I. MODUS OPERANDI
As a result of my participation in the Writing in the Disciplines (WID) group at Dawson College, I’ve put together this site exploring some thoughts I’ve had about using new media in communications pedagogy, how this impacts my approach to teaching “writing,” as well as some practical assignments and examples. Bazerman (1997) suggests that, “which kinds of readings and lectures and assignments work in any classroom circumstance depends on a negotiation among institutions, teacher, and students.” I am interested in this “negotiation,” particularly in the face of new modalities and hence modes of communication. Today social media, for example, are proving to have a radical impact on world politics. Some suggest they were instrumental in making the Arab spring possible. Likewise they present challenges to traditional prescriptions for genre and rhetoric in academic writing. Institutions and teachers are often threatened by Wikipedia, Facebook and cell phones in the classroom. My research explores approaches to the negotiation of new media in the classroom, engaging students in the critical analysis of types and modes of discourse. My aim is to nurture critical thinking through student-driven, self-reflexive models of communication.
Bazerman, C. (1997). The life of genre, the life in the classroom. In W. Bishop & H. Ostrom. (Eds.)
Not to be too contentious, but I have a bone to pick. It is with the assumption we make in Writing in (or across) the Disciplines with the very idea of “writing” itself. I noticed this when participating in a professional development presentation on writing techniques. One of the panelists described an innovation he had made, getting computer science students over their fear of essay writing. He developed with them a similar skill-set by having them write letters to a specific software design company with arguments supported by research. One audience member suggested that it would be very easy to have these computer science students then transfer those skills to actual essay writing. An argument ensued over the presumption that these students needed to write essays, and I would add the presumption that they need to “write” at all. I know I’m treading into dangerous territory here, challenging one of the three Rs, the firmament upon which a literate society is based. On the other hand, perhaps I am rekindling an old argument, questioning the preeminence of writing in literacy, for writing is but one technology of many that serves the same purpose. I need to test my own assumptions here, as I want to argue that writing is merely one of many technologies for recording, persuading, or even a creative means of expressing oneself. But, as we have seen in Bean (2001), it can also be a tool for postulating, generating ideas, reinforcing, motivating, and critical thinking.
So my question remains, “Why writing?” Why not other newer technologies? Let us not forget that writing is after all a technology. This is clearer through the lens of history. There was of course moveable type, a technology (arguably the engine of McLuhan et al ‘s Toronto School of Communications). But aside from the hard machinery, there is the softer technology that the western education system is built upon. The essay form is, of course, a technology, the invention of Michel de Montaigne. The “essai” described a genre of writing, which “tried” to prove a thesis. Essay-writing manuals are often organized according to rhetorical patterns (exemplification, definition, comparison etc.) which harken back to Aristotle’s Rhetoric, a guide to organizing information to be memorized for public speaking. It is important to remember that in Aristotle’s Greece “writing” was a new technology, not fully elaborated. Arguably, it was not even a technology yet, but still a technique (the word technology derived form the Greek techne for “art” and logos for “system”, so a technology can be seen as a fully systematized art). The residue of Aristotle’s memory technique lingers today in the word topic (as in topic sentence), from the Greek topos, for place, as the fundamental ancient memory technique was to place information around an architectural space for timely recall during a public address.
One might argue (I would) that our contemporary model of education only became possible because of another technology, the index. Indices existed in manuscript culture as a technique but became a viable technology with the printing press and the repeatable pagination that it made possible. The indexing of books according to authors and topics was a great marketing device for early printers, but it also inadvertently set the stage for four hundred years of higher learning that was built upon referencing one’s writing to give it a certain “authority.” When we frame writing in technology and history, we must consider the current technological moment and the types of writing that are relevant today, and the technologies that are relevant for recording, persuading, creating and expressing oneself, or as tools for postulating, generating ideas, reinforcing, motivating, and critical thinking. Yes these include not only email, and blogging, and micoblogging and forums and other forms of social media, which call for new techniques, but we must also consider other forms of literacy, other means such as picture taking and video recording and music making, all of which have concomitant structural and critical elements to be examined. For me, this is not meant as an attack on our traditional notions of writing, rather it might be an attempt to start to use what I have learned about writing and apply it to other technologies, particularly what I am learning about the pedagogy of writing. Then it would ask me to look for the places where old models no longer apply.
