Still Standing

A great deal has happened since my last post, and I have been busy converting my three seated classes to online (I already have two other online classes to maintain), readying myself to teach my classes from home. My transition has been easier than some because I have been teaching online for years and even prefer an online environment in many cases.

I know many of my students do not feel that way at all. All of my students are dealing with upheaval in their lives in so many ways, and now this. Therefore, I have taken some steps to help us move forward in our class. Here are some of the things I have done, am doing, and will do to help my students finish the semester successfully.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Last week, when we were still meeting as a class, I started preparing my students for continuing as an online class. It has helped that I already have a robust online presence. For years, I have posted online resources, and all assignments are already collected and graded online. My students are already used to the online classroom environment in many ways. One of the first things I did was develop a survey to distribute through the LMS that asks a few simple questions about their readiness to continue online, their comfort levels as far as DL classes go, and most recent contact info. I added a comment box, where they could write any questions or concerns.

Be positive. In my communication, I am trying to be as positive as I can while acknowledging the obvious difficulties we are all facing. I try to emphasize that completing an education is more important now than ever and that strong writing and critical thinking skills, which have always been important, will be even more so in the days to come. I also tell them that I believe in them, and I do. They will face this crisis and move through it stronger than ever before. I tell them they have a resiliency that some of them don’t even recognize they have. My students are some of the best, strongest people I have ever met, and they deserve to get a quality education no matter what the delivery system.

Integrate interesting technology. I love educational technology and most of my students do, too, so have tried to add some interesting assignments over the years. They use PowerPoint and Google docs, of course, but we create infographics and annotate text electronically. I have created screencasts with my iPad to show them how to research databases using our state’s virtual library. I show them how to use Survey Monkey for conducting surveys of their fellow students. I do glossary assignments using our LMS that allow them to create study guides as a class.

I want to start using more interactive educational technologies that will allow all of my students to see and hear each other. Here are some that I have wanted to explore more, but haven’t had time to work with much until now:

  • Flip Grid—Allows teacher and students to ask and answer questions through a video format. Smartphone- and user-friendly.
  • Collaborate—Allows for synchronous or asynchronous meetings with students. Through our LMS, I can create Collaborate lessons within the course just like assignments
  • Lesson packages—our LMS allows us to create whole lessons where we can add our own discussion questions, quizzes, or other assignments within the lesson that the computer can grade and send to the grade book. These packages help track which students are actually viewing the material or not.
  • Zoom—Similar to Collaborate, it allows for real time instruction.
  • Google hangouts—I took an educational technology PD course a few years ago and experimented with Google hangouts, but I would like to use it more. Really great for tutoring sessions because I can share my screen
  • Google Maps—I have wanted to add a Google Maps segment to my signature travel project in Brit. Lit. Now is my chance to explore it.
  • YouTube—the live steaming feature will be useful.
  • So many more. I will blog about my adventures as we go along.

It is a brave new world, but I am determined that I will give my students the tools to navigate it successfully.

Lifelong Learning

One thing I hope to instill in my students is a love of learning, something that continues long after the semester is over, the year ended or the degree conferred. The drive to do this comes, even after almost 30 years of teaching, from my own love of being the student, not the teacher.

Right now, I am enjoying a  course through the state’s professional development system called “Technology Bootcamp II.” I wasn’t privileged to take the first six-week course, but now, in the third week of this second course, I have already learned some exciting new technologies to add spice to my seated and online classes. Here are some new things I’m learning as well as some older things I’m learning anew:

Blackboard–I used to teach using Blackboard until our college moved to Moodle. Although I am so used to Moodle now and happy with that learning platform, it’s gratifying to see that I have gotten back into the swing of things pretty easily. The interfaces are similar enough that I have easily adapted. I am glad, however, to learn the differences, so I can better prepare students who might transfer and encounter Blackboard or those who come to me more familiar with Blackboard than Moodle.

Prezi–I have used Prezi for several years now and prefer it to some other presentation software. In this course, however, I have learned to use some of the bells and whistles that I didn’t know and discovered some templates that I hadn’t seen before. I like Prezi’s dynamic animation that makes presentations almost cinematic. It is user friendly and easy for students to learn. Here is a link to the Prezi I created to introduce myself to the class. Educational accounts are free.

