I’ve Seen All Good People

One-hundred virtual kudos to anyone who can name the band I channeled in my post title—without looking the song up!

I really enjoyed this week’s topics, talk, and readings. Dr. Wood’s keynote was incredibly inspiring and practical—his suggestions to incorporate the five B’s all make sense and provide a fantastic framework for how we ensure equity and race-consciousness in our OWcourses. I’ve separated my post into first reflections from the lessons, and second my ideas on how I’ll put these topics into action.

Reflections from Dr. Wood and the two documents

Dr. Wood centers his key points on his “Five Equity Practices Recommended” or Five B’s: Be Intrusive, Be Relational, Be Relevant, Be Community-Centric, Be Race-Conscious. He adds the disclaimer that being equity-minded, relevant, and race-conscious have to be at the forefront.

Be Intrusive:
 • Performance Monitoring – What are students turning in? Are they turning assignments in on time? Before allowing students to fall off the edge, we need to intervene. We should be catching problems and addressing them before it’s too late and we lose the student. We can take advantage of early warning systems: phone calls, e-mails, and anything else that help us to reach out before things are out of control.
Mandatory Interactions (mandatory office hours, etc.) – If something is optional, students see it as less important. I thought about how we need to consider their lives, work, families, and other circumstances they’re juggling. Most of my students have jobs and families alongside taking college courses. As Dr. Wood states, we need to create a net of support that is so tight, they cannot fall through. He added that “there’s no such thing as being too intrusive.”

• Proactive Advice – Stepping in to make sure we help our students understand time management, what they should be looking for, that resources and support are attained, etc. is a big part of this net of support. Something many colleagues do at MiraCosta is creating a “student service treasure hunt” of sorts, an early assignment that asks for students to visit/research the different services MiraCosta offers. Making this mandatory can ensure students know about the vast amount of supportive resources the college offers.

Be Relational:
 • Live Engagement – Virtual office hours! This is a practice I’m excited to adopt, and it falls in line with my eagerness to explore audio/visual communication in the online setting. Dr. Wood encourages us to engage students in one-on-one meetings. They need to hear our voice, see us to believe in us, and know we believe in them through face-to-face interaction. We can use a multitude of different software, all of which are free. I’ve brought it up before; although it’s old-school, Skype is immensely useful. I love using Skype; it’s free, easy to figure out and use, and something all students can obtain. However, I also really like the idea of in-person engagement as well. I think giving students the option is best. I really appreciated Dr. Wood’s advice to say something like “it was nice seeing you” at the end of office hours/meetings. By providing comments that show we’re noticing the student as a person, they feel cared about (not another brick in the wall!). Dr Wood also suggests we get to know their goals, what he calls “learning with interest.”

• Personalized Feedback – I think this is one we as English instructors can do best. In addition to using macros and stock messages, we should provide personalized feedback. This can be done through e-mails, surveys, reflection responses on their essays, and other mediums.

Be Relevant:
 • Using course texts which include literature and reading material that is inclusive of students of color and other marginalized groups. Using these media empower students to have greater control over their lives. I think this can be tricky: how can all of our students relate to a single book? Instead of trying to make one text fit all, why don’t we give them the option to choose from a variety of pre-selected texts, some including mirror books? (More on that later.) My thoughts homed in on the next point Dr. Wood made, which was to use variable assignments. Students can choose what they’d like to do. For example, they can choose their medium (PowerPoints, YouTube videos, etc.) I think variable assignments can be tricky to grade, but Curry provided some excellent guidelines last unit on how we can assess them.

• Mirror Artifacts: This was fascinating! Dr. Wood states these as “racially salient images that highlight their contributions to society.” The images and course setting, if done correctly, can provide a sense of pride, accomplishment, and dignity for our underserved students. He also explained the difference between using mirror books instead of window books. Mirror books help students to see themselves versus window books are like windows into another person’s life. His studies indicate that exposure to mirror artifacts leads to positive mood states. It increases self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Be Community-Centric:
 • Introduction Forums – These are great! Two ideas I had are that we can incorporate this practice through ice-breaker discussion posts and shared reflections (which we basically do as norming ourselves, yes?). Ice-breakers and reflections allow students to share their perspectives.

• Be Race Conscious: Addressing Microaggressions – In our OWcourses, we need to monitor discussion boards in particular to make sure we address any potential issues that occur. We should strive to embrace race discourse by discussing contemporary issues society faces.

OWI Principle 1 from the Conference on College Composition & Communication (CCCC): Online writing instruction should be universally inclusive and accessible. CCCC specifically centers in on inclusivity and accessibility. Something that resonated with me was this point: “patterns of exclusion have too often resulted from an uncritical adoption of digital technology and an indifference to how it could be used by persons with various disabilities and learning challenges.” This point has been a worry of mine all semester. My concern is we sometimes bring in new tech because it’s shiny and new, but fail to think of how easy such software is to use by our underserved students. The nine points CCCC outlines, adapted from Burgstahler and Cory’s principles of universal design, are critical to keep in mind. They’re excellent guidelines, and I especially appreciated equitable use (can all students with all differences use the software?), technological equality (which we can overcome by focusing on free software), simple and intuitive use (a big one for me, since I personally think a lot of software is confusing), and tolerance for mechanical error (paralleling Effective Practice 1.12, since I tend to focus more on student communication of ideas rather than sentence-level errors). Example Effective Practices: I’m not sure what to say about these twelve points aside from the critical nature of adopting them into our course design, assignments, and practices. The underlining values of inclusivity and accessibility are easily visible in all twelve.