See A Brief Timeline of Classical Rhetoric (From Corax to Quintilian) Created by Steven Stuglin; Georgia State University; 9/23/09 8170 / A Brief Timeline of Classical Rhetoric – From Corax to Quintilian.
For additional reading, there’s a short piece in the Wall Street Journal “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?” by Clay Shirky (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704025304575284973472694334.html) and there’s bunches of podcasts from Nora Young’s CBC show Spark: http://www.cbc.ca/spark/<
III. PAPERLESS EDU
The paperless classroom is more than an effort be eco-friendly. It brings with it a number of added, though perhaps unforeseen, benefits, the most obvious which are the power of the networked computer to help us organize, keep track of and keep a long-lasting record of both our teaching materials and students’ work. Teaching in the media arts, it is particularly useful to me, as there is a wealth of media related material on line which can be very easily linked to a course site.
For me setting up a paperless classroom is as simple as this: The teacher creates a webpage like the one I am creating here (WordPress is the flavor of choice for CMS because of its ubiquity and ease of use). On the first day of class the teacher introduces the course through the website and invites each student to make a similar site. The teacher deconstructs the process, demonstrating certain features of WordPress: how to embed a picture or a Youtube/Vimeo movie, how to nest pages etc. Then the students email their URL to the teacher, who creates an email folder for the class with each URL. And voila your class is set up for the semester. It is important that all documentation such as the course outline is on the teacher’s site (say as a pdf). Students then have access at all points in the course, no lost course outline. Likewise, students’ work is never lost as it is permanently on their sites. Students are invited to post all classwork on their site, movies through Vimeo.com embedded in WordPress. They are also encouraged in lab classes to keep their lab notes for easy reference in later classes. The emphasis is on process. The teacher can continually comment on works in progress. Students can be encouraged to elaborate and develop certain parts of the site at the teacher’s request. At the end of the course, the student has a portfolio of all the class work, which is very easy to evaluate and because it is a public document they are more careful and often take pride in its presentation.
View my presentation for TICE here: powerpoint-presentation-tice-2011
the channels project
The Channels Project is an effort to exploit what we know about communication in the knowledge economy to create an environment to foster effective online writing. In Cinema Video and Communications we normally employ 4 paratechs (student mentors) in our computer labs in the evenings. These students help other students complete their lab assignments and deal with problems that may arise. In recent years, the use of our labs in the evening has been declining. This has led us to come up with a new approach to parateching. We continue to provide lab supervision outside of class time, but in addition we are making available an online service for students working at home. This service, called Channels, is both a website and a social network. It is a technical information resource and much more. We have identified and enlisted a dozen students from our ranks who have shown a certain level of autonomy and a pro active approach to their education. These students keep hours on the Channels website at cinvidcommons.com both writing and keeping the content of the site fresh and relevant and addressing problems that visitors to the site may be having.
As this is a pilot project and a new initiative, we do anticipate certain obstacles. First, we can’t expect any of our facilitators to have the technical knowledge needed to answer the host of possible questions that may arise. To this end, we plan to develop a protocol, having all the facilitators connected through Twitter. So when a difficult question arises, the facilitator on call can use Google and Facebook of course, as well as Tweeting (sic) the others to see if any co-facilitator has encountered the problem. In addition, we will make include in our site a searchable forum where common queries can be archived. And when a question is asked very frequently, we will have an archive of videoFAQs. Using Quicktime screen recording, facilitators will perform a given task on the computer and record it as a Quicktime video to be archived on Youtube or Vimeo and ported through our Channels site. Perhaps the biggest challenge to the success of such an initiative is making the larger Dawson population aware of it and making them interested in using it. It is to this end that we have recruited such a large number of facilitators. It is important that the site be more than a technical information resource, and truthfully some of the facilitators may serve more effectively than others in this capacity.
Channels should also serve as an information and resource-sharing network. For example, it can be a bulletin board for students to co-ordinate casts and crews for their many projects and a resource for finding and sharing equipment. It needs to have new content added daily so that users feel that they need to check in routinely to keep abreast of upcoming events and developments. Thus the facilitators will develop their own “channel” of expertise or interest in the hope of recruiting interested followers. Then the end users themselves become a resource as well, in the manner of forums such as CreativeCow or Cinema5D, sharing their own experiences and offering advice when appropriate.
My approach to evaluation is what Michael Canale used to call a bias for the best. Rather than make evaluation a gatekeeper, I aim to make it a motivator which creates a threshold for further illumination.