Prezi Introduction

Tagul–This easy-to-use program was new to me, and it is fun!  I can see many uses for it in my classes because I think students will have fun with it too. Tagul allows you to easily produce Word Cloud Art just by uploading web content or adding your own text. Here is one of the first word clouds I created using words from my Study Skills class syllabus.

student-success

I was able to view a short tutorial, and then after a little trial and error, created this word tree that highlights some of the main ideas of the course. Word Cloud exercises could be used for vocabulary-building, learning key concepts and terms, for review purposes and a myriad of other uses. And, like Prezi, it’s free!

Here is a link to the animated version of the word cloud I created:  https://tagul.com/oo05cu2qlre9/student-success

Jing–Although I have used other screencast programs, Jing will be extremely useful for making short how to videos, five minutes or shorter. User friendly with helpful tutorial videos (I should hope so), Jing didn’t take long to get  the hang of and before I knew it, I had created a short tutorial video on how to use Tagul! Here’s a link to the video if you would like to see my first effort at using Jing! Free!

Jing Screencast

LiveBinders–This application helps instructors and students create digital three-ring binders. I haven’t finished working on this project yet, but so far I am quite impressed with LiveBinders. I’m able to download and organize websites, photos, videos, files, etc. that pertain to a particular topic, making them accessible for classroom use. Students can create a free account to create portfolios for class or keep all of their class project files together and easy to share, especially when working on group projects. Very useful.

I will also be learning classroom and online applications of Google Earth this week. Looking forward to it, and I will give you all an update on more useful education applications as I learn them.

I love being a lifelong learner!

Speaking of being a lifelong learner: Just a reminder that my literary e-zine, Teach. Write.,is open for submissions of short fiction, poetry and essays now through July 1, 2017. Anyone who has taught English composition is welcome to submit. See the guidelines  at this link for more information: Teach. Write Submission Guidelines. I would love to see your work!

Anti-Higher Education Sentiments Run High These Days

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Iconic Photo from the Cover of Ken Burns’ Civil War Series

“Why do you have to keep paying different lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online,” Johnson said. “If you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers, who, you know, kind of know the subject? Or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’ Civil War tape and having those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas” (The Denver Channel).

These are the words of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (R), who is running for re-election this year, spoken at a Q&A session in Milwaukee last Thursday. He was discussing, not K-12 education as you would think by the comments, but rather ways that we could decrease the costs of a college education.

I hope I don’t insult anyone’s intelligence by pointing out what is wrong with this statement, but I would like to highlight a few words as examples of the continuing anti-intellectual, anti-higher education sentiment that is running rampant in our utilitarian-minded culture.

