Syllabus Scramble

I just found out at the last minute that I will be teaching English 518, “Technology in the Language Arts Classroom,” a required graduate-level course for students seeking a Masters in education here at Fayetteville State.  I taught the course a couple of years ago (here’s the long-abandoned course blog) and had some success with it, but I’d like to rework the course in a number of ways, so considering this post to be a mix of brainstorming and a request for suggestions.

First, unlike last semester, I’d like to make the course operate much more like a workshop where I am more involved in directing student work in class, whether that is designing wiki pages, writing blog entries, producing podcasts, or whatever.  Quite often, I found that my original plans–introducing key media studies texts separately from the technologies themselves–led to a kind of disconnect.  While my students were willing to engage, I struggled to match theory and practice.  I’m still working on that, but I’m drawing from a number of syllabi, including David Parry’s Networked Knowledge and Digital Rhetoric and Contemporary Politics.  Given the goals of my students, some discussions worked really well.  I found the conversations about Wikipedia (and related discussions about teaching internet research) to be incredibly productive, but again, I’d like to revise things a little.

Second, while many of the students seemed relatively comfortable with blogging, I had a lot of difficulty in getting them to contribute to the course wiki.  At the time, I attributed this to the students’ reluctance to have their work edited by others, but in retrospect, I think that my expectations–asking students to create a course wiki about course readings–were both too vague and too ambitious.  Given that these pages also would have covered material already on Wikipedia, they were also somewhat redundant.  With that in mind, I’m considering having my students produce something along the lines of “Depicting Dinkytown,” instead, but asking students to focus on Fayetteville.  As you can see from entries such as this one focuisng on a Burrito Loco, the wiki format can be used to include written, photographic, and even video texts, and instead of Wikipedia’s objective overview, a localized wiki could allow students to engage in more interpretive work.  Because I found out that I will be teaching this course in just the last day or so, this project is very much in its formative stages, so I’d appreciate any suggestions you might have about how to make it work.

Third, for a variety of reasons, I haven’t used blogging in a couple of years in any of my classes (despite my earlier enthusiasm for them), so I would be curious to hear how my readers are currently using them.  In the past, I have used individual blogs, a single course blog (to which all students contributed), and small-group blogs involving 4-5 students.  The class itself will be relatively small (5-6 students, I’d imagine), so I’m wondering whether having students create personal blogs is warranted.

I’m approaching this course without a lot of experience with secondary education students, so I’m still sifting through ideas about how to translate my interests in digital media into something that current and future teachers might find rewarding.  I’m also operating under the recognition that the teachers themselves may face certain limits–including access to technology and constraints imposed by curricular requirements–in implementing these activities in their own classrooms.  I’ll try to post a tentative syllabus soon, but any suggestions you have would be more than welcome.

Update: When I went to post this entry to Twitter, I remembered that I will likely require my students to use Twitter, something I’ve never done before, so I’d like to hear from my fellow Twitterers: how have you used Twitter with your students in your courses and are there any readings on Twitter that I should teach?

Update 2: I’ll write a longer, separate post later, but I attended some great panels at MLA, including one on Twitter and several others on the digital humanities, so I’m starting to get some ideas.  George’s planned revival of the Teaching Carnival series also seems like a great opportunity, not only to get some ideas but also to get some of my MA students, many of whom are high school teachers, involved.

8 Comments »

  1. dave Said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

    Check out for suggestions on using wikis in class. I pretty much copied some of his ideas. What I like most was that a few students each day were responsible each day for editing one page. This worked for me much better than a more free form approach. But I also like your idea of making a local wiki, perhaps they could make one that synthesizes course material and would also work as a resource for their future teaching. Perhaps even something modeled after this .
    Also for texts I would recommend Alex Reid’s The Two Virtuals.
    -More later

  2. dave Said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 3:19 pm

    Sorry urls were stripped out of prior:
    http://opencontent.org/wiki/index.php?title=Introduction_to_Open_Education_2009
    http://jbj.wordherders.net/

  3. McChris Said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

    One topic and technology you haven’t mentioned that I think is crooooooocial for a class like this is PowerPoint. Yeah, it’s not sexy at all, but it’s probably the instructional technology they’ll encounter and use most in their instruction. There’s also PowerPoint that enhances instruction and stuff that’s really distracting. I guess by Sturgeon’s Law 90% of everything isn’t great, but I think it would be really worthwhile to go over some do’s and don’t of slide presentations, so basic errors can be addressed.

