Do Online Students Learn? READ? WRITE? Yep!
S. Gutiérrez

Scott Warnock’s chapters, “Readings: Lots of Online Options, But the Book Is Not Dead!” and “Conversation: Online, Course ‘Talk’ Can Become Writing,” present approaches that produce positive results (and pitfalls) in online teaching.

This week’s material has allowed me to reflect on the issue I was attempting to grapple two weeks ago: Am I providing too much feedback? Again, the answer that online professors suggest is that too much feedback can muffle students’ voices, and it makes sense. If a student always gets too much criticism (feedback), then why would he or she want to write a response?  Hmm Shockingly, Gilly Salmon’s commenting guidelines are the following: “enough, but not to much, intervention” (qtd. in Warnock 76). Warnock then adds commenting “should be not more than one in four messages from you” (76). I do recognize now that I need to back off a bit since I assumed, prior to reading Warnock, that responding to all my students was part of the online teaching methodology.

I was surprised to learn Warnock provides extra credit to diligent and active members of conversations (81). I found that practice a bit troubling.

Shoudn’t all online students be treated equally? What message is being sent to students who do not meet Professor Warnock’s expectations?

On How to Produce Well-Crafted Responses

Warnock’s approach to grading in Teaching Writing Online will be morphing into my rubrics and prompts. I noticed the nonconducive pattern the author refers to occurred this last week in my online class. Warnock provides the following solution to avoid copycat posts: “My rules include posts should contribute to the overall conversation. If I post and opening prompt that asks a question, and seven students simply respond to it in similar fashion, by student seven I am giving 8s, even on otherwise good posts. This is one way students are building on the conversation” (88). My guidelines state that students must present at least five sentences (Recent change). From now on, I will specify “critical” sentences that do not simply repeat their classmates’ comments. I will consider a word count since “Me too!!!”  (qut. in Warnock 80), of course, “does not qualify as an ‘official’ post” (80). And surprisingly, students do write these responses under time constraints. For instance, this this past we concluded Whole-class Workshops in my online class. A student wrote three sentences, and one of them was “Great work!” Sigh. (FYI: I overlapped the research paper due date with the last Whole-class Workshop. I will do my best not to replicate that issue.)

No-no in Online Teaching

My goal as an online instructor is for every activity to prepare students for their essays. I might even be crafting assignments that are to closely related to the class’s essay prompt. Because I want students to succeed, I include several application paragraphs for their last essay, since in my eyes, the material can be difficult to grasp. However, Warnock critiques this approach by warning, “If all posts are extended essays in response to my prompts, the message becomes a series of disconnected essays responding to the instructor’s questions than a conversation (82). I will revisit my online discussion forums and will see if my prompts need revisiting since I present rather complex prompts compared to Warnock’s message board one-sentence questions/prompts (86). To be honest, from a critical student’s perspective, I would expect a professor to write more than one sentence (As a student writer, I observed and appreciated my professors’ rhetorical approaches). As a college student, I never took online classes prior to teaching online, so unfortunately I do not know what most online English prompts look like.

Contemplating Synchronous Activities

Another topic Warnock shares in chapter 7 and 8 is an introduction to synchronous approaches even though he prefers asynchronous message boards, which I rely on in the online setting. In the next few weeks, before the start of my summer online class, I will be contemplating at least one synchronous activity I can repeat throughout the semester.

Lens Perspective Writing

For my online critical thinking and writing class for Mt. San Jacinto College, I have to teach five essays. For Essay #5, I present two prompts—one for students who are interested in analyzing a film and the other for students who are interested in writing about two texts. For Option I, students will apply WEB Du Bois’s the double consciousness/the veil to Jennifer Baszile’s The Black Girls Next Door. What follows is Option II lens perspective assignment:

NOTE: I will be returning to film in my f2f classes; that is why I selected this assignment.

