nor predict learning so they’re a difficult concept to use as external motivation to assist students with developing internal motivation.

So, I’ll continue to struggle with videogames to work on ways and whys of motivation to return after repeated failure. Similar to the recipe inclusion, it’s these moments of struggle when a character-shape repeatedly becomes an ice block that pedagogical reflections can be most productive.

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I recently read this article about grading. Aragon specifically speaks to students about how grades reflect points earned within the course, they do not reflect personal feelings about a student. I would add nor do they necessarily reflect learning, participation, ability to use this information to work toward the job/career students want. I have students who work hard in class, clearly arrive prepared having read the material, participate in discussion, and can’t turn in a paper on time to save their lives. They may write solid A and B papers, but the late submission drops their grades. It could be argued that in the work world submitting reports late, etc could result in loss of job – but is that really what due dates train students for?

Anyway, the discussion I want to have is in relation to grades, feelings and online courses. After reading Aragon’s article I was particularly interested in courses where interactions with the course differ – so large courses and online courses. Do personal feelings become attached to behaviors, interactions, comments and critiques differently, which may influence sense-making surrounding grades differently. My sister is currently completing a master’s program in London. She continues to receive feedback from her advisor on approval paperwork for her thesis project. The feedback is electronic – although my sister meets with this advisor face-to-face as well. In her case, and I don’t consider her overly sensitive, she feels the feedback is harsh, the critiques overly critical, and the rewriting difficult because the standards based on feedback are so high. In this case, yes, stakes are high it’s a master’s project – but the online feedback is influencing her sense-making. I always grade online – and unless I’m teaching an online course I rarely use rubrics so I include extensive feedback discussing the grade and the good and bad of a paper/assignment/essay/etc. Now i’m wondering if even this online feedback is too critical. In cases where I never meet the students, so online courses, do they see the feedback as excessively critical because they don’t know me? In this case I’m more prone to provide too much information to assist the student in future exercises since I can’t provide the same feedback face-to-face.

I haven’t researched extensively in the field of feedback research, but now i’m personally curious – as a grad online professor this summer and next semester – how do grades and comments influence how a student feels within a course? do these feelings influence subsequent assignments positively and negatively depending on the understanding and feelings about previous feedback? i think I’ll just add this to the list of future research project for now, and see what I can do to understand perceptions of feedback in my courses.

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undergraduate research

This past week I attended the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR15) in Washington state. This conference highlighting undergraduate research projects, and preparing undergrads to enter the workforce/grad school talking about their projects and hard work made me realize a few things.

1. I need to refine my capstone research project so students have more than just a presentation, but a professional development opportunity. Students at NCUR presenting posters were excellent at brief statements about their project and findings, oral presenters were not as good. Since interviews are often short, I want my students to present to an academic audience, and to present to a professional audience to assist them with many different avenues they can enter post-graduation.

2. Even at the undergrad level disciplinary identities are obvious. Most STEM researchers presented posters, determined if the viewer was STEM and spoke accordingly. In a few cases, removing the technical jargon (something composition instructors attempt to help students with) was difficult. Many Humanities and Computer science majors were excellent at powerpoint presentations and discussions. Literature students read papers. I don’t know that these disciplinary ethos displays are bad, i’m just now hyperaware of how my presentation requirements and grading schema influence ‘what it means to be a rhetorician.’ At the lower course levels I’m wondering how open I should leave my rubric to allow other disciplinary identities to show through – but if students don’t yet know will they struggle with too few restrictions? It’s really interesting to see students between Sophomore and Senior levels presenting their work like faculty/grad students in the field. It raises a lot of pedagogical questions that I just don’t have answers for.

3. Undergraduate research is amazing. My students produce amazing questions and studies, my independent study students work so hard for projects they love. NAU has an undergraduate research symposium to showcase this work, but I’m wondering if there are better ways to help students practice discussing their work. Traditionally, and evidenced at NCUR, research means STEM fields. How do we create space for Humanities students to showcase the work they do and the important contributions of that work to the world? Forcing them into the STEM mold didn’t work well, and with the high number of presenters at NCUR and the NAU Undergraduate Research Symposium no one is paying them any attention. Do we need to meet STEM majors in their familiar ground to show them the work of Humanities or can we garner attention with new approaches to research idea dissemination?

