Last night I asked a question on Twitter, had some discussions (yay, thanks!) and then promptly went to dinner with a friend. The discussion continued, then veered to something else, and I ended up being @-replied to but not participating in the conversation (because I ate a lot of food, then came home and went to sleep, because I am just that much fun).
But the questions and discussions were good ones, so I wanted to take a moment to wrap them up here, in longer form.
First, the original question I asked had to do with fairness regarding final exam questions and students who have not been to class for weeks. Here’s a brief rundown of events/background information:
I had the daunting task of doing a Bootcamp session at THATCamp New England in which I tried to “introduce programming” to an audience I did not know ahead of time. SO. MUCH. FUN. (seriously!)
Here’s the “official” session description:
To participate in this session, no previous programming experience is required — and in fact none is assumed. Additionally, you won’t ”learn to program” in any particular language. Instead, you’ll learn several of the foundational elements of programming, see examples of these elements in a few languages, take a look at various types of digital humanities projects, discuss how programmatic elements work within those structures, and (finally) we’ll think about how to put these pieces of knowledge together to design an application of your own. There might be some programming-on-sticky-notes involved.
Here’s the slidedeck I ran through for the first two-thirds or so of the session:
Mark Sample, professor of Contemporary American Literature and New Media Studies in the English Department at George Mason University, is a smart fellow. I knew that even through the 140-character bursts from his Twitter account, but then he went and wrote this thought-provoking blog post: “Transparency, Teaching, and Taking My Evaluations Public”, the bottom line of which is this statement:
In addition to my research, I believe the other half of my job—teaching undergraduate and graduate students—should be as public as possible. Even if I weren’t an employee of the Commonwealth of Virginia, working in a publicly funded state university, I would still argue that virtually all aspects of my job—what I earn, what I teach, what my students think about my teaching—should be transparent.
Sample goes on to describe how he (and many others, myself included) makes his course material public (online syllabi, assignments, etc) but that students/other instructors/interested parties have no easy way to learn about the effectiveness of his pedagogy—the RateMyProfessors.com “system” is not terribly useful, as he reminds us “these ratings are based upon a professor’s charisma or workload, rather than any kind of systematic statistical data. (Is a chili pepper statistically significant?) These sites tell us what a few self-selected students think about a professor, not what they think about a professor’s teaching.”
Sample’s solution? Post all of his evaluations, “complete with every single enthusiastic or blistering or apathetic student comment.”
My initial thought was “Yes. That’s wonderful. I want to do the same!” Then I remembered I don’t have a job yet. Technically I’m still a PhD student and not even blessed with the magical title of “PhD candidate” yet. Then I said to myself, “self, so what?”
In my post about multilingual students using L1 in the classroom, I briefly mentioned a translation project that students completed in one of my semester-long versions of English 403 (Professional and Technical Writing for ESL Students) at Washington State University. That reminded me that I bookmarked a blog post from Google last month about changes in Google Translate.
At the ASLE conference in early June, one of the audience questions was about on-the-fly translating services. It wasn’t really as tangential as a question as it might seem; the roundtable was about blogging space and place and I was bringing the technical knowledge, as it were. Essentially, the question was how do we talk about space and place and foster community when we’re only speaking English and on-the-fly free translation software isn’t all that good?
On Twitter, @englishcomp (Jim Burke) posted a link to Ways of Motivating EFL/ ESL Students in the Classroom, which caught my attention because I was just thinking about my own students and their interactions in their group projects as we finish up this summer session, and thinking about how motivated they are to finish and to do a good job. Looking at the article itself, it’s geared toward a different type of classroom than mine; the issues of motivating students to learn English in the first place, and pedagogical methods for doing so, are not problems I face. I teach Professional & Technical Writing for multilingual writers, in a university setting. These students are already in the States to study at an American university, and they have to achieve certain TOEFL/IELTS scores to matriculate, so from that point forward it’s all about ensuring that they’re learning the material, not necessarily English per se. That’s not to say we don’t talk about academic writing in English, or grammar rules, or idioms and so forth—we do, but supplementary to the core material.
