Month: March 2018

Going Analog

So, I like technology in the classroom. Every time the…uh…debates about it come up, I’m definitively on the “for” side for numerous reasons. That doesn’t mean that I don’t see the flaws with using some tech and/or the complications that can arise from having tech in the classroom. I just think the good outweighs the bad.

That being said, I also like to have my students do a lot of things on paper (if possible and accessible) for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s just faster. Sometimes I might want them to sketch something in a way that might be more complicated to do on a device. Sometimes I might want them to easily swap an activity with one another. Etc.

Another important reason that comes to mind is that sometimes it can be valuable to have them work out and/or practice something that they’re going to be doing digitally in an analog format first. Because sometimes the very digital-ness of an assignment can become a bit of a distraction to the thinking process. This is something that I’ve been thinking about since last year’s Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC). If you’re not familiar with DMAC, it is essentially what the title describes. During the institute, several educators, from across the country, come to OSU to discuss digital media, composition, pedagogy, and issues of access. Additionally, during the institute, participants create their own compositions in a variety of formats. I attended the institute in 2015, and I’ve been lucky enough to be employed by the institute both last year and this year, which has been a fantastic experience.

During last year’s DMAC, one of the things participants composed, as well as discussed using in the classroom, was an infographic. Things we did in that process included talking about infographics, looking at examples, and examining sites that can be used to make them (shout out to Canva and Piktochart). But perhaps one of the key components of the process (at least to me) was having folks make infographics on paper first. Participant Tiffany Mitchell talks about the value of that step here.

As I was retooling my First Year Writing syllabus this semester, I knew that I wanted to make some changes to how my students would first start to think about their research. I wanted them to think more about how to assess the quality of a source (rather than how to find a specific type of source), and I wanted them to think more about the secondary sources in relation to one another. This developed into a 3-step resource chunk in the middle of the semester, which entails: an evaluation of sources they’ve found in their preliminary research, a brief presentation on one of the sources, and a listicle about their research.

I got the idea for that last piece here. I really liked the idea of the listicle because it would get at the synthesis I wanted, and it would also challenge to think about rhetoric a bit differently than what we’ve done in the class thus far. Plus, I’ve been encouraging them to develop their voices this semester, and I try to provide some creative options that allow them to do that more easily. I also knew that it was probably a format that most of them had not written in (explicitly) even though they’ve probably encountered them on the internet (in fact, as we talked about them in class, it became clear to me that some of them had never encountered the word “listicle” even if they had read listicles before).

Earlier this week, I posted a handful of listicles on our class home page and gave them time in class to explore them (some were just text, some were text and pictures, and some were text plus various other forms of media). We then discussed how the listicles function, how the text interacts with the images/gifs/etc, and ways in which they could create listicles. I’ve done a similar process in the past when I’ve had students making podcasts and transmedia extensions. I think it’s really valuable for them to be able to see and analyze several examples of unfamiliar forms before they start creating their own.

Building off of that, today I had the students work in small groups to make analog listicles. I brought in a bunch of materials (poster boards, construction paper, magazines, glue sticks, scissors, and glue sticks) to facilitate the process. The readings that they had for class today were about the intersection of food and technology, so I told them that their listicles needed to, in some way, reflect the impact that technology has had on food. At the end of class, they had to display their listicles in the classroom, and I talked a bit about why I had them do this so that they could make the connection to their upcoming assignment.

It was fun to watch them work on this and listen to how they figured out what to write. At first, some of the students were really baffled by how to start, and I did give some nudges here and there. But for the most part, they figured it out on their own. And they got pretty creative with the available resources. I really liked doing this because it gives them practice, I could see how they were thinking in real time, I could see where I need to do some further explanation next week ahead of the due date for their actual listicle assignment (for example, I think a little bit more clarity about the difference between a listicle and an outline might be useful), and it was honestly just a nice way to break up the standard flow of class. I suppose some folks might think this assignment is a bit too K-12 for college students, but uh, (1) I was a secondary teacher before I started grad school, and I’d say that quite a lot of things that work well with 12 year olds also work well with 20 year olds, and (2) I mean, you’re never too old to color.

So.

