All posts by CSmith

Great Works Project

Center for Teaching and Learning Summer Seminar: Great Works of Literature Cohort Project

Close Reading and Annotation Skills

Annotating/doing close-reading when reading on web pages

Most close-reading guides tell you to “start with a pencil in hand and annotate the text as you read.” How might this be done if you’re reading online? How might different online settings or devices change the age-old practice of annotation? These are questions that came up for me when I read articles online for the seminar last week, and so I was interested in thinking about close-reading and reading comprehension in the online context.

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The Pleasure Principle

At this point, I see the main opportunities in hybridizing a Great Works of Literature course to be: 1) more (and more variety of) writing, 2) more opportunities for non-traditional learners and/or shyer students to participate more fully, 3) the space to dig into my own teaching practice, examine my assumptions, and experiment. I will definitely be looking at how I’ve used blogs in the past. I’ve used them in a lot of classes and have definitely gotten better over the years, but I will need to consider what more I have to do to make sure my class blog (or whatever spaces I use) rises to the occasion of a hybrid learning experience.  I want to focus on giving diverse assignments, so students with different skills all have a chance to “shine.”  I always do this, but I feel like the hybrid structure will open up new ways for me to imagine and encourage student success.

The main risk I see–my big fear–is a loss of pleasure. Time flies when I’m teaching. Not all the work associated with teaching (ahem, grading) fills me with adrenaline and joy, but class time does–it definitely does. I’m at the point in my career that even when a class session goes “poorly,” it’s a good experience. I examine it, learn from it, am interested in what happened. Good or bad, class time is an opportunity to get to know my students, be surprised, and learn along with them. It’s just fun.  And it’s what sustains my energies during a semester when some less fun stuff threatens to drag me down. I worry I won’t enjoy teaching as much in a hybrid environment–and that, as Nicole mentioned, I’ll lose the flexibility I’ve learned to build into my classes, which is a big part of what’s fun and DYNAMIC about the work of teaching.

Considering the Pressures on Innovation: Questions and Complications

In the article by Groom and Lamb, I’m struck by the comment from the professor who says: if he has to think about it [technology for teaching], it’s a problem. One factor informing this comment that merits more discussion—and always weighs on my mind—is the status of teaching in higher ed. In the current merit/status system, professors and grad students alike are often disincentivised to put too much time or energy (i.e. thinking) into teaching. So the message is: don’t think too much about teaching; prioritize research. In this paradigm, if technology matters to one’s own creative and intellectual work, then by all means, think about it, shape it, make it part of your intellectual labor and professional portfolio. If not, let those ed. tech people “manage” it for you. This culture around teaching perpetuates the LMS reign, despite the five problems Groom and Lamb so convincingly lay out.

Given this situation, how do we create a positive culture around teaching, technology, and innovation—around promoting new paradigms for teaching and learning and putting faculty energies there—when the University is pretty much the opposite of a positive, promoting culture when it comes to teaching? One way is to make our (and our students’) digital efforts in teaching and learning into a meaningful part of our professional portfolios. As I consider the move to hybrid in Great Works of Literature, I hope to come up with some ways to link hybrid course design to a professional/teaching archive where teachers can document their innovations and feel more incentive to develop their teaching with technology.

Another complicating factor is the economy of educational technology and innovation. Many faculty members at Baruch, hearing the goal of 20% online or hybrid by 2018, assume financial incentives drive this goal and suspect that any pedagogical benefits—that meaningful innovation around teaching and learning—are low on the priority list. So suspicion is our starting point. But the suspicion is hardly unfounded. Groom and Lamb talk about the soul-sucking focus on vendors and bids, the shift toward privatization of ed. tech and of the web more broadly. Further compounding the problem: Educational reform writ large privileges funding sources (The Gates Foundation) and profit (Pearson) and downplays or side steps practitioner experience, creativity, and input. Organized/sanctioned reform—like the Common Core, for example—doesn’t necessarily (ever?) mean innovation; it doesn’t necessarily privilege the learner or the teacher. (Beware Core to College, by the way, when it comes to educational reform movements.) Innovation in teaching is a profoundly complicated process.

And yet another complication when it comes to technological innovation is the question of a teacher’s own digital literacy, and how it limits how innovative and effective she can be. I recently read this NPR post about how all students and young professionals will—or should—learn to code, that learning to code is learning to think; it’s mastering a language that increasingly shapes our interactions and our world.  Graduate students at CUNY have access to programs that support their digital literacy and ed. tech savvy (like this, and this, and this). None of this was part of my formal training and I worry that I am an old goat when it comes to educational technology. What knowledge and abilities do I need that I don’t have to be innovative and effective as an instructor of a hybrid course?

On a final note, I’m fascinated by the “coping mechanisms” (Bass 11) students bring to college. In my own teaching, I actively work to undo some of the bad habits and destructive beliefs that such mechanisms promote (e.g. the belief that reading should easily yield “meaning,” and if it doesn’t, it’s because the reader just doesn’t “get it” so the reader gives up). For me, truly innovative classroom practice confronts and challenges learners’ assumptions about themselves and their capacities (as readers, writers, and scholars) and changes how they consume and create art, information, and argument. After reading these articles, I can see how the LMS reduces learning into systems and silos that ultimately reinforce both students’ and teachers’ coping mechanisms. How can I design a hybrid course that will help me resist and challenge these mechanisms (in myself and my students) more and more effectively?