Tag Archives: students

Assignment Guidelines

I introduced the Module 2 assignments to my Web Writing and Content Management course on Monday. They are creating a Landscape Analysis, Audience Analysis, and Content Recommendation report.

I’m so excited about these assignments. Students can do so many creative things, with very little work, and no design experience. So, I left page requirements, word requirements, general recommendations related to formatting completely off the assignment. I told students to refer to the course textbook which includes summaries, bullet objectives, graphics, and images to convey information as a guideline.

So reading Warner’s similar recommendation on Inside Higher Education was great. Similar to Warner’s discussion, I left off requirements because I want students to think about content design in their reports about content design. I told them this.

BUT, I still had questions about page length. While this is really not surprising – this is a Junior level course, these students are really good at being students – it is more difficult to help guide students through analysis of content applying principles from the reading while also asking them to apply those same ideas to their own document. The questions students asked about document length and formatting absolutely indicated the final ‘reports’ they imagined look like essays.

Next week when we meet we’ll briefly discuss content, so they use their analysis of Landscape and Audience to connect directly to content recommendations and content created. We’ll discuss how this is what they’re very comfortable doing with secondary evidence in writing that is familiar to them, and more reminiscent of writing they’ll complete in professional settings. Now, I need to further reinforce that they need to critically analyze the format of THEIR content as an ethos move.

I’m considering tweeting good and bad examples all week, but that would require so much work. How did I learn to consider document design as part of ethos, how do I help students to that metacognitive space?

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eportfolios and badges

On Saturday I attended the full day workshop on ePortfolios at AAC&U. In several different sessions, and by several different speakers, the idea of using ‘badges’ to support student learning through eportfolios was mentioned.

While I use games in my classroom I’ve never found good integration points for badges – I always see them as behavior driven, or skill-based. I don’t think writing is a skill – I don’t think certifying students in FYC who earn a C or better as “FYC Writing Skill” would carry significant meaning/weight.

I think the mentioning (and it was mentioning not full panel discussions – more ‘here’s another way to use eportfolios, digital badges’) of badges was to add a layer of cool, to point to recent innovations and further digital connections – the idea really stuck with me as a framework for approaching eportfolio design as my institution. In focusing on developing an online graduate certificate program for writing, the goal is to clearly communicate to potential students (and employers) the value of this degree. This is where eportfolios is a great connection – they allow professional writing samples and reflection on learning to raise student awareness of their writing practices and their understanding of writing.

If badges are system ‘awards’ that ‘certify’ learning – how can these be integrated to better demonstrate and exemplify learning outcomes of the program in a way that both attracts students and communicates meaningful information to employers?

I currently (and have for a long time) play Words with Friends (the newer edition). This game awards badges for completing points in a week, for creating a specific number of words using difficult letters like J, Q, Z, etc. The app is designed to force me to click through badges (good UX design to raise awareness for a new award system!), but beyond some coins or help, these badges don’t have any meaning. For me, these types of badges dilute the meaning of meaningful badges because they offer nothing to the player. They don’t support game learning, they don’t support learning of new words (the dictionary attachment with definitions is a great addition for on-demand learning!). What is the value of these badges.

So as I move forward with my difficult question of considering how to design program learning outcomes as badges to support a portfolio project in a graduate certificate (hahahaha that is quite the goal for the next month), I want to draw from meaningless to craft meaningful.

I do think that translating program learning outcomes to badges, then asking students to understand the learning outcomes by submitting portfolio quality papers to each area of the program is a great way to visualize learning goals that will help learners through the program, and help them communicate their own learning and expertise upon graduation. The first obstacle will be committee buy-in of the learning outcome translations I present to them……..

I am excited that there are meaningful ways to rethink badges – to use badges without even necessarily describing them with that videogame-based terminology that will support better student learning. Now to design that at the program level, then the course level………

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Learning

Nilson, Linda B. The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating your course. Jossey-Bass, 2007.

I just finished reading Nilson’s work advocating for including graphic representations of course outcomes and learning. Nilson’s goal with the chapters and examples included is to further support student learning by using multimedia graphics (text and image mostly) to represent the overall flow and knowledge foundation of courses, so students can develop correct foundational knowledge.

