All posts by Meechal Hoffman

Turning skeptics into lovers and other thoughts

One opportunity of hybridizing a course like Great Works of Literature is that participation might become more evenly split between oral participation in classroom discussion and written participation on a course blog. This would allow students who don’t excel at speaking up to have another venue for real, active participation that “counts” and is on their own terms. And since you can ask more of students in their blog posts in a hybrid class than we can now when the class is fully f2f (because blogging time in a f2f class is extra, or homework, whereas in a hybrid class it could be the class time itself) that extra amount of writing might really deepen a student’s writing skills. So, you get (at least) two benefits in one: quieter students get the opportunity to participate actively in the discussion and everyone’s writing skills improve because more of the class takes place through writing. And as we’ve discussed already on the blog and as Bass and Groom and Lamb also discussed, this writing is ideally public in some capacity, and so the stakes are higher, and the participation feels more purposeful.

Most of my fears about hybridizing courses are also things I feel confident I can find ways of working around. For example: Too many response papers on a blog = too much grading! Possible solutions: peer reviewing, staggering responses, some students respond, some students comment on responses…

One thing I worry about and that I don’t see a solution for is the loss of the kind of excitement and engagement that can only be experienced in a f2f course (which isn’t to say that different kinds of excitement and engagement can’t happen outside of f2f interactions, but there is a difference). My favorite classes in college were the ones in which I made friends, or the ones with an awesome professor. These were responses to the people and the setting, not necessarily to the material. My fear, especially with Great Works, which is a required class and not one most Baruch students enter enthusiastically, is that they won’t fall in love with the course in the way they seem to do now, because they won’t have as much access to others and to the professor in a live, personal setting. My experience is that at the end of the semester, students tell me that they weren’t expecting to like the class but that it was their favorite one so far in college, or some variation on that statement. I don’t think this is necessarily my doing (though it is extremely gratifying!) and I don’t think they are responding to a newfound love of literature (though some certainly are) — I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of the class itself as it now exists. It’s a smaller class-size, they are asked their opinion regularly, they are asked to challenge  their beliefs and to find ways to challenge those of others, their participation in class discussion matters so much to their grade that they are forced to do it (something I think most students want to do, even if they’re afraid of doing it), they develop friendships in regular group work, they see me being chatty and friendly and modeling a love of literature — in other words, we build a comfortable space in which the students  get a chance to do something I think they all crave:  to think, and to see thinking happen. I’m worried about the loss of this experiential, personal classroom experience, and I’m worried that the course won’t be as surprising and liberating for many students as it is now.  Of course hybrid courses could be largely in person, and maybe a Great Works class would need to be. But what if it was only 30% in person? What would happen to that dynamic that turns skeptics into lovers of literature and writing?

The Varieties of Reading Experience: Some Observations and a Nod to Backward Design

I admit that I have significant hesitations about hybrid and fully online learning that range from an almost religious belief in the value of face-to-face learning environments to a perhaps (but perhaps not) paranoid fear of the corporatization of the university and its interests in taking advantage of hybrid or fully online learning possibilities. But I am also really excited by the idea of taking control of the situation and thinking about hybrid learning from the perspective of teaching and learning, rather than letting LMS vendors and corporate-styled boards make those decisions.

With that said, I’d like to use this space to meditate a little on the statement Groom and Lamb made that “it is facile to think that the technology makes no difference.”

The two articles we read yesterday were in different formats — one a PDF and one a webpage. I read them in chronological order, so Bass’s 1997 article came first. Since it was a PDF, I was able to bring to it some of my normal scholarly practices: I saved it in a file I have for scholarly articles I read as PDFs (which is further separated by topic), and as I read I highlighted and annotated it with comments and questions. I turned to Groom and Lamb next and found that this reading was a piece that made really dynamic use of its web space. It was hyperlinked, it included video, it had a funky table of contents that signaled one’s reading progress, it embedded tweets, and it contained readers’ comments at the bottom. While the process of reading that piece was in a way much more dynamic than my experience reading the PDF, I was struck by one major drawback: I couldn’t highlight and annotate the text itself unless I altered it significantly from its intended spacial, technological setting. So, the old-school, rather static PDF allowed me to interact with it by inputting my own thoughts (via highlights and annotations) whereas the nuanced and dynamic article published in an online review promoted certain kinds of interaction (clicking links, watching videos, submitting comments) but didn’t allow a certain other, for my teaching and learning purposes, extremely important kind of interaction.

This is not to say that one reading experience was better than another, it’s just to agree with Groom and Lamb that the technology we use matters. What did it do to my reading practice of Groom and Lamb that I decided to take some notes in a TextEdit file while reading since I couldn’t take notes in the margins of the text itself? Where can I store that file and how will I connect it with the webpage in my archive of research and writing? At what point do marginal notes turn into comments we make on the webpage itself that become part of the public record?

These questions, essentially just a little meditation on this particular reading experience, cover a very small amount of ground but I hope they represent the kind of questioning we should be doing anyway whenever we plan any kind of teaching or learning effort: what are the goals and what are the best methods of achieving those goals? In other words, as Bass and Groom and Lamb suggest, we should be thinking about backward design.