Online Writing Course: Reflection and Planning in a Blog Entry

I really enjoyed creating my Online Writing Module. One of my favorite parts of teaching is the planning, the creating, and the (hopefully) perfecting of the materials. It was truly a benefit to complete this assignment and actually write an assignment and prepare a sample of it for the module.

DELIVERY

The course is housed on Weebly. I’ve used Weebly for some time now and love the simplicity of it. One can simply drag and drop items or, for the more adventurous, write the necessary code in order to feature some more unique items on the website. The site is open. If I were to use this site in my current classroom, it would likely be closed. This is still a decision I am pondering. As a result of my studies this semester, my senior AP Lit class has been assigned a series of blog entries, which they are currently housing on Blogger. I’ve discovered that our district has no problem with students creating blogs, but I’ve not yet discovered whether or not their Google Blogger accounts are truly public—they’ve been created in our district’s domain. So, I’ll reserve the right to keep my course password protected or under the closed domain of our district based on the fact that I work with high school students. As I become more familiar with the publishing factor, I may change my mind. I’m a strong proponent now of having my students write for an audience, but I’m not convinced it needs to be a public one. Either way, assessment will remain private.

STRUCTURE

Designing the website was just fun. I chose a color scheme that was similar in nature to my existing blog and assume that if the course were to be fully developed, the two would likely link to each other. I wanted the site to have uniform appearance and to be visually appealing. I chose free photos to post as buttons and colorized them in the program, Pixelmator, whenever necessary to keep the color scheme consistent. I gave careful thought to what menu items I wanted to include and actually set up some form of content on each of the pages, including a Google Calendar that shows the deadline for the one sample assignment. The most frequently accessed areas have not only a menu link but a button with an icon as well. I tried to have a little bit of reasoning behind which photos represented which contents so that students would easily remember how to access various portions of the site.

I estimated that the sample assignment would be Module Six in my semester; on the Modules page, I set up areas to show where the other modules would be housed. I set up a sample forum, knowing that this would be an integral part of my course. There is a resources page with some sample links and an assignments page, which, only has the one assignment on it, but it has links to both the assignment sheet and the sample assignment. I also created a button that will link to course announcements. I would plan to archive them here and keep the most current one posted on the main page next to the icon of the “professor.” The syllabus would be posted above the calendar. The final two links or buttons would be information for students on how to utilize Remind for text reminders (the Remind account has actually been activated) and the contact page for information on how to reach me. One thing that is missing on this page is my office hours; that would need to be added based on my current schedule. I also inserted a contact form so that students would have a fast easy way to send a message or a question. This is something that I particularly like and am considering setting up on a website for my current classes.

TOOLS

In addition to Weebly as a Learning Management System, the tools that I will use include Google Slides, which I could post within the modules; Remind, as a means of sending out text messages; email, as a duplicate way to contact students with reminders or as a means of reaching them for other matters; and the forum as a discussion tool. At this time I plan to use Google Classroom for the submission of assignments, which, of course, utilizes Google Docs, my preference at this time for grading. Grades for writing assignments will be recorded on Google Classroom, but transferred to the institution’s required grade book program. Another tool that I will use will be blogs, as mentioned above. This, along with the forum, would be the primary way that students interact, although I hope I will continue to learn new methods to facilitate that interaction and the building of community.

REFLECTION

All in all this has been a fabulous way to pull together all the concepts I have studied this semester. I am pleased with the final OWC and sample module. I will definitely be pulling items from this product to use with my current classes. I will most likely be using a combination of Moodle and Google Classroom next year. I am planning to incorporate blogging for my seniors, at least, and will utilize the forum on Moodle. Remind will be set up for my classes and, now that the school is using email more often to contact students, I can see myself sending email as well. Email, the LMS, Remind, and the face-to-face portion of my classes will allow for the information to be posted in multiple places and formats. I particularly like that there is room to grow; that’s probably the very best part of everything I’ve learned about teaching writing online.

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Online Options—Making the Grade with Module Eight

After reading “The Toolbar Wiki” description for Turnitin, written for my Eng 704 course, I have to admit I was intrigued. I’d spent the last couple of weeks thinking that it was ok that I didn’t have access to Turnitin, because maybe it wasn’t such a great tool to have anyway since it relies on a certain assumption of guilt (Vie). Although Vie describes the suite of services available within Turnitin, the Wiki description really emphasized the grading capabilities in a positive light.

