Month: August 2014

Digital Assignments

I’m one of those people who believes that technology enhances the strategies we know work in a classroom setting. Just because you can use tech doesn’t mean you should use tech, especially if it doesn’t help to promote your overall pedagogical goals.

In “12 Steps for Creating a Digital Assignment or Hybrid Class,” Jesse Stommel does a wonderful job of posing some questions to ascertain whether or not you really need to use tech for an assignment and how to determine what those assignments might like. He starts with pedagogical issues rather than the practicalities of the tech itself.   The first two are indispensable: What is my primary goal for students with this course/assignment? What is my digital pedagogy?/How does my goal for this assignment intersect with my broader teaching philosophy?

For me, the answers to these questions sometimes relate to the materials to which I want to expose my students. For writing courses, where students are in a constant process of drafting, peer review and revising, I like students to see how this works (or, doesn’t work) in the real world. Showing my students how comments function as commentary on digital writing reveals what they might want to do and avoid in their own work. But students have to learn to navigate the Web, find comments and determine the difference between moderated and unmoderated comments. As a result, I not only have to consider my primary goal (honing their feedback skills) but also how technology intersects with that goal (information seeking on the Internet and information literacy).

In doing so, I have to allow time and space in the syllabus to do both. It is that dual-purpose that makes incorporating digital assignments different from using analog tools to do the same. But I find it rewarding, as I have developed new skills that help me in my own research, skills that I also pass on to students. At the same time, it takes different thinking, and definitely more time, especially in terms of the assessment of digital assignments.  In the future, I’ll talk about what’s being said about accessing digital assignments, and how I meet some of those challenges.

Jesse Stommel. “12 Steps for Creating a Digital Assignment or Hybrid Class.” Jesse Stommel. 18 Aug 2014. Web. 25 Aug 2014.

Tips for Screencasting

In her post for ProfHacker, Amy Cavender offers some tips for screencasting. Two of the best are time limits and scripts.

Cavender suggests that screencasts should be two to four minutes. in general, I would agree, but the screencast can be longer if the circumstances call for it. Some instructors use screencasts for lectures as part of blended learning. I have used screencasts for assessing student work, and this sometimes goes beyond the ideal “four minute” mark. For tutorials and student presentations, two to four minutes is ideal, but time limit should be determined by the function of the screencast.

Cavender also suggests a script. I think a script is great, especially, as she offers, if you plan to create a SRT file with captions. When I first started doing screencasts, I used a full script, and spent so much time on the script that it added labor to doing the screencast. I recommend using an outline, much in the way some opt to use an outline when presenting a paper rather than reading the paper. It makes the screencast seem more natural and less stilted, and more effective since you are not spending time perfecting a script.

I would add one additional tip on takes. While one may be tempted to barrel through recording the entire screencast in one take, I would recommend breaking it up. I use Screencast-O-Matic, which allows you to pause the recording and truncate so that you can eliminate parts you do not want to use.

Amy Cavender. “Simple Screencasting Tips.” ProfHacker. 11 Aug 2014. Web. 15 Aug 2014.

Prezi Essays

This past semester, I experimented with having my students write essays in Prezi, the web-based presentation software, in my Science Fiction class, a 200-level literature course for non-majors. I sought to improve the organization of the essays and improve the strategic use of evidence to support claims. I’ve tried more traditional ways of getting students to pay more attention to the structure of their papers, like outlines. I’ve also modeled citation in class from primary and secondary textual sources in an effort to get students to take only what they need, instead of unnecessarily long or unrelated passages.

I opted to experiment with Prezi to see if students would produce more structured and well-supported arguments if they could visualize them.  I scaffolded assignments as I normally would leading up to the final project for the class:  summaries of primary texts, drafts of thesis paragraphs and annotated bibliography entries.  I had students work out the “map” of their Prezi essays using a sentence outline or just grouping ideas together and using peer review to determine how they would move from one idea to the other.  As the rubric for the deconstructed essay shows, students had word count limits on slides. These limits were designed to make students more conscious of how they used text as evidence and how they explained the significance of video or visual evidence.

Overall, I was pleased with the way the essays turned out. Some students still had trouble with the idea of an essay, which they see only as text-based in a Word document, in a Prezi. Next semester, I plan to have students complete their major projects in Prezi.  This time, students will create an academic poster, an assignment often given in science and social science courses, for their analysis of literature and film in my Detective Fiction course. Students are familiar with academic posters, and the use of Prezi will allow them the ability to embed images and video, something they cannot do with traditional poster board posters.

My goals remain the same: to use Prezi to help students improve the organization of their writing and use evidence effectively.