Response to Jennyrw2013’s ‘How Do I Facilitate Students…’

Update 9/13/13: Replaced “First Syndication Post” with “Jennyrw2013”.

Jennyrw2013, “How Do I Facilitate Students Trying to Create Their Own Learning Experience?” (9/11/13).

Jennyrw2013, nicely put. My perception, too, re focus on skills:

I’m an English comp instructor.  I see my class as a space where students learn new skills rather than absorb content.  I feel like a coach, and I want to create an atmosphere where we think of writing as practice.  I want my students to try new things, make mistakes, wrestle with their gators, open their minds to new ways of thinking, and then walk away with skills they can apply in their other classes and in the outside world.  Thus, I’ve always thought of composition as a skills-based class rather than a content-based course.

Good question re discussion forums:

Because my online students don’t get the benefit of class discussion, I have to find a way to create a forum online.  I’ve used Laulima for blog posts, but I haven’t required students to respond to each other yet.  I just couldn’t figure out how to organize it.  Do I have them make an original post by one date and then have them make one of more responses to classmates by another?  ( I think I just answered my question.)

Yes, you’ve answered your own question. As a follow-up to posting, I ask students to comment on at least three classmates’ posts. (I created a simple and brief [3:30] video tutorial to introduce students to Laulima forums.) Also, the “conversation” doesn’t have to stop at the borders of the forum. I ask students to include quotes from classmates’ forum posts in their papers, with all the necessary documentation. Thus, students see peers as sources of quotable opinions and observations, and the discussion takes on an authentic dimension — what they say matters since they may be quoted by classmates in their papers. 

Responding to student drafts is a critical issue for all online comp teachers:

This idea about letting students go at their own pace scares me some.  I need papers in by certain dates; otherwise, my work load becomes impossible.  How can I be more flexible for online students? Ugh. I have to give them feedback on their papers, so if they turn in assignments at different times, I’ll lose my marbles.

It’s taken me years to figure out a way to technically manage this, and I’m still working on it. I think the key is to minimize the number of steps or conversions in the process. My students publish their drafts in their personal WordPress blogs. They follow up by posting the title and URL in Laulima forums devoted to submitting drafts. In this setup, the teacher’s tasks are:

  • Link to the student’s draft.
  • Review it.
  • Comment on it.
  • Send a report to the student.

In the past, to evaluate each draft, I worked with four windows (Laulima, MSWord, Excel, Gmail) over two monitors. I

  1. Logged in to the Laulima forum for submitting the draft.
  2. Clicked on the student’s thread and clicked on the link to her/his draft.
  3. Copied the draft to memory.
  4. Opened a blank MSWord file and pasted the draft.
  5. Inserted comments in the paper as I reviewed, using a macro app. (One or two keystrokes inserts boilerplate comments.)
  6. Opened the class spreadsheet to record the score.
  7. Copied the draft to memory and saved it in a folder on my desktop.
  8. Opened an email compose window, pasted the draft, inserted the student’s email address on the message, and sent it.

A lot of little steps. Time consuming. Now, I still use multiple windows, but I’ve eliminated the steps associated with MSWord. I

  1. Take the same steps as 1 and 2 above.
  2. Review the draft in the student’s blog.
  3. Open a Gmail compose window and post macro comments in it.
  4. Open the class spreadsheet to record the score.
  5. Insert the student’s email address on the message and click on send.

The key is Gmail. It now serves as my commenting platform and “cloud” archive for all student drafts. I can quickly record comments on current drafts and retrieve/view my comments from past drafts. Also, the Gmail composer automatically renders URLs hot, so I include URLs to course resources in my macroed comments. (My macro app doesn’t allow hot URLs.) When recording comments on a student’s draft, I can open a second Gmail window to view my comments on previous drafts. This way, I quickly see if students are addressing issues flagged in earlier drafts. I use the difference as a measure of learning.

Eliminating MSWord file juggling from the process and shifting the tasks to Gmail saves a lot of time and, thus, facilitates the review.

Good question re timing:

Also, if the class discussions are to help them brainstorm and pre-write, how can they work ahead?  Being more flexible on timing sounds a little impossible right now.

In my classes, the students have the paper requirements from day one of a given assignment. Thus, they’re already planning their papers, often subconsciously, before the main corridor of writing process activities. The activities help to solidify critical parts of the plan as they go. Thus, even before they sit down to write preliminary drafts, the plan has been incubating in their mind. I guess the point is that, even though the process appears to be linear in the schedule, there’s a lot of recursion going on in the student’s head.

Good question re flexibility in assignments:

This idea about letting students create their own learning experience is throwing me a little. too.  Can I create a course where students get to pick and choose which assignments they want to do?  Is that possible?  Perhaps I can create multiple assignments that would satisfy the learning outcomes.  Then, students could pick which assignments to complete.  Is that what it means to let them create their own learning experience?

