Beginning Blogging

When people ask me how to start blogging, I am not always sure what to say. Do they want to know the physical aspects of creating a blog? Do they know what blogging is and how to talk about it?

Since my talk yesterday I have already received three requests for information on how to begin implementing blogs into the classroom. I believe the questions are more on the physical aspects: How do I get one? Where do I get one? Then what?

Anyone can get free blog software and hosting from WordPress. The site will walk you through signing up for a blog and creating a blog, which is on their software. It will also put your blog on their site (called hosting).

This blog, all my blogs, were created and are maintained using WordPress. I like WordPress and it has grown and improved as new technologies have been introduced. One thing I like about WordPress is that the update feature now only requires that you push a button. There is an automatic installation of the update for you. Eeezy-peezy as we used to say.

If you want to introduce your students to blogs, there is a short YouTube video called Blogs in Plain English. He talks a bit fast for ESL students, but the description is fairly simple and clear.

Reading About Blogs
Tech and Learning has a text-based introduction with lots of links. It’s teacher friendly (though not higher ed) and has some good points.

Anton Zuiker has a Blogging 101 which begins with a short history of the blog, introduces the vocabulary with definitions for parts of blogs–what is a post?, reasons for reading and writing blogs, and a list of additional readings.

The first article in Zuiker’s list is Rebecca Blood’s “Weblogs: A History and Perspective. When I began introducing blogs to my students, this is the historical article I shared with them. If you have a lot of students with minimal internet experience, this is a good solid article to introduce them to the history of blogs and how we came to be where we are.

The best thing about blogs for me is that I can share what I have learned with others, some of whom I will never meet.

Beginning to Articulate a Coherent Theory of Why I Integrate Technology Into My Classes

Today I presented at a faculty conference on Web 2.0 and how to get all of the students in a classroom involved with technology. I actually prepared two different talks, based on the needs of the folks in the audience. Since many of them were already using technology, I used my more advanced talk. The newbies in the audience waited till after the talk was over and asked for information, links, and websites. I was thrilled to have thought ahead to what they might be looking for and to have at hand what they wanted to know.

My use of technology goes beyond my composition courses, where I think that technology is a necessity for twenty-first century education.

The following are some of the justifications for why I integrate technology into my classroom on a regular basis.

As college instructors, we are particularly invested in our students’ successful completion of our course AND their college educations. We want our students to succeed. We may, however, be missing a major factor that contributes to student success. Peers “are the single most potent source of influence” (Astin 398) in the lives of college students and we can use this fact to help our students succeed in college.

Many of our students are digital natives. But if we presuppose that our students are already computer savvy because of their age or texting ability, we are doing some of them a disservice (Lenhart, et al). A Pew survey indicates that twenty-three percent of college age people in the United States never use the internet. How can we move beyond short-term interventions and help our students of all ages develop important technology skills and sustainable lifelong learning.

Traditional students, known as Gen Yers or Millenials, grew up in a high tech world. They usually have technological expertise and feel lost without their cell phones and computers. They are used to having things quickly, from fast food to high speed data ports (Rabb 16).

Since community college students thrive when they feel like they belong (Schuetz), creating an ongoing classroom blog, where students post and comment regularly, is an effective activity. Through the blog, students connect with one another. This encourages intergenerational discussions and relationship-building, which contributes to the students’ retention (Astin). Often students will respond to people who are very different from them without even realizing the difference.

The interactions between students brought about by the blog cause the students to be more academically connected, which increases student retention (Astin, et al).

Part of the reason I have made such a strong attempt to incorporate technology into my classes is that these students need to be introduced to the usefulness and the pitfalls of the technology.

The internet is socially transformative, allowing access to information and ideas that students do not have access to in other ways.

Talking About Tech
We can help our students learn to ask questions about what the circumstances of creation mean for the writing which they compose for the net, if they do compose. Some argue that rather than composing, texts on the net are the result of construction and compilation, engineering terms which change the meaning of the writing (Stroupe 611). We can talk about the verbs that we use to describe language on the net and what that says about the net and about us as users, rather than readers. Perhaps we could talk about the differentiation between linear and hierarchical structures of the programs used to create the net and the limitless opportunities to available for formulating, assembling, and presenting the information (Paul).

