UMW Faculty Academy Day Two Workshop

It’s the end of the first, remarkable day at University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy 2007. Hearing Gardner Campbell, Alan Levine, Laura Blankenship, Steve Greenlaw and the inimitable Jim Groom –for starters– present, share stories, and converse–well, it’s been an inspiring day. And as a result I’m almost ready to explore Twitter and get back into Second Life, this time with a voice.
I’ll blog my talk and my responses to other talks when I can (I have several other talks and workshops nipping at the heels of this one, so I’ll be a day or two in the posting, I’m sure.)

But for now–here are some materials for my Day Two Workshop:


Twenty-First Century Entrances and Exits: Planning for the Crucial First and Last Weeks of the Web 2.0 Semester

It’s one thing to understand why we need to integrate Web 2.0 practices into our teaching; it’s another to do so gracefully and effectively within a semester system. How do we actually move into and then out of courses that take advantage of a full range of teaching and learning spaces, technologies and relationships? Do we start students out on course blogs and/or wikis the first day or do we start out in traditional reading and responding and move slowly into more innovative practices? How do we pull in RSS and tagging, multimedia composing and sharing? Do we take time to run technology workshops for our students? How much time? How and when do we weave in the core subject matter? How do we prepare our students for the freefall experience of the first weeks of this kind of classroom?

In this workshop we’ll take a good look at the opening two weeks of our courses, exploring exercises that build a strong learning community based on reciprocal apprenticeships while introducing students to the kinds of technology they’ll be using, and immersing them in the heart of our subject matter. We’ll also consider the end of the semester and how we help students move beyond the confines of the course through self-evaluation, hypertext reflection, and an old Russian custom.
I. OPENING THE SEMESTER (In part, excerpted from a November blogpost)

Slide5 skelleftea


Slide25 Bergen

1. Some Guiding Principles about Learning Before We Consider Course Goals & Syllabi & Design

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My Story

I’m moving more and more to ways in which blogging and tagging and image-sharing and digital storytelling enhance the here-and-now, the communities in which we live and work, and in this particular case, the classes we teach. And to do that, it is essential to spend time at the opening of the semester talking about who we are, what we each bring to the learning adventure, why we’re in this class, and what we hope to get out of it. We talk about building a blueprint together based on our goals and available materials, and then think about how we actually build the course experience together and alone.

But first, I have to think about how the various means of expression might have an impact on the learning and on the community. How and why will we use social software? Will we venture further into online work than blogs? Why blogs at all? Will we really blog or use the blog structure as a vessel to hold traditional assignments? Why, for example, would we blog in a course on Ireland? How might hypertext and digital storytelling enhance the experience? How might we use audio as a tool for expression and for revising and for exploring ideas? Cameras? Images we take, images we find? How might we want to connect with experts out in the world–would we invite them to participate in blogging-invitationals? Would we want them to respond to our work? What is the role of loose dialogue and conversation, of let’s-talk-about-any-thoughts-we-have in the course? Do we want to link to our work in other courses? To our other online worlds? How do we also work in traditional modes? How do they intersect and influence one another? How much time can be devoted to learning how to use the tools, how to become comfortable with the practices? How much time do we devote to meta-practices, to reading and talking about what we’re doing online? How can we capitalize on the fact that we have the luxury of being together in class twice a week–do we devote that time to presentations, to discussion, to lecture, to feedback, to projects?

EXERCISE ONE: What kinds of teaching will you do in class? How will your students spend their time out of class? What is the relationship between content and process? How will you make your pedaogy transparent?

These are just some of the questions I have to ask before I pull up even the most basic course blog. Based on my answers, the course blog begins to take shape, each course demanding its own look and structure. For example:

The Irish seminar blog really focuses on collaboration and so has more of a group-blog feel to it than others; one of our goals is to think about how our community of mutual apprenticeships works–how to be engaged in a liberal arts college.

A composition class balances between group and individual work, and so the unit plans are posted as we go, as we develop as thinkers and writers and see what next we need to learn and to practice.

An arts writing class takes on a ‘zine-like, real-world look with multiple columns and choices as to what is posted where and why.

