Sheila Squillante, MFA Creative Writing

Overview

During last summer’s Technology Fellows workshops, my primary goals were to learn technologies that could help instruct and connect our low-res MFA students to the program and one another. I imagined focusing on Panopto to record videos of campus readings and talks to share with them. A second, and more urgent, objective emerged, however, when a low-residence student (located in Florida) enrolled at the last minute in one of my on-the-ground classes: The Fourth River practicum. Because we are taking steps to more fully merge the full and low-res programs, we have opened all on-the-ground courses to low-res students should they choose to enroll. So far, we have not had a lot of experience with this, so I was heading into a truly experimental space. I had to quickly put together a course that would work for both populations, and in doing so, tried out several technologies, including Panopto, Skype, FaceTime, Moodle discussion forums, and Submittable.

Planning Process

I knew from discussions during summer workshop that there are real obstacles to creating a truly synchronous learning environment for distance and residence students, both in terms of technology and pedagogy. Skype calls drop. Internet connections fail. And even if they didn’t, requiring a distance student to sit, captive, in front of a screen for three hours at a time would not make for a healthy intellectual experience. I determined that the synchronous component of the course for my student would have to be much shorter if she were to feel engaged and invigorated. I settled on requiring her to be “present” for half of the class time—one and a half hours—and began to construct EIAs that would comprise the rest of her seat time. This also helped mitigate some of the technology problems I anticipated, in particular being able to connect with a remote location reliably every week for that length of time.

Implementation

I planned to have my student use some kind of video-conferencing with her genre group for discussions each week, because I felt these were the two students who would be working most closely with her, and thus would offer the greatest possibility for engagement and connectivity. For the second half of each class, they would meet via video conference to talk about the essays from that week’s submission queue. I allowed them to choose which they preferred and they ended up going back and forth between Skype and FaceTime on the iPhone.

For the rest of her seat time, I did a variety of things, including:

Video:

  • Welcome and regular check-in videos with Panopto, that oriented her to the week’s goals and expectations
  • Guest editor conversations that took place over the course of the term

 Sheila Video


Moodle Discussion Forums

  • Individual, where she would respond to my orientation videos with questions or comments about the week’s expectations;
  • Whole-class, where everyone would introduce themselves or respond to various assigned articles about publishing
  • Whole-class, where they would upload blog posts, and then comment on their peers’ work

Moodle discussion forum

Submittable

This is the online platform The Fourth River uses to accept submissions. It includes text boxes that allow student editors to have substantive discussions about the merits of a piece of work. Students anywhere can log into this system with a free account, and it is quite easy to use.

Submittable


Assessment

The students ended up finding that FaceTime worked best for video conferencing, in part because they all had Apple phones, and in part because the low-res student’s internet connection was often unreliable. The low-res student commented that she liked the Panopto videos both because they helped her feel connected to me—to see my face and  hear my voice, as opposed to being just an email filled with instructions each week–and because they helped her feel like she was experiencing some of the same in-class learning as her peers. All of the students commented that while the Moodle forums were functional, they felt a little removed from the class experience, and that they didn’t work as well for critiquing work as they did for general responses to articles. From my perspective, they worked well—especially for quieter students– for inspiring thoughtful, thorough conversations. Everyone agreed that Submittable was reliable and streamlined.

Value/Next Steps

I think for a last-minute effort, the course adaptations worked well enough. In the future, however, I think it might make more sense to have the low-res students synchronously “present” for the more pedagogical part of the class, and asynchronous, using the Submittable comment fields, for genre group discussions. Last fall I was most concerned that my low-res student have a robust educational experience and that she feel included in the community to the fullest extent possible. But my overall goal is to make this sort of hybrid class work for all students, full or low-res. Two other options I’m considering are making the class hybrid for everyone, including full-res, and creating a fully online version of the class that will run every other semester.

Karen Kingsbury, Ph.D. International Studies

Overview

Over the course of the year, I investigated and experimented with several technologies, with the following results:

  • iPad as digital reader
    • useful for this purpose: will continue to use it
    • reduces financial and resource (paper) costs
    • access to other readers’ highlighting of a given text is an interesting feature
    • it’s best to stick with reputable publishers because the quality of digital text-publishing varies widely; many products are sub-standard due to poor editing and page enumeration.
    • iPad as mobile computing device
      • useful for note-taking during oral sessions and for short travel (2-3 days)
      • does not, so far as I can tell, offer enough features to replace MacBook for office use and longer trips
      • VoiceThread as asynchronous audio-visual discussion forum
        • useful, well-received addition to my online teaching strategies: will definitely use it again
        • breakthrough learning technology, offering something that often cannot be achieved in traditional classroom teaching: opportunity for each participant to speak and be heard by every other member of the group.
          • two-round VoiceThread discussion (thank you, Katie Cruger, for this great idea!):
            • each student makes initial post of a defined length
            • all students required to listen to all initial posts, then
            • refer to them, in a second post.
        • Setting up assignment parameters and deadline schedule requires careful thought, but the result is satisfying to all concerned.
        • Skype and Google Hangout as platform for international videoconferencing
          • Skype  performed much better than Google Hangout
            • ease of use
            • clarity of readily available trouble-shooting instructions
            • international conversation partners’ existing level of familiarity with the technology (our partners were in India and Taiwan)
  • Skype would also be first choice when talking to people in China, due to the Chinese firewall that complicates use of Google products.
  • Prezi as a presentation tool

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.52.22 PM

    • This tool, for me, is closer to a new medium (e.g., hypertext, animation) rather than a formatting or packaging tool (e.g., Word, PowerPoint), because it fosters visual thinking about rhetorical issues that, in my thinking and training, have previously been centered in and by verbal text.  Its panoramic, zoom, and pathway features offer concrete correlatives for abstract rhetorical concepts like introduction, paragraph development, topic ordering and transitioning, conclusion, etc.  Thus, it feels to me as though Prezi has prompted a quantum shift in my own understanding and practice of written and oral argument.  It opens up new areas, channels, and even modes of thought, much the way a new language does.
    • It was a student who first introduced Prezi  to me, and many students share my excitement about this product, even though one might think it would not be so startlingly new and inspiring for people who have grown up in an environment filled with digital, visual-media communication tools and (flip side of the coin) do not have decades of training in verbal-text thought pathways that now can be so productively disrupted and reconfigured by this new medium/tool.
    • In fact, the first big negative result came when a student grew so excited by the opportunities afforded through this tool (and by the topic she was pursuing) that she lost sight of the necessary limits: her Prezi  project ballooned into a behemoth that exceeded the assignment limits by a full magnitude (yes: 10x).
    • Thus, the first big lesson (not a new one, to be sure) is that caution and heedfulness, as well as energy and imagination, are needed when using a new tool (or medium) like this one.
    • This is a proprietary tool and Chatham does not currently have a site license, but the business model, cost, and subscription policies seem reasonable to me.
    • Downloading is possible but remember that the files may become very large, which may impact both the time needed to download and the storage space needed on a drive.

Planning Process

  • Desired Outcomes:  Effective, engaging presentation of ideas and materials, for scholarly and classroom presentations
  • Review of Current Technology Practices and Trends: Prezi  seems to be an increasingly popular, and well-received tool.
  • Clarify a Technology’s Teaching and Learning Value: Prezi  seems to be a flexible, convenient, inspiring tool

Implementation

  • Offered Prezi  to students as an option for presenting project results in Fall 2013 online course
  • Used Prezi  to prepare for a Faculty Seminar presentation in February 2014
  • Plan to develop several Prezi  presentations for use in Fall 2014 courses

Successes/Challenges, Assessment, Perceived/Determined Value and Next Steps

I am still using and experimenting; may have fuller comments to report here at the end of the summer.