Although it is not likely that I’ll have access to Turnitin in my current position, I have found a comparable (at least for me) solution. Google Classroom has been my learning management system this past academic year, and one of the features I like best is its collection of student assignment submissions. The assignments are basically housed on Google Drive and viewed through the Classroom interface. Therefore, when I am grading the work, I have full use of Google Drive’s comment features as well as its ability to highlight sections of the paper in various colors. This allows me to color-code, giving students a clear “picture” of their assessment.

Another technique I have recently discovered, is that I can upload the scoring guide, choosing the option to make a copy for each student, and then mark the scoring guide that appears with each student’s work. When I “return” the paper, students receive their completed scoring guide as well. Since I’m marking the scoring guide within Google Drive, the same options are available to me, allowing me to highlight the various sections of the scoring guide in light shades of green, yellow, or red—a great visual indicator of the students’ strengths, areas for improvement, and weaknesses.

As of yet, Google Classroom doesn’t have a voice-over or voice recording feature. There doesn’t seem to be a way to send an audio file to individuals through Classroom’s comment options. The only ways I’ve been able to send files to students, when their scoring guide isn’t attached with their submission, for example, has been to email it as an attachment or share it using Google Drive’s sharing feature. In order to provide audio feedback, one would have to take that additional step.

While Classroom does have a location on its interface for recording the scores of an individual assignment, there is no overall grade book within its program. I like being able to record the grades right on Classroom and think that it’s a benefit to the students as well. Nevertheless, I must copy the scores over into the district grade book system, and students must access the online version of that system in order to see how the individual grade affects their overall semester grade. It’s unfortunate, I think, to have double-entry system, but I make the personal choice to have the score on the second (Classroom) site.

As I make plans next year to move the seniors to Moodle, I can’t help but think I’m still going to link assignments from Moodle to Google Classroom, so that I can continue grading through Classroom/Drive.

Google Classroom does seem destined to continue improving though, and solicits user’s feedback. Maybe it’s time to recommend that voice recording feature!

Works Cited

Vie, Stephanie. “Turnitin’s History.” Turn it Down, Don’t Turnitin: Resisting Plagiarism Detection Services by Talking About Plagiarism Rhetorically. n.p. n.d. Web. 2 May 2015.

Video Communication Tools—Conferencing in Module Seven

Our neighbors are moving closer—and when they can’t do so literally, they can do so figuratively. Today, I had the privilege of watching an educator from France navigate through a demonstration lesson/meeting on BigBlueButton.

I discovered BigBlueButton while researching and testing Skype. The idea of conferencing with students in an online course led me to wonder how Skype stacks up against other video-communication/conferencing tools—Apple’s FaceTime, Google Hangouts, etc.—all of which have stellar or not-so-stellar reviews, based on which article you happen to read. All of these tools seemed like good options for various types of communication, each with its own pros and cons (a good review breaks down these top three). Skype had great reliability, although reviewers noted that the mobile app was lacking in features next to its big sister, the desktop version. Apple had a huge fan base, but was completely impractical for educational purposes as it was only available to those with Apple devices. Google Hangouts had some great reviews, but I had recently experienced some of its shortcomings. I also was suddenly aware that with each of these top options, setting up some form of personal account was necessary.

The idea that one had to buy a special device (ok, we wouldn’t really ask students to do that) or set up an account (not out of the question for students, we ask this of them all the time) was still bothering me. What might be out there that truly had the students, classrooms, and education in mind? And was free. In a quick web search, BigBlueButton caught my attention. BigBlueButton bills itself as “an open source web conferencing system for on-line learning” and is considered a “High Quality Open Source Web Conferencing” tool (Mayard). Mozilla Ignite has supported the development of an open-source project designed to help educational institutions provide remote students with a high-quality on-line learning experience.  Our open-source project, called BigBlueButton, enables real-time sharing of audio, video, slides, desktops, and chat.  It is designed to deliver one-on-one sessions (such as virtual office hours), small group collaboration, and on-line courses of up to 50 students…. As an open source project, BigBlueButton is freely available to all educational institutions (Mayard).

As I re-think the technology components of my classes for next year, I see myself experimenting with BigBlueButton. It fits in so well with the idea of the flipped classroom, allowing lessons to be documented for absent or struggling students or simply for students wishing to review the material, a concept I’ve been interested in for three years now.

More importantly, BigBlueButton could be a viable solution to the online conferencing so important to the online writing course. Not only can instructors use the site to record lectures for their students, but they can also offer instruction through the Whiteboard, which allows for annotation; the Presentation, allowing the uploading of PDF or Microsoft office documents, and Desktop Sharing, the broadcast of the instructor’s desktop for the students. Finally, the feature that led me to find BigBlueButton, it’s voice over conferencing and web cam capabilities with no limit on the number of simultaneously active users (BigBlueButton). These features open up the possibility of online class sessions (students can virtually raise their hand to contribute or ask questions), conferencing between two individuals, and small-group conferencing.

