Sarah (and those who commented), thank you! I'm gearing up to teach an online digital writing class for the first time, and you've given me some great ideas. I've recommended google docs to students but have never required it; instead, I've always relied on Blackboard as a one-stop-shop for all course materials.
I've personally noticed Kristopher's point as well. When I collaborate on google docs, I always find myself watching what the other writer is doing. I never considered the fact that I'm a little mesmerized by seeing the cursor tap out words, then delete, then jump to a new paragraph, pause, tap out more. FYC students may benefit from watching their fellow students write, as Kristopher says, and I think I'll include some kind of reflection on this idea in my online collaborative assignments this summer.
While I have not used googledocs for group discussion, I am using for a group project in one of my first-year composition courses (FYC). It is perhaps because it is one of the first times I have had such access to my student's writing process (I created the groups so I have seen their projects move from planning and invention to now drafts. They seem to like the commenting and chat features. If nothing else, I have learned more about the FYC writing process than I have before. I will let you know about their responses to the assignment when they are done.
Another reason for not using Blackboard is that Google Docs actually migrates into the professional realm. Regardless of career path, Google Docs and other collaborative platforms offer incredible means of communicating cross-departmentally. I'm not sure about how Blackboard compares to Google Docs but I imagine that the latter offers far more options. On aspect that strikes me is the difference in the way dialog emerges much more organically as you describe.
As a student, the simultaneous collaboration on a book chapter with Dr. Shelley Rodrigo on Google Docs left quite an impression. Through the platform, I was able to witness how someone else writes! Witnessing the formation of a sentence by an established writer and observing the way the text is managed to flow as it happens - incredible! I hope to work this type of experience into my classrooms somehow and evaluate student responses - what are their impressions of watching their peers wrestle with writing?
Great post Sarah!
I'm thrilled you pointed to Lee Skallerup Bessette's post! She mentioned one of the two major methods I use to help with technical support:
- have some "teach one another" assignment, Lee's, or
- group students in projects based on the functionality of what they have access to.
In other words, have the students help one another, and help you help them. I would argue, as you know, one of the 21st Century Literacies we want students to have is the ability to feel confident enough to figure out a new technology on their own. To help do that, we should be having them develop their own technology support networks (people, online places, confidence, etc.) while still in school.
If we wait to teach with technologies until we are comfortable enough to do so; we'll never do it. And if more colleges continue to explicitly support BYOE initiatives, as EDUCAUSE suggests, it will be impossible to know all of the technolgies. We've got to work through other support mechanisms.
When we presented on using video editing software and teaching film at Computers & Writing, I was reminded that, even though we were in a lab, the students were much more comfortable working with their own laptops. I don't find this surprising. I too prefer to use my own hardware/software when possible. The benefit is not only that students can take their work home with them but also aids in working around issues like installing software on university owned computers.
I wonder, though, as an instructor, if there is any concern with this BYOE concept that the teacher need be relatively proficient in seemingly any technology. You mention directing students to YouTube, but I am thinking in class itself. In my own classes I find that I'm often not only trouble shooting whatever technologies we are working with, but also Google Drive, Dropbox, online video editing tools and any other software students bring to class. I tell my students day one that we will use technologies that I know well and/or have passing familiarity with and that sometimes we will hit glitches and they are free to offer up suggestions they see. Often it works great and we pull on the class' own knowledge network.
The approach Lee Skallerup Bessette mentions earlier in this survey may help with using different tools in the classroom. Sharing how software is used with the class forces students to become comfortable with playing with tech and takes some of that load off of the professor.
Thanks for sharing your experience Julia. I don't yet have teaching experience but am looking forward to my first foray this fall with two freshman comp courses. Expecting these first courses to be constrained close to the prescribed curriculum, I look forward to working Wordpress and hypertext into the coursework (when I have a little more leeway).
My biggest concern is instilling the confidence you speak of within students: I'm pretty comfortable with programming but don't want to respond to more anxious students with my flippant attitude towards tech - "Go ahead! Break a few things! Crash the computer!" What are some more sophisticated methods of motivating students to get dirty fail? Is it even possible over 15-16 weeks for students concerned with their grades?
Laura, I have to say that I used to agree with your "past" self—my experience with technology in "traditional" classrooms as a student has largely been, in a word, lackluster because it's largely been with Blackboard. Something about it just reeks of "duty" to the classroom and not much about the site promotes the interaction between students that instructors seem to desire when they add that discussion board component to their classes. In an undergraduate Education course, a professor introduced the class to the wiki, where students would write "chapters" of the course's digital "textbook," per se, and I found that I rather liked the experience. Students engaged with one another's writing in a way that I hadn't seen before in a college course when Blackboard was the primary source of digital interaction among students, and I started becoming more open to the idea of blogging in the classroom. Like Matt said, there are so many options available to instructors that I don't think they take into consideration when they default to Blackboard, and I think that the wave of technology that's permeating the classrooms will inevitably change the way we think about pedagogical approaches in the future.
All of this to say: I totally agree with what you say, and I'm glad that your experiences have been so positive and rewarding—not just for you, but for your students as well! We don't know whether or not we like something without experimentation!
Welcome to the dark side, Laura! Just kidding. =) But in all honesty, I feel like you did a good job of articulating the concern that so many educators face when thinking about incorporating technology in their classrooms. Namely, that of possibility overload. There are SO MANY possibilities out there when it comes to choosing which piece of technology that we wish to use to help shape our students' learning. I feel like that shear volume of possible content or tools is enough to give anyone pause when trying to decide what technology will be the most useful to our pedagogy and to our students.
And that's the real concern, isn't it? We want to ensure that we give our students the best possible educational experience. I feel like this goal can cause us to be hesitant when thinking about ways that we might change our classes with new technology, especially when it means blindly diving into a field that is unfamiliar to us. We want to ensure that our students are getting the best education possible and so we do our best to examine all of the possible technologies they might use. I'm sure that the human aversion to change plays a part in it as well. Bravo to you for showing us what is possible if we challenge ourselves and our pedagogy!
This sounds like an excellent way to introduce students to research methods Susan - thank you for sharing. I'm hoping to incorporate something similar to this into a service learning project where students use their available technology to gather data for use by an established non-profit agency. Your assignment seems to foster pragmatic recognition of a need and the methods by which this need may be quantified. Regardless of career, this type of project imparts valuable "gut checking" skills that is sorely lacking.
As I try to develop my service oriented assignment, I have a great deal of questions about the logistics of this type of project. Perhaps you could share some insights? I see one of your students asked about the length of the project - how long did students undertake this assignment? Was this assigned early or later in the semester? How were students grouped? You mention that you assigned them but was this random or according to a criteria you had?
Thank you again, Susan, for sharing this experience.
I've had the same experience with certain assignments doing well in one class but not in the next, but I've never had the issue of a set of instructions being effective in one class, but not the next. I suppose I was assuming since these students already had experience with online classes (3/4 of them had me the semester before for Comp I), that they were already comfortable with technology.
Assessing success is always tricky. It's similar to the idea that you can be engaged in a discussion topic even if you don't post. Other than the issues listed, it seems to be going well. The students that responded to the survey did claim to want both text and audio, but that they preferred the audio to just text feedback.