  1. “Why do you have to keep paying different lecturers…”  Once again, money is at the heart of most conservative moves to re-define higher education. “Education is a privilege, not a right–a privilege that few can afford. Keeping cost down is the primary goal.” Keep in mind that Johnson was not being questioned about K-12 or even community colleges. His suggestion is for keeping costs down at four-year colleges and institutions.
  2. “You get one solid lecturer and put it up online,” Johnson said–Oh, what I, with almost 30 years experience teaching composition, could do with just a few minutes alone with this guy. One thing for sure, he wouldn’t leave my office with this major pronoun problem he’s rocking. I might have a thing or two to teach him about rhetoric, too
  3. “If you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers, who, you know, kind of know the subject? Or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’ Civil War tape and having those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done?”  Oh my, where to begin?
    • “Tens of thousands of history teachers, who, you know, kind of know the subject?” Did you know, Senator, that only about 1.68% of Americans have PhDs at all and only a little over 2% of those people have Phds in history? (Reference.com). To put that in perspective, consider that a person’s chances are better in landing a position as a professional football player (about 1.9% of football players go pro) than in being granted a doctorate at all much less than in being awarded the highest possible academic credential in the discipline of history (NCAA). These scholars, Senator, deserve better than your flippant derision. They deserve your respect and admiration for contributing to the liberal arts educational tradition that has for so long has kept our country great until it began to be gutted by those searching for the quickest and cheapest way to get the largest of number of people into jobs that pay well enough to keep them quiet but don’t offer much room for advancement–the utilitarian mindset of short-term training programs offering limited choices, rather than robust liberal arts programs offering  opportunities for students to advance in their careers through the stimulation of critical and creative thought–the very life blood of innovation that has heretofore kept our country competitive with the rest of the developed world.
    • Ken Burns, while a brilliant documentary film maker, is not a teacher nor a scholar. He turned down decreased tuition at the University of Michigan to attend Hampshire College, an alternative school, where students are assessed through writing personal narratives and working on a “self-directed” course of study instead of majoring in a subject, like, I don’t know, something that would prepare a person for making historical documentaries, like history, let’s say.
    • Ken Burns’ primary source, cited numerous times in the course of the series, is Shelby Foote. Now I love me some Shelby–that accent is great, and he’s so Southern, but Foote, by his own admission was a novelist first and historian second (“Shelby Foote: The Art of Fiction, No. 158”) When some scholars criticized Foote for leaving out footnotes and other forms of documentation in his work, he said: “I have left out footnotes, believing that they would detract from the book’s narrative quality by intermittently shattering the illusion that the observer is not so much reading a book as sharing an experience” (qtd. in Reddit Ask Historians).
    • But, really, Ronnie, are you serious? “Popping in” a 14-hour video “tape”? To educate millennials, digital natives who live in an educational world filled with  instructional techniques such as gamification, Learning Management Systems like Moodle and Blackboard, math manipulatives, open source software, project based learning and personal learning networks, you need to stay current with technology and contemporary instructional methods–oh, wait, that’s part of a professor’s job. Even in online classes, educators are beginning to recommend only short videos because today’s student, indeed students have always needed, interaction with each other and with their professor in order to truly learn. We have always learned by doing and today’s innovative colleges and universities are moving further and further away from static, passive lectures and long videos to more interaction through the methods mentioned above, along with a myriad of other ever-changing techniques that require ongoing professional development.
  4. “and having those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done.”
    • Yes, already done–25 YEARS AGO! Lovingly restored but not otherwise altered, with some questionable and controversial material debated hotly by scholars, especially concerning interviews with novelist and historian Shelby Foote, who died over ten years ago. Where have you been, Ronnie? Certainly not in any college level classroom.
    • Now concerning teachers proctoring “based on that excellent video production.”  Senator, this word proctor, I do not think it means what you think it means. In North America proctor means to monitor students during an examination. What exactly does one do if one proctors based on a video? I think that maybe, just maybe, you mean teach based on the video. Oh, teach what? I thought the old video, shown in high school history classes all over the United States for decades, is the only thing college students needed to further their education about the Civil War. No expert in the Civil War whose job it is to update students on the latest scholarship is needed to bring in other views or expand on important issues or correct mistakes that appear in the film. Of course not.

I’m not bashing the use of film and video in the classroom, not at all.  I use these mediums frequently myself, but not without discussion and critique, not separate from analysis, because documentaries can be biased just like any other literary work, and to think students can learn everything there is to know from one historical viewpoint of any one film, especially one that was first aired in 1990, no matter how popular that film may be, is a very poor way to educate anyone. (BTW, Ronnie, we don’t use tapes anymore–most of us don’t even use DVDs. Where ya been?) Ken Burns himself implies in an interview coinciding with the recent restoration and updating of his classic documentary, that history, like any discipline, progresses and morphs as time goes on–our vision of it changes: “ The Civil War made us what we became, that is true. But we are in the process of becoming always” Burns said. “The Civil War …is not only still going on, it still can be lost, which is a hugely important thing” (qtd in Rosenberg).

However, the use of video in the classroom, no matter what the form, is not really Ronnie’s point is it? Perhaps he isn’t even too concerned about paying for education, since it is more of a function of the states rather than the federal government and is a relatively small expense compared to Social Security, Medicare and military spending (National Priorities Project). What he is truly expressing is his contempt for higher education–his belief that intellectuals are somehow suspect because they tend to disagree with his political opinions and are known for seeking and demanding their personal, intellectual and academic freedom.

Oh, one last thing, Senator, it’s a bit ironic that you champion Ken Burns’ work–a liberal who has donated thousands of dollars to the democratic party and has broken his n0n-partisan public persona to denounce republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Huh, funny what a few research skills learned in college can do for a person.