Conversations about Conversations: Approaches to a Post-Text World
Conversations about Conversations: Approaches to a Post-Text World avatar

I found the readings (from the Warnock chapters to some of the bibliography texts I read, like a few articles on “Welcome to the Post Text World”) and videos fascinating this week because they broached what might be the most fundamental issue I have in most f2f classes (and suggested to me how that issue may echo in an online teaching setting): how do we get students to interact meaningfully and critically with the concept of text in a world predicated on mediating predominantly unmeaningful and uncritical interactions? (And, by extension, can we even define meaningful/unmeaningful and critical/uncritical as useful binary oppositions anymore?).

While Warnock was a little humdrum, as usual, in the chapters, I did really appreciate two aspects of these chapters:

1) That Chapter 8, especially, gave very practical advice through examples of how Warnock structures his discussion boards. I have had relative success with discussion boards in my f2f classes this semester, mostly because I unwittingly followed some of his advice, like having very specific word count criteria, and so seeing an even more structured way of approaching both formal and informal discussion board posts is really helpful.

2) That Warnock, though still attached to traditional ideas of text in some ways, did have a variety of useful sound bites here related to how online teaching can redistribute text: “think about the accessibility of the texts you choose” (59); “more equitable participation” (70); that writing online broadens definitions of audience (70); etc.

I especially liked the focus on “exploratory writing”: “[Discussion boards] allow them to practice, make mistakes, and thus develop. The message board environment represents an elegant combination of theory and practice, as it creates an ideal place to allow such exploratory or discovery writing to happen” (85). This is what process-based writing is meant to do, but (I find) more often than not doesn’t do, because students try to be perfect as fast as possible so minimal editing, they think, is required. The connection of this exploration, too, to class community is something I want to quickly adapt, via Warnock’s strategy of having students quote their class colleagues in their papers (88): this seems like a good, quick way to teach the redistribution of authority in online spaces.

Both this strategy of students quoting other students and having them engage with each other in discussion boards frequently connects to the main problem I am having in my ENGL100 this semester: “Students rarely talk to each other” (Warnock 76). We seem to be in both a post-text world and a post-conversation world. I’m on the fence about whether both of those are necessarily bad things, but they are definitely important to take into account and seem to be often deflating f2f classes. (Another problem I think that arises within such a situation is how we even market f2f classes, that are often so content-based, when content seems to need less emphasis, since if students really wanted to know something, they could find it. They are aware of this, so me pointing out information in class can generally just meet the wall of “If I wanted to know, I would have looked it up).

My guiding philosophy, then, has for a long time been connected to rethinking literacy in a post-text world. A lot is said about how much students use social media and other Internet-based applications, but I increasingly find that their literacy about interacting with culture in a multimodal world is relatively low, related perhaps to the suggestion in “Welcome to the Post Text World” that

“there’s the more basic question of how pictures and sounds alter how we think. An information system dominated by pictures and sounds prizes emotion over rationality. It’s a world where slogans and memes have more sticking power than arguments. (Remind you of anyone?) And will someone please think of the children: Do you know how much power YouTube has over your kids? Are you afraid to find out?”

As a concluding thought here, I wonder if our focus should be less on a post-text world (because of how much that still centralizes “text” as an ideal against which we are not working) and instead think about a discourse or even post-discourse world, where concepts of power and authority are more important to integrate than what exactly is said or how it is said (how do we even approach rhetoric in a world where the term seems to not really mean anything to anybody anymore? Not just “millennials” [who, I hope everyone knows, aren’t actually the majority of our students anymore], but every age bracket).

In a way, Warnock is pointing us in that direction, by centralizing conversation and “student texts” rather than the types of texts we are used to in composition classrooms—but how can we go further? How do we turn those conversations into interrogations of conversations, into conversations about conversations rather than into conversations about comprehending material that is ephemeral and decentralized now anyways?

Down the Rabbit Hole: A Pedagogical Twine Adventure
Down the Rabbit Hole: A Pedagogical Twine Adventure avatar

This week, rather than making a video, I decided to experiment a la what curry said in relation to his Prezi. I have made a Twine that explores, a little, Twine as an interface for learning but that most heavily focuses on my reinterpretation of an assignment I use in English 100, the “Writing Scrapbook.” 

