Friday, December 12, 2014

How I Make Ed Tech Work for Me

From The Educators 

The content of this US News and World Report article on education technology in higher education is great.

Sadly the headline is not. 
Professors Grow Weary of Idea That Technology Can Save Higher Ed
Really?
Using the word "save" is inappropriate. Sure, higher ed in the US might have a cost control problem and a few other bugs, but suggesting that the whole system needs salvaging is way off base.

That said, I like this kind of critical coverage of ed tech in the university.

I think there's a lot of "silver bullet talk" when people discuss ed tech. But it's not enough to purchase new technologies or software.
[...] professors say they don’t have enough help to use this technology effectively, haven’t seen results from it, and fear that the cost savings administrators keep insisting that technology will bring could mean their own careers are on the line.
I've had some great successes using technology in my composition courses, but I'm always in hacking mode - using a tool in a way that is slightly different than what the designers intended.

I draw up a draft of my course before I ever look at my institution's ed tech toolkit. Once I have goals and student/teacher workloads sorted, I go to see if there are any tech tools that could help me meet my goals more efficiently or add a new dimension to what I had planned. Often there are.

But that order of events is crucial.

I do not open the course management software until after I have my term planned out. I use the software to get my students where I want them to go. I don't let the software frame the tasks or the objectives.

The problem a lot of people are running into is simple.
One of the most common complaints from faculty is that much of this technology creates more work, not less, a 2012 survey of 42 professors at three large universities by David R. Johnson, a sociology researcher at Rice University, found.
If that is happening, then you're doing it wrong. The goals and workloads need to be decided before we introduce learning technologies.

If we want efficiency, quality, and access, then we need to make those goal clear at the outset, only then should we explore what kind of technologies we can bring into our classrooms.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Truths Obscuring Truths

So this meme popped up on one of my social media feeds this morning.

Even though the statement is true, it's not really a fair statement.

It was posted by another writing instructor, and I certainly understand the sentiment, especially on those days when my students' writing is less-than-inspiring.

It's a nice example of how a little truth can feel right, but still obscure a larger and more important truth.

Or in this case, two larger truths.

My first response to this meme was based on the history of our education system. Because the other side of this fact is that in the past 100 years, we have extended the opportunity of education to a much larger part of the population. 100 years ago, most white people got an education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 5% of white people were illiterate in 1910. In comparison, 30.5% of non-whites were illiterate. By 1979, those numbers dropped to 0.6% and 1.6% respectively.

When compared to the one from 100 years ago, our education system today does more for more people. It is far from perfect, and no one should be complacent. However, just because rich white people used to know Latin, doesn't mean our society is sliding into disrepair.

And what about that Latin and Greek?

That question is what prompted my second response.

You know why we used to teach Latin and Ancient Greek? Because those languages are hard to learn. We used to think the brain worked like our bicep - if you make it work hard, then it will get stronger.

Then we realized that was incorrect. That argument was part of what led to the creation of the Modern Language Association. Today, the only people who need to study those languages are people who want to study the Classics. That's not a bad thing. It leaves more room for people to study languages that are still spoken today.

That response to the Classical languages is what led me to the other larger truth I think this meme obscures.

In the last few decades, researchers have demonstrated that direct instruction on grammar doesn't improve student writing.

Here's a quote from an concise summary of the research on this point:
Research over a period of nearly 90 years has consistently shown that the teaching of school grammar has little or no effect on students.
-George Hillocks & Michael Smith, 1991
Asking students to know terms such as subject, predicate, relative clause, appositive, or any other discipline-based term for describing text will not help them write. It will only help them describe texts in the same way scholars in writing studies describe texts.

Personally, I enjoy learning, using, and examining terms related to grammar and composition, because I like to analyze texts and talk about the writing process with people in my discipline. I think a lot of people who teach writing also enjoy that; which is probably behind the decision to make those skills the focus of so many writing classes.

But writing teachers should not be trying to teach students to talk about grammar using our specialized jargon. We should teach students how to compose texts.

I do think we should always push for higher standards, but I don't think making econ students diagram sentences is what those standards should look like.

So, while I think that meme is provocative, I also think it unfairly undermines what teachers, educators, and students are working to achieve.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tiger Mike Memos


So, I was talking about my professional communication course with a friend.

He asked me, "Have you read the Tiger Mike Memos?"

I had not.

But now that I have read them, I must find a way to make these memos a reading task for my professional writing students.

These memos are amazing.

You really need to click here and read from the top. It just keeps getting better and better.

At times angry, at times rambling, and always a least a bit incoherent, these memos demonstrate so much about writing.

Do yourself a favor and check these out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Speaking of Teacher Feedback

So this happened.

Posted on Happy Place.

It's a letter to the Speaker of the House on immigration reform that has been marked up by a former high school teacher.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Writing Feedback Online With Students



This fall I've been working on a new method for delivering comments on drafts of student papers.