Films through a Lens Perspective Discussion Board Forum in Preparation for Essay #4

For this activity, using Seger, Hagedorn, Omi, and/or St. John’s as a critical framework, analyze the representation of a specific character in a film of your choice. Be sure to include detailed observations and an intellectual analysis. That is, based on Seger, Hagedorn, Omi and/or St. John’s lens perspective, how does the director depict the character? What is the director’s purpose? How does the director’s representation of the character affect the viewer? Add a screenshot of a scene that includes the character you selected, so your classmates can follow your keen observations. Post your semiotic analysis by Saturday, April 28, 2018, at 10:30 PM, and reply to two of your fellow classmates’ posts by Sunday, April 29, 2018, at 10:30 PM. (10%)

Length: One paragraph (AXES)

Check-Off List:

  • Does your assertion include the name of the film and your argument?
  • Have you presented a vivid description of the character to support your claim?
  • Did you include a lens perspective?
  • Have you provided your rationale?
  • Does the paragraph follow a logical spatial order using prepositional phrases and/or transitions?
  • Have you carefully proofread your work, including spelling?
  • Does your bring the paragraph to a satisfactory close?

Writer’s Tips:

NOTE: Summary is not critical thinking.

        Discussion Forum Post Rubric

Full credit

Presents a limited topic, a lens perspective, well organized central supported idea, an abundance of telling details, apt word choice, sophisticated sentence structure, and mastery of grammar and usage conventions of standard English.

                    Replies

 

Two replies made prior to the due date. Both replies demonstrate thoughtful feedback.

 

Partial credit 

Presents a limited topic, a lens perspective, some organization and inadequate development, a general word choice, and some distracting errors in grammar and usage.

   

Two replies are made prior to the due date that reflect little to no effort to provide thoughtful feedback.

 

Not passing

Missing an argument and a lens perspective, a lack of organization,  inadequate development, a vocabulary that is too general, sentences without much subordination or parallelism, and serious errors in grammar and usage.

 

0 points

No replies are posted.

 

 

Culturally Responsive Digital Reading and Writing Practices
curry mitchell

The following list of resources and annotations seeks to explore:

  • writing/reading assignments, activities, instruction, and assessments that promote equity, diversity, and inclusiveness
  • modes of content delivery–tools and apps–that activate cultural capital, foster class community, establish teacher presence, facilitate non-cognitive skill building, and invite and support multilingual discourse
  • pedagogy and theory, such as Laura Rendon discusses in Sentipensante, that allow us to imagine and practice student centeredness within the fully online classroom

If you would like to contribute to this bibliography, please join our WritingwithMachines Canvas course and add your annotated resource to our Discussion on Culturally Responsive Digital Reading and Writing Practices before April 11th. Please join us April 12th from 7:00-8:00 in Zoom for a culminating discussion of pedagogy and a demonstration of tools and activites.

Thank you to Tony Burman, Nery Chapeton-Lamas, and Jade Hidle for contributing!


 

Things to Listen to

Equity in Learning Design” with Christian Friedrich. Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, December 7, 2017. http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/equity-learning-design/

Friedrich offers an assessment of course design based on three principles of autonomy, competency, and relatedness, which, she argues, activate ones natural curiosity and motivate students to not only persist but engage within instructional experiences online. Her theory culminates in the following advice: “Examine your courses. Take the answers out. Put the challenges in.”

Diversity and Inclusion – How Does Higher Ed Rate?” with Amer F. Ahmed. Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, February 22, 2018. http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/diversity-inclusion-higher-ed-rate/

Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast episode that focuses on diversity/inclusion in higher ed.

Recommended by Nery Chapeton-Lamas

Something to Watch

Advertising and Cultural Complexity” with Veda Partalo.TED Talk, 2013. https://youtu.be/HhzvEBJ9fEA

Students extract main points from Partalo’s argument about the relationship between advertising/marketing and her identity as a first-generation immigrant, then apply that point to a current ad campaign that reflect topical issues of cultural, ethnic, and/or racial identity.

Recommended by Jade Hidle

Things to Read

Sentipensante (sensing/thinking) Pedagogy : Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice and Liberation by Laura Rendon, 2009. (paywall: access through MCC Library) http://prox.miracosta.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=253662&site=ehost-live

Although this book isn’t focused specifically on the online environment, Rendon’s focus on a feeling/thinking pedagogy is wonderful, and many of her examples and discussions of content can easily work in the online environment.

Recommended by Tony Burman

The Online Teaching Survival Guide : Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips by Judith V. Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad, 2016. (paywall: access through MCC Library), prox.miracosta.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.prox.miracosta.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1346457&site=eds-live.