I read the book because I wanted to do more with my syllabus. I was an easy sell for the content of this book. BUT, I found the HUGE variety of possibilities overwhelming. Nilson spends chapters on learning theory and multimedia learning to support her point, chapters on finding gaps when visually representing the syllabus, but I felt I needed more on visual organization ideas to support content. The problem with what I want is that a book can’t answer that desire for all faculty everywhere. How a faculty member demonstrates the connections can be unique even when the content is fairly similar. The graphics represent personality in the course, uniqueness of the students at the institution, and the learning goals of the course.

So, here is my first attempt at graphically representing the connection in my Freshmen Composition syllabus in an effort to develop a deeper understanding of foundational knowledge of writing, and the connection the essays/assignments have to supporting student writing development (with disciplinary and work writing in their future). We’ll see how it goes 🙂

I started with a free Piktochart template (thanks Piktochart for awesome free basic templates). Then I built it up from there. I saved as an image to my syllabus, and as a stand alone image for students to reference.

ENGL 110 Learning Outcomes

What do you think?

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Creativity and Play

Resnick, Mitchel. Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. MIT Press, 2017.

I love to consider integration points for play in the course curriculum – these moments usually work best with projects, groups assignments, problem-based learning, and reflection. So I was wanted to like this book from the beginning, and I see a lot of cross-over with my pedagogical approach.

Overall, the book is fantastic. Resnick discusses the creative learning spiral (p. 11), and the 4 p’s (projects, passion, peers and play). These are important discussions and considerations for education and educational theory.

While I like the creative learning spiral (imagine, create, play, share, reflect, imagine…..) the applications within the text have a huge product focus – and it’s a project product not an essay. Writing is mentioned in off handed ways (on one occasion as if writing is just one thing like there is one way to write – which is odd from someone who published a fairly mainstream book through the MIT Press…..). The Creative Learning Spiral and approaches to projects, passion, peers and play would benefit from humanities thinking.

Every time I considered this idea – this would benefit from humanities thinking – I asked myself what do I mean by Humanities thinking. While the focus of a book review should be the book, I’m going to digress here because it’s a blog and I can (remember how I mentioned one way of writing issues?).

What this book really made me consider is what is humanities thinking, and how do I support that in composition courses through play?

So for now, I’ll begin with Humanities thinking.

I’m firmly in the rhetoric camp – when I am asked to define rhetoric I draw heavily from Craig R Smith’s definition in the final chapter of Rhetoric and Human Consciousness. Rhetoric is epistemic, ontological and axiological. Rhetoric is the way we think so that we know we’re thinking (ontological), rhetoric is the way we think through values and ideologies and culture (axiological), and rhetoric is how we teach and learn thinking and ideas (epistemic). We as listeners and communicators make meaning through rhetoric – which means meaning is always deeply entrenched in values and beliefs.

For Humanities thinking this often includes considering the human condition – the fundamental belief asks humanities thinkers to consider the human condition as they make meaning with various texts (texts broadly defined here).

So considering this and the creative learning spiral – where are the people in this spiral? I understand that humans, children, are the agents driving the idea, but what is it the creator needs to recognize about their learning, about what they know, to enter the creative learning spiral in the first place? How could recognizing the values and ideologies of our education, and of our noticing of creative thinking needs help us be more effective creative thinkers? How could writing about, reflecting on learning, discussing metacognition, improve our creative thinking?

I love the ideas in this book, and the stories of thinkers, educators, and children exploring, but I also see a need for more Humanities thinking. What do we know and why do we know? And how powerful could that recognition be to creating and creative thinking and play?

While I don’t mean for this to be a “long live the Humanities” post – I really appreciate how much this book helped me consider what I mean when I say “Humanities thinking”. I also highly recommend this book!

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King’s Discussion of Influence

This summer i’m trying to speed read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. As my husband’s favorite series I promised him i’d read them before the movie comes out.