Some argue that compositions “in various media all hinge on the same kinds of rhetorical decisions and distinctions” (“Question 30”), while others say that they are the result of “historical, cultural and rhetorical dynamics” (“Question 30). Looking at the cultural and rhetorical dynamics of composition on the internet indicates that the rhetorical decisions and distinctions may, in fact, be qualitatively different from print texts.

Jakob Nielsen says that writing is found through “information foraging” (106), which is the modus operandi of reading the net. Most people using the internet are searching for something specific. This effects what information gets seen and different rhetorical decision trees would create different materials. We can help our students see how writing found as a result of information foraging is less a contextualized narrative, like a fiction story, and more an uncontextualized work, existing in the digital environment like an old photograph might be lying in a desk drawer.

Does this lack of contextualization take away from “the experience of language, voice, form, implication, or evocations of culture or place” as Stroupe argues in his 2005 essay? Does it alienate the information, divorcing it from the social circumstances which produced it? How might a lack of knowledge of the discourse community which composed it influence a reading or understanding of the texts?

Abbott, William and Kathryn Nantz. “History and Economics: Can Students (and Professors) Learn Together?” College Teaching 42.1 (Winter 1994): 22-26. Web. 27 August 2009.
Allison, Paul. “Hard Questions for Teachers Who Teach Blogging.” Teachers Teaching Teachers. April 13, 2007. Web. 25 February 2011.
Astin, A. et al. Minorities in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982.
Astin, A. W. What Matters in College? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Lenhart, Amanda, Aaron Smith, Alexandra Rankin Macgill, and Sousan Arafeh. “Writing, Technology and Teens.” Pew Research Center Publications. 24 April 2008. Web. 2 August 2009.
Paul, Christiane. “The Database as System and Cultural Form: Anatomies of Cultural Narratives.” 2007. Web. April 1, 2010.
“Question 30: What role should the production of non-textual compositions play in the writing class?” Survey of Multimodal Pedagogies in Writing Programs. 2005. Web. February 24, 2009.
Rabb, David D. “From Collision to Collaboration: Understanding Generational Challenges in the Workplace.” Veterans Administration. Web.
Schuetz, Pam. “A Theory-Driven Model of Community College Student Engagement.” Community College Journal of Research and Practice 32.4-6 (Apr-Jun2008): 305-324.
Stroupe, Craig. “The Lost Island of English Studies: Globalization, Market Logic, and the Rhetorical Work of Department Web Sites.” College English 67.6 (July 2005): 610-635.
Tinto, Vincent. “Classrooms as Communities: Exploring the Educational Character of Student Persistence.” The Journal of Higher Education 68.6 (November/December 1997): 599-623.

What Web 2.0 Looks Like in My Classroom

Art can be fun. It can also be difficult. Or it can be confusing. And it can be intriguing.

One way we play with the digital art of writing in my classroom is through blogging.

Since many of our students are digital natives, and those who are not are at a significant disadvantage both academically and professionally, introducing and using Web 2.0 into my classroom seemed like a good idea.

davisenglishI created a classroom blog, Davis English Addendum, where I could post things from class or about class and where the students could too. I actually started the blog in response to the question Why are we studying art in English? And the first four or five posts were written by me for the students. However, the blog soon went beyond that.

Now it is really a class blog. The students are required to post and comment, but because of or perhaps despite that sometimes they get very involved in each other’s lives through the blog.

I have my students make blog posts. These posts are all about their lives and their classwork. I am trying to decompartmentalize their learning, since studies have shown that students separate learning on one subject from learning on another (Abbott and Nance).

marine-corps-flag-wikipThis is a Marine’s blog post and all the comments students made. It was part of an assignment to introduce the students to each other and the blog.

A very different approach to the same assignment is seen in Secret Spy.

As you can tell, these two posts generated a lot of feedback, even though they were very different posts.

Not all of the posts, even the thoughtful ones, get commented on. Appreciate Everything, Take Nothing for Granted was part of the narrative cycle of papers, in which students were supposed to post a six-word autobiography and discuss it.

Using a blog is a good idea for more than just an English classroom. I’ve used the blog to post assignments for my humanities class. These blog posts are made sticky (to stay at the top of the blog) and the students simply post comments. Examples of these can be seen at HUMA Homework 2/17/11 and HUMA 1301 Homework 2/24/11.

I also used the blog to post a quiz. The quiz came up two minutes after class started and I projected it for the class. This quiz is a bit long with the pictures and I divided it into three sets of questions.

There have been many things we did with the blog that are not directly related to the subject matter.

The students use the blog to get help for class. Here is an example of how a student got help on an assignment when I was out of pocket at the hospital with my father.  Two students got on the website quickly enough to help him do his homework.

hurricaneSeptember 2008 I used the website to keep students who were out of town up to date on the hurricane. Obviously that wasn’t useful for those of us around here without power.

We also used the website to discuss Hurricane Ike.

Things I mentioned in class, but that might be forgotten, can be posted on the blog.

Early on I posted sample paragraphs from previous students’ compare/contrast papers on the blog, such as this one on embryonic stem cell research, this one on abortion, this one on health care reform, or this one on global warming.

More recently I have started taking examples of good paragraphs from my students’ papers and posting them online for their classmates to see. As we were writing the research paper in which they must explore both sides of a controversial issue, I posted Good Intro Paragraphs on Overview of Controversy and Good Body Paragraphs for the Overview of Controversy.

Students also learn that early posting garners them comments, while later posting does not.

CB029654Sometimes I reiterate important parts of the lesson, such as types of definitions, and give supplemental information, such as definition examples from real life.

The blog is a very useful classroom tool.  Blackboard and Moodle can be used in very similar and non-public ways.

I like using a public blog because sometimes we get comments from the general reading population or from other students at other colleges. That is fun for the students. Once an author of a video poem commented on a student’s response to his poem.

Related ideas (or “A word to the wise is sufficient.”)
“Digital tools do nothing more than make ongoing conversations efficient and approachable. They give kids a chance to participate in a school culture that continues to discourage participation. ” from The Tempered Radical

Finding the sources
Abbott, William and Kathryn Nantz. “History and Economics: Can Students (and Professors) Learn Together?”  College Teaching 42.1 (Winter 1994): 22-26. Web. 18 January 2011.

Lenhart, Amanda, Aaron Smith, Alexandra Rankin Macgill, and Sousan Arafeh. “Writing, Technology and Teens.” Pew Research Center Publcations. 24 April 2008. Web. 20 January 2011.

“Theory and Research-Based Principles of Learning.” Enhancing Education: Carnegie Mellon University. n.d. Web. 26 April 2008.

Related information
Video: A Vision of Students Today

Hard Questions for Teachers Who Teach Blogging
This post actually made a big difference in the design of my English composition course.

Think Before You Tweet

Using Extant Tech in the Classroom
I confess that I have my students use their cell phones in class. Sometimes for looking up vocabulary words. Sometimes for snapping pictures of modern cave paintings and showing me their homework. Students use them to copy the notes I put on the board.

Blogging Pedagogy from UT Austin

Generational discussion generators
Generation Y in the Workplace An introduction to living generations, with a focus on Gen Y (1979-2002)

US Census Bureau on Baby Boomers

Saunders, Victoria J. “Boomers, XY’s and the Making of a Generational Shift in Arts Management.” Culture Work 10.3 (August 2006). 24 February 2011. Web.

Wilson, Michael and Leslie E. Gerber. “Generational Theory Can Improve Teaching: Strategies for Working with the ‘Millenials.’” Currents in Teaching and Learning 1.1 (Fall 2008): 29-44. 24 February 2011. Web.
source on generational teaching and Millenials

Critical Thinking: Importance in the Classroom

Assessment of learning is a difficult task.