Why it’s cool:  Tony chose this piece because of the points the authors make about online course design. Specifically, I appreciate the discussion they present in Chapter 5: Four Phases of a Course:Themes and Happenings. In this discussion they address course beginnings(where they discuss presence, community, and clear expectations), early middle(best practices and principles), late middle (letting go of power), and the end (pruning, reflecting and wrapping up).  Constructivism…learners create knowledge

Recommended by Tony Burman

Critical Pedagogy in the Computer Classroom: Politicizing the Writing Space” by Donna LeCourt, Computers and Composition,1998. (paywall: access through MCC Library) EBSCOhost, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S8755461598900020

Tony contributed this article because the author (1) examines academic writing as a ‘discourse’ informed by ideology, a nice departure from academic writing as correct writing, and (2) provides a number of examples of how the online writing space can allow students to write in a variety of different discourses and thereby see the value in their own writing/voice/etc. LeCourt argues that the online space can actually allow us to repoliticize writing in ways that focus on giving students power even if they aren’t experts in academic discourse(s).

Recommended by Tony Burman

Classroom Diversity and Inclusive Pedagogy from the ACUE Newsletter. February 22, 2018, https://mailchi.mp/acue/embracing-student-diversity?e=e0f24a198b

The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) has a lot and they also sponsor a podcast that’s great. You can sign up for their newsletter and check out there podcast on the ACUE community page.

Recommended by Nery Chapeton-Lamas

Something to Try

In-class Collaborations

A Collaborative, Critical Reading Discussion Activity created by curry mitchell, fall 2017. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1C6rKCj_hgT5xFkid88P8BO2SM_R2uaJs57bz6QCnhwI/edit?usp=sharing

curry created this collaborative activity last semester to facilitate a discussion about a dense article that was integral to a major writing assignment.The activity merges “fessing up” group strategies with equity techniques that pre-position every student to participate. By assigning roles, managing space, and validating all forms of contributions, this activity increases the opportunities for each individual student to contribute to and benefit from the discussions, from the quietest student to those who did not read before class. Feel free to make a copy of the linked google doc, and treat the topics and questions to fit your discipline and outcome goals.

#Goals for my hypothetical online course
#Goals for my hypothetical online course avatar

Warnock’s recommendation in the introduction to organize the class around “your teaching style and strategies (ix) resonated with me, and made the daunting task of setting up an online course seem more approachable.  I started thinking about a few parts of my onsite classes that I like the best and I think are most helpful to students. They include:  

  1. Student-generated information on the elements of writing. Usually a few (or a lot) of students have prior knowledge about how an essay is organized, what goes into the intro, how to do an MLA in-text citation, etc. In my onsite classes I acknowledge this and have the students fill in the blanks during these discussions. For an online course, perhaps I could have a blank google doc that students can edit, filling in the info and providing suggestions to each other about some useful writing tools. We could have a day or so to fill in a bunch of information, and everyone could contribute at least one idea. Ideally it would help students gain confidence before they begin writing.
  2. “Conversations” about the readings. This is my favorite part of the onsite course, and I’m not sure exactly how it would work online. In a f2f class, the initial questions I ask to generate discussions are merely a jumping off point, and students go off on tangents, relate it to themselves, and explore unanticipated areas of the text. I’d like to keep some of that flexibility, and some possible ways to do that might be to have students come up with these discussion questions, or different groups work on different questions, or lots of students responding their peers’ posts.
  3. Feedback at all stages of writing process. In my class, we break the essay down into small chunks, and peers and I provide some type of feedback at every stage. In my onsite course we are limited by the number of times we meet each week, but online I could play with the due dates in a more effective way. I would like students to write about or submit some sort of brainstorm initially to get ideas flowing. Perhaps they could be in groups determined by the prompt they wish to answer. Then submitting and getting comments on an outline, a paragraph or two of the essay, then full rough draft.  Perhaps the course could be organized by modules, then week 1-4 or whatever within each module. Each unit’s activities will follow a similar trajectory so the expectations and workload are consistent, as curry mentioned in his video.

I’m sure I could think of more, but perhaps it’s best to start small so I’M not overwhelmed, never mind the students!

Additionally, something that struck me in this week’s reading was the reminder that an online class, as Warnock points out, “by its very nature – requires students to learn to use writing to interact with others” as well as  EVERY SINGLE OTHER TASK (xi) in order to complete the course. At the very least, students will get tons of writing practice in different venues online, whether casual or formal, with the instructor or other students.

Lastly, here is my video tour, and here’s the link to the original video I reference.

(After posting 5 times with the video embedded in my preview but not on the blog, I’ve used a hyperlink instead…I only have so much patience.)