Fridays are when they do their minute papers for the week, and here are some of the responses I got at the end of today’s class:

  • Several variations of “I now know/understand what a listicle is”
  • “The most important thing this week was the examples of the listicles. I have never heard of this before, but now I feel more prepared to create one on my own”
  • “The most important thing I learned this week is that listicles are very fun to read and make. Great way to express oneself”

And some questions that I plan to follow up on next week:

  • “Do we cite pictures in the listicle?”
  • “Can we look at more listicle examples next week?”
  • “Are we allowed to hand write our listicle?” (honestly, did not see this one coming, but I’m intrigued)

And finally, some pictures:

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Adventures in Assessment

Throughout the years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve taken various approaches to assessing student work. I’ve used really rigid numeric rubrics, single point rubrics, and no rubrics at all, depending on the class/assignment/my general pedagogical perspective at the time. On a somewhat related note, one thing I’ve been trying to do more of this semester is provide my students with more opportunities to steer the class in several areas, including assessment.

Here’s the truth: I hate grades. I love giving feedback, but I hate assigning letter/number grades. I have a much longer spiel about this than I want to go into in this particular post, but I think grades really do a great job of ripping the joy and appreciation out of learning. And I say this as a (mostly) reformed overachiever. I’ve worked really hard to structure my class this semester in such a way that grades are deemphasized. Instead, we’re focusing on process and feedback.

(FWIW several of my students have commented that this approach has made the class a more enjoyable experience than they’d anticipated having in First Year Writing, and I consider that to be a win)

But since I’m not able to go gradeless (yet), I still have to figure out how assess student work and assign grades. For the first writing assignment of the semester, a creative writing piece, I asked a simple assessment question that I picked up from John Warner: Is it interesting to read?

I think this was a great entry point for the semester, and it really took some of the pressure off while also avoiding that pesky hyperfocus on “correctness.”

Their first analytical essay is due this week, and when we first went over the prompt weeks ago, I told them we’d talk about assessment criteria later. What I was trying to avoid here was them writing their way into a “meets expectations.” I wanted them to build off the notion that the thing should be interesting to read, to grapple with analysis, and to buy into the process of drafting, feedback, and revision, without focusing entirely on the finish line.

This is a hard thing to make happen because the education system is not really set up for this, and even if I’m going mildly rogue, that doesn’t mean the other classes my students are taking are. I think this requires some trust, which we’ve been building since the semester started. If my students didn’t have some faith that I wouldn’t leave them hanging, I don’t think any of this would work.

At any rate, I always intended to provide them with assessment criteria when we got closer to the due date but then I wondered why **I** needed to be the one providing it at all. I didn’t get here on my own. I was inspired by this post and this post, amongst many others. See we’ve spent several weeks talking about analysis, analyzing media in class, writing together, discussing, looking at samples, etc. I think they actually know quite a lot about analysis, and rather than me saying, “This is what your essay should be,” I knew they could come up with their own criteria that would more than fit the bill.

So this is what we did (pulling primarily from that second post): I, first, asked them to tell me what the class is asking them to learn. Then, I asked them what they needed to do in the class to meet those goals. I took notes on a projected Google doc at both of these steps. Once we’d discussed both, I asked them what their essays needed to do and/or look like in order to meet the goals. Here’s what they said the essay should do:

  • Should have analysis that goes beyond surface level/explicit meaning
  • Essay should have some sense of structure
  • Should demonstrate awareness of how primary source can influence consumers
  • Should be aware of context in such a way that analysis makes sense
  • Should have a short summary/description of artifact
  • Good, clear transitions
  • Should demonstrate audience awareness
  • Should indicate having gone through various revisions

I told them that they’d identified the criteria that I’d be using to assess their essays. And I had them each vote for the top three points that they think are most important for this analytical essay. The order above reflects those preferences. Indeed, the top three points got many more votes the other points.

Here’s the thing: I think the criteria I would have given would have been somewhat similar to what they came up with here. But I think it’s important that this didn’t come from me. This is what they think strong analysis should look like based on the work we’ve done together throughout the first half of the semester, and this is what they’re choosing to hold themselves accountable for.

My favorite part? They didn’t say a thing about grammar or spelling or punctuation, which is where students often get hung up in the quest for “correct.” I love that they’re paying more attention to the ideas and how those ideas get conveyed.

This particular choice doesn’t solve all of my grading woes (though it’s also not the only thing I’m trying this semester 😉 ), but I like it thus far. I wouldn’t necessarily do it for every assignment, but I definitely see it having space in my ongoing pedagogical toolkit.