BigBlueButton shares one thing with all its competition—strengths and weaknesses. Moodle actually does a great review of BigBlueButton, pointing out many of its strengths and some of its shortcomings including responses from one of the BigBlueButton developers. As a free alternative to other web conferencing platforms, BigBlueButton bears much consideration. It’ll be a great way to move closer to my neighbors, especially if they happen to be my students.

Works Cited

BigBlueButton. BigBlueButton Inc, 2014. Web. 2 May 2015.

Henry, Alan. “Five Best Web-Based Video Chat Services.” Lifehacker. n.p. 21 July 2013. Web. 2 May 2015.

Mayard, Nick. “Mozilla Ignite Challenge Winners Announced.” Office of Science and Technology Policy. The White House, 25 June 2013. Web. 2 May 2015.

Moodle, S. “Big Blue Button Review.” Moodle. Moodle, 28 Aug. 2011. Web. 2 May 2015.

Pitcairn, Sara. “9 Web Conferencing Platforms for Education and Collaboration 2.0: What Should Your Organization Use?” TechChange. TechChange, Inc. 10 Aug. 2011. Web. 2 May 2015.

Ornelias, Abigail. “2 way battle: Google Hangouts Vs Skype Vs Facetime.” Grove Group Blog. Grove Group, 16 July 2014. Web. 2 May 2015.

Tucker, Bill. “The Flipped Classroom.” Education Next. Educationnext.org, Winter 2012. Web. 2 May 2015.

Knowledge is Power—Learning in Module Six

It’s good to know things. To survive, there are a lot of things we must know: where to go to eat, where to sleep, where to get a good haircut. Most of these things we either know inherently or we ask someone to tell us. When it comes to being dependent on someone else for what we need, a course credit for example, communication of those “things we need to know” is essential.

In the first place, we need to know we’re in the right place. As Warnock explains in his chapter about course syllabi, students, especially those taking an online class, need to know they’ve found the right online “space” (39). Students typically take a particular class to fulfill a particular requirement and verifying that they are beginning their coursework for the right course is a critical first step.

Secondly, students need a plethora of additional information, preferably right at their fingertips. Warnock mentions listing information on how to contact the professor, what texts are required and how to obtain them, a course description, and course policies, as well as links to helpful sites for the course, and a list of major due dates (41-45).

What I find that Warnock devotes very little time to discussing is course objectives. There are references to the course titles and numbers (39), of course, but little to no mention of what the student is expected to learn. It seems to me that Warnock paints a picture of the class that is more a series of hoops to jump through rather than one in which instruction will take place.

I know; I’m being too harsh. Warnock’s intent is clearly to support instructors in developing a syllabus that will communicate all the essential information to students and he does a great job of covering many details that I find critically important as well.

Sometimes, though, I think teachers are incredibly guilty of getting caught up in the minute details of how they want things done rather than how well a student is learning. For example, I notice that Warnock mentions detailed rules for how many hours late an assignment can be before it receives a deduction in points (44). Ok, I know deadlines are important. I used to carefully track when a “late” paper was handed in, so that I could appropriately deduct points to represent exactly how “late” it was. Those were the days. I now struggle having a grade for a composition reflect timeliness rather than solely reflecting its content and format. A controversial topic, I know.

And, while some details help us keep order—how to title a computer file for upload for example—are undeniably helpful, I’d still like to have Warnock devote some space to sharing the course objectives. To share guidelines for communicating with students what they are expected to learn and be able to do. I can’t help but think that I spent a lot of time during my years as an undergraduate student trying to figure out what my professors wanted me to actually know. I spent a lot of study hours trying to solve that mystery! It really would have been good to know!

Works Cited

Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online. Indiana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. Print.

Let’s Play a Game—Having Fun with Module Five

I was totally prepared to dismiss a course that married gaming with serious composition. It totally breaks all the rules, right? I’m not sure I’m completely convinced. I’d have to create a few rules of my own.

In “Learning Through Making: Notes on Teaching Interactive Narrative” by Anastasia Salter, I was introduced to a “reading and writing intensive” course for students studying game design. I believe the course is designed to strengthen the composition skills of students as they work directly in the area of their interest and intended profession. This brings me to my first rule: teach students to write well in their chosen professions.