Time, place, and manner.
J. Williams

I definitely want my students to collaborate.  Two reasons, primarily: 1) I see this kind of interaction as a fundamental remedy for the distance in distance education, and 2) it’s also a key component of my on-the-ground courses.

However.

In the spring I often inserted a caution into my discussions of online learning whenever the conversation drifted toward synchronous tasks/learning, and I think that the topic of collaboration certainly knocks on this door.  The text, in part, discusses the topic with this in mind.  And, my first reason above for wanting to integrate collaborative learning into the online environment — drawing down the distance between online learners — would certainly benefit from a little synchronicity.  Yet, I feel like students sign up for online course to take advantage of the flexibility the courses offer, and that contract begins to erode when instructors establish time, day, and place requirements.  I often have students in the military taking my online courses from distant time zones or on submarines, which really limits their ability to participate synchronously.

Yet.

I like my on-the-ground group assignments.  They rock the course outcomes.  And they definitely need synchronicity — in their current form — to maximize their benefits.  Small groups that can set their own schedule for synchronicity begin to address the issue I mention above, but they, too, make impossible demands on some of my online learners, which is why, in the past 10 years, I have assigned no synchronous work in my online courses.  I have made some on-the-ground group assignments into individual assignments, but I have mostly scrapped the collaborative work that needs synchronicity in favor of other methods.

The collaborative assignment I’d most like to migrate is a group quiz I offer in my on-the-ground English 100 courses.  The quiz is assigned to groups of three to four students and takes a full meeting to complete (1:50) if the students are diligent, know their stuff — and collaborate effectively.  The students are presented with an article to read that articulates a position on an issue of the day, then the quiz requires that they demonstrate competence in critical reading, writing, researching, and MLA Style.

I know that in Canvas you can create quizzes and assign them to particular cohorts of students, so that is not difficult.  However, in class (I just administered one of these today) the students delegate, huddle in pairs or triplets over computer screens then jump to another computer and compare, check each others work, teach each other, separate the pages on the quiz and pass them around, scribble, cross out, use scratch paper, reference multiple web sites — in other words, they collaborate, and they do it in a messy, real-world way that is hard to translate to the online environment.  (I would say this parallels the issue I discussed two weeks ago with translating my written feedback to the online environment.)

To approximate this on-the-ground experience, I think they’d need a live video chat/conference, to be able to see each other’s screens, and to be able to all work off of the same live document (the quiz) — to start.

Oh, and they all need to be able to schedule a time to collaborate.

Thoughts?

Group Work in a Digital Class
Group Work in a Digital Class avatar

                As an instructor who builds his class around group work, I am excited for the possibilities that the digital classroom opens. In my F2F class, I always have an activity that allows the students to put the idea we just discussed into action. We always follow these activities up with a discussion about how the idea came through in the activity. While this structure has worked well, I have always thought these group activities would benefit from a slower and longer application of the idea.

 I think the main benefit in transferring these group activities online is time.  For instance, in my class today, I had students work in groups to write a brief speech on any topic they wanted (I urged a light-hearted topic given the sad events of last night). The rules for this assignment were simple: write a professional speech you could deliver to fellow students and sneak in a few logical fallacies. While the groups had an amazing time trying to mask fallacies with professional language and logical support, the discussion and sharing portion of the assignment had to be trimmed due to time constraints. If this activity was translated for an OWC, groups could collaborate on a google doc and in chat; this collaboration technique would also afford agency to those students who often get steamrolled in group conversations. Not only could students spend more time incorporating logical support, but other groups could visit and see how their peers are approaching the activity. The discussion/decompression aspect of the assignment could also be developed and allow more time for students to reflect prior to responding. I imagine all the wonderful conversation that could arise in the class discussion of these speeches, but I also wonder if that hilarity I witnessed in the classroom today would still be there.  With a creative activity like this, it is those rapid-fire conversations students have that make the activity so effective.  If I desynchronize an activity that is supposed to be fun—by my definition of fun—will those funny moments where students wittily respond to and build upon each other disappear? It is difficult for me to know for sure until I actually implement this activity online, but I guess I could always require a synchronous meeting or Zoom for the brainstorming portion.