While reading The Gunslinger, the first book in the series, I was asked to take over the teaching of a summer class on Adventure. While the course was initially conceived as a literature based course – I found so many ways to work in videogames, digital media, and The Gunslinger. While it looks like enrollment won’t support the running of the course, some of my initial ideas for curriculum development have helped me as I reflect on my Spring semester as a teacher to develop strong Grad institutes this summer, and strong new curriculum in Fall.

I started the book one morning as my son was taking his time eating cereal (at only 4 yo he hasn’t yet realized that soggy cereal is gross!). He asked me to read to him, emphasizing the need to start from the very beginning. So I started with King’s “Introduction”. In this introduction, King mixes reflections on his influences (The Lord of the Rings, Canterbury Tales), his fan letters (as influences), and his need to write to know the story – his need to write to discover the path of his characters.

I’ve taught videogame classes many times in recent years, and through these courses students have told me their stories of playing games and discovering things about the character they played they didn’t know until a critical juncture – then they realized who their character was. These moments of reflection, their need to share these moments of reflection are always amazing to me (PS the Dragon Age games inspire the most reflection).

As I reflect on my teaching from last semester, I’m seeing how important the “Introduction” was for King to write – a self-discovery of himself as an author as he continued the story of Roland and his quest for the Tower. I’m also remembering discussions of moments of play and their influence on self-discovery.

While my students may or may not be the next Stephen King – how can educators develop curriculum to not only support writing transfer, but to inspire these self-reflective connections to writing to learn. King learned about Roland’s adventures as he wrote (specifically discussed in section III of the “Introduction”). My gaming students learned about their character through playing, through game-based creation, interaction, and production. How can I pull these important ideas into the curriculum – create moments for meaningful AND productive self-reflection?

Ultimately my goal is to change how writers see themselves as writers. King took decades to complete The Dark Tower series and developed as a writer as a result, allowing Roland to develop differently based on the author’s maturity and self-reflection. How can I help students approach writing in a similarly positive manner? How can I help students be aware of their own growth and development so they continue to think and innovate and revolutionize?

 

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Let’s Talk About Grammar

I know the research on direct grammar instruction shows it has no effect, sometimes even a negative effect when it takes away from composition instruction (NCTE affirms these findings here).

As I read Warner’s piece on Inside HigherEd (here) about pushback comments to direct grammar instruction I considered the times when I’ve lectured on grammar.

Style

When discussing rhetorical moves made by academics in different disciplines, part of the discussion looks to grammar structure too. The passive construction of methodology details provided in the sciences is very important to that field, so it needs to be discussed as part of the style of the discipline. In understanding style and noticing these choices, the complexities of audience become more clear.

Well, let’s be honest, the goal of this conversation is to help students realize there are different grammatical values in different disciplines. All disciplines care about presentation, academic support, proper use of MLA/APA/AP/Chicago/IEEE/etc., argument support, clear argument development, consistent format and organization. The problem is, the grammatical details catch faculty members, so their significance to writing takes on more weight.

When discussing this with a freshmen class, it’s necessary to provide an example. So I use my son.

Marshall was accepted to [insert prestigious school here].

[insert prestigious school here] accepted Marshall.

These style choices rely on some element of grammar knowledge – students must identify the subject of the sentence, the verb, and the object to understand how the style choice significantly changes the meaning of the sentence.

This first step is where many students often struggle. They struggle to identify the parts of the sentence.

After I help them with the first sentence they are rockstars with the second. BONUS: I can see learning transfer across a short time period – which is amazing.

Grammar versus Style

At this point I often wonder, am I directly lecturing on grammar with this style example. Will this style example/discussion carry weight in their learning so they access these ideas in new writing situations.

It’s such a small part of the overall curriculum (again, focused more heavily on the argument presentation ideas above) that I doubt it carries – but it holds so much significance. While it’s grammar, I’m imparting knowledge on basic grammar functions, the real focus of these discussions is style. What is the place of style in composition teaching?

Based on disciplinary feedback, my department has considered the idea of creating stand alone style courses (there are amazing books on style that can be incredibly helpful). But not all students will volunteer for this approach to writing.

As I work through final grading for the Spring 2017 semester I begin to plan my next courses. While I’m teaching mostly Grad classes this summer, I will also be planning a curricular overhaul of FYC in the Fall. Is there a place for style discussions? I’ll also be teaching a Junior level composition – are juniors more prepared for this discussion?