My Ideas to Incorporate these Points into an OWcourse

Virtual Office Hours: One of the practices I would like to adopt in an OWcourse is requiring two mandatory office hour appointments with me, with the option of as many others as the student wants the rest of the time. I think I would like to give them the option for meeting me either in-person or online. If they choose online, I would like to use Skype or WhatsApp to conduct these meetings. I think there is always real value in in-person engagement, though. I meet my students on campus, but I also give them the option of meeting me off-campus at Starbucks. The shift in environment seems to be really successful; students that meet me there are often more energetic and more focused than they are on campus. It’s not something I think everyone needs to adopt, but I’ll usually treat my students to a coffee/tea as well. It’s just another minute point that I hope shows them I care.

Offering extra credit to students who use the Writing Center (which has the option of online feedback, so this can work for OWcourses!) or creating a mandatory one-time assignment to get Writing Center feedback is another practice I would like to adopt. I’m leaning towards making it mandatory: this way, students not only see the benefit of using the Writing Center, but they are also introduced to a fantastic, helpful, and free campus resource.

Personalized feedback is something I already explored in my reflection, but I think it’s a practice MiraCosta’s English department excels at. Most professors here already value individualized feedback, and we incorporate this in a variety of ways. Something I do that I’ll carry over are the reflection paragraphs I write at the end of each student’s essay (where I break down for them what I think they’re doing well and what they should focus on) and sending out individual e-mails. In general, building rapport with students and making them feel cared about as individuals instead of anonymous IP addresses is crucial to creating a safe and equitable OWcourse environment.

Being Relevant: This was the other major take-away for me. I saw this as working side-by-side with the idea of being community-centric. Some assignments I’ve used that popped into my mind are movie analyses, SSR books, speech analyses, TED talk rhetorical analyses, and my tradition minute assignment. In all of these assignments, by giving students choices, they can choose a mirror artifact if they’d like to. Making the assignments dynamic (or variable) allows students more power and choice, as well. So, for example, for the movie analysis, speech analysis, and TED talk analysis, I can provide a list of 5-7 different options: for the TED talk analysis, perhaps I’d offer Adichie’s “The Danger of the Single Story,” Shafak’s “The Politics of Fiction,” Stevenson’s “Injustice,” McGonigal’s “Gaming,” and Junger’s “Why Veterans Miss War.” I’d want to think on it longer, but I might also add in the option of allowing them to find a different TED Talk. As long as I “okay” it first—make sure it’s as complex as the assignment calls for—they can analyze one they find themselves.

Tradition Minute: This is a newer assignment I’ve created and used for three semesters. It’s perhaps a bit basic for an English 100 course—I use it at a different school in one of my pre-transfer courses—but I think it can be refined. It’s a very popular assignment with my students :-). I ask them to each individually research and informally present on a cultural tradition of their choice; the tradition can from any country or culture, but it must be pleasant in nature—in other words, a positive tradition of some sort, and I must okay it first. Each student thinks of three options and runs them by me before being choosing one. From here, each student presents their researched tradition for three to five minutes in class, then turns in a research report (with accurate citations, quotes, and a Works Cited Page in MLA 8th format) to me. I ask them to use a minimum of two credible sources, detailed explanations and observations, an easy-to-follow layout, and some sort of visual component. The visual component is not something that has to be created by them, but it can be: I usually include a list of options, such as YouTube videos, songs, pictures, dances they do, recipes they create, or objects they can bring to class. Oftentimes they’ll choose a combination.

Again, I absolutely think this is too basic for English 100, but I think it can be adapted into an OWcourse and complexified. Most of the time, my students choose to pick a tradition they’re familiar with. It’s a really lovely experience where they get the chance to present something they’re familiar with to their class and use their own voices to express and explain. I’ve honestly never had a bad experience with it so far and think that as long as I keep Dr. Wood’s guidelines in mind, it would be a great mini-assignment in an English 100 OWcourse.

As far as how they would do this online, I’d ask them to create a discussion post where they either upload a PowerPoint, video recording, or Camtasia recording of their actual presentation. I’d also ask them to upload the report and Works Cited page into a separate dropbox. By posting their Tradition Minute in a discussion post, it’d give other students the opportunity to ask questions and to learn more about that particular Tradition. I might make it a requirement that all students post at least one smaller response (3-4 sentences) for each Tradition Minute, but with twenty-five students, perhaps that might be a bit much.

These values we explored are crucial, and I’m going to absolutely do my best to adopt them into any OWcourses I teach. Any suggestions, thoughts, or recommendations are appreciated! 🙂

….so satisfied, I’m on my way!

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