All posts by Debra Hilborn

The COM 1010 cohort

Julia, Carol and I met f2f today to discuss our group project.  During our conversation we identified some common challenges in teaching COM 1010, which we feel may also point to opportunities for designing innovative hybrid assignments.  Particularly, we all felt strongly that walking students through organizing and supporting an argument, whether it be for an informative or a persuasive speech, is a critical component of the course.  As Julia noted, being able to internalize the form is necessary for students to later improvise and be creative with it.  Making arguments and constructing outlines of those arguments is also one of the places where students struggle the most/require the most guidance, and where we anticipate that experiementing with innovation and hybrid mechanisms could yield the most return.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to each propose an assignment that addresses the areas of gathering and organizing materials and critical thinking.   We will design the assignments separately, over the course of the next two days, with each group member describing their assignment’s timeframe, technologies, modes of evaluation, and relationship to the learning goals identified.  We’ll send the assignments to Julia, who will post them as our work-in-progress on Wednesday.  The second part of our project will be to provide feedback for each other on the assignments and to work through some of the implications, positive and negative, we see in incorporating these specific assignments into a hybrid course.  We are interested in both the possibilities and the risks of our designs, and in addressing shared perceived challenges.  Carol will post our revised assignments, with context, to the blog on Thursday.

Connecting Online with In-class

This past semester, I worked on new assignment for COM 1010 that in some ways points to the opportunities I see in hybridizing the course. A few of us had the chance to do a kind of trial run of VOCAT 3.0. I thought I’d test drive an idea of having students analyze the rhetorical techniques that persuasive speakers use in a particular presentation, with the plan that they would then make their own short presentation about the speech they analyzed, arguing whether or not they thought the speaker was persuasive.

The idea stemmed from a class period the previous semester where we watched and analyzed President Obama’s speech about Syria from September 10, 2013. In that class, I played the video through the projector and stopped and started at points I thought were key, where I’d already identified that the President was using rhetorical strategies like ethos, logos, pathos, or making a particular type of persuasive argument. I asked them what they thought was happening in each moment, and they were fairly good at identifying what I was asking for. However, I was left with the feeling that there was a lot more opportunity for engagement in analysis, that I’d been leading them too much, and that the contact with the material I’d designed for them was a bit superficial and passive.

The new VOCAT allows for students to upload speeches from YouTube, Vimeo and elsewhere, so I tasked them in the Spring semester to find their own videos to upload and analyze, using the annotate feature, which allows you to capture notes wherever in the video you want to. Now they had many more opportunities to make their own decisions, like what video to choose and where to annotate (they had a few key concepts they had to find, like one example each of ethos, logos, and pathos). I think they were able to do much closer, more invested analyses because of this. The assignment ended up scaffolding itself well, as they went from annotating, then pulling those annotations together into an argument, then presenting the argument to the class. In class, students were curious about and attentive to their fellow students’ analyses, and we all had the benefit of seeing clips of a wide variety of persuasive speakers. There are a lot of tweaks I’d make to the assignment going forward, but it definitely seemed to deepen the distributive and critical learning happening in my classes. I would love to continue thinking about how online spaces can support in-class presentations and how they might build upon each other.

In terms of risk, if I think broadly about COM 1010, I fear loss of engagement because of loss of class time. COM 1010, for me at least, works best as a kind of workshop, where we walk through the process of making different types of presentation together and build camaraderie and trust. I see a risk here, but maybe also an opportunity to think carefully about how to reinforce the workshop/camaraderie feel in online spaces so that it can support the face-to-face interaction in class. From reading everyone’s posts, I am struck by the possibilities for experiment and play that hybridization presents. A focus on experiment could be radically beneficial to COM 1010 students (and teachers, too!) learning how to approach the challenges of making and giving presentations.

Innovate, Invest

I appreciated Randy Bass’s focus in “Engines of Inquiry: Teaching, Technology, and Learner-Centered Approaches to Culture and History” first on thinking through what we want to achieve in the classroom, and only then looking at the techniques and online/digital tools that can potentially achieve those goals. It seems important in the process of hybridization that learning goals not get overlooked, but rather that technology facilitates students understanding, grappling with, and meeting these objectives.

In COM 1010, the course I teach, I see challenges in distributive learning and reflective, critical thinking. It’s very easy to tell students in a top-down manner what makes a good persuasive speech, for example, and have them practice those techniques. It is harder to help them engage meaningfully with the methods of critiquing a presentation and to articulate for themselves (and the class) what makes an effective argument. Likewise, substantive reflection on their own work and on the messages they encounter from real-life speakers can often get lost in students’ overwhelming desire to perform well, to “not be nervous” and be entertaining. I think that hybrid technologies could potentially intervene in these areas, as well as providing a dialogic space for peer discussion that could help students prepare for larger discussion and “performance” in the classroom space.

Groom and Lamb’s essay, which was innovative in its format, brought up passionate questions for me at the institutional level. The “Costs” section of their article hit home forcefully. As they write: “The myriad costs associated with supporting LMSs crowd out budget and staff time that might be directed toward homegrown, open-source, and user-driven innovation.” Adjunct instructors who care deeply about the quality of the learning experience that they provide for their students are also deeply aware of the economic cost to themselves of supporting innovation in their classrooms. How many have the time, energy, and support, to achieve the kind of “grassroots, generative” innovation they aspire to? Learning management systems are clunky, nonintuitive, and, as Groom and Lamb point out, only provide students the skills in navigating that particular system which has no real-world equivalent. However, LMSs are also often the most supported, the most familiar to students, and they allow overworked adjuncts (now the majority of the instructional staff at many [most?] universities) to quickly set up course materials online, effectively “coping”– to borrow a concept from Bass’s article– with the demands of their role in the academic system. Clearly, systemic change in how we support student innovation online is linked to change in how we support instructors, particularly adjuncts, for the work they do.