Twine projects are not the easiest to share, but here is a Google doc link to it: You will need to download the file and open it on your computer. You then need to open the file using the “open with” a web browser option. If this doesn’t work well, I’ll host the link elsewhere. (Also, it’s opening fine via Firefox on my computer, but not Microsoft Edge).

Also, in the name of process, here is what the overview of the Twine game looks like from the meta-position:

Innovating the Classroom: Content in Online Teaching
Innovating the Classroom: Content in Online Teaching avatar

I appreciate Warnock’s focus, in these chapters, on translating student-centered learning (which is, as he says, central to the discipline and relevant to student lives (28)) into the online space using methods we usually already utilize within the composition classroom, such as the Socratic method. I also am excited that he does, though very briefly, acknowledge what we might call emerging methods (such as video games (35))–since otherwise his methods of content development seem very old school and based in traditional understandings of textuality.

(This is reflected to me in his chapter on syllabus development, which, while useful in places, and claiming to be about rethinking the syllabus of an online class, is essentially the type of syllabus already being produced by composition instructors for f2f classes, at least in our department. I was really into, though, the idea of a syllabus as a “working relationship” (46).)

Moving in these more multimodal directions would be my interest in online teaching–not necessarily using a game like Second Life to mediate class connections (which I’m very skeptical about), but finding ways to bridge the synchronous and asynchronous in spaces that already combine those two methods of content delivery. I want to find some way to create a space that would be fun for everyone, including me, and would minimize work while still being a rigorous environment; this follows along the lines of Warnock’s idea that “[b]y using electronic tools intelligently, you can look past the simple and spend your precious teacher preparation time innovating and thinking of big-picture problems that you want to solve in your courses” (37). This is what I am more interested in doing: innovating and getting me and my students to think big picture, instead of being bogged down in minutiae, which is what I am worried about the most in terms of teaching on online class. Delivery methods like email, for instance, seem better suited for and to encourage that minutiae and small things that are often not incredibly important. (We talk about the importance of email in online teaching, but I imagine an electronic space where we can bypass email altogether – and the terribleness of the Canvas “inbox”).

I do have one point of disagreement with Warnock’s ideas in these chapters. He claims that students are not used to being passive in a Web 2.0 environment, which goes against my experience, though it’s funny because in my ENGL 100 I have students read both sides of this debate – on one hand, Henry Jenkins, who sees new media tools and convergence culture as transforming consumers into agents and giving people the tools to be more active in their engagement with content, and on the other hand people like Clay Shirky and Sherry Turkle, who see new media as ruining our minds and relationships be giving us more passive ways of relating to content and to others. I probably, personally, agree more with Jenkins ultimately, but in classroom contexts Web 2.0 does encourage passivity that has to be actively countered with the type of agency Jenkins suggests. In other words, students don’t see agency immediately, so things have to be done deliberately and not with so much of the optimism Warnock seems to have.

Learning Management Systems: A dash of Luddism, to go with the ludic
Learning Management Systems: A dash of Luddism, to go with the ludic avatar

After reading this, I realize how stream-of-consciousy this post is, and how I more looked at the larger question of technology, rather than tools. I also pre-emptively got grumpy about Arc, only to find love for Arc in above comments. Otherwise, enjoy!

I have to admit, the idea of “going rogue” sounds appealing to me—it’s inherently part of my pedagogy and the strategies I use in the classroom. At the same time, I’m also going through a period where I feel like trying to do complex things technologically is getting in the way of getting students to go rogue with me when it comes to content and activities. I find myself increasingly hesitant to use new technology or to even branch out in terms of learning management systems. Canvas is there, it (sometimes) works.

I find myself even getting grumpy when new tools pop up in Canvas—what was it this semester? Arc? I don’t know what Arc is yet, but all I know is that the symbol looks like Cauldron symbols from the game Horizon Zero Dawn (See Super Important Figure 1) and the name makes me think of riding dinosaurs with machine guns attached to them (a la Ark: Survival Evolved; See Super Important Figure 2)

Super Important Figure 1: Aliens are taking over Canvas…

Super Important Figure 2: …and they are bringing dinosaur machine guns

I also just noticed that the A in the Ark image also looks like the Cauldron symbols…conspiracy!