I am also intrigued with how peer review will translate into the OWC.  I enjoy having a Q&A before each workshop, and I really enjoy hearing students have an honest “state of affairs” about their work. I know these conversations could be pushed into the digital space, but the synchronous nature of the F2F workshop is so appealing. I love hearing students give meaningful feedback; it feels like validation (they remembered my lecture!), so maybe this concern is more selfish. However, the one thing that I think will improve in this switch is the participation rate. I have noticed that my attendance seems to dip when it comes to workshops in my course. I imagine this is because students procrastinate and bail on class to avoid the guilt (even though I recommend they come regardless), but in the asynchronous online workshop, students could give feedback over the course a few days. This wider window could help those procrastinators catch up, and could facilitate a much higher participation rate. With how ubiquitous technology has become, and with so much of our daily communication happening in a digital space, it will be interesting to see how successful these conversations turn out to be.

Food for Collaboration
Food for Collaboration avatar

Full Disclosure – I started working on this post and generating ideas for a collaborative assignment before reading Chapter 14. There were two simple reasons behind this approach: I had a few ideas that I didn’t want to lose, so I started writing before they had a chance to escape. The second reason is about influence: I wanted to get me on the page first and then see if Warnock and I shared some of the same ideas. This resulted in a section that encourages students to consider collaboration approaches and a system that works for the group, which speaks to Warnock’s point about student roles (149). I found this section to be particularly helpful and assuring. That being said, while I’m definitely an online newbie, at this point I’m not sure I agree with Warnock’s idea of “identifying a clear leader” (149) in each group that instructors can check in with. It makes sense in terms of instructors being able to check in with designated students, but I don’t like the idea of establishing, at least early on, roles with obvious connotations. I’d prefer to let these roles surface gradually, organically, and ideally remain title-free. However, as you’ll read below, I do emphasize the importance of developing a system and setting “reasonable goals and deadlines early on that can be adjusted based on the needs of the project and group.”

Finally, perhaps this was just me, but I was really hoping Warnock would share actual content—i.e., the instructions and guidelines he gives his students for the argument website project he mentions (148). I wanted to see what the students were seeing to get a better sense of how he actually delivers ideas. To what extent is his language bound/closed vs. unbound/open? Where and when, if at all, does he offer clear “must/should” requirements? How does he go about inviting his students to explore exactly? For this reason in particular, I’m including actual steps/content that I’m planning to share with my own students later this semester. But it’s just a draft. I look forward to hearing any thoughts on how I’m delivering the assignment to students. Is there too much at times? Too little? Am I too prescriptive? Room for clarification? Where are the holes or gaps? Potential issues down the road? Is the reflection letter too short? Too long? Is the project too complicated and ambitious? Grading thoughts? Do I need additional layers? How might you rethink parts? Should I scrap the whole thing?

Context – In a few weeks, my students will wrap up Unit 2 and begin Unit 3. This third unit will focus on food production and ultimately result in essays based on John Robbins’s No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Food Revolution. After reading the book and getting a sense of the various topics—pork, chicken, beef, soy, chocolate, coffee and more—students will consider what’s not in the book and eventually argue how a new chapter on a specific topic would strengthen it. In other words, they get to join the conversation. What’s particularly challenging for students is making clear, meaningful connections. They have to know the book well in order to argue why a new chapter idea is a good fit; they have to be able to articulate, for instance, how a new chapter would build upon or set up existing chapters and ideas. It’s kind of like a book review. Kind of.

In addition to reading the book and thinking about new chapter ideas, students will also take part in a collaborative group project related to the topic of food. Essentially, they’ll be creating brochures that spotlight human rights issues tied to food. This emphasis compliments the third section of the book, “Industrial Food Production—and Other Dirty Dealings,” which examines human rights issues in the chocolate and coffee industries.

Below are some of the instructions I’m planning to share with students. I’m still developing content, and I’m even thinking about delivering the content through a Canva brochure like the kind they’ll be creating:

The Group Project

The Challenge – This assignment includes two parts, the brochure and the reflection letter.

The Brochure & Audience – Together with your group, you’ll create a stunning brochure designed specifically for English 100 students. This will be your specific audience. Building on some of the ideas from Unit 3 and No Happy Cows, your brochure will spotlight a specific human rights issue tied to food production and include the following elements:

  • Visuals – Since it’s going to be a stunning brochure, you’re probably going to need at least two relevant visuals.
  • Words – You’ll contextualize your visuals by addressing current status, causes, impacts, previously attempted/proposed solutions, and your group’s new proposed solution. What’s taking place today? How might you introduce and show the issue? What are some of the causes behind this issue? How did we get here? How does the issue impact people (physically, mentally, etc.), specific communities, industries, the environment and more? What has been done to address the issue? What new solution has your group created?
  • Works Cited – Of course you have to use one of your panels to cite your sources, which include your visuals.