Kevin Moberly’s “Hints, Advice, and Maybe Cheat Codes: An English Topics Course About Computer Games” outlines a course that aims “to help students understand how the methodologies traditionally privileged by English Studies are relevant to computer games and…to help them recognize and thereby address the limitations of these methodologies through scholarship, game design, or other forms of critical performance.” This course seeks to teach students to discuss and study the gaming technology in more academic terms. The advantage of this would seem to encourage higher quality game design. If the end result would be to expose gamers to games of higher intellectual quality with quality language, I would be in favor. Moberly explains that we need to broaden our definition of composition and writing and accept these “emerging forms of digital production” in order to better study them and understand their impact on communication. My second rule: embrace more forms of communication in order to understand and, ultimately, strengthen communication.

Finally, Stephanie Vie outlines an assignment in “’Continue West and Ascend the Stairs’: Game Walkthroughs in Professional and Technical Communication” that teaches students to write clear sequential instructions. I particularly like this assignment because it is just that, an assignment. While I am partially sold on undergraduate courses for the reasons outlined above, I am very interested in this assignment. I have many students who would love an opportunity to immerse themselves in one of their games and get “credit” for doing so. (Whether or not their parents would see the value in this assignment is a toss-up.) The other advantage to this being an assignment rather than the foundation for a course is that an alternative can be assigned for the non-gaming student, allowing them to choose something to write about that is of interest to them. My third rule: engage students in meaningful activities.

I don’t know if introducing games, particularly digital games, into a composition classroom is a great idea or a lackluster attempt to reach students on their own, not-very-academic level. As with any other unit of study, I think that it depends on the instructor, the design and, ultimately, the students. That being said, there are several interesting points outlined in the articles by Salter, Moberly, and Vie. And, if we can bring strong English Studies into more areas, it might be worth playing along.

Works Cited

Moberly, Kevin. “Hints, Advice, and Maybe Cheat Codes: An English Topics Course About Computer Games.” Syllabus 4.1 (2015): n. pag. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Salter, Anastasia. “Learning Through Making: Notes on Teaching Interactive Narrative.” Syllabus 4.1 (2015): n. pag. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Vie, Stephanie. “’Continue West and Ascend the Stairs’: Game Walkthroughs in Professional and Technical Communication.” Syllabus 4.1 (2015): n. pag. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Audible Thoughts—Rethinking Module Four

When I first started reading John B. Killoran’s “The Delivery of Digital-Audio Response to Student Texts,” I wondered why I hadn’t been commenting aloud on student writing all along. It seems like the perfect solution—commenting on multiple student papers takes what seems like forever, I write so many of the same things over and over again, I find myself getting caught up in the minor proofreading or style errors and forgetting to listen to the student. Wouldn’t being able to comment out loud be an amazing time-saver?! Probably. But as I continued to read and as I moved on to his article, “Reel-to-Reel Tapes, Cassettes, and Digital Audio Media: Reverberations from a Half-Century of Recorded-Audio Response to Student Writing,” I saw exactly why I hadn’t been doing it this way for year. I was sad.

First, let me back up to why this would be an amazing feature to add to my classes. As Killoran points out in “The Delivery of Digital-Audio Response to Student Texts,” there is great non-monetary value in providing recorded comments. I think it’s sad to admit that, when pressed for time, I find myself spending more of it commenting on what students can improve than on what they’ve done well. Killoran specifically notes that instructors felt they were more inclined to include positive comments when recording them digitally than when writing comments on the paper’s margins or at its conclusion. He goes on to explain that students report this non-monetary value as well, noting that they better understand their instructors comments when able to hear the meaning conveyed by the tone of voice (“Delivery of Digital-Audio”). Killoran explains that some instructors read their students’ work out loud, stopping to comment on various passages throughout (“Reel-to-Reel”). This, to me, provides double value. I encourage my students to read their work out loud so that they can hear but am sure that most of them do not! If I read it out loud to them, there would be great value in having them hear their own writing with instant feedback along the way being a bonus. So, I really, really get it. I even have Audacity already!

Then, sadly, reality sets in as Killoran outlines the various obstacles that he has overcome with his students that I don’t see myself overcoming with my own (“Delivery of Digital-Audio”). A hefty majority of my students do not have internet access at home, let along access to an email account that would allow them to receive the large files necessary to record even the comments, let alone the original work I’d prefer to include. While my students often (not always) possess ear buds with which to listen to comments privately, I notice they seize any opportunity to plug those ear buds into our classroom ChromeBooks to listen to YouTube videos of songs in the background while they work—they don’t actually have a lot, if any, music downloaded onto their devices. Finally, two-thirds or more of my students, based on their backgrounds and past educational experiences, lack the motivation to read my comments much less listen to them one or more times.

