Reflections from the Week’s Social Software Adventures, Part I: Juniata

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The Presentation Slides

I’ve arrived back from an intense, stimulating four days immersed in social software at Juniata College and Wooster to find a sloggy January-thaw reality in Vermont (sheeting rain, 50 degrees–ugly skies with a deep freeze forecast) and a blog with a futzy template (for anyone looking for my usual flickr, list of papers and courses, and categories, right now they are all the way at the end of the entries —scroll, scroll, scroll–until I can get the IT guys to realign whatever went out of whack–I tried to figure it out to no avail…)

I had a great time meeting some remarkable faculty members at Juniata College, learning about the concerns and questions surrounding the introduction of social software into their undergraduate classrooms. Getting out of my own institution puts important pressure on my thinking on the place of new technologies in the liberal arts — it was invaluable to gain that kind of fresh perspective both as classroom social software user and edublogger. Many thanks to the great folks at Juniata.

Being the fine teachers they are, the 28 faculty members pushed me hard about the real vs. hyped value of blogs, wikis, RSS and tagging in courses across the curriculum; about time issues–both in terms of the time it would add to their already pressed schedules to put social software into play in effective ways and the time using software in the classroom would take away from the focus on course content; and about other kinds of potential compromises and losses (such as the magic of a class community coming together in a room to explore ideas for the first time, the deep pleasures of sustained engagement with a text) that might result from moving away from strictly traditional modes of expression and communication. Would learning be compromised? What actually happens to a classroom–to the time spent together–if so much time outside of class is engaged in discussing online the themes of the class? How can a teacher read all the discussion, and make sure students aren’t heading down roads of shallow or misguided thinking? Ah, the whole issue of control, of responsibility, of the role of the teacher surfaced.

We spent 8:30 – 2:30 engaged in such talk on Wednesday before I zoomed off to Ohio in my wee rental car. When I left them, they were still at it with their skilled IT staff. I look forward to following the developments in Juniata classrooms over the next few semesters–I have the feeling that many will find social software not to be the add-on they feared; social software is not interior decoration if woven into the content and filling pedagogical needs; rather it becomes the architecture of a course.

Indeed, after six hours of discussion, peppered with as many concrete examples as I could come up with on my feet, I think they opened up to ways a well-planned and creative use of social software creates opportunities to make learning in our disciplines transparent, connected, and electrifying. As the blog(s) and/or the wiki(s) (with RSS and tagging and a welcoming of audio and image) become the course–as we give students more responsibility for their learning and each other, instead of becoming watered down, lightweight “fun-only” courses, our classes deepen, and the students engage with the subject matter inside the class and outside of their own accord. Students connect the often abstract learning in the course to their experience of the world–and that’s when the aha! moments really kick in. So, yes, I was energized by that day, so much so that the four-plus hours of hurtling down Pennsylvania & Ohio highways to make it to NITLE’s Social Software Users’ Group Meeting at Wooster passed far more quickly than I would have guessed.

Over the next few days, I will post a reflection on my adventures in Wooster, including my delight in seeing so many FACULTY and so many WOMEN among the twenty-seven of us! (Indeed, I’m working a post on that very subject–how few the female voices and how few the undergraduate liberal arts faculty voices are in the most attended-to corners of the edublogging world.) For now, here’s the link to the wiki–feel free to cruise around the notes jotted and the pictures snapped during the open-space meeting. I had hoped to blog, but my role of co-facilitator kept me on my feet or tapping wiki notes. And truth be known, I’m still working on my blogging-in-the-moment skills–I prefer to use my blog to reflect and synthesize rather than to report.

Much as I dislike PowerPoint presentations (giving and sitting through them), I did prepare and show slides–I’ve had too many experiences when network connections have crashed mid-presentation to trust going live-only with the blogs; I will upload the presentation slides on Monday when I can put them on a server (THEY’RE AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST), but for now, here’s a summary of the slides, plus links. Note the last-minute tweaking of the talk title (opening the talk to a wider audience than I had first anticipated).

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Slide 2: Writing Prompt: (doubled as a chance to try out posting to a freshly set-up blog):
What are your pedagogical goals?
How does technology intersect with those goals?
What are your questions and concerns about using Web technologies (blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, tags, etc.) in this course?

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Bob Sprankle’s Third-Graders Podcasting

Will Richardson’s High School Journalism Blog
High Schoolers on a wiki
Underground High School Newspaper
California Digital Storytelling Contest for High School Students

Canterbury Tales High School Project
Oral history Project (High School)

SLIDE 4: The Writing Divide–The personal vs. the academic realms (no links)

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The Chronicle of Higher Education 11/05

SLIDE 6: Overwhelming Realities–speed of change, classroom pressures, the baffling array of tools (no links)

SLIDE 7: First Year of College–Setting the tone, providing a transition, engaging the passion for learning vs. pressures of content loading (no links)

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Introduction to Creative Writing
Writing Across the Arts

Contemporary Ireland through Fiction and Film

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SLIDE 10: slide10.jpgIrish blog–Front page
Summer Assignment Page

SLIDE 11: Extending the Teaching Moment
Link to Responses to “Thee jazzmen”–two student responses and the professor’s

SLIDE 12: The Students Shape the Blog as the Blog Shapes Them–Links to an award-winning multimedia essay, students conversing with an expert; students referencing one another; meta-reflections

SLIDE 13: Blogging to Engage Students Actively in their Learning Process–How taking advantage of the medium’s connectivity, visual nature, and archiving leads to student understanding of their own process, an awareness of their progress, and improvement in critical thinking and writing

SLIDE 14: Real-World Classroom Connections–Experts invited to the classroom can continue the discussion on the blog–link to Liza Sacheli discussion

SLIDE 15: Blogging to Ground the Learning within the Wider Discipline and the World–Experts on the blog; public nature of the blog & publication lead to enhanced authentic & extended learning; a range of discourse modes, levels and audiences understood; efficacy in action

SLIDE 16: Blogging to Initiate a Portfolio of Student Work–How students, by having their own blogs/pages linked to the Motherblog, linking to earlier semesters, joining future iterations of the course via the blog, and reflecting in an ongoing way lead to a unified education/integrated self, learning as process, a rich and ongoing record for student and teacher, and effective revisions & growth in deep critical thinking.

SLIDE 17: Taking the Blog Outside–Multiple Layers of Meaning (a Bloggers’ Field trip)

SLIDE 18: Blogging to Create Rich Archives and a Course Portal–How keeping a blog as CMT; options for a rich range of research, group, oral, creative, multimedia and traditional assignments, student models, lead to nothing being lost from the original course; emergent outcomes are made possible; enlivened and enriched collaborative projects; service-learning and dispersed-community collaborations possible.

SLIDE 19: Student Responses to First-year Blogging
“I feel this class is like that game where everyone tries to sit down on each other at the same time, in a circle, and if they do it correctly no one falls because the weight is evenly spread around.”
“…we are all experts, and we are all apprentices…”
Reflections

SLIDE 20: slide24.jpg Links to Posts on Time, Blogtalk Paper, and Modeling

SLIDE 21: Blogging Exercises— Links to in-class writing prompt and follow-up

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SLIDE 23: Blogs Invite Multimedia : Images prompting language, stories without words

SLIDE 24: Podcasting/Audio Filespost on using audio to teach writing

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Bowdoin College English class wiki
Digital Storytelling
Independent Student Projects
Inter-institutional Projects

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