Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cell Phones Presentation

Hey all (but especially you, Jackie):

Here's the powerpoint file for my presentation tonight. Detailed notes can be read in the Notes section of each slide.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"The Persuaders"

Hey all.

A student of mine clued me in to an episode of Frontline called the "Persuaders", about advertising and marketing to consumers. I haven't watched the whole thing, but it looks like a terrific program to show to English 103 or 104 students. What's more, you can watch it online!

If you'd like the transcript, it is at

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Online Writing Instruction and a Point of Concern

A point of concern for me while reviewing Hewett and Ehmann's book is that it seems to relegate online writing instruction simply to interactions, whether synchronous or asynchronous, about students' specific writing tasks. Although they discuss in the chapters who these interactions can teach general writing principles as they address specific concerns, it seems to ignore other kinds of instruction that can and must occur online.

I'm thinking in terms, for instance, of the tutorials we experimented with in class last Thursday. I would find it highly prohibitive to teach an online course without such tutorials or other means to convey general principles of writing directly and afterward assigning and collecting specific scaffolded tasks that students need to accomplish and to which I can respond. Similarly, I would find it difficult to teach writing in an online course without engaging students in either synchronous or asynchronous discussion of readings, having them negotiate, abstract, or apply concepts of writing through their reading and discussion of it. These are writing tasks, to be sure, but they are not the sort that will demand revision and developmen in themselves. Yet these elements of instruction are ignored for an apparently entire focus on how to responds to students' written compositions in a process of revision toward a more comprehensive major draft. Although some of the concepts revealed in the book might apply to what I describe above, especially to synchronous or asynchronous discussion, it would have been useful to have these elements directly addressed.

Online Writing Instruction for Those W/O Trainers

Preparing Educators for Online Writing Instruction composites valuable thought on training for Online Writing Instruction. Because it is focused on the trainer and program developers perspective, though, it leaves us with another task: how to translate knowledge of what the trainer needs to do for teachers collectively into knowledge of what teachers need to do for themselves.

This is an important consideration because, let's face it, we are unlikely to get substantial training for Online Writing Instruction from our departments or programs. If we do get training, they will appear as short, discreet technology-focused, largely optional workshops before or after an academic semester. Reading this book as teachers, then, it is important for us to figure out how to train ourselves.

Hewett and Ehmann present "Five Pedagogical Principles" for training instructors in Online Writing Instruction. I want to review these, then translate them into something more useful for the individual instructor.

InvestigationThis principle addresses the need for departments, program, and trainers to do empirical research into successful training practices to develop more effective training materials. It suggests a recursive system of feedback on the materials and processes used and a willingness to revise those materials and processes accordingly.

Likewise, instructors should engage in such a process of investigation, both exploring the empirical research thankfully done by others and collecting feedback from their students. Of course, blackboard and other tech tools make this procedure easier by providing various survey tools.

I also want to suggest, though, that this process of investigation requires careful and relatively gradual experimentation, especially for those who already have so much competing for their time. As instructors implement online technology to enhance their teacing of writing, they should build a manageable curve of learning, implementation, feedback, and revision. Learn your technology in chunks, implement what seems reasonable and manageable, in a given semester, collect feedback, and review that feedback to consider revisions to your technology use. The following semester, implement those revision, as well as a new, manageable amount of technology that has been learned.

Immersion - This principle is simply that instructors who are called on to teach online should be trained online, making the training scenario a hands-on environment for the practice of online teaching.

Likewise, instructors themselves should not balk at immersing into online teaching. Many of us can attest that we never really knew a subject until we had to teach it. Similarly, you'll never know how to teach in an online environment until you try to teach in an online environment. This goes along with investigation in the sense of taking careful, measured steps. Do not, of course, entirely upturn your pedagogy or classroom structure. Rather, learn a technology and implement it. As you navigate that technology through your teaching of writing, you'll learn that technology and future technologies better.

Individualization - This principle addresses the need of training to anticipate and respond to the individual concerns of trainees. It suggests that an instituted curriculum must also meet people who at diverse places pedagogically and technologically.

For teachers themselves, this can cut two ways. Of course, we must also meet our students at their individual levels of expertise, both in terms of their writing and their technological experience. But we must also attune ourselves individually to the ways in which we teach online. We may have all experienced this: you heard from a colleague a terrific lesson that went over wonderfully with his or her students, but when you try it yourself, it fails miserably. Likely the colleague's praxis had much to do with his or her presence or persona in the classroom or who students were prepared previously for the particular lesson. Your implementation of it wasn't going to work without the same student preparation (unlikely) or instructor persona (almost impossible). Similarly, there's few one-size-fits-all approaches to technology. Even as you learn from others, be ready to modify and alter to make it fit what you do in or out of the classroom.

