Tuesday, October 31, 2006

High Tech, White Boards and Developmental Writers

Okay, first notice that I didn't say Smartboards. I said white boards. I would love to be posting about the use of Smartboards in my developmental writing class at GCC, but that is not the case today. I'm posting about the technology of white boards and markers and technology use in developmental classes. I often struggle with the protestation of using technology in developmental writing courses. Some say that developmental writers are not ready to use technology and that many will struggle with the technology and miss out on learning the necessary writing skills. Others, including myself, feel that the use of technology only enhances the writing and learning experience. The debate is on going.

From the Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Basic Writing:
According to a survey of basic writing teachers across the country, a disparity exists in the use of technology in developmental programs. Reinforcing the claims of earlier empirical studies, Stan and Collins find that using computer technologies in developmental classrooms positively influences students' attitudes toward writing and improves both the appearance and quantity of student writing. However, numerous institutional issues effect successful computer use, such as differences in the levels of technology currently available, resistance among faculty and students, lack of infrastructure, uneven access to professional development among staff, and lack of visibility for successful efforts.
Stan, Susan, and Terence G. Collins. "Basic Writing: Curricular Interactions with New Technology." Journal of Basic Writing 17.1 (1998): 18–41.

I can say that I've experienced both views. Students in my developmental writing courses at SMC have been inundated with technology. They are using wikis, blogs, word processors and a course management system. The level of technology skills in those classes is broad with students coming in with absolutely no computer experience to those who have experience in basic word processing and email. Very few have experience using the new web 2.0 features like blogs and wikis. I lose a lot of the students early on in the developmental courses. Some semesters I've lost close to half of my students by the end of a semester. I've always associated most of the drops to the students fear of this new technology and have tried doubly hard to train students in the proper use of the technology. Well, I don't feel that way any more.

I'm teaching a developmental writing course here at GCC, and unfortunately I have no access to technology in the class itself besides my shiny white boards, overhead projector from 1950, and a vcr/dvd combo and television. This of course is no reflection on the college; it's just a this is what's left situation. This late start 8 week course loaded with 24 students, and 20 showed the first day. The second class 15 came back, and now in the 4th week I'm down to 8. Where did they all go? It's the same pattern I see in my courses at SMC where we have abundant access to technology in the class and out. So I'm fairly confident that it is not the technology scaring my students away. It's the "I can't do this" attitude that many of our developmental writers come into college with.

It's not the technology. There is too much research out there that states the positive effects of technology use in developmental writing courses as well as the negative effects of a new generation of apathetic students. We just have to keep trying to find ways to keep them interested and to educate them.

Friday, October 20, 2006

What Was I Thinking?

One of my hybrid courses didn't make this semester at GCC, so I was given a late start ENG071 class. That's usually the process at most campuses if a class doesn't make; you get the sloppy leftovers. Initially I didn't want to teach this course because I didn't have time to prepare for it. I teach it over at SMC, but they use a different book here at GCC, and I was only give a week's notice. I took it because it was late start, so actually I would have 8 weeks to prepare. That was my first mistake.

My second mistake was thinking that I could go back to "old school" and teach in a classroom with absolutely no technology. Well, it has been only two weeks, and this is just not going to work. How do you teach writing with no technology? I don't know. I've filled up every whiteboard in the room with my chicken scratch, and I even confuse myself with my train of thought and organization on the board. How do you organize information on a white board? And where do you write when you run out of space? What happens when I erase it? Do the students erase it from their minds as well? I just don't know.

So after the first week, I broke down and requested that students email me their drafts of the first essay. Most did and I was able to mark up the Word documents using the commenting and track changes features in MS Word. I also left a few voice comments as well. They were masterpieces full of helpful information for my students. It felt so good. I felt... I guess, relieved.

The hardest part for students is that most don't understand the concept of an 8 week course. Class time is not only longer, but the work is greater because you have less time inwhich to do it. After the first class, many students didn't bother to come back. There are many possiblities as to why: no books available in the bookstore the first week, an action packed syllabus with lots of homework each week, or having to sit through a 2 1/2 hour class twice a week. Even I'm getting bored with that! That's a long time. I look at the one piece of technology in the room, a TV and VCR, and think I should show a movie. We've got plenty of time. But what kind of movie do you show a developmental writing class? You don't. Not until they've got the writing skills down and they're ready for some creative prewriting activities.

Until then I will continue to madly scribble notes and examples on my whiteboards, do practice exercises out of the book, and do lots of writing and peer review in class. And who knows, maybe I'll continue to sneak technology activities into the course and we'll be full on "Cooper style" before the end of the semester.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

GCC's Congested Network Problem

I created some very helpful screencasts for my student the other day to help them with learning how to edit their portfolio assessment wiki. I knew the students would be able to remember how to do simply by seeing it demonstrated once in class, so I used Camtasia Studio to do a screen capture as I demonstrated what it was I wanted for them to do. I then saved the screen captures as screencasts. I uploaded the flash files to my personal server hosted at SiteGround hosting and linked to it from the class blog and Blackboard. Great idea, except the network congestion on campus during peak hours prohibited many students from viewing the screencasts.

This really disappoints me because without these tutorials, many students were lost. They would either have to go home to access the screencasts using a high speed internet connection or not do the assignment at all. Sadly many chose the latter option.

For a sanity check, I followed the link to the screencasts today while I was on the South Mountain CC campus. I was linked up and viewing in a matter of seconds. No delay what so ever, and this was around 11am. This is clearly a problem at GCC, and I really hope they are working on a solution.

Personal Motive for the Switch?

Rear View
Originally uploaded by professorcooper.
Sure! I most certainly do not miss driving in this mess every day. I had to be down at SMC this morning at 8:30am. I left at about 7:15 from my home in Peoria. It was 8:15 when I realized I was not going to get there in time if I stayed on the freeway. I hadn't made it very far in 1 hour in this rush hour mess, so I ditched the I-10 via the 67th Avenue exit and headed south toward the mountain. I was making pretty good time until I ran into a tractor. Yep, a tractor on the city streets in Phoenix. Okay, maybe that area isn't consider city, but still a tractor?

After making my way around the tractor, I managed to make it from 67th Avenue and Southern to 24th Street and Baseline in about 15 minutes. I was 10 minutes late.

The stress I felt while driving in this mess was great. I'd forgotten how wound up I could get when the traffic didn't flow as fast as I'd like it to. I'd forgotten about that during these last 8 weeks at GCC. I'm only 10 minutes, 5 miles away from GCC. No stress in that. So, yes, there is a bit of personal motive in my decision to do the switch from SMC to GCC for the fall semester.