Grades are a definitely a motivator to students. However, in evaluation the distinction needs to be made between summative and formative approaches: the former refers to the typical test of what students have learned (or how well they have crammed). The later has more utility in actual teaching as it emphasizes mid-way evaluation of the students’ progress (and can also be seen as a gauge of the effectiveness of instruction. In evaluating skill building work, it is useful to create scaffolded assignments. This means that each assignment builds upon the one before it and should be evaluated accordingly. An effective way to encourage a process over product orientation is that the mid-way grades consist of qualitative feedback and final grades are a measure of how well students respond to the mid-way feedback. In creative work, sometimes the feedback can be as non-specific as prompting the student to try several approaches. In this way, the effort is rewarded, even if outcomes are not successful. If one wishes to encourage divergent thinking, sometimes paradoxically failure needs to be rewarded.
If necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is her father.
In content-rich courses, such as History of Film, I’ve always solicited exam questions from my students, both the week before the mid-term and final exams. I ask each student to submit 3 questions they feel should be on the exam and then I read them out and we discuss the wording of questions and possible answers. This is done as a fun activity. The students are highly motivated to participate because they feel that they are almost cheating, getting the questions a week before the exam, and getting the answers as well. The students generally do very well on the exam, but that is to be expected: the task is meant to be inclusive not exclusive. Having students perform poorly on an exam is highly inefficient, in fact a total waste of time. Imagine sitting in a classroom for 2 hours, staring a blank piece of paper. Who does this serve? The student feels that they are not getting it and thus don’t belong. On the contrary, if the student does well on a test, they feel a sense of accomplishment and a kinship with others who did well. There is still discrepancy in grades but the gap is much narrower. Recently I had to devise a new testing method as I had miscalculated the number of weeks of class and hadn’t allowed the usual week for question prep. I asked the students to post their usual 3 questions online in the comments section of a page called final-exam questions on the class site (done in WordPress).
The next week we divided the class into groups of six and each group was given a set of 5 questions I had made from their online offerings. They then proceeded to work on their answers, each group taking different strategies: some divided the questions up and assigned different students the task of answering, others worked on all the questions together. We then went around the class answering the questions one by one. Each group read their answers aloud and I evaluated the answers orally, commenting on both the content of the answer and the quality of its articulation. I even pointed out when a group was equivocating, hedging when they weren’t sure of the answer. We repeated the process for a second round of 5 questions and a third. The result was astonishing. The students reviewed the material, of course, but they were 100% attentive. I also should point out that this method involves a lot of repetition of the material (note that repetition can be a great re-enforcer of learning but is not usually highly motivating) but this wasn’t boring because the students were attending to which answer would be judged as best. They also learned quickly to model their answers on the more successful examples of their peers and they learned to be clear and not equivocate. We also had a lot of fun.
lessons from linguistics
- an instrumental function (to get things)
- a regulative function (to control things)
- an interactive function (to get along with others
- a personal function (to express oneself)
- a heuristic function (to learn and discover)
- an imaginative function (to create an imaginary world)
- a representational function (to convey information)
The above suggested a set of alternative objectives to language teachers than mere grammatical accuracy. Indeed, imagine a student with near perfect grammatical accuracy who could not perform any the above communicative functions. Likewise writing tasks (or other other learning tasks, for that matter) can be framed in variety of manners before or instead of within structures.
Teaching video production, I work in a technologically burdensome field both for teachers and students. There are always new softwares and versions of old softwares to be kept up-to-date with, not to mention new cameras and codecs to be familiar with. This is of particular concern for teachers who worry about being left behind. One solution is to limit students access to technology. I’m not a big subscriber to this approach as I like to try new things and I want to encourage students with the same proclivity. Another approach is to emphasize technique over technology. Technique trumps technology every time; technology is ever changing, technique, not so much. Thus in teaching any mode of expression or creation, one has to keep in mind that learning specific technologies (software, equipment) can have limited long-term usefulness whereas the techniques that those technologies bring to bear are another story.
There have been a few important video initiatives which invoke a radical change in our approach to pedagogy. One is the documentary “Press,Pause,Play:”
Another is Ken Robinson’s “Changing Educational Paradigms:”
Another is the “Did you Know” campaign that started several years back. Below is the IOWA iteration of the video that has had a number of versions:
Yet another RSA video looks at what motivates us: