Category Archives: Blog Post Two

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.

All about my Selfie

This past semester I reintroduced presentations to my section of ENG 2850, after taking a semester’s break. Previously, I had organized presentations throughout the year to introduce the time periods of the texts the class was going to be studying (for instance “The Enlightenment,” “Romanticism,” or “Post-Colonialism and Globalization”). Groups of 3-4 students would research the period and come up with a presentation that I hoped would be a fun and informative supplement to lectures that I give to introduce a new unit. Unfortunately, what I had hoped would be fun and exciting (and some were, to be fair), were often drier than what I presented. So, I took a break and reintroduced the group presentation this past semester, but at the end of the term. This time, I asked students to brainstorm on a general question: what is something you think about a lot every day. This brainstorming session gave birth to topics like, Social Media, Sports, Racism, Romance, Feminism, Inequality and, yes, even Selfies. Each member of the group of 2 or 3 drew topics from a bag and among themselves had to select the topic from those choices.  After selecting a contemporary topic, they then had to present how this idea relates to 2-4 works we had studied in the year. As all assignments go, some were fascinating and informative (The social media group created facebook accounts for three literary loners—Frankenstein’s Monster, Sarty from Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” and Gregor Samsa from “The Metamorphosis”—and the ensuing back and forth messages, pulled from quotations from the texts and their own interpretations, wall posts, buzzfeed quizzes showed a great deal of insight into the works and specifically queried the idea of whether or not social media promotes human connection), and others were not (a promising premise of Clarissa Dalloway coming out on an episode of Oprah quickly devolved into reductive thinking about the novel and over-emphasized a discussion of sexual mechanics).

Why do I bring this up as a risk? Well, in my attempt for students to embrace the connection between the great works we study and the lives we live today, I felt more often than not that students equated freedom and creativity with less critical thinking and the urgency to get a laugh. When I approach how I can use hybrid learning and technology to open up the classroom to empower students and harness their own innovative thinking and learning, I fear that the freedom I give them will not produce happy chaos or productive mistakes, but rather their turning a blind eye to the rigors of literary study and critical thinking in favor of navel-gazing. I teach literature today for this reason—I do believe that rigorous creative work helps to transcend time and place and helps us to increase our self-knowledge and what it means to be human.  The presentations of last semester have stuck with me because of the risks they pose—a risk that can bring out strengths in weaker students, produce innovative thinking, but that can also expose how inveterate the coping mechanisms and bad habits are that block learning potential. How do I strike the balance of giving students have more control over their education with hybrid technologies in the deconstructed learning environments, without compromising on my teaching goals of the class?

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?

Public Speaking Class Online?

To many people I speak to, this sounds like an utter absurdity.  But the conversations we’ve been having this week have helped me think more broadly about the opportunities a hybrid course can offer.

The main opportunity that I see in teaching a hybrid version of COM 1010, Intro to Speech Communication, is that students could spend more course-related time out in the world, observing and taking part in public speaking situations outside of the classroom. I often feel that while the classroom is a safe space for getting comfortable with public speaking skills, the assignments we do in class always have an inherently contrived element. I don’t necessarily think this is bad, because I think school should be a place to develop skills and test out ideas in an environment that provides structure and safety. But we also want to maximize connections between theoretical concepts/guidelines and experiences in the messy world outside of the classroom. A hybrid COM 1010 course could involve students exploring “real life” public communication situations on their own, developing their thinking about these experiences in low-stakes writing assignments shared online, and gathering in class to digest these experiences and maximize class time for practicing the relevant skills.

Secondly, a hybrid COM 1010 course could free students from the necessity of watching all of their classmates’ presentations. In a class where twenty-four students each give three or four substantial speeches in a semester, a huge amount of time is spent watching presentations. While some of this is instructive (and you can learn a lot even from watching poor presentations), I’m interested in reducing the amount of required “audience” time.

I do see several potential risks associated with teaching COM 1010 as a hybrid course. Less class time means fewer opportunities for various kinds of face-to-face oral communication, including individual presentation, and dyadic, small group, and large group discussion. For a course specifically designed to improve students’ oral communication skills in front of audiences, limiting the amount of time available to practice this seems like exactly the wrong direction to pursue. Spoken conversation can be facilitated through various web media, but I don’t know a way to use web media to practice speaking to a large audience in a simultaneous, real-time way.

Lastly, public speaking class elicits a lot of anxiety in many students. I think that a hybrid course would risk limiting the capacity to develop feelings of comfort and authentic connection between students and teachers, and among students. The development of a community of comfort and trust in a COM 1010 class is critical to the success of many students.

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.

Writing and Reading in a Hybrid Course

I think students in a hybridized ENG2800 course would benefit from the opportunity to write in different (and public/semi public) ways. An article like this for instance considers how new forms of internet-based writing (in which many students regularly engage) could or should change our approach to teaching writing. The article points out that, through the internet, people are writing more — and then asks how a writing class should take into account these different forms of online writing. I think, in a hybridized course, confronting online writing is clearly inevitable, but it does not have to mean sacrificing academic writing. In fact, I think a hybridized class provides a really interesting opportunity to explore these different forms, how they differ, and how practicing public online writing and standard academic writing can be a process mutually beneficial to both. For instance, I know that many of my students come into class with a host of preconceived and often incorrect notions about what academic writing entails (we are all familiar with the essays that begin, “Throughout history, all of mankind….”!). I think writing on a class blog for instance helps to mitigate that type of issue and may even demonstrate why it is an issue in the first place– maybe an “all of mankind” statement would suddenly look absurd to a student imagining it in a blog post! Potentially students feel less pressure when writing on a course blog than they do in academic papers, and perhaps they could learn how to bring that ease into their academic writing.

The issue I see at this point in hybridization is in the reading side of an ENG course. I feel that so much about how to read and how to read closely is a tool acquired in the classroom through discussion and work performed together. This would of course still be done in the F2F time, but that leads me into another worry — I fear putting a lot of pressure on the F2F classroom to make sure we do everything we “can’t” do online, and I’m not sure how, as an instructor, I would know which aspects of the course to move online and the best way of doing so. I think hybrid courses entail a reimagining of the course as a whole, and that leads me to my last worry which is about the level of planning (pointed out in our reading) required for successful execution of a hybrid course. I understand completely why this planning would be necessary, but I’ve always left a certain amount of flexibility in my courses so that we can adjust according to student interest, the pace of the course, etc — would this flexibility be lost in a hybrid course?