Now that I’ve made this connection, I am realizing how apt it is: the overarching idea of Horizon Zero Dawn is that humans, relying heavily on an increasingly incomprehensible technological sublime, managed to nearly wipe themselves out, leading to the game’s world, sparsely populated by less advanced tribal peoples and burgeoning theocracies. Will Canvas lead to the end times? Well, maybe. But I’m at least finding a new to recenter some of Warnock’s advice: “Don’t be more complicated technologically than you have to be” (19); “the technology should be relatively transparent and unobtrusive” (22). Though a lot of what Warnock says sounds a bit bonkers to me, I’m increasingly drawn to the simplicity of his type of online teaching (and, as far as I can tell, the norm of online teaching–where not many “tools” are actually used), even as I struggle, too, with his focus on normative textualities.

Exhibit A, “The Padagogy Wheel,” from one of the links under Northeastern’s “Build your Own Interactive Content” website (which needs to be enlarged twenty times to actually be legible, if not comprehensible). In theory, this is a great idea—all of those tools are probably something at least one student would find learning value in. At the same time, nearly none of them are likely essential to a learning environment or things that should haphazardly be thrown in a class without many layers of reflection. The way they are presented is also overwhelming, a hodgepodge of everything from Twitter to DropBox to TED that is essentially a who’s who of every app in existence. Sure, pretty much everything can be a teaching tool, but are they necessary for critical engagement?

Canvas is starting to feel somewhat overwhelming to me, let alone my students (and I hope I’m not the only one who was freaked out about Google Drive being linkable directly to Canvas). Right now I like simplicity—that Canvas offers a shared spaced to give students access to materials and instructions. It’s in the materials and instructions that I hope to go rogue, that the experiences are meaningful less so than the number of different ways those experiences can be produced for students.

(I do have to say, though I haven’t heard of Notebowl before now, beyond looking a little too much like Canvas with a Facebook Newsfeed, I like what I see so far in terms of more easily facilitating conversations between students and instructors without the need for the “formality,” over-thought, and repetitiveness of email.)

I guess, then, simplicity and ease of communication are my goals right now (and seem to be Warnock’s, too). For online teaching, this will probably also expand to include tools, which I can embed on Canvas, to simulate some of the more important aspects of teaching; for instance, annotation tools (like Hypothesis) and sharing/collaboration tools (like Google docs). I do see Canvas as a valuable space, as long as it can be used to curate productive exploration of course materials (through embedding videos and collaborative spaces and linking between pages) or creating a course narrative (I think back to the course-as-graphic-novel idea that came up last week). But when it comes to “tools,” I fear about overwhelming myself and students.

Design Troubles: Pedagogy and the Subversion of Canvas
Design Troubles: Pedagogy and the Subversion of Canvas avatar

Hi everyone! Glad to be back!

It’s difficult to distill a teaching philosophy into a set of specific principles, especially since mine overlap so much, but here are some of the key principles of teaching composition that often form the foundation of how I approach all of my assignments, class activities, and course materials:Image result for interactivity meme

Interactivity: This is probably my most constant and important course design philosophy, which takes the idea of a “student-centered” classroom and transforms it to consider tech-based and dynamic ways to facilitate conversation and exploration. Part of his, to me, also involves what Warnock calls “pedagogical experimentation” (xxii)—I seek to find ways to make a classroom “active” that go beyond how we usually define that term (which generally involves different forms of discussion, like Socratic seminars and think/pair/share. Though, I am doing more Socratic seminar style things this semester than usual, sitting with my students in a desk). To me, interactivity involves creating interfaces for students to interact with together—so bringing in digital tools and games to foster new ways of thinking.

Contextualized conversations: I find it important to the way I approach my pedagogy to engage students through topical conversations—by either formulating a class around a specific topic or a broader theme that can facilitate conversations about culture and identity—such as my ENGL202, which I call “The Rhetoric of Pop Culture.” Through that theme, we enter into conversations about freedom, choice, consumer desire, audience reception, and cultural representation. I also found the point Warnock quotes from Wahlstrom that “computer supported literacy that students develop may prepare them for an exploitative environment rather than protect them from it” (xx) interesting, since my ENGL100 is themed around how digital media has changed reading, writing, and thinking processes, and one of the conversations we have is about the potential oppressive exploitations embedded within digital cultures. I feel it’d be useful, then, to take some of those conversations about digitalization into an actual space of digitalization—the online classroom. Contextualized classrooms also, of course, create more buy in for students and give them more agency in understanding course concepts.Image result for reading meme

Analytical reading: I have always assigned contextualized, topical reading that in some respects can be a stretch for students—maybe requiring more attention or clarification than they are used to needing when reading. In the past, I approached this as being about exposing students to complex concepts and thought processes to expand their academic vocabulary and get them thinking about issues they normally don’t expend energy on. Increasingly, though, I am finding that an integral part of my philosophy is to have students analyze the language itself of these articles and to take the more meta-writing approach to reading that is central to a lot of composition instruction. I have always told my students to think of the articles as examples of writing, but I am not building in more activities to get students thinking about the rhetorical effects of different forms and styles of academic writing.

Understanding and Flexibility: This last one is more of an “attitude” embedded in my course design and teaching persona (to harken to that section in the Warnock reading). My teaching persona is much more personable and confident than I generally am in other social situations—so I use this to my advantage to get more one-on-on knowledge of students during group learning activities and to find common ground with students. I am comfortable with the ebbs and flows of conversation (as they get derailed and re-reailed—isn’t this the way we generally speak in our conversations outside of classes, anyways!), and so try to schedule activities that allow for that level of flexibility. I also maintain flexibility when it comes to assignments, though I am becoming more rigid on that (I’m always flexible with large assignments, such as essays, but am less so with low stakes things like reading responses).


Lastly, here is the link to my video looking at some interesting (and not great) Canvas course samples from Northwestern University:



Cruising Utopia(n) Pedagogies
Cruising Utopia(n) Pedagogies avatar

I don’t know what it is, but this has been the most difficult of the prompts to conceptualize, partially, I suppose, because it’s so free-range but also because we are in the part of the semester when utopian thinking is made more difficult in the face of deadlines, due dates, tenure documents, and the ever-dimming light that is student burnout. I am always, though, thinking of that future course, as well, imagining “other ways of being in the world,” as Jose Munoz asks us to do in a text that is just as much about pedagogy as anything else (even if he doesn’t realize), Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Utopia:

“The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalising rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds.”

I think I reflect my deepest desire for my pedagogy, for any class (f2f or online), in my ENGL100 syllabus this semester, where, under “Course Theme,” I say “[t]he philosophy for this course will be that play opens us up to ‘alterity’: in other words, when we play, we don’t just entertain ourselves; we hope, desire, and think about different and better possibilities for our lives.” I try not to get bogged down in the logistics (when things are due; how they will be uploaded; how to name files), though those are important, and this semester of WritingWithMachines has shown me how delicate and intricate such considerations are within online classes, and I now have a lot of strategies to create an ideal class based on how to present information to students, how to curate points of access, how to be productively redundant, etc.

But, I suppose, my dream course would minimize those considerations and create exploration and collaboration for students through various venues, having a more “hangout” or “salon” type atmosphere where students can seek, digest, and debate the information they want. (One of my ideals, relating to this salon style, for f2f classes has been to replace the really obnoxious traditional student desk with couches and coffee tables.) I want a classroom full of play, and a form of play that challenges and reconstructs the classroom – not necessarily a gamified class (which I appreciate, but have always been slightly skeptical about). As my course philosophy quoted above states, I want a space where I am not just transmitting information to students, or even where they are finding information, but a space that facilitates the production of hopes, desires, and dreams in students: that gets them thinking utopian thoughts rather than, simply, thoughts about deadlines, due dates, and how to jump through hoops to get a degree.