Association - This principle suggests that training should connect teachers to teachers so that they can create their own network and personnel resources to seek help, get feedback, and discuss problems.

This is no different from what we should do independently as instructors. Networking groups like Teaching Circles, implemented in the Writing Program, are meant to help teachers establish those connections. We should know who can answer our pedagogical and technological questions as well as who can provide a soundboard the pedagogical and technological problems we want to work ourselves through. These sorts of networks are frequently dismissed by instructors who don't feel they have the time to reserve for such communities of teachers. But it's this simple. Gabbing about teaching helps our teaching.

Reflection - This principle addresses the need for observation and assessment, for getting feedback from more experience colleagues, considering that feedback, and adjusting accordingly.

This reflection, of course, should occur at every level of pedagogy, from the observations imposed on us from programs, to those we ask for, to simply the observations and personal feedkback we gives ourselves after individual lessons. At every point, we should be thinking about how our tactics are doing, whether they are achieving the results we want, and whether they need to change.

Training Spiral - Simply “curriculum is always in a process of becoming” (24). For instructors, this can be said "Teaching is always in a process of becoming." In other words, we should teach recursively, always looking back to look forward.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

In Class Question


In the article “This was (NOT) an easy assignment,” we get examples of rhetoric students’ composition process as they struggle to create a multimodal text. What inspirations did you glean from these examples about how to prepare and guide students through this difficult process?

Answer 1:

The article showed me that student anxiety about creating multimodal texts is probably inevitable, due to the fact that most of them have not been offered such freedom of composing in prior English classes. I think that we, as composition instructors, need to talk directly and bluntly with our students about this anxiety, discuss where the anxiety comes from, and how we can work through it together with them. It seemed to me that a lot of the student anxiety stemmed from not knowing where to start with such complex projects. I wrote in my blog for this week that perhaps the student anxiety could be lessened by walking students through specific brainstorming/prewriting activities in class and allowing them to discuss their options with other students. That way that might be able to communicate their concerns/frustrations/anxieties with other people in the class who might be able to offer tips or solutions for them.

Answer 2:

I have taught a multimodal/multigenre assignment for a few semesters now and I always have students that completely freak out. They are just so entrenched in the process of producing alphabetic texts that any deviation is frightening for them. The fear and uneasiness seemed to be even greater when the project was individualized (i.e. one student = one project). Now, I have students do the project in groups and it’s amazing how they draw upon each others’ strengthens and have a greater sense of ease with the process when they can vent, collaborate, create, etc. with others. My role, other than offering a few suggestions for narrowing topics, possible avenues of research, etc. is quite minimal. I just let them run with it and address problems or concerns as they arise.

Questioner’s Response:

Respondents seem to focus on the issue of student anxiety when composing multimodal compositions, concerned most with how to alleviate that anxiety. Maybe this is result of my phrasing, focusing on difficulty. But I guess I thought of it more broadly than addressing anxiety.

Groups are likely a good way to approach such assignments and it allows for grouping the tech savvy with those who are not. The example of Amanda from the essay shows that social constructions of ideas were important for her development ideas. Groups would facilitate this but would also help illustrate the social constructivist aspect of communication.

Scaffolding of these assignments seems like something that is worth examining in more detail, which the first answer seems to address. I wonder if a large class could go through a process of brainstorm and idea development as a way to investigate individual brainstorming processes. In fact, an easy and quick resource like might make this large group modeling efficient and productive.

Shipka and Multimodal Compositions

In "This Was (NOT!!) an Easy Assignment," Shipka provides some good food for thought about the process students, for lack of a better word, endure while composing multimodal texts.

Similar to Shipka, I assigned an open-ended multimodal composition this semester, partly because I needed some baseline for what students could accomplish. Almost similar to Amanda's assignment, students needed to examine cultural objects as symbols. We discussed tools and I provided examples of multimodal compositions in general but students needed to conceive of how they would approach their own symbolization for their audience of students.

Looking back, though, one of the things I wish I had had is a more ample array of examples to show students. I think they had only a few teacher-prescribed ways of conceiving of the project and thus they stuck to those conceptions. Reading Shipka's article, I thought of a way to expose students to ample multimodal compositions that don't limit them to my rather academic preconceptions:

Instead of finding and showing them multimodal compositions, I think it might be helpful to require students to find them. They should show each other, in small groups, the compositions they had found as well as examine and present some key features that it may be important for them to understand when composing their own multimodal compositions, things like genre, subgenre, modes, etc. This way, students can set the terms of what constitutes multimodal compositions and how they effectively communicate.

Another thing I'm still troubling over is how to work with students on conceptualizing an audience for their compositions. More work to do...