One option is to design assignments that are flexible vertically rather than horizontally. Thus, instead of two or more different assignments, you’d have one assignment that’s designed to be flexible or more open. The idea is to offer a topic that’s broad enough to allow students to select subjects that appeal to their individual interests. For example, if the topic is “beauty,” you could ask them to explore different categories: people, activities, natural phenomena or artifacts, places, etc. To encourage remixing and repurposing, you could ask them to create a thesis that’s surprising or controversial.

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7 Responses to Response to Jennyrw2013’s ‘How Do I Facilitate Students…’

  1. Thank you for including your video tutorial link. It was informative and cool. Now where do we learn to do something like that? I ask students to start Laulima Blogs. I guess my next step is to let them know that they should respond to each other.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Jacqueline. You’re welcome and thanks for the kind words. I recently started using Camtasia, and it’s filled a vacuum for me in terms of online instructional tools. I hesitate to recommend it to colleagues because it’s relatively expensive and the initial learning curve may be steep for some. Still, if you’re looking for a way to quickly throw together images (still and video), text, and sound into a video for instructional or other purposes, this may be your answer.

      Blogs are a powerful tool for establishing presence and identity in the online world. It’s a place, a locus, that each person can establish as mine. The primary function of this place is publishing and distributing. In a course, it literally becomes the student’s alter ego, allowing her/him to share her thoughts with select audiences or the world. For my courses, student blogs are synonymous with working eportfolios. -Jim S

  2. mshin11 says:

    I watched several of your online tutorials; they were very helpful and easy to follow–so, perfect! I hope you don’t mind; I would like to direct my students to some of them during the semester. Sometimes the best teaching resource is one someone else did! I noticed some were very new–just created in august. Do you plan on leaving them up?

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Mshin11. Thanks for the kind words. I’m flattered and honored. Yes, by all means, please use them at will and feel free to remix, repurpose. (I consider them completely open and there’s no need for my permission.) I intend to keep all of them up — even as I revise/update some of them. -Jim S

  3. jennyrw2013 says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks for dealing with all my issues. You’re tutorial is kind of amazing. Also, I had no idea that Laulima means “to pull together,” and I’m a paddler. Thanks man.

    I also really appreciate you taking the time to go through the step-by-step method for responding to student posts. I’ll admit, it was a bit technologically over my head. You have two computer screens open? I’ve heard of such things, my friend. But I am far from understanding them. Right now, I’ve got students turning in essay on turnitin.com (which, I’m finding, provides a relatively simple technique for getting them feedback.) Nevertheless, it’s a hassle to jump back and forth to my comments on prior drafts, so I just keep a cheat sheet of what students need to improve on with an approximate grade next to it.

    One more thing- your explanation of vertical vs. horizontal flexibility is incredibly helpful. Thank you. I was starting to think that I’m the most ill-informed instructor around. But I think I do this already. I give them jumping-off places (a choice of sources that could lead them in any number of directions). That way, I’m familiar with their content and original sources (I’m an English teacher, so content choices are a little looser for me than with other disciplines) and they get agency in their learning experience. They get to choose where they go with it, take on what issues bother them, tackle what problems they might have an answer to, and generally they get to continue researching what they’re really interested in.

    If you have any more recommendations, I’m open to ’em. Thanks for you help.

    • JimS says:

      Aloha Jenny. There’s nothing like talking shop with other English teachers! In our English dept., Kawika (goes by Nawaa now) Napoleon and Lisa Kanae are into paddling and seems like its symbolism has spread into all of our subconscious.

      I still have problems with the dual monitor feature on my Windows gear, but once it’s set up, it seems to work great. I have it on my desktop computer, which has a video card with two HDMI ports. Most cards have an HDMI and a DVI output, and this duo will do, too. Then you simply connect two monitors. If it doesn’t seem to work, then go into the control panel and make the necessary adjustments.

      I keep the student’s blog post (draft) in monitor 1 along with the spreadsheet (records), and two Gmail windows on monitor 2. Gmail allows me to unhook the composing window, allowing me to then go to my sentmail folder and bring up my previous comments for the student.

      As I review the draft on monitor 1, I paste prerecorded macro comments into the Gmail composing window on monitor 2. I also scan my comments on the student’s previous draft to see if the problems are repeats or new. If repeats, I let the student know and refer her/him to my earlier comments. When I’m done, I type in part of the student’s name and Gmail inserts the full address. I click on SEND and that’s it. My comments are automatically archived as sentmail.

      I watched a video on Turnitin and was impressed. I really like the fact that it works with iPad and includes a voice comment option. But my current setup seems to be working so I think I’ll stay with it — until something else comes along that allows me to do what I need to do better.

      Yes, you already structure assignments vertically — and I think most teachers do, allowing flexibility within a given topic. Your description of giving students “agency in their learning experience” is a mark of excellent assignments: “They get to choose where they go with it, take on what issues bother them, tackle what problems they might have an answer to, and generally they get to continue researching what they’re really interested in.”

      Hey, if you have time, how about a post on how you use Turinitin?

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