But, there’s hope. Even as I type this really negative post, I find myself thinking, “but we have ChromeBooks in our classroom,” “what if I write a grant for ear buds?” and “I think more students have them than don’t.” And, “what if I start with having them record peer reviews for each other?” Hmmm.

Works Cited

Killoran, John B. “The Delivery of Digital-Audio Response to Student Texts.” Bowling Green State University, 9 June 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

Killoran, John B. “Reel-to-Reel Tapes, Cassettes, and Digital Audio Media: Reverberations from a Half-Century of Recorded-Audio Response to Student Writing.” Computers and Composition 30 (2013): 37-49. Print.

Writing to Learn—Building a Community of Learners, Module Three

Even having used message boards years ago, the ideas presented by Scott Warnock in Teaching Writing Online have inspired me to adopt them for multiple uses in at least two of my classes using Moodle as the management system.

In a high school, every minute counts, and I fail to find time to conference regularly with my students. Warnock relates the necessity of this when he says that dialogue is the most important tool for building knowledge in his classroom (68). As my Teacher Academy instructor, Gina Gilman, says, “he who is doing the talking is doing the learning.” I think that integrating the message board as an integral part of my classes can help me bridge this gap.

Warnock references the superior writing done online by his students (69). I wonder if it’s because the pressure is off, because they are “thinking” rather than “producing.” Students who are more hesitant to share have an opportunity to “see” and revise their thoughts until a comfort level is reached. On a message board, these “shy” students also have an opportunity to join the conversation at a slower pace, (70). The natural delay of this asynchronous mode of communication builds a level of sophistication beyond many class discussions that take place onsite (70) and students are working harder to say something of value—their words will be seen by many, not just the instructor.

In an online discussion everyone can be expected to contribute. Warnock mentions that in onsite conversations, which are linear in nature, not everyone can participate—a problem that is alleviated by the asynchronous discussion that builds in a parallel fashion on a message board (70). Other advantages that Warnock notes include students thinking hard about a variety of topics and learning to take criticism gracefully (71-72). These advantages would be beneficial in my debate class. Debaters need to think about the many topics that underlie the various debate topics, and they most definitely need criticism. The message board would be a way to open up dialogue about the various arguments teams plan to run. Teammates could be required to post cross-examination questions online so they have a record of weaknesses in their cases and ideas of how to strengthen those areas.

Message boards are a great place for my AP Literature and Composition students to make connections about literature. The discussion can take place over a longer period of time. There’s a record of what’s been said and often a new comment to revive a thought or spur a new one. Students can revisit the online discussions prior to preparing higher-stakes assignments, leading to what Natalie Goldberg refers to as “found writing” in Writing Down the Bones. Some may find that much of their assignment has already been mapped through the testing of ideas and the sparks generated by the thoughts of others.

This is also a fabulous way for me to introduce more short readings into my AP classroom—I always feel pressed for time to teach everything I’d like to teach; I can now turn some of the material over to the students as not only reading homework, but discussion homework as well. This is yet another way to help students take charge of their own learning. For the independent reading critical in AP literature, Moodle allows an instructor to set up groups in its forum/message board. Students can be given private or shared spaces to discuss and collaborate about various novels (UMass Amherst Information Technology).

I don’t think I possess the skills to lead great classroom discussions (69) and wonder if focusing on message board discussions wouldn’t be a great place to start developing those skills, at least among my students? After all, I want them to write as well as discuss; it seems that through message board assignments I’d be building fluency in both areas. I can hope that the skills transfer to the onsite classroom, but even if they don’t I’d be increasing the sharing of ideas, the writing skills, and the collaborative nature of learning.

As I plan the use of message boards in my courses, I definitely will aspire to be the “guide on the side” (75). I will take my role as a guide seriously, since I’ll want to be sure certain areas of discussion are explored. I also know from experience how important it is to moderate the discussion of high school students. I realize the importance of being “present” on the boards so that students don’t feel like they are wasting their time by contributing (75).

Using message boards to increase the amount of writing my students produce will address my dilemma of offering “enough” low-stakes writing (84) in a time when I am questioning how to balance the grades earned for higher-stakes unit assessments without giving points for just “completing” a study guide.

I was planning to move my AP students to Moodle next year for the primary purpose of making good use of the forum. Now that I’ve read about the advantages of using message boards in Teaching Writing Online, I’m even more inspired to make that switch and have broadened my plans to include my debate class as well. And…I’m probably not going to wait for next year.

Works Cited

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston:  Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1986. Print.

“Group Communication & Collaboration Spaces in Moodle.” UMass Amherst Information Technology.  University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online How & Why. Urbana:  National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. Print.