Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ringing in the New Year - pedagogically

I have often reflected at the end of the semester, in true Profhacker fashion, by giving a 3x3 course evaluation. This means sharing what worked, what didn’t, and what I plan to change.  This was easy to do when I was essentially teaching the same class in multiple sections. However, now that I am teaching composition and professional writing it is hard to make such comparisons so this evaluation and reflection will likely not fall into such neat categories.

Overall, I feel pretty good about how my professional writing class turned out. I taught this class for the first time in the Spring and that was OK but as I had barely a week to plan the class (for the first time) and I inherited a book it was a bit rough. This time around I had the benefit of experience and time to plan so it was much more thought out and I do not plan to make any major changes for the new Spring Semester. Students report that they learned a lot and had fun. I feel the same way so what’s not to like?

My Writing II class continues to be a work in progress and I plan to revamp it yet again for the Spring Semester. I have high hopes for the new version as it is an idea that excites me (see The Walking Dead in my writing classroom) and I had an additional brainstorm about how to marry my new idea to my old practice of focusing more on writing in the disciplines so it will be a course about walking/writing dead in the disciplines.  I have spent a lot of my gym time thinking about this class and can’t wait to see what comes of it!

What worked

I borrowed/adapted a Group Learning assignment from Cathy Davidson for my professional writing class and this turned out to be a great assignment. Students really did an amazing job with it and we all learned something from the process as well as the results. For this assignment students had to teach the class about some technology/tool that could be used to produce their final projects. Throughout the rest of the semester students referred back to these tips/tools and used them for their PW project as well as work in other classes and their professional lives.

Another success for the Fall Semester was the use of Google Chat to support virtual office hours. While overall my use of Google was a bit hit-and-miss (see Google vs. Blackboard) in terms of success, I can unequivocally say that Google Chat gave my students quick and easy access to my help and advice. Although it was not always convenient for me (having to interrupt my work or break a chain of thought), it definitely helped create a connection with my online students that is always difficult to forge in an online class.

Finally, the use of interactive journals was something that worked well and I will continue to use. Side discussions, support, and practical advice were all a part of the peer comments on student journals and I think contributed to a sense of class community. I was pleased with this activity/assignment and will definitely use it again. 

What didn’t work

My attempt at a peer leader assignment, during which students would take turns leading discussions and track participation, was a dismal failure. They were supposed to work in teams and that was always a problem as most of the teams did not work well together at all. The evaluation part of the assignment was also problematic even though it was really a matter of noting who had participated and who had not. I wonder if this type of assignment is simply more problematic in an online class as I’ve done similar things with traditional classes. I’m not going to use this assignment until I’ve thought it through again so probably not for the Spring Semester as I’m at a loss right now.

Similarly, my class reporter assignment was terrible. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of students creating a wiki, blog, or some other record of the lessons they learned in a class. However, the actual execution in both classes fell far short of my hope. I think the idea is still a good one but it may not work for a writing class as well as it does for a content-driven class and it may also be a problem for an online vs. traditional class. Either way, it is going back on the shelf for now while I mull it over.

My last failure is the scaffolding I prepared for my Writing II students as they worked on their final papers. I thought it would help them to chunk the paper but most were resistant to the idea and the final papers of those who did participate were often too chunky. I have some ideas for working the scaffolding into our discussion and reflection assignments that will make the support more subtle and allow students more room to grow. I read a blog post a few weeks ago (Intrusive Scaffolding) about how too much scaffolding is actually a disservice for students and I think this process assignment is a good example.

What will change

While I will still have students create Google accounts at the beginning of the semester, our early use of Google will be for interaction (Google chat) and social media (Google+). As I already noted (see Google vs. Blackboard), I used Google for journals, discussion, and writing workshop in the Fall Semester but this met with mixed results and I think sometimes the technology got in the way of the pedagogy which is never a good thing. I plan to use Blackboard’s blog tool for interactive journals and discussion but am reserving the option for using Google for writing workshop at the end of the semester.

As noted above (and in The Walking Dead in my writing classroom), we will discuss the big ideas found in our literary readings with those found in popular culture (specifically comic books and their related media). We will then explore (in discussion and in writing) the ways that those big ideas play out in the disciplines. Stay tuned for more on this idea!

This semester I am going to try out a journal assignment focused on self-assessment and self-regulation. One of the reasons I tried the peer leader assignment is that keeping track of all the posting/discussion activities is a logistical nightmare for me. It is a constant battle to find the right balance (not to mention the time) between teaching and evaluating. My hope is that by making a place/time for students to record (weekly) what they did to further their learning and meet the course goals will make them more aware of their own responsibility for their growth and grades. Plus, this will give me a private place to comment on their activities as a student separate from their writing and thinking. I hope that separating these enforcer activities from the writing coach/mentor activities (made in comments on class reflection and discussion) will allow me to focus my efforts as well.  Or maybe I have just devised another way to make my head spin. We’ll see!

How did your Fall Semester turn out? What are your plans for the Spring Semester? I always love to study (steal/copy/adapt/adopt) the assignments and class activities of other teachers.

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