Also, if I work it into the curriculum, where would it be 1) the easiest to teach based on surrounding assignments (hello scaffolding)? 2) the most meaningful to students (hello transfer)?

While I don’t think I’ll have THE PERFECT (imagine this in a big booming voice) answer, I will play around with this idea as I create new curriculum.

This might be a bigger project requiring a shift in disciplinary understanding of their own writing practices. While they often point to comma errors and split infinitives, is the underlying concern more one of style, or truly grammar. On a side note –  we all make these grammar mistakes. And may I remind these faculty of the most famous “To boldly go” split infinitive?

Now, on to exploring the place of style in an updated, Teaching for Transfer modeled composition curriculum.

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Motivation and Mindset

I participated in a Faculty Learning Community read of The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. While it’s looking like I’ll miss the last faculty meet discussion of the book, I want to engage with the final chapter of the book, so I’m writing instead.

Additionally, I’m working on a conference proposal for CCCC 2018. Our panel will focus on the idea of transfer. While Writing across Contexts is the focus, I started reading the edited collection Understanding Writing Transfer and want to consider how the discussion of emotions in a curriculum mix well with curriculum design focused on transfer.

One theory discussed by Cavanagh in chapter 5 is control-value (there is tons of research on this – read Cavanagh for the overview I’m not providing here). Essentially educators want students to have a lot of control so they see high value in the assignment to inspire “self-directed learning that results in a shift in how they [students] see the world, and something that lasts for their lifetimes” (Cavanagh 145). While Cavanagh isn’t using the term transfer – what I’m taking away from this discussion is the goal of transfer (i’m also applying this to composition courses).

If I look at just control-value – I do this (as do most composition courses). I encourage students to select a topic that is meaningful to them, and to draw from a discipline that interests them (students also create a project adding a secondary layer of control-value). But, by itself, this assignment isn’t necessarily motivating. Nor, and most importantly, does it inspire good writing, good understanding of writing, reflecting writing, understanding of one’s own writing process, and all the other necessary steps for humans to develop strong writing skills. Cavanagh provides great ideas on scaffolding learning, providing long-term assignments that inspire high control and high value in students – but I struggled with finding the application in [my?] composition course.

Typically, students don’t see the benefit of a composition course. Freshmen often enter college with experiences writing literary analysis in high school English classes. The goal of Freshman Composition is not literary analysis, but a more general ‘academic writing’ that prepares students for disciplinary writing (in all disciplines since their major may change AND they will probably [hopefully] write for gen eds). The goal is to teach students who don’t think they need writing, students who don’t want writing, students who don’t think they’ll ever write in their profession, and students genuinely interested in learning to write. Motivating students to see the control-value situation of a writing assignment so they embrace the learning of writing is difficult (note: i’m not assuming this is easy in ANY class – i’m simply applying to my discipline).

As I read Moore’s “Five Essential Principles About Writing Transfer” I began to see connections back to the control-value theory through principle 3 – the need to develop students habits of mind and identities to help students see their high control and the high value in transferring writing. For so many of the mini assignments I have students engage with this is the underlying theory (I didn’t know I was using) – helping students recognize their previous habits and assemble and remix new knowledge in to transform their prior knowledge of writing. Which helps motivate students to see the purpose in their own learning (developing their own theory of writing – Teaching for Transfer goals) – which helps high control and high value assignments work.

As I move forward with my CCCC 2018 panel discussion I’m working in ways gameplay can help students develop mindset necessary to transform their prior knowledge (principle 1 and principle 3). As I continue to work through new curriculum i’m constantly considering – what does this look like in the curriculum? What flexibility can I design to modify these approaches based on the students IN THAT SECTION?

I also need to read more on mindset – Dweck’s book is in my TBR pile!

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Predictive Analysis

While I love technology in the classroom, I try to not assume that technology can address many issues students encounter as students of the class (and other classes). I love the idea of grammar help through programs designed by textbook publishers (sold to faculty as a way to remove the need to address grammar in composition classrooms) but what drives students to want to use those – and to internalize the learning so it can be accessed as base knowledge in other situations (transfer)? This is a really complicated consideration.