As I already begin peeking at other posts on the blog, I also see some of my desires reflected: students co-creating courses (which I do in minimal forms now, but that I’d love to expand), increased student interaction and conversation (this is why I like group work so much, because then I can chat with students outside of the confines of the lecture-style system), and equity (where intersectionality is valued, and where students can begin to look beyond the desire to value themselves merely as economic objects–which is unfortunately what they have so much been asked to do). So, though I haven’t given many concretes here, I thank this process for allowing me to think utopian thoughts for a while and to imagine what a class, digital or physical, that is not so heavily beholden to the depressing minutiae that can sometimes drag done everyone, students and instructors alike.

And with that said…

American Horror Story Mic Drop GIF by AHS - Find & Share on GIPHY

(No, but seriously, thanks for the great conversations and ideas throughout this semester!)


Links to past posts:

Assessment in Advance: Fostering Anti-Authoritarian Feedback

To Collaborate, or not to Collaborate–What was the question?

“Flexible and Diverse Approaches”: The Contingent Nature of Equity-Mindedness

Organizing 101: You won’t believe how bad my files page looks! (clickbait?)

“Flexible and Diverse Approaches”: The Contingent Nature of Equity-Mindedness
“Flexible and Diverse Approaches”: The Contingent Nature of Equity-Mindedness avatar

Contingencies and Relevance

What strikes me most about the material for this week, both the video and the Conference for College Communication and Composition’s guidelines, is how much it talks about contingent and reflective teaching: much of the advice is incredibly context and situation dependent, modes of intervention that make sure that students don’t feel discouraged and, therefore, fall too far behind. This is always something I’m struggling with and attempting to improve. I ask myself frequently—when and how often should I email students missing class? Missing assignments? Having trouble paying attention or participating in class? Are these behaviors dependent on confusing course design and issues of access? It’s the contingencies that are the most difficult, but often most important. In an online classroom, many of these questions are emphasized by a course design that is in itself contingent and primarily asynchronous.

To address these contingencies, I find that two of the most important tools I employ are what Dr. Wood calls “being relational” and “being relevant.” Woods discusses being relational as providing a lot of contextualized and personalized feedback (and I want to emphasize personalized, since to me another aspect of relationality is the persona with which we engage with students). I do a lot of personalized, 98% encouraging feedback on Canvas discussion board posts and try to bring student posts into my lectures and into our discussions. I want to facilitate an idea of learning as conversational (and textual, thinking about online classes), demonstrating that really they aren’t just posting as busy work—they are starting conversations in an academic setting.

In terms of relevance, I frequently allow students to bring their own interests and expertise into the classroom and assign a wide range of materials inclusive of many communities (including people of color, LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, etc.—and I add to being race conscious, “being sexuality conscious,” “being disability conscious,” “being gender conscious,” etc.). I am especially interested in the intersection of a students’ own interests and their tendency to want to find safety and insulation within those interests. I include a rhetoric of music unit in ENGL 202 meant to address the intersection of those two areas. Students tend to want to wade in safe waters when it comes to music, and getting them outside of their comfort zone often becomes contentious. Initial reactions are generally “I don’t like this music/know anything about it, so why bother?”, which prompts a number of important conversations about openness, empathy, and engaging with ideas outside of what we usually engage with. (I used my daughter as an example this semester, who loves consuming all music: Imagine Dragons, Cardi B, Bjork, she finds delight in it all).

The unit, then, is just as much about rhetoric as it is about facilitating academic conversations about popular culture and reveling in, and intervening in, how even music can prompt contentious feelings (and us versus them ideologies). These conversations arise organically f2f, but now I wonder how they would emerge within a purely online space: would it be possible to get students to have these conversations as directly on Canvas? Would I need some other platform to demonstrate the need to engage with interests outside of what we often find comfortable? Though, one practice a fully online space is making me think about is the possibility of having students explore music posted by their peers—I have the most trouble in the f2f class getting students to share musical interests.

Speaking of Canvas…

Equity and Canvas

A lot of what I read from the Conference for College Communication and Composition’s guidelines made me think of Canvas, especially from the perspective of student complaints about Canvas. Accessibility and equity are difficult goals when using Canvas–it doesn’t work the same way on phones and computers and has a much less intuitive organizational structure (I personally feel) than Blackboard. I never had very much confusion about Blackboard–Canvas still perplexes students when we are halfway through the semester. The many options Canvas gives us also seem to be a point of contention for students: I’ve heard many unable to understand why instructors don’t universally use Canvas in the same ways. I try to adapt Canvas as I go, but I am also increasingly aware of the need to decenter Canvas as a hub and to also try to integrate other platforms into the mix (Google docs often serves this function, though maybe in too fluid of a way). But, then, does this just make access more confusing?

Equity—For whom?

This is where I let myself dip into grayer areas.

The balance between the positives and negatives of Canvas also has me thinking about another aspect of equity that has been especially difficult as I try to remain aware and conscious of student lives and experiences while designing courses: sometimes the promotion of equity passes over some students. For instance, one way I try to promote equity is through the course materials I assign. I steer completely clear of textbooks, and mostly try to do zero textbook cost classes (my ENGL 202 is free of anything to buy; I usually assign one relatively cheap print book in ENGL 100). I feel at that level I am promoting equity when it comes to issues of access and socioeconomic barriers. On the other hand, this creates a complex situation that may not be benefiting students who are not digital natives or who otherwise struggle with reading digital materials as opposed to print. An online class, even more digitally textual, compounds this.

I appreciate, then, the Conference for College Communication and Composition’s call to employ “flexible and diverse approaches to the teaching of reading and writing to ensure pedagogical as well as physical access.” I agree with the spirit of what this says, but also (as I often am) find myself frustrated with the vagueness, or even the difficulty of thinking what this could mean when we are too tied to a particular platform (Canvas) or medium (essay-writing).

(This second difficulty, being tied to assessing writing, is also why I laud Dr. Wood’s suggestion that allowing “male students of color…[to] submit a power point, a poem, a written paper, or produce a video demonstrating their learning outcomes” gives them the “opportunity to choose how they best demonstrate what they understand and learn best, often empowering them to produce knowledge,” while also worrying that this choice (for most disciplines, including writing) is not realistic when it comes to the type of writing we might want to encourage as English instructors. This has always seemed to be a dilemma to me, since I’d love to unanchor my classes from “traditional writing” and maybe integrate hypertext novels or poetry, but then poetry is not what students are writing as they go into their transfer institutions and careers, usually)

In other words: moving a class to an online space, I agree, definitely compounds issues of equity and refocuses the need for equity and accessibility, which are important to think about in course design, thinking about materials, and how we interact with students. Achieving consciousness (of a wide spectrum of underrepresented students) may not, I fear, be as simple as slogans like “be relational” and “technological equality.” All of these are excellent, important goals to work towards—but they are also heavily contingent and must be sought contextually and constantly by an instructor willing to adapt, innovate, and de-innovate as necessary, especially when aware of the technological barriers of online spaces.

To Collaborate, or not to Collaborate–What was the question?
To Collaborate, or not to Collaborate–What was the question? avatar

Excuse my goofy title, Megen’s was so clever I tried to compete

Group work has become increasingly important to my courses and, like Janette (thanks for the great video!), the day where I don’t implement a group component to my course is becoming rare. (I used to teach under the quarter system, where class periods were about an hour each time, so group work was a less frequent aspect of my pedagogical training–so the function of it within my classroom is evolving).

Collaborating Digitally – Some BImage result for group work memeenefits

Before getting into specifics about a collaborative assignment I do, I want to throw in a few thoughts I’ve been having that sort of reverses the conversation present in the bibliography for this week. The bibliography, and even Warnock to some degree, seems to focus on how online collaboration creates unique challenges not present in the class and that, really, in-class collaboration is potentially easier. I’m not sure how I feel about that overall, having not taught online, but I do think there are two points where online collaboration creates unique opportunities that rectify some of the difficulties of in-class groups.

