Stacey Pigg, Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Humanities
Course: ENC4416, Writing in Digital Environments. It is a three-credit course on how to produce effective writing in changing digital environments. The course focuses on concepts to help students design online experiences for others (including through collaboration, managing content, and creating “sticky” and “spreadable” texts that attract attention and add value for others).
Enrollment: 26 students, undergraduate
Background: This course was originally taught as a mixed-mode course which met in a “traditional” face-to-face classroom. Without a digital classroom lab infrastructure, students are often stuck watching me do things in class, rather than trying out active, low-stakes practice to prepare for their own projects. For this last semester, the mixed-mode format included a classroom space that offered flexible room arrangements, along with an iPad cart.
Lesson Title: Personal Learning Network Stations
Description: This broader unit assignment is designed to help students “get involved in learning about a subject that interests you and begin a blog about that subject that you’ll keep writing during the semester and turn in during the final.” This was one week’s “scavenger hunt” assignment designed to move students toward that work.
Execution: The students participate in an informal research scavenger hunt by completing four stations, each with its own research assignments. The instructor’s role is to interact from the podium with incoming information, retweeting and calling attention to tweets as they come on screen. The instructor also circulates to help students with research, particularly with identifying hashtags and search terms related to their individual blogs.
Table 1: Wikipedia research
- Identify a talk page related to your area of interest. Analyze the users and content on the page. Who is involved? What are they posting about? Are there major areas of contention? What does it suggest about participation in your interest area?
Table 2: Twitter searches
- Use the Twitter search mechanism to find and follow 10 Twitter users who post content related to your interest area. Find and follow 5 hashtags related to your content area.
Table 3: Blog searches
- Use the search features of WordPress, Tumblr, and a blog-specific Google search to identify existing blogs in your content area. Enter their RSS feeds into your Feedly account to begin following them.
Table 4: Filter, connect, critique or advocate
- Choose one thing you’ve read today and create a Twitter post that shares a link to that content, uses a hashtag to connect to others, and offers a short commentary to add value to the content your share.
Results: Students left the course session with a foundation for learning more about the subject areas in which they would write blogs. I believe the course activity was more effective than when I have previously asked students to complete this activity outside of class because I was able to offer immediate oral feedback on sample work. This allowed me, for instance, to help students adapt when initial search terms were unproductive. It also allowed me to offer immediate feedback on Twitter writing and to bring example work forward to the full class for consideration. Students, furthermore, leaned on one another for advice and support during the research and composing process.
Challenges: I used the main classroom computer instead of a mobile device; I may go more full-scale with mobile devices for content delivery. A challenge I did not anticipate were the students taking pictures of the assignments using their camera phone and then working with students outside of their group.
Reflection: One thing that I did not expect was that the students remarked more about the flexible classroom space rather than the devices. The students ended up enjoying the fact that I changed up the classroom space each time they had class; in fact, once I had the students configure the space. Having this space allowed students to complete “low-stakes” activities in a more collaborative environment than when they would be online and alone. It allows me to more systematically manage the work as well. I am interested in researching the influence of this flexible space on guided practice as well as group project dynamics.
I found that access to the iPad cart structured a more “standardized” technology experience, and relieved some anxiety concerning device access. I do allow students to bring and work on their own devices, but having devices available for all students to use is a relief. The view of these devices being an ‘add-on’ to curriculum needs to change, since these devices will be a very important tool in students’ lives, present and future.