The part of the article that caught my attention was the brief section on using the L1 in the classroom, and how that is a question “which most divides EFL/ESL teachers, whether they are for it or against it.” In my particular situation, and the type of classes I teach, I am for it, because doing so is increasing these students’ skill level in other areas: listening, synthesizing, translating. I preach to them that their multilingual abilities are incredible skills to put front and center on their résumés. Some students in my class have four or five languages in which they are fluent: Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, English is a common configuration. When I tell them those skills are some of the most important that they could have, as a new college graduate, they are usually a little taken aback because I think they’ve had other instructors (including other English instructors) who tell them to be “more American” or tell them “you’re in America, speak in English,” and here I am telling them to embrace the many language skills they have.
The day abstracts were due for the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association conference (Nov 6-9, 2009 in San Francisco), I whipped up an abstract for the “teaching with technology” panel. I am assuming, based on similar conferences I have attended, that the audience will consist of people mostly unfamiliar with technology but willing to learn; these are the late majority, definitely, and in some cases laggards (in the language of the technology adoption lifecycle by Rogers et al.
My goal is to dispel some myths, orient people toward work already done/going on, and provide some “best practices” (which actually riff off Jeremy Boggs’s Three Roles for Teachers using Technology post from February. I wrote this more like an evangelist than an academic, hence the lack of a colon or parentheses in the title.
When I read the Chronicle piece, “I’ll Never Do it Again“—about one professor’s experiences teaching online—I thought to myself, “Great! Don’t. More work for the rest of us.” I hope there’s a Chronicle piece in the works by someone who enjoys teaching online and whose students perform well. I could name at least fifteen people without even trying who could write such commentary—including myself although my sample size is (admittedly) in the single digits. Are there problems with purely online courses? Sure. Are there problems with purely face-to-face courses? Sure. Are there problems with hybrid courses? Sure. Conclusion? Teaching and learning are challenges faced by all instructors and students everywhere. This isn’t news.
I just wrote a fairly lengthy email response on the TECHRHET listserv that starts to get at the response I’ll eventually write to Kirschenbaum’s Chronicle piece from January about humanities students learning to program. This e-mail is just about markup, not programming (and yeah, I totally make that distinction), and is in response to a very specific question. It’s unedited and refers to things not here, but I still think has valuable info. Or thought-provoking info.
I am a literary studies person who thoroughly enjoys teaching composition [hiring committees: note that]. While I am thrilled to be teaching a literature course next semester, I am a little sad that I will not be teaching English 101 at WSU. If I were teaching English 101, the students in my class would be fully engaged with the WSU Common Reading Program—now that it has been reinstated.
I’ve already written a long blog post about the English 101 teaching and learning extravaganza put on by myself and my teaching partner in the Freshman Focus program in Fall 2008. The common reading last year was Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers. As I wrote in that blog post, although I’m fairly certain none of our students had plans for careers in the mortuary sciences, we still intended to use that text heavily in the course—and we did: in addition to attending the author-related events at the beginning of the semester, our students worked with the entire book and were required to attend and write about at least four events that fell under the banner of the Common Reading Lecture Series. We had them do a group project that incorporated the Common Reading as well as all the other main goals for the course—having students recognize (and criticize) the use of the “moves” in academic writing, and have students think critically about the moral and ethical dilemmas present in the text.
My presentation was part of the “Collaborative Crosscurrents in First Year Composition” panel at CCCC 2009. We were scheduled at the same time as several other panels I know I would have liked to attend, and also many people seemed to hightail it out of town on Saturday. Let’s just say the three of us were very familiar with our audience members (*cough* people across the hall in Pullman *cough*).
Because I thought my presentation was at least minimally interesting—if not for its failure to produce any results related to my original research question, then for the song and dance I did during the extemporaneous version (just kidding. there was no song, no dance)—and because I wanted to try out Slideshare, I put together this version of the talk. In real life I only had 11 slides, but I had to try to capture the rest of what I was saying in order for it to make some sense. Therefore, I give you an embedded slideshow.