  1. Group work is often difficult in classes because student friend-groups have already been established, are often brought into the class, and often make students reluctant to work with others. I’m experimenting in my f2f classes with how to work around this, but online group assignments really don’t need to take this into consideration as much. Of course, I’m sure certain people won’t work well with each other, but that’s something that evolves over time rather than, usually, something brought in on the first day. (I find it interesting, though, that Janette actually cites issues of personality online as a difficulty–I’m perhaps just dealing with an especially difficult set of f2f personalities right now!).
  2. Based on what Warnock says about the textual basis of online teaching, group work online allows for students themselves to create a conversation and introduce texts–rather than me introducing an object of analysis, students could post something to their group, and then have the group respond. This is of course possible f2f as well, but then the student introducing the text needs a new task. The asynchronous nature of online classes eliminates that problem.
  3. Online group work is meditative, rather than temporally bound. What I mean by this is, rather than having a task to accomplish within a set boundary, class, online discussion boards or google docs allow students to put ideas and images, walk away and think, and come back later after reflection.

Collaborative Assignments in my ENGL 100s

Before I get into specifics, here’s a sampling of group-based activities I have done f2f:

  • Have groups create, on paper, a game together that makes an argument about a topic
  • Have groups do the same as above, but use Twine to actualize the game
  • Have groups create an advertisement for a product using magazine clippings
  • Have groups analyze a website together (I often use the NRA and BlackLivesMatter websites)
  • The common activity of having students move around the room together answering questions on topics (last semester I taught on ENGL 100 based on gender that included questions like “Should all genders be integrated in sports?”)
  • Have students create short presentations about book chapters

I’ll focus the rest of the past on the first in my sampler platter: having students create games together.

I do this usually in a section of my class dedicated to rhetoric. We go through multiple forms of rhetoric and eventually end with procedural rhetoric, definitions below.

Image result for procedural rhetoric

We play a variety of games in class (this is also done as collaborative activities), on a variety of topics: immigration (Papers, Please), gender transition (dys4ia and Mainichi), bullying (Lim), economic inequality (Spent and Cart Life). (Usually I teach two or three of Image result for dys4iathese games per semester). Then, at the end of this unit, I have students work together to design a game, in writing, which does one of the following: 1) Makes an argument about some important topic to them or 2) Addresses a group that is usually underrepresented in the gaming community (we brainstorm about who is underrepresented.

The activity usually goes well: students tend to like it; they find it creative and interesting and thought provoking. I am often not as satisfied with it, though, because it always seems rushed. It always seemed like something that, in the bounded space of the classroom, had to be quick and simple rather than something that spanned more time. I feel like all of that would potentially change if I brought this activity online.

Through the asynchronous, unbounded, and meditative possibilities of online communication, I could turn this activity into a longer project.

  • A google doc could transform into a place not to just put thoughts, but also to draw and put images of characters, to find conceptual images, to link to potential music etc. I feel like this is all possible in-class, but that the urgency to do this now may siphon some of the creativity and exploration that less rigid time constraints will allow.
  • I could help groups use the polling features on Canvas to get marketing data, essentially, from the rest of the class: what type of character would you prefer? How should our game end? Etc.
  • I could have students record their own thoughts on their games and designs, explaining how they contributed to the group, as a way of assessing the activity.
  • Discussion boards could operate as spaces to test ideas, to see what other groups or doing, to collaborate between groups, to share existing games that students think might be good models.

There are a lot of possibilities here with an online class. All of this, again, could be done in a f2f class (and now that I’ve written it all, I am excited to potentially try it next semester–I like this idea now much better for a f2f class than I did when I originally thought of it, so think you blog sounding board), but online it seems like it would be so much more fluid and experimental.

I am realizing this post is becoming a monster, so I am going to end there (I want to jump away and start designing a prompt for this collaborative project now).

I hope the semester is going well for everyone and not like the meme below–

Image result for group work meme

Assessment in Advance: Fostering Anti-Authoritarian Feedback
Assessment in Advance: Fostering Anti-Authoritarian Feedback avatar

Reading through Chapters 11 and 12 of Teaching Writing Online has made me realize how much my pedagogy already reflects many online teaching methods, even though I’ve not yet taught an online course. (It’s funny, this week, one of my student asked me to walk her through our Canvas site because she was still confused. Afterwards, she thanked me for helping her because “I haven’t taken an online class before.” The comment seemed bizarre to me, and she didn’t qualify it in any way. Reading the chapter helped me better understand what she meant, though. I take for granted a lot of the tools in my on-site classes that, really, are also suited for online teaching.)

Commenting through Canvas

Overall, my main form of assessment and feedback have been via Canvas’s built-in commenting functions (SpeedGrader, is it called?). I use the comment and highlighting aspects of it. Before I transitioned to Canvas last year, I used Blackboard’s similar function for a couple of years (whatever that one was called). Before that, I was handwriting comments on paper copies. I have found that I do end up putting a lot more feedback on the digital versions, mostly because I type faster and find it easier to think when I’m at a computer (oddly enough). I do think I have a tendency to overwhelm students, so would like to find new ways to approach commenting. 

I also allow students to email me versions of their essay in advance for me to comment on, which somewhat minimizes my commenting on the final draft. I prefer, too, to get trough drafts digitally to office hours, which I feel is a bit taboo, but I think the feedback is better and that I don’t actually have to sacrifice a lot of the conversation. 

However, I also try to build in a lot of assessment and feedback before essays are even submitted.

Assessing in Advance

Digital tools (and specifically Canvas, in this case) have been really useful to me when it comes to making sure students can assess their own writing without too much intervention from me (similar to what Warnock says: “good teachers can facilitate discussions onside or online that feature students prominently, but at times, students need your guiding hand” (125)). I’m a big fan of learning through example, which I’ve built into my classes by simply having students put their essay drafts on Canvas discussion boards. This allows them to explore in a way unanchored from hard draft peer review (and from peer review in general, which students often find a drag–though I still do it, since it allows me to also hold informal office hours during class time). 

I’m skeptical of concepts of standards, because they are so top-down; using forums and discussions available digitally, however, create bottom-up “standards” that students can engage with. Students, then, absorb organizational structure, citing conventions, and other expectations simply by having a digital portfolio of student writing available to them. They see what is available to their writing, rather than being told (since the latter rarely ever works, at least for me).

Along with minimizing my own role as a figure of authority in favor to student-to-student learning, I also like Warnock’s idea of seeing my role as one of engaging in conversation than simply bestowing summative comments. I use digital tools to do this to some degree as well; I assign “reading responses” that are also posted on public discussion boards. These reading responses usually address aspects of the essay or attempt to develop skills relevant to the essay (without mentioning “the essay”); especially for about the first half of the semester, I respond at length to these posts, focusing on encouraging student ideas and avoiding too much “fixing” grammar or critiquing ideas. Many of the ideas ultimately end up in the essay and, therefore, I have already added my assessments in ahead of time. This is of course all possible in paper copies, but the conversation is then much less public and the record of the conversation disappears to quickly, for both me and my students.

This has also made me think of how I could use audiovisual means to further support this conversation, making it more of a “f2f” type of conversation rather than “textual” in the way Warnock describes (although, his definition of “text-based” is both fascinating to me and also a bit limiting). I am a little wary of audiovisual means of communication; they seem too performative and awkward to me, but if more natural conversations could be facilitated, I’d want to adopt more of those means (maybe through Skype or something like that, but overall I’ve mostly rejected tools like that. I have used Google hangouts when I worked at a graduate writing center, but it just felt so clunky and unnatural).

A lot of my strategies are, then, preemptive rather than tied to a particular moment of “assessment.”

In terms of reflecting a bit on the future (though the future is scattered throughout everything I’ve written already), I would like to figure out a way to use tools to better assess one of the more important aspects of student writing to me, close reading. Things like comments (whether voice, video, or traditional) and quizzes don’t seem to be particularly useful for getting students to really understand how to better close read. Often, when my students revise their essays, the close reading still remains lacking. This is one area I’m still at a loss to figure out, and Warnock doesn’t have many answer I like (comment banks and macros are rather frightening possibilities to me–they are so impersonal).

The theme in this post seems to be that I strive for a form of assessment that feels natural, decenters my authority, and is personal rather than mechanized.