One avenue that has been pursued in determining whether or not learning has taken place in higher education has been an examination of the development of critical thinking skills in students.

Prominent in recent research and the popular news (Halpern 1997; Veal 2011; Baker 2011), critical thinking is a key component in an educated life, both during college and after graduation.

Critical thinking can be used to foster student learning in many courses, such as science and English, and thus can be an element that helps tie the students’ education together in a way that encourages the transfer of knowledge. We could provide our students with value-added instruction within their core courses and, by spreading the emphasis on critical thinking throughout the college, we would help the students recognize the importance of critical thinking. With a consistent message, the students will be more likely to learn to think critically and to transfer this knowledge from one classroom-learning environment to the next.

A clear agreement on what critical thinking is would be the first step in determining a quality enhancement plan on this topic. Various colleges and universities have defined it as
an understanding of logic, including logical fallacies and the correct use of evidence;

  • reflective thinking, with all assessment simply being student’s writing and talking about what they did, without necessarily any change in their process of working and learning;
  • a deep understanding and ownership of their knowledge by the students, which focused on getting the students to think, talk, and write about whatever they were learning, how it was being taught, and why they were having to learn that;
  • the ability of students to find and use information;
  • and the ability of the student to work with their classroom learning on various levels of knowledge based on Bloom’s taxonomy, usually through the analysis and evaluation stages.

Blogging for Academics

Clearly over the course of my blog, I have come more transparent about who I am. When I started this blog I was assiduous in keeping my identity concealed. I did this because of the horror of academic blogging gone wrong. If I did something to cause myself problems, I didn’t want me to be found. 🙂

While I am much more up front about blogging, that has come in part because of my experience as a blogger. I’ve seen that I (overall) don’t do anything I don’t mind being public, even when people take those things differently than how I intended them. (Yes, one day, I am going to blog about facebook and losing an interview.)

If you have not yet decided whether to join the public spaces of the internet, you might want to look at Creating Your Web Presence: A Primer for Academics.

The authors, Miriam Posner and Brian Croxall, talk about the basics of an online presence, including familiarity, consistency, and participation.

They specifically discuss facebook, a Google profile page,, and more.

For those who are new to the internet, or just haven’t thought about it, Billie Hara’s Think Before You Tweet (or Blog or Update Status) continues this discussion.

Today I want to veer off their post just a bit and write about something that might detract from a positive and professional online presence, a presence that we so meticulously create and maintain, comments made online that publicly disparage students and colleagues. These comments can be intentional—meant to demean or criticize—or they can be random comments made in jest.

The article might be particularly important if you plan to tweet tonight’s First Year Chat with us, #fycchat, since it is on student apathy.

This post, “Live Blogging,” tells about a not-so-great experience with blogging, where it all worked out right in the end. Still, it made me think even more about the blog and my persona and my transparent-or-not identity.

Aimless English?

In a discussion of highly stressed students, Naomi Schaefer Riley argues that the “aimless curriculum” is at least partly to blame.

While I don’t know about that, she does discuss an issue which touches English departments everywhere and can make a big difference to our students.

Harvard English department, which recently replaced its year-long survey course for English majors with a series of “affinity groups” in which students would learn about whatever authors (within broad categories like “poets”) their particular professor finds important or interesting. Chace points out that under this system, the job of “cobbling together intellectual coherence” falls to the students themselves.

I am presently teaching a humanities course, which is a core curriculum course and “belongs” to the English department, despite its designation. (The upper level course belongs to the philosophy department, so perhaps that is part of what makes the course interdisciplinary.)

It can be too easy to agree that we should introduce something to something and, in enthusiasm, jump away from any category that lets them hold onto the knowledge. Instead I am going to stick with the main point of history as a road leading towards us for the course.

I’m trying to show the most famous works of art for each period of Western civilization (and some from others as well), including the ziggurats, the Sphinx, the pyramids, Stonehenge, and the Parthenon. (These are the architectural works we have concentrated on so far. We looked at others, but these were the focus.)

For the Greeks, we went through some of the myths, heroes, and Aesop’s fables. Obviously we’re reading more in the Greeks than we did in ancient civilizations. In that section, we read the oldest love poem still in existence.

Electronic Literature Anthology

A free e-book for lit classes.

A new collection of “electronic literature” proves that the genre of interactive storytelling comes in an array forms and technological platforms. In fact, if you’re not sure what exactly electronic literature is, you still won’t know after clicking around on this Web site that mixes video, audio, and text into works that are not quite video games, not quite poetry, and nothing like a traditional novel.

Works in the anthology, Electronic Literature Collection Volume Two, include a poem that lets users trigger different sounds by clicking on various letters; a video game that lets players shoot pictures of words; and a satirical collaborative novel about a book tour that “takes on the excesses of a rock tour.”

Many colleges are looking at e-books for textbooks because of the exorbitant price of books these days. This might be a good work for a focused electronic classroom or a 20th/21st century literature course.

Analyzing Videos

How to Analyze a Video
We look at analyzing and evaluating websites with our students quite often. (In fact, my most recent article is about a student exercise in evaluating bad websites.) I believe we are starting to become fairly comfortable with the standard criteria for website evaluation.

However, websites can involve more than the written word. What about videos?

This is particularly important in an age when YouTube teaches and is a common site for students to surf on.

In preparation for helping students analyze and evaluate a 27-minute one-speaker video, I came up with the following questions. While some of them would have to be altered for videos with multiple speakers, or with no speakers, most of the questions would work for any video.

Criteria for Analysis could include:
Authority of the Video
Authority of the Speaker

Authority of the video:
Where is it published?
Is that a reputable source? What do you know about the source?
What similar publishers or distributors are out there? What is the main rival for this source? How is it different?
Is it clear what organization is responsible for its creation?
Is the organization a reasonable entity to create this video? Why or why not?
Is there a way to contact?
Do they list names and qualifications of the creators?
Is the source for the video stable? That is, can you rely on it being available later?
Production quality
Is the video interesting to look at?
Does the video have only high quality shots?
Are a variety of transitions used?
Does the video flow seamlessly?
Are digital effects used appropriately?
Is the audio clear?
Are all shots in clear focus?
Are all shots sufficiently lit?
Are the graphics appropriate to the topic and theme?
Are the graphics aesthetically pleasing?
Do the graphics explain key points? Do they reinforce key points?
Is copyright information given for all graphics, including permission to reproduce?

Authority of the speaker:
Do we know who the speaker is?
Is the speaker’s main qualification her/his celebrity status? If so, is it a topic the speaker has expertise in outside of her/his fame? Is this a topic the speaker usually addresses?
If not, how do we know who the speaker is?
What does the video say about the speaker?
What does the speaker say about her/himself?
Are the speaker’s qualifications, as given, clearly related to the topic? If so, how? If not, why not?
Are the author’s qualifications for providing the information stated?
Does the video identify a way to contact the speaker?
For the detail of information provided does the speaker appear knowledgeable?
If we do an internet search on the speaker, does s/he come up?
Do the sites that come up on the first page make it obvious which person s/he is?
Do the sites that come up make her/his qualifications clear?
After dong an internet search on the speaker, would a reasonable person feel that s/he is qualified to speak on the main topic of the video?
Does the speaker have particular expertise that is valued by her/his work community?
For academia, what other search might be fruitful?
Does the speaker have academic expertise related to the topic?

Is the information fact or opinion?
Are sources for the information provided? If so, are they recognizable or reputable sources?
Are the sources fairly easy to access so that information given in the video can be checked?
If there are no sources provided, does it appear that the information is based on facts or on emotions or on the notoriety of the speaker? Give evidence.
Are any visuals clearly labeled? Are they legible?
If the research might be original to the speaker, is there any indication that this is true?
Is there any indication that the information has been reviewed for accuracy? If so, how?

Is the point of view of the organization providing the video evident?
Is the point of view of the speaker clear?
Is the relationship between the speaker and the organization creating the video transparent?
Are there visible biases that are off-topic? Are they political, ideological, or some other kind? (Remember, if you agree with the bias, it is often harder to notice.)
If there is advertising, is there clear differentiation between the advertisements and the core content of the video?
Is the entire video an advertisement? If so, discuss what makes it an advertisement and how this is clear in the video.

Is the date the video was created included anywhere?
Is the date the video was uploaded included in an easily visible manner?
Has the video been modified or updated since it was first made public? If so, is this information readily available? If not, how might you find this out?
Are sources for the information given in the video? If so, are they recent?
If the information in the video is time sensitive, is this clearly indicated?
If the information is from another source, is all the necessary citation information available (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date)?

Who is the intended audience of this video? (There may be more than one.)
How is that made clear?
What is the level of the audience? Subject expert, layperson, student?
Will the resource satisfy the needs of the intended audience? Is it sufficient?
Will the audience be able to access the video?
What other likely audience (other than the intended) would also access the video?
Would their reaction be any different from the intended audience?

Is the scope of the video explained in the introduction?
Is the video focused on a single topic or multiple topics?
If multiple topics, are the relationships between these made clear? Do these relationships make sense for the video?
If a single topic, is all the information given related only to that topic? If there is extraneous information, how much is there and how is it different from the main topic?

Is the content available in other forms? If so, is it from the same producers? If not, what are the differences and why might they exist?
If the content is available in other forms, do the other forms exactly parallel the video? If they do not, what are some of the differences?
What advantages does video have over other forms for this presentation?

What is the purpose of the video?
Is the purpose clear?
Does the resource fulfill the purpose?
How does it fulfill the purpose?

teaching experience with added insight from
Video Project Rubric
Criteria for Evaluating Religious Websites
Testing the Surf: Criteria for Evaluating Internet Information Resources

After Analysis, Evaluation:
Once students have analyzed the video, they can use the analysis to evaluate the video’s usefulness, effectiveness, and persuasiveness.

Evaluative questions might include:
Was it persuasive for the audience?
Is its currency level significantly problematic so as to make it irrelevant?
Is the speaker an established authority? If not, is the video still useful/relevant/persuasive?
Was the bias so significant that the video has no or limited usefulness?

Visual Rhetoric

A great resource for teaching visual rhetoric is Duke University’s AdViews.

AdViews is a digital archive of thousands of vintage television commercials dating from the 1950s to the 1980s. These commercials were created or collected by the ad agency Benton & Bowles or its successor, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B). Founded in 1929, Benton & Bowles was a New York advertising agency that merged with D’Arcy Masius McManus in 1985 to form DMB&B. Major clients included are Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Schick, Vicks, and Post, among others.

Related interviews are available.

UNLV Bankrupt?

UNLV President Neal Smatresk told a somber Faculty Senate on Tuesday that the administration was planning a kind of bankruptcy to deal with its budget crunch.

Under the “financial exigency” plan, tenured professors could be fired and whole departments and programs more easily closed down.

Earlier this month, the Board of Regents said it would be premature to consider such a move until the Legislature approved a final budget by June.

“We would have to declare financial exigency,” Smatresk said. He added, “I believe the proposed cuts could materialize.”

He and other officials would spend the next few weeks developing cutback plans with deans and faculty groups.

“It’s very clear our state is approaching a state of fiscal collapse” when it comes to education, Smatresk said.

The Las Vegas Sun has the story.

If we are spending without funds, or if our funds dry up, we are not going to be able to continue. The question then becomes who can and should continue.

How would you make these decisions? By most majors? By most classes taught for the entire university? By least cost to the college? If the latter, then maybe English shouldn’t lobby so hard for new computer labs.

It’s an interesting issue and not just an “academic” one. My aunt was laid off when her college dissolved her entire program.