Lots on our plate – having majored in IT in High School (yes, we pick a specialization when we are fourteen in Italy) this week’s topics particularly resonated with me.
Let me begin by expressing my surprise in reading how clear the goals and guidelines of the CCCC (in their Position Statement on Teaching Learning and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments) already were in 2004 and how far we still seem to be from implementing most of them in our classes, twelve years later. The sample syllabi among which we – first year instructors – had to choose are proof. None of the ones I was interested in included any digital assignment nor reference to digital composition in any way. To make up for it, after speaking to other fellow GC/QC-Fellows, I decided to make a little twist in the syllabus for my course (Celebrity Culture) and include the following assignment:
Everyone in the class will also complete a blog post and will comment at least once a week on the class site (http://celebrityculture2016.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu), starting in September. Blog entries are 400 words in length. A sign-up sheet for your blog entries will be available on the website. You have two options for your blog entries:
- Find a celebrity gossip online blog, isolate an argument in any of the entries, and post a rebuttal to it.
- Engage critically with the online presence (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, blogs) of a celebrity of your choice. You can decide to comment on aspects such as tone, recurring themes, communication style, similarities and differences with other celebrities, etc.
Weekly comments can be limited to 4-5 sentences and must engage with the blog’s content.
I currently have one blog for each of my classes, but next year I will consider consolidating them into a collaborative one for both courses. Unlike Mark Sample, I have no rubric and like for my students to keep their entries quite casual (I sort of think of it as a more structured version of the occasional writing required in this class – I told my students to write as if they were posting for a personal blog that, i.e. as long as they follow the prompt, I do not expect them to pay particular attention to structure or grammar). The reason I included this assignment was to have a chance to reflect on the one hand on tone/style and on the other hand on digital writing and its usefulness in the job market (when I was working in marketing intranet blog entries, and social media management were my bread and butter) and have them see that writing is not only important for their academic career (in other words, link our teachings to professionalization). I have yet to teach my class on digital composition – but have been scouting the web for a possible reading that could inform it – So far I have found this useful directory http://digitalwriting101.net/content/guide-digital-composition-bibliography/ – but would love suggestions from the rest of the class (and Amy).
On the downside, I noticed the blog to be adding a whole lot of work to our plate– reading my students’ entries is mostly pleasant, but keeping up with their activity (posting/commenting), moderating and stimulating the conversation, and solving their tech issues has been taking up more time than I expected. Having them register to QWriting, has been a burden in itself, since at the beginning of the term most of them did not have the slightest idea of what their QC email address – required to sign up for the blog – was. Let alone other technical difficulties. Before the beginning of the term I was told by more experienced instructors that QC/the English departments wants us to use this instead of WordPress – is that an actual policy, or just a rumor?
Boone Gorge’s article is also dated 2011, yet Blackboard Learn continues to be a quite controversial LMS. I am not going to get into the politics behind it, but let me say that I find the system extremely frustrating to use because mainly because it is unbelievably sluggish and its user interface is absolutely user-unfriendly. I am not sure the introduction of resources such as Q-Writing and the Commons has made the implementation of technology in our pedagogy any better, as this abundance of platforms (often with overlapping functions) without proper guidance could be overwhelming even for tech-savvy faculty members.
Jumping from there to Andy Selsberg’s opinion piece for The New York Times – the article reminded me of how one of my professors at the Graduate Center – Giancarlo Lombardi – included five tweets per week as a class requirement in his course on Transnational Television. We all thought it was silly, but man did it work! The number of individual tweets per week was rarely below ten, most of which resulted in passionate conversations/confrontations (the length requirements allowed us to practice conciseness rather than being a limitation to the depth of our comments). It was a successful experiment that fostered a sense of community, but also invited external commentators to chime in (we even got the actors/producers of the shows to intervene at some point) – if you search the hashtag #TVWithoutborder you’ll notice that the conversation among us is still very active today, roughly six months after the end of the spring term. Why Tweets instead of blog entries? They simply require less effort, are more immediate, and the practice lends itself to be performed while multi-tasking (in other words, while watching the series either at home or in class we could live tweet without pausing, and after class the conversation continued as we were on the trains back to our places in Brooklyn and Queens). Here’s an article from the College of Staten Island’s paper on Lombardi’s class http://csitoday.com/2016/05/cuny-professor-makes-tweeting-a-course-requirement/#.WB_No3eZNmB and another article on Tweeting and pedagogy that I recently came across http://chuckrybak.com/tweeting-class-discussions-and-notes/
I also have a couple of comments/questions I want to throw out there by James Paul Gee’s article, but I am going to save them as a comment for someone else’s post, in case they decide to focus on it, or for our class discussion.