Ultimately, to create a memorable brochure, you’ll need to utilize the tools you acquired from our second unit on communication and rhetoric. In other words, you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to use visual and textual rhetoric based on a specific audience. It’s not just about generating awesome content. It’s also about how you deliver this awesome content.

The Reflection Letter – After you complete your brochure with your group, you’ll develop your own reflection letter (500 words minimum), based on your unique experience, for future English 100 students. Essentially, you’ll reflect on the collaboration experience—your system, the process of creating the brochure, how you thought about the audience, your role in the group, what worked, what didn’t, what you would do differently and more. In addition to explaining the experience, you’ll also need to provide specific (showing vs. telling) advice to future English 100 students about how they should approach the assignment. You’ll submit your reflections through Turnitin, which is to say, I’m the only one who will be reading these reflections.

The System & Getting Started – Figuring out the best way to collaborate will be essential to your success.  What works for one group, might not work for another, so try to develop a system that works for your group. Some of you might begin with a Google Doc (set to “edit”) to brainstorm ideas. Others might start by adding initial thoughts to the DBQ 10 post. There are also options like email, FaceTime, Google Duo, and video conferencing sites like Zoom. Finally, if you’re in the same area, some of you might even find that meeting in person at a coffee shop or MCC is the most efficient way to get started. Overall, it’s probably a good idea to get a sense of schedules and see when folks have time to work on the project. Even if you can’t meet in person or chat via video call, you’ll probably be more productive if you set reasonable goals and deadlines early on that can be adjusted based on the needs of the project and group. Without a sense of schedules and some kind of system, you could easily grow frustrated waiting around for a response or for someone to submit a portion of the project. Seriously: Get organized early to avoid headaches later.

The Issue – After you chat with your classmates and establish a system that works for your group, you should start researching various human rights issues tied to food production. Where should you start? Excellent question! Personally, I think Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are great places to locate current issues and legit articles, but there are plenty of others just a few clicks away. Don’t forget our wonderful library and librarians—they’re excellent resources—and don’t forget about moving beyond Google. There’s Google Scholar, for instance, as well as MiraCosta’s Databases. Once you’ve had a chance to share your research with your group, you’ll need to select a human rights issue to feature in your brochure.

The Template – Head over to Canva, which you already used for DBQ 8, and check out the “Brochure” templates. You and your group will need to decide on a template. Don’t forget your audience.

The Grading – Half of your grade will be based on your group’s brochure and half will be based on your reflection letter to future English 100 students.

The Groups – Open DBQ 10 to discover the magic that is your unique group.

Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online
Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online avatar

Last week, we finished a group assignment in my f2f classes that I think might migrate nicely to the online classroom.

The assignment asks students to think critically about web sources and has two parts: a larger group component and a partner presentation.

The first task is completed in even numbered groups of 4 or 6 students. Students first must define “information counterfeits” such as propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, fake news, and alternative facts. Students then are to find an example (either a general example or a specific item from a web site) of each. 

The first term they must define is information, which is sneakingly challenging. Last week a group identified statements such as “My flip-flops are black” and “Your hair is blond’ as information, and their discussion about how they might verify these statements led to more and more questions about how we verify facts—how do we agree on primary sources and where do we have consensus of basic facts?  In f2f classes, this activity generates much engagement and laughter and (hopefully) critical discussion.

The final part of this first component asks students to define the terms gullible, skeptical, and cynical. They then write a brief paragraph answering the following question: Using these terms, describe how careful consumers of information should approach what they see, hear, and read.

This activity culminates in a large group discussion in which I ask questions about how students normally seek out information. Where do you usually go? (A: Google, Yahoo, social media sites.) How do you know you can trust the information—that is, how do you know the information you’re consuming is not propaganda or disinformation? (A: never really thought too much about it, unless it’s obviously a spoof.)

This discussion leads nicely into an introduction of the partner presentation part of the assignment. The goal of this component is to simulate “real life” research. Students partner off and choose a topic to research. Topics are important: I let them choose anything . . . as long as it is one with competing viewpoints. The assignment asks students to find one trustworthy source and one untrustworthy source. A secondary objective if to find “gray area” web sources—ones that are not obviously trustworthy (like academic papers) or obviously untrustworthy (like a page with dancing gifs).

