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:

  1. Find a celebrity gossip online blog, isolate an argument in any of the entries, and post a rebuttal to it.
  2. 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.

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6 Responses to

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi Stefano,
    You’ve certainly covered a lot of ground, so I’ll try to respond to a few pieces and also present a response to Gee in the form of questions–it seems like the densest and potentially most controversial reading of the week, so it makes sense to open it for more discussion.

    I, too, have struggled with blogs–this semester and other times in the past, both graded an ungraded. They seem to add a lot of unnecessary record-keeping labor rather than evaluative labor that helps students. In thinking about my syllabus for the coming semester, I’ve been considering the helpfulness of them. Reading the “samplereality” piece, I found myself agreeing that those assignments that aren’t graded are not taken seriously. (Many of my scaffolded assignments, including first drafts, are being ignored by at least 1/3 of the class.) However, this undermines my desire to have low-stakes writing in the class. I’ve certainly been pondering ways of doing both.

    I think both Selsberg and “samplereality” (I’ve printed it in such a way that there’s no author on my printout… sorry!) point to tackling different formats as a way to engage students, as you allude to in your anecdote about tweeting for class. I certainly thought the idea of writing an Amazon review—engaging the kinds of texts that students are seeing everyday, rather than just a response paper—was a great idea. That said, I have some question as to how some of these ideas are suited to 110. Perhaps the Amazon review or the rant against a character or something would be best in a literature class or creative writing. I intend to use different formats with different rhetorical strategies, just making the point about the specific suggestions from the reading.

    This leads me to a few questions I think worth discussing with regards to James Gee. If we are to understand writing, say for 110, as a semiotic domain, how helpful is it to think of rules, etc.? IT seems that that’s how the courses are already structured but some people have been struggling with that given the readings around literacy and access…. Also, something I’m interested in is the idea of the internalization of the design grammar – the thinking, acting, interacting, and valuing necessary to a domain. If we are trying to teach writing, what are these things? If we are teaching writing IN THE UNIVERSITY, does this change? How does this complicate the push to make room for other literacies, etc.? I guess I’m building on the conversation from two weeks ago…

  2. adouglass says:

    Stefano, I love the idea of moving to a twitter platform for low stakes digital writing. My experience this semester has been that my students have not seen writing on their blogs as being less difficult or more relatable. I have had very little work posted on those blogs that was what I imagined: paragraph-length open reflections like the ones we are posting here. My students are either posting very brief thoughts or they are going far beyond the expectations of the blog assignment by posting almost essay-length reflections, something that is actually causing me quite a bit of stress because I think that weekly practice seems like a totally unreasonable allocation of time. My suspicion is that this is because the blog post is not actually a familiar kind of writing for these students at all: the kinds of digital writing that most people do on a regular basis includes very short, pity text, and the only other model that my students know how to access is the formal academic assignment. I would love to move to a twitter platform for all the reasons you mention, but also because I think it sounds like a fantastic way for me to focus on some sentence-level concerns throughout the semester: I would love a way to focus in on the efficiency and power of language in that isolated way. I also think it would help my students access the special attention to language they already pay when speaking in social forums (or, that I assume they must pay…I know that every time I post something online, even the smallest phrase, I go through several drafts and revisions) and transfer those skills to the writing they do for me. I’d love to talk more in practicum or outside about how that twitter project worked when you did it at the GC.

  3. Kristi says:

    Hey Stefano,

    Like everyone else, I have really struggled with the blogs. One, the students struggled SO much with signing up for them in the beginning, that I feel like they have struggled to find it as a “friendly” space. I hoped that they would use the space to facilitate conversations amongst themselves, allowing us to have more fruitful conversations in class. However, if they don’t forget ot post, they don’t remember to comment. Then, it becomes a hassle to go through and grade/check for each person’s comments. I like the suggestion of Twitter a lot better. I think they might be more willing to use Twitter over the blogs, since it is a social media platform that they might be more familiar with. It could also be a great place to give feedback during class presentations/FYI activities/things of that nature. Having it be part of the class would also force students to acknowledge the importance of a more professionalized social media presence as they proceed. I wonder if there’s a way to incorporate other social media outlets into the classroom. Instagram could work really well for visual world classes, or anything image based. Maybe have a final assignment including YouTube? Something with Tumblr?

  4. Giselle Shohet says:

    A Response to Stephano
    Students like technology. It adds variety to learning. It is a vehicle that most feel comfortable with and, if they don’t, warning lights flash. That’s when it’s appropriate to have a heart-to-heart talk about the tech savvy friends that need to be cultivated. The CCCC Position statement calls this “bridging the digital divide . . . [for] . . . Students who face special economic and cultural hurdles . . .“ (2)
    Personally, technology is not my thing. When I went to college, we used typewriters and white-filmed papers as the method of corrections. Also, I worry about the public persona that technology presents. I don’t want to risk my public high school students finding me on Facebook or sending me family photos on Instagram. Still, plenty of my colleagues relish the use of technology in and out of the classroom. Now that I can no longer avoid the inevitable, I try to build that technological muscle and do what’s best for everyone’s sake.
    In this pursuit, Stephano’s anecdote, about his experiences in the course he is taking on Transitional Television, is interesting, due to the “passionate/confrontational” of the tweets by his classmates. Like the experience of blogging, he says that tweeting “fosters a sense of community.” He refers to the “external commentators” or professional audience that this forum facilitates. Unlike our class blogging, tweeting “allowed us [students] to practice conciseness.” I appreciate this activity as wordiness tends to be a problem among students. Somehow, they think more words are better. They don’t always understand that excess world clutter and obscure meaning. This discussion also reminds me of the grammar discussions that we have in class. Short bursts of writing force us to pay attention to the structure of our words, as well as the meaning. Writing tweets or text messages might organically lend itself to working on mechanics. Selby adds that “Rewarding concisions first will encourage to be economical and innovative with language.” In addition, I like his creative writing assignments, like advertising personal clothing on eBay and writing Amazon reviews. (1-2) All this connects to the real word, education which is current.

  5. Picking up the thread of difficulty/confusion with blogs, I wanted to think about Mark Sample (samplereality) for a minute. My struggle with the blogs is that I’m not sure students see any connection between the work on the blogs to the work of formal assignments, and that’s definitely on me for not knowing how to articulate the connection or maybe for not building enough of a connection into the blog as an assignment. Most of them are doing the blog posts–and like Alison said, they’re either really insufficient or really really long, because it’s seemingly a foreign and strange format/genre to work in for students–but still come into class and ask “was my blog post okay?” I like the idea at the end of Sample’s post about a meta-blogging blog response, where students re-read their responses and respond to them (wow, that sentence). I really like that assignment and I’d like to integrate it into my own class blog. Maybe the problem is I didn’t fully articulate a specific pedagogical purpose for the blogs before I asked students to write them, I’m just figuring it out really slowly along the way.

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