With that always bubbling in my subconscious, and 2 sections of freshmen comp topic proposals to grade, I read Challenging Superficial Solutions here on Inside Higher Ed. To address a high failing course, instead of relying on just early alert systems to tell the high percentage of failing students they were failing, Ben-Naim describes how a course redesigned with threshold concept tutorials.

I’m exploring Teaching for Transfer (TFT) and Writing About Writing (WAW) and transfer theory to address similar issues in freshmen composition courses. I am redesigning to explore the threshold concept idea – inspired heavily by Writing Across Contexts. my bubbling subconscious loved this portion of the Challenging Superficial Solutions post.

Where I struggled is toward the end – Ben-Naim breaks down failing course options to only early alert systems OR fixing the course.

1) this assumes the course is broken (yes there is still bad teaching built on bad (or no) pedagogy). Is this an assumption I’m comfortable making, no. I’ve taught so many students through the years who want to achieve, and I’ve taught so many who scrape by. Is it the fault of my course if a student shows up to every single class period, participates in discussion, but submits no assignments (i’ve had this happen more than once). This example is not uncommon, as is the student who disappears halfway through the system. Neither of these are indicative of a broken course, but they factor into the failure percentages when looking at the course as a whole. We can’t choose who to exclude from data sets, so the set discussion should include the variable of the student.

2) this assumes there are only 2 ways to address the situation – early alert OR predictive analysis addressing of threshold concepts to increase learning. This sounds fantastic – sign me up for a situation in which I can teach threshold concepts and pass an entire course. Oh, wait, there are students involved, students with their own agendas that cool digital modules (which is amazing and should be used whenever possible to address the majority of learners needs) can’t touch. I agree early alert systems puts the responsibility back on the student, and a study skills counselor (a position I just invented right here!) would be immensely beneficial in helping the student address the real problems. Early alert is more indicative of a student who possibly doesn’t have the maturity to attend school, or doesn’t understand how to adjust their learning for the new situation. These systems can be beneficial, but they don’t necessarily address the needs of students. Similarly, if the course is difficult, new approaches to teaching are necessary and strong digital content can help faculty address those concerns.

However, we can’t leave the student out of these discussions. What drives students to college? These questions need to be considered by those in higher education, and by students and their families. How can university/college resources then help students meet academic, educational, and professional goals to help students graduate? To improve graduation numbers?

When we have these discussions, and complicate the systems that universities embrace to improve retention and graduation rates, we can’t forget the students. When I worked as a functional analyst my job was to break the system I was testing, even if the sequence of clicks was highly unlikely. Users will always make their own decisions and design needs to account for that. Students are the same – students will do what they please no matter how thoughtful our systems – so how do we return the humanity to these discussions.

On a PS side note I just finished reading Rogue Archives which has an amazing discussion of how the 1990s and early 2000’s ushered in an age of women’s interaction with technology framed by the goal of saving humanity – so humanity in relation to technology has also been an ongoing discussion that obviously influenced this post.

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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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Gamification and Using Games

I’m currently working on a paper about the use of videogames in class to support good learning. In this case, I use videogames as examples of both designed good and bad learning – then ask students to lead discussion by finding a game to similarly exemplify the theories we’ve discussed in class.

At it’s heart, gamification is the inclusion of game-like principles into class. So what I’m working through today – how is the use of videogames as discussion leader examples a form of gamification? What learning is reinforced? How is learning assessed in this assignment since it’s a presentation? What learning is created by the discussion leaders for the game-player, and how am I asking them to assess learning during their presentations?

These are tough questions, but good. What they demonstrate to me is that gamification (and this has been said before) is not a new concept to revolutionize education, but simply a new way of looking at what education has been trying to accomplish for centuries. It’s refocusing education and teaching on learning, learning outcomes, and creative assessment of learning (ie. NOT tests) to create a more engaged, involved student (see Jane McGonigal for even more discussion on this topic).

So, as I write through my assignment, I’m also forwarding an example of gamification in action. How can this one example help others understand gamification theory so they can design similar assignments that best fit their course content, their student population, their classroom set-up?

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