Life in the AfterMAPH—Teaching with Technology

September 20th, 2007 § 4 comments

One of our goals with the afterMAPH is to be a forum for our alums to talk about what they do, and carry on some of the kinds of conversations they began at MAPH. In that spirit I present this post by our guest author Kristin Scott. Kristin Scott is a MAPH alum currently teaching at Columbia College.

The BLOGSpeaking of blogs . . . I am very interested to hear from those of you who teach and have been utilizing various forms of technology within your pedagogy. When I first started teaching at Columbia College Chicago (English & Cultural Studies Departments) a bit over three years ago, I was fairly unsure of how to incorporate technology into the classroom and admittedly a bit hesitant to do so. I didn’t want to “dumb down” the curriculum by turning to popular media/technological tools or use them as some crutch for effective teaching.

However, about two years ago, I began replacing weekly homework assignments (typed and turned in) with class blog assignments, and I have had some pretty amazing results. While I did not replace any of the formal essays with blog writing (i.e. midterm/final papers), I now find that weekly blogging affords students a number of educational benefits:

  1. Student blog responses to readings and class discussions often are more critical and thoughtful than weekly typed responses.
  2. Students seemed more engaged in class, after having blogged about the assigned readings.
  3. While students spend the first week or two typically writing in a vacuum (as if no one else in their class exists), by week three, they begin dialogues with one another, responding to others’ thoughts and comments; and by mid-semester, many are blogging even when not required, or sharing additional references, links, and/or outside sources.
  4. The sense of collaboration and cooperation is greater within the classroom, because they begin to form a sense of community outside the classroom through the blog.
  5. When they do approach their formal essays, the quality of writing (focus on content and context) seems to translate over into their papers in a way that did not occur before.
  6. I was able to more quickly identify those having difficulties understanding the materials and respond to them offline with suggestions and guidance.

While I’ve not read any scholarly articles that thoroughly discuss the qualitative and quantitative benefits of blogging in college settings, I have become convinced that blogging can further enrich and deepen engagement with the readings, discussions, and others. My theory is that the informality of blogs is exactly that which allows students to focus more on the issues, arguments, ideas, and concepts. While formal writing skills are an absolute must, what good are the elements of grammar, composition, and overall structure if students are not able to make effective contextual connections? Weekly blogging allows students to respond more intuitively, provides a more relaxing and communicative environment, and allows them opportunities to engage more deeply with the materials.

I’ve learned a few things along the way about how to best facilitate class blogs, and it shows in each new semester’s responses. I’ve also incorporated other forms of technology into the classroom, some more effective than others, though that’s another blog for another time. I would, however, be interested to hear from those of you who teach and have utilized this or other forms of technology in your pedagogy. What has proven most challenging and/or effective? And for those of you who do not utilize technology in the classroom, what are your thoughts on the matter?

If anyone is interested in seeing how I set up my class blogs, you can visit any one of the following three for this semester. The semester’s blogging has just begun, so I’m still guiding students through effective blogging, but you can see the progression.

Introduction to Cultural Studies, Fall 2007 (http://culturalstudies07.wordpress.com/)
Reviewing the Arts, Fall 2007 (http://revarts.wordpress.com/)
Literature and the Culture of Cyberspace, Fall 2007 (http://cyberliterature.wordpress.com/)

Kristin Scott, MFA, A.M.
Adjunct Faculty,
English and Cultural Studies Departments
Columbia College Chicago
http://www.kristinscott.net

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§ 4 Responses to Life in the AfterMAPH—Teaching with Technology"

  • Braden Grams says:

    Hi Kirstin,

    I am currently doing all my teaching online, through the Chicago City Colleges Center for Distance Learning, so this is really interesting for me. The tool that the City Colleges has purchased to deliver online courses is Blackboard, but it doesn’t have any built in Blog functionality. I’ve been debating a couple of issues with incorporating blogs into my classes. One is the issue of having students put content on a system that is not controlled by the college (I get the sense that administration is made nervous by this), and the second—and perhaps more interesting one—is the effect that the public nature of blogs has on the things students write. I’ve bounced back and forth between using a tool that would allow students more control over who read what, and the advantage of writing for a real public audience that a fully public blog would offer. How crucial do you think the public nature of the blog is to achieving the benefits for teaching you describe?

  • Hi Braden — yes, I’ve seen the blackboard system, and I am familiar with its limitations. I’m fortunate in that Columbia College doesn’t mandate or limit what tools I use for my classes. While I think that a class blog does not have to be public to be effective, I do think having a public class blog can be reaffirming and open up dialogue to those outside of the classroom and/or the college. In past class blogs, I’ve often had people write in from the “outside,” adding some interesting dialogue to the overall conversation or just writing in to say what a great blog they think it is. I also often show the students the stats, and they are always amazed and pleased to see that people from all over the world are coming to their class blog (even if they don’t comment); it gives them a larger sense of audience, which perhaps encourages even more thoughtful writing.

    While I do get occasional spam, it’s actually quite rare, and WordPress tools catches most of them.

    Furthermore, I think it’s helpful for the teacher to have a public blog, because then pedagogical dialogue can occur with other educators that might not have otherwise taken place. I’ve had numerous teachers from all over the world write to me and ask questions about my class blogs or just write in to connect with another teacher utilizing this sort of technology in the classroom. So it has its networking benefits, as well. Also, I have an online teaching portfolio, and having accessible class blogs to link to from my portfolio provides examples of my pedagogy, students’ responses to assignments, and the interactive environment I try to encourage between students.

  • Braden Grams says:

    I hadn’t really stopped to think about the professional development aspect of the public blog. Would you mind posting a link to that online portfolio you mentioned?

  • Sure — it’s http://www.kristinscott.net. Since I’m currently employed, my website acts as a portfolio, but is also “student-friendly” – since most people going to it right now are my students (hence, the colorful images, etc.). But just click on teaching portfolio at the top.

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