EXERCISE TWO: Sketch a possible Motherblog design for your course


EXERCISE THREE: Jot down notes about ways in which you have, in the past, opened your course. Why have you spent the first weeks this way?

My Story
We spend two-three weeks moving into the course material and getting comfortable with the blog and whatever other technology they NEED to know right from the start. Together and in solo <a href=”LETTERS TO THE CLASS, we examine our own voices; our learning goals; what makes a strong, effective community of inquiry, the demands of the discipline; and what it is we need to do and to learn in order for the course to “be a success.”

I call this first part of the course Cracking Open the Course and the Imagination, in my creative writing classes; “Exploring the Course” in composition classes, something we do as we pull up the blogs; Knowledge Trees in a first-year seminar on Ireland (the first part of this exploration is done online before the students even set foot on Middlebury’s campus).

I use a variety of techniques to examine the ways in which we’ll each enter this collaborative:
personal narratives about our individual cultural contexts and learning histories, including digital storytelling,
a deep-learning exercise
image-stories exploring personal relationships with the course content;

sitting on a metaphorical suitcase following an old Russian custom:
Just before they set off on the long journey across continents and oceans to whatever new life awaited them, Russian families would gather as a group and sit down upon their bags, look around them in silent awe and reflection. How important this is to stop and make note of the moment, at what has come before, at what it means to be in this moment—we do our own version of sitting on our bags taking in the wonderment of this moment when we are about to begin our journey together.
Then we’ll write.
And we’ll thus have walked though the door of the semester, committed ourselves to this community of learners, of reciprocal apprenticeships (Levy), a moment indeed fraught with awe, a feeling that mixes wonder and fear. When we study together and write together, we open ourselves up to one another; putting our writing out there can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable (particularly an eighteen-year-old entering college and quite sure that he or she was somehow mistakenly admitted in the first place and will be so woefully behind everyone else in the room) –ah, the delicate moment when there is the potential for response or evaluation from those around us.
After we write for ten minutes or so about this feeling of awe, we will talk about the gremlin sitting on our shoulders laughing derisively at us as we write for an audience, sneering at the very thought of us presuming to be a writer, at having something to say and being able to say it elegantly. We talk about ways to shut that gremlin down, how we can develop ways to write hot and read cold—to balance within ourselves the artist and the critic. We’ll talk about the evaluation process in the course, how they will see no grades until the end of the semester but they will receive a good deal of feedback from themselves, from one another, from me and perhaps even from people beyond our classroom.

We also might create and present small-group metaphor-portraits in which the groups try to represent themselves in a kind of logo or symbol that represents all of them.


My Story
In class we talk about how to participate in discussions and feedback-loops, about levels of diction and discourse, using archives from previous semesters for our fodder.
We’ll discuss how they will help design the course, how to make it work for us as individuals as well as the group. We talk about collaboratives and about the purpose of a liberal arts education and how our course intersects with those goals. We talk about trust. About making mistakes. Asking dumb questions. Daring to ask dumb questions. About playful inquiry. About TRUST. And efficacy.

We try to place our semester within a much bigger picture of our life journeys and the greater conversations we will join. From our letters to the class, we begin to reflect on our blogs, we push one another to grow as learners and writers, we push ourselves. We might read Levy. Or Greene. Or Dewey and Wenger. We read each other. We always read each other. And we read deeply in our discipline. We look at online communities and try to figure out what makes them successful. We read the early-in-the-semester-works of students from previous semesters.

Blogging enhances the undergraduate course experience, I believe, when we spend time laying a careful foundation for our work online and in class, thinking and talking about how and why connecting this way plays a fundamental role during the precious brief twelve weeks we have together. Because we rarely make our pedagogy visible, students are far too accustomed to going through the motions, to taking our word for it that our assignments have value, to completing work without thinking about how it fits into their lives. I can see the difference in the depth and authenticity of student work when I have taken the time to talk about the value of slow blogging, of slow learning compared from when I’ve been all in a rush to get to the facts and processes of the discipline.

More Examples:
Being playful with image;
“>More Play
a deep-learning exercise

II. Mid-course
Ongoing hypertext narrative reflection, renewed goal setting at mid-term, some reflections can be done via podcasts.
First-Unit Reflection

III. Final Week

1. Students prepare a portfolio of their work through selection, revision and hypertext revision:
Mollie’s Final Reflection
Maddie’s Final Reflection

2. They prepare for their evaluation conference with me by posting the final reflection which should include a sense of what this course means to their larger learning journey, and bringing to conference a proposed grade and defense of that grade.

3. We return to our suitcases and to our original letters and Knowledge Trees–students write letters to the next class about what to expect, what they wish they had known at the start, and any other advice.

4. Other options: A gathering of quotations from one another, from other writers in our field.

Links to a wiki filled with links to Web 2.0 resources


13 Responses

  1. Ahhh! Why can’t I take this class??? Lucky first-years… “Because we rarely make our pedagogy visible…” Oh, so true, so true. Thanks for the interlude during the writing of my last paper.

  2. I love any opportunity to think about teaching and blogging and besides, there’s colored post-its.

  3. Apparently, I’m not writing enough because no one else has posted. I hope to think about creating a new course.

  4. I want to figure out a more effective way of incorporating blogs into my courses.

  5. I’m waiting for the wine and cheese.

    Ok, no, seriously, I’m here because I’m planning on webbing up 2 or 3 of my classes in the fall. I’m eager to hear about ways to better introduce and conclude the semester.

  6. I want to absorb some of your craft.

  7. I’ve worked with a number of faculty trying to use blogs and wikis who have had lots of problems with their courses because they never communicated clearly with their expectations to students. That’s pretty frustrating for both students and teachers. I’d like to be able to offer some good ideas and principles for helping them get launched in a way that can be sustained.

  8. I’m here to just absorb more of the ideas and energy of Barabara Ganley! Mainly I’d like to hear of your strategies that I can share with other faculty. The sheer number of tools and resources available seem overwhelming to just about everyone, so how you approach sifting through it all. How do you create engaging reasons to use the tools?

  9. I’m interested in any means to communicate virtual library instruction and also literacy through online literary journals.

  10. Barbara –

    Reading this, I wonder how much of your structure is inevitable given what you are trying to accomplish or whether there are other possible paths that would get you to the promised land.

    There doesn’t seem to be a lot of formal writing in the course. Does formal writing get in the way? Or could you achieve your ends that way?

  11. Megan and Lanny,

    I think I’ve confused you both a bit. These examples and thought and plans do not cover a single course, but ways to think about a range of courses. For UMW’s Faculty Academy (the other comments are from some participants letting me know what they were hoping I would cover in the workshop) I’ve culled examples from several of my classes. I will not use ALL of these techniques in my new first-year seminar in the fall, but I like to have many options and try to pick something suited to the group as I get to know them.

    I definitely have my students do formal writing, but of course our notion of exactly what that means is (or should be) changing. It’s important, I think, for students to be conversant in all kinds of discourse, and writing the traditional academic paper is one of them. It doesn’t mean, however, that such a paper should be soul-less. These kinds of exercises and this kind of ongoing deep blogging (you’ll have to check out my recent UMW talk once I get it posted or the video goes on their site for more on that) help students write better formal papers, do better research and engage their readers. It helps students infuse their writing with vigor, elegance and depth–as much as they are able to, that is. In my first-year seminar I have to build in formal writing. I’ll be blogging that course quite openly as I go this coming fall–keeping my pedagogy, warts and all, visible.
    😉 Barbara

  12. Thanks for adding to my suitcase of innovative and creative course openers and closers. What you said about trust and making transparent our objectives are absolutely right on.

    One of my *many* take-aways from your workshop at UMW’s Faculty Academy–I need to attend a digital storytelling workshop as soon as possible!!

  13. I’ll be interested in hearing more as you discuss that intertwining of the formal and the informal writing – it’s an area where I sometimes wonder if I’ve gone astray in a negative way, though I am convinced the narrative structure of a story has more relevance for the structure of formal writing than what the formal structure has become (and I’d bet that the formal structure was originally a mimic of the narrative flow). Thanks for exploring it in places where people are listening.

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