    I know I have an axe to grind from my days as a business reporter, spending 45 minutes on the phone with an MBA going through his sildes, but I’ve been in a lot of classes as a grad student where the instructor was not using it effectively, too.

    As far as readings, I can suggest Tufte’s essay on PowerPoint, but I can’t think of any empirical research offhand about PowerPoint. I suspect an organization like ACM or MLA might have guidelines for using ppt that are backed up by research.

  4. Chuck Said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions so far. McChris, you’re right about PowerPoint. I remember mentioing it in class last time and I often do complain about poor PowerPoint use. Tufte’s essay would be useful, and I now remeber reading and appreciating an article he wrote for Wired a few years ago.

    Dave, I’ll check out Jason’s suggestions. Having students schedule responsibility for the wiki is a good idea. The blog posts were assigned to be completed at certain dates, and I think that’s why blogging worked.

  5. Melissa Garcia Said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

    Using Twitter would be interesting, but what I find most interesting about Twitter (and new Twitter users) is seeing them experience the learning curve that comes with it. It’s funny that such a simple service can be so hard for so many people to understand… and I suppose it’s because it really is what you decide to make it. The type of narrative than can be told in “Tweets” ranges from simple status updates, to conversations, stories, jokes, etc. and brings together all sorts of media (pictures, podcasts, articles, etc.). Most people start out using twitter to just say what they are doing at a single moment, but then end up using it as a tool in a larger community once they feel like they have something to offer and share. If you require it for whatever reason, it would be good to have students reflect on their experiences with it as they continue to use it.

    Even though students may be reluctant to use a wiki because of having others edit, critique and change their work, that’s a very important part of the new ways in which information is handled on the web. It’s a public good to be shared, traded, and improved upon. It’s about relinquishing control but aiming for what’s best for the good of everyone, I suppose. The Open Source mindset, I suppose.

    But in the end, a lot of things depend on the personalities of your students. I took a similar type of class in college where everyone was required to blog at least once per week on insights of our reading material (on a class blog), and most people just did it for the requirement, stated the obvious, and didn’t take the initiative to comment on others’ posts and create discussion. So it wasn’t fun at all. I think I was one of the only people who really tried to get discussions going (besides the prof) but regardless, if the people aren’t into it, it just fizzles.

    (Incidentally, this is also a class in which we watched Helvetica… most people were just like “huh?.. why are we watching this?”)

    Anyway, not sure if my rambling helps at all, but I wish you luck!

    Also, if you’re worried about people not having MS Office for PowerPoint usage, remember to remind them that they can just use OpenOffice :)

  6. Chuck Said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

    I’m not sure if I’ll use class time to show a movie, but I may require them to watch Helvetica outside of class (especially after rewatching it last week with you and other Fayetteville Twitterers).

    That learning curve is certainly important, and Twitter has become far more social for me (something like 44% of my tweets are @replies, according to my Twitter stats).

    When I’ve required blogging in my classes, I have often incorporated requirements where students were forced to link and reply to a fellow blogger in class (and in some cases outside of class), which usually worked out pretty well. You’re right to point out that there will always be some resistance to those forms of participation.

  7. The Chutry Experiment » Saturday Links Said,

    December 20, 2008 @ 11:42 am

    [...] again to everyone for their thoughtful suggestions on the graduate course I’ll be teaching in the spring, “Using Technology in the Language Arts [...]

  8. The Chutry Experiment » More Syllabus Scramble Said,

    January 2, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

    [...] still in the process of sorting through ideas for my graduate course on “Technology in the Language Arts Curriculum,” and I’d [...]

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