The presentation portion of the assignment is low key: the pair tells us what topic they are researching and then silently previews each of their sources—in no particular order—by slowing scrolling through the page. The class has to vote on which is the trustworthy source and which is the untrustworthy. After we’ve voted, the pair explains which is which, outlining at least five reasons why they found the source trustworthy or not. There are a few “rules”: no .edu, .gov, no sources found via the databases, and no Wikipedia sources.

In f2f classes, the first part of the assignment is completed using Google Docs and the second via the Discussions in Canvas.


I can imagine migrating this activity into an online classroom. I think it already features some of the key points from Janette’s video.

1) Student “buy-in
I think it has “buy-in.” The subtext of the activity (i.e. not being duped by stuff on the internet) offers buy-in, and students love the idea of researching anything they want and of finding tricky web sites.
2) Clear expectations
I’ve finessed this assignment for a few semesters, modifying it make sure it more accurately reflects “real life” scenarios, making the expectations realistic (I originally had students find three sources for each—too much!) and specific. I’m sure I can be more clear, though. If there is only one thing I’ve learned from teaching, I can never be clear enough!!

In the online classroom, I would want to try the presentations as a synchronous meeting. I first thought it would fine asynchronouslywith students recording and uploading their presentations for us to view (with a pause for voting)–but I’m leaning against this idea because is seems like mere delivery of information. I want the discussion that happens during the presentations, which I think might be more valuable than the actual presentations. I would love feedback from experienced online teachers, though. It seems like online students might resist synchronous meetings.
3) Baby steps
I think this assignment is a good example of the baby steps that Janette discusses. Just one tiny part of an essay—quality sources- ha!

Without my illegible handwriting, how will they learn anything?
J. Williams

I’m going to open with — I like my illegible handwriting in the margins of student papers.  I find it difficult to capture the same kind of flourish in the online environment.  And, I have, through years of repetitive thinking, convinced myself that my students find the scribbles endearing.

That said, I really do prefer to scratch it out on a physical surface.  I find that I can leave a more dynamic comment that way, literally drawing connections between disparate parts of a paper by … drawing.  I am also faster at leaving feedback in this format — at least, at this time I am — which our author brought up as a legitimate concern just in case some of us have a hundred or more students making similar mistakes in their writing.

To this end, I have been eyeing the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, thinking that I might be able to approximate the physical grading in the electronic environment by using a stylus to write on the electronic copies students send.  I have been teaching online for 10 years, and I have spent a lot of time waiting for this moment when technology would finally catch up and allow me to return to a pre-technology form of grading.  Yet, last spring, during the first leg of this prep, we spent some time considering whether we should be trying to force our on-the-ground practices into the online environment unchanged or whether what we are really talking about is a translation of those practices.  In other words, we should be taking our best practices from our years of on-the-ground teaching and re-imagining them in the online environment.

So, I should be asking myself, How does my handwritten feedback translate to the electronic grading environment?

And, I think the answer is — it doesn’t.  What does translate is my commitment to substantive feedback.  So, what tools are available in the online environment that might not only facilitate the communication of feedback to students but enhance it?

One strategy I will use will be to reduce the amount of time I spend on low-end, repeated comments through macros.  If I can auto-fill the comments I make a million times across student papers, like those associated with punctuation and in-text citation formatting, I can spend more time on high-end feedback.  I have resisted this move because it has always felt like, well, cheating.  However, if I am writing the same comment fifty times in a single grading session, what’s the difference between my repeated handwritten note and the one that the computer fills in automatically?

Legibility.

Another tool that I plan to make use of is combining typed comments with voice comments.  The opportunity for this has existed for a while, but not the ease of it.  I trained in Canvas in the spring, and I am teaching my first two courses in this CMS this fall, and including voice comments while grading is integrated into this system and easy to use.  I like the opportunity to explain a comment I make with a quick verbal elaboration, rather than getting into typing out a lengthy response.  It’s what I would do if a student approached me in class to go over a bit of feedback he or she received.  I can also see using this feature for my global, end comments on papers.  Video feedback is also pretty easy to use through Canvas, but I am not convinced that it will provide something essential that I can’t accomplish with a combination of typed and voice feedback.

I don’t know that these strategies really affect my philosophy about providing feedback so much as begin to satisfy my concerns that feedback in the online environment has the potential to be less than the student needs.