Tag Archives: teaching

Blogging to Improve Reading, Thinking, and Writing: What the Students Say

I have been asking students to blog in various ways for a few semesters, but in my new course on interwar Europe, we have finally hit our stride. In previous courses I had used blogs primarily as a “free-write” assignment to stimulate conversation. I would often have students in the first few minutes of class write about the days’ sources, but given that most of my class periods are 50 minutes long, I felt that I was “wasting” time that could be used for other purposes. Thus, blogging was born. Students quickly let me know that blogging in this form felt like busy work and took too much time when blogging MWF.

Simios Bloggeando by Julitofranco via WikiMedia Commons

I altered the blogging by dividing the class into thirds. One-third of the students would blog each day. Similarly, students also were assigned a day to comment on the classmate’s posts. In this way, at a minimum two-thirds of the class each day had some preparation for discussion [but this is Dickinson College, so the actual percentage of students prepared each day is much higher]. After about 2 weeks of reading summary after summary of the readings, I got frustrated with the lack of depth in many of the blog posts. I therefore asked students to briefly summarize (no more than one paragraph of their c. 400 word posts) the day’s material and then choose one section of a text (or film for those days) and analyze it from the point of view of our course themes. This began to improve the depth of class discussions, so I pushed to the next level.

Now the students were asked to write about a single phrase or sentence (or bit of dialogue from a film). Here I was trying to get them to use the “notice and focus” method described by David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen in their Writing Analytically (Wadsworth, 2012). This method asks students to find a passage that is significant, strange, or revealing. Thus, they have to stay closer to the text and begin to understand it before leaping to conclusions or judgments. For example, when we discussed Ignazio Silone’s novel Bread and Wine, I divided the class into groups, each headed by one of the day’s bloggers. I placed the sentences in question on the screen and then had the bloggers lead a discussion with their small groups. All groups were animated and on task. I asked them to do three things: unpack the meaning of the sentence in question, discuss how it linked to themes in the novel, and then think about what it tells us about Mussolini’s Italy and our course themes. In moving from specific to general, the students seemed much more able and comfortable in understanding and then applying. Continue reading Blogging to Improve Reading, Thinking, and Writing: What the Students Say

Class-sourcing First Step: Initial Thoughts

Courtesy of Chan Wong
Courtesy of Chan Wong

Over the past few weeks Gleb Tsipursky has introduced his idea of class-sourcing and I have provided an overview of my adaptation of it in a course this semester. With the first part of my course’s semester project complete, I thought I would provide an update.

My students have been working on amassing and annotating their initial bibliographies of books and articles. The choices of topics reflect the course’s focuses on modernity and sustainability. Students are working on aspects of nuclear power and waste disposal, tuberculosis in post-Soviet prisons, changing lives of native populations in the Taimyr Peninsula, how the formation of the Union of Composers changed classical music, and the shrinking Aral Sea and the environmental and public health consequences associated with it.

I had asked students to use Evernote as the platform for presenting their bibliographies. However, we realized that there are significant formatting issues. For example, if a student initially types the bibliography in MS Word or uses Zotero or RefWorks to generate the bibliography, Evernote creates extra lines and spaces and doesn’t recognize indenting. Because at the early stage I am concerned with students’ abilities to not only locate and evaluate sources but also to learn proper Chicago style citations (many of the students are not history majors and are more proficient in MLA), formatting issues are problematic. Students were to then use Twitter and our blog to promote their work with a link to Evernote. In the future, I will have students use DropBox, where formatting is not an issue, and share their files publicly. Gleb’s use of Delicious provides an automatic community for sharing (and gathering) information in a way that my approach does not. That said, the majority of the students have responded positively to Evernote as a good way to collect their notes in one place and sync them between their computers and iPads. As students begin to collect media to add to their projects, Evernote clipper will become a very valuable tool.

Even with all the “cons” noted above, I still think that using Evernote (and I might experiment with Diigo in the future) as a tool for organizing and teaching organizing is important. I have found over the years that students can be quite good at finding good material, but because they often lack the organizational skills that are so important for historians they fail to see patterns or how the various parts can fit together in a research paper.

I’ll return in a few weeks to update everyone about the projects’ progress. Later this week, meanwhile, my colleague, Prof. Alyssa DeBlasio in the Russian department, will share her thoughts on a class-sourcing project she used in the course “Russian and the Environment.” She will share her insights into first-time class-sourcing, the pros and cons, writing in a new medium, and the problems of making poor work public. Please check back in a few days.

We look forward to others’ insights into how they help students learn and write with new technology. I attended ThatCamp in Pittsburgh this weekend and met with the creators of Classroom Salon. I will likely use it next semester for peer editing in my History of Childhood senior seminar. Stay tuned.

 

Teaching Technology Training (in progress)

Courtesy Llewi034 at en.wikibooks

This week I am participating in Dickinson College’s Willoughby Fellows program. From 8:30 to 4:30 each day this week the ten fellows meet with our academic technology staff to discuss a host of technologies that we can use as teachers, but also that we can introduce to our students as tools to enhance their learning as users of these technologies. Over the course of the week I will be sharing a few of the bits that I have learned that I hope to use in future teaching not only in my Russian history courses, but also in other courses. Please stay tuned and give me your thoughts and provide our readers with examples of your use of technology in the classroom.

Today we are covering Delicious, Twitter, Google+, blogs, and beginning our discussion of digital storytelling. All in one day!!! I’ll let you know my first impressions.