I should mention, I'm not grading the drafts when I use this new method. I provide this feedback so my students can revise before turning stuff in for a grade. In my courses, this is the most extensive feedback I give.

This method-in-development has helped me deal with two issues I face when writing back to students.

Improving Feedback Clarity
Like many teachers, I have trouble knowing what students will take away from my feedback.
Some students read every comment. Some never read any at all. Some read too much into one comment and ignore the rest. Some misread the advice. Some think that they should get an A+ if they make each change suggested.

It's a messy exchange. The students have 'the-paper-they-think-they-wrote' in mind. I have a goal I want the students to aspire towards. The papers they write say one thing, but those papers are in the process of becoming something else.

It is a setting rife with opportunities for misinterpretation.


Getting Through Feedback
The second issue is more mundane. When I am sitting at home with a stack of papers to comment on, there is a temptation to spend the day on Reddit, or Facebook, or Kongregate, or anywhere else that isn't the next twenty drafts of essays waiting for comments.

My solution involves bringing the student in on the process.

Here's what I do
I ask my students to throw the text of their drafts onto a Google Drive Document. I tell them not to worry about lost formatting - as this is just a draft.

Then I ask them to pick a time when they can be online along with me.

At the appointed time, we both go to the document. The student can see my comments as I post them, and any edits I make happen in "real time."

I comment on their papers while they're watching, and I invite them to respond to my comments as we work.

...and that's it really.

It sounds simple, and it is. The initial set up is a bit tricky, but I have small courses this term. That's made the piloting of this a lot easier.

With a scheduling spreadsheet open to the group, sign ups are easy enough. I give most students about 20 minutes of time. I give 30 minutes to L2 writers (students writing in their second language).

And I let Google Drive do the the technical work. I'm sure there are other platforms that could support this, but I just went with what was easiest for my students to access.

I can see this becoming something I research and write about in the near(ish) future, but for now I'm just hammering out the details.

I'd appreciate any thoughts or suggestions from my friends in composition and rhetoric.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Why (Not How) We Cite


I spend a lot of time talking to students about how to cite sources. It is something they worry about. 

The thing I worry about is this: Do students understand why we cite sources?

Nature.com recently published this video that does a great job of showing us why citations are important to the people who originally wrote the stuff.
I think it is crucial for students to see citations as a social act.

When working with international students, I have them write a paper on the subject.
When teaching first-year writing, I devote a lot of discussion time to exploring the question.

I don't like the "Cite or Be Punished" approach to this issue.
I don't think it is productive to remind students that there is an academic integrity enforcement squad watching, waiting for them to trip up.

Sure, that technique might keep some from plagiarizing out of fear of punishment, but there is a larger goal in writing instruction: Students are supposed to learn about writing as a social act that helps them gain access to a community.

If that community is seen as a heavily policed minefield, then they are less likely to really engage.

So, in my classes, I first work to explain the value of good citations, how they help strengthen an argument.

Then I explain the way scholarly writers feel about having their work cited by others: That is what they are looking for when they write. They don't write to get paid; they write to get cited.

This is all meant to demonstrate how good citations are reinforced by a community's values, and to explain why professors think it's such a big deal.

I'm hoping to find a way to use this article and video from Nature.com in that effort.

It's a great piece on why citations are important.
Citations, in which one paper refers to earlier works, are the standard means by which authors acknowledge the source of their methods, ideas and findings, and are often used as a rough measure of a paper’s importance. Fifty years ago, Eugene Garfield published the Science Citation Index (SCI), the first systematic effort to track citations in the scientific literature. To mark the anniversary, Nature asked Thomson Reuters, which now owns the SCI, to list the 100 most highly cited papers of all time. 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Added a CV page 'cause I'm on the market

So, I added my CV as a page on this blog.

The link is over there in the sidebar.

I put it up here because I'm applying for jobs.

As someone interested in persuasion and argument, the job search process is fascinating.

In the professional writing class I teach, we do a few sessions on the job search, and I tell students to hold this attitude in their minds:
Remember, the person who gives you a job is not doing you a favor. If they hire you, it is because they expect you to make their operation run better or do more. No one hires an employee as an act of charity.

This is supposed to remind students that the power dynamics in a job search are not as lopsided as we often feel.

That's really easy advice to give in the classroom, but it is a lot of work to maintain that attitude.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Five Fallacies Done Well



Too often in composition classrooms the logical fallacies are taught as a list to be memorized for a later quiz or exam.

They are taught because they feel like "content" in a course that can sometimes feel light on content.

That is something I don't approve of.

I first learned of these ideas in an intro to logic course in the philosophy department at Madison. In that class we spent time going over examples and exploring why such methods of argument are problematic. This led nicely into the course on sentential logic.

The video here does a lot of the same work. It spends time with each fallacy and shows viewers what the fallacy looks like "in the wild."

This is something I approve of.