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Undergraduate Videogame Symposium

Over the weekend (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) we held the second annual Undergraduate Videogame Symposium in the English department here at NAU. The amazing thing about this symposium is the breadth of majors who participate in the event, involving themselves in roundtable discussions, videogame play, guest speaker presentations, and student presentations. We had solid attendance across all three days, and fantastic discussion about the larger culture surrounding videogames and play.

In what will be the first of a few posts about the symposium I want to discuss a comment made by a software Engineer from Zynga, Wil Coats. When asked what individuals should do to work in the games industry he responded: make a really bad game. In a side conversation I had with him on Friday before a Q&A session with business students he discussed the composition of his design/engineering/user-testing team as very tech heavy. So I find the idea of making a bad game even more intriguing from a humanities perspective.

First, there is the idea and place of failure being put forward with this claim. In this way, Coats argues for the inclusion of failure as long as you learn from it. This idea is forwarded by game scholars such as Gee, but is not easily recognized in educational settings. As students/educators we must learn to self-reflect on failure so it can become a teaching moment. Earning an F on a paper or test is not the same as designing something that just doesn’t work. So how can education reward for effort with a reflection as part of assessment when something/someone fails?

The second key point from this idea is what does making a game mean? Do I need to practice tech design, code writing, usability testing? Is game design testing interactive narrative or interactive storytelling? Is game design testing play and how to design learning and play so players can progress through a game or story? I’m particularly interested in this portion of the question as 1)his team has no humanities majors, 2)a student presented yesterday on Halo.

So I’ll start with #2, the easier. A student in my Videogames and Literacies course completed her gameplay with Halo 1 and Halo 2. As a non-gamer, she accepted the recommendation of friends that she would like the game Halo, so completed that for her play in this course. She ended up hating the game. She professes to have no problems with the FPS aspects, killing, etc., instead, it was the integration of story, lack of story, and holes in the story that ruined gameplay. Based on these ideas, her gamer friends recommended the game to her BECAUSE of the story. As an English major she MUST want to play a story heavy game, obviously. These gamers never considers or questioned her likes and dislikes in relation to play – but to story. This is interesting as some aspects of gamergate emphasized games as entertainment as a reason to make no changes. But as English majors expected to enjoy story heavy games, this student discussed how little she enjoyed the story, and the issues with the story construction. So not only do we need to make failed games, based on my student’s experience I also think we need to play a variety of games to understand why we like to play and what we like to play. If her Halo loving friends considered games outside the gamer context, and played a variety of games from a variety of genres they may have made a better recommendation for her. This is a form of failure – playing a game we dislike, or recommending a game that others dislike. So to engage further with Coats’ we as players need to play more games like this to understand the application of the failure=learning model outside just quest failing, and as overall genre failing so we can be more critically aware of the culture of game genre.

To return to my first comment about Coats – I think humanities majors are uniquely qualified for this conversation, and the selling of this failure=success model. Humanities majors, English majors specifically are taught to analyze and contextualize cultural artifacts in broader issues. As Humanities moves forward with technology, many of us incorporate this line of thinking into experiences with technology. I ask my students to recognize, analyze and contextualize technology; recognize, analyze and contextualize various uses of technology; recognize, analyze and contextualize various ways of reading, writing and sense making in digital spaces. This would allow game designers and game design teams to more effectively engage with sense making done by players – instead of designing just fun games they design games with interesting ways of teaching and assessing to push players into new realms of thinking. Some games are already doing this, more could.

To begin, educators need to consider the failure=learning model, and consider ways it may fit into their pedagogy. Not all students earning an F on a paper are willing to engage with critique made by their instructor, learn from that, and rewrite the paper to better demonstrate their learning. So what are others ways of helping students fail, to help them self-reflect, to help them learn?

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