“Our Stories” of Becoming a College Student: A Digital Writing Project for First Year Students

I am super excited to share our recently published article in the The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. It expresses a blogging assignment that served as a low-stakes activity that encourages students to make sense of the social, emotional and bureaucratic challenges in their transition to college, and simultaneously develops digital literacy.

Our Stories of Becoming a College Student: A Digital Writing Project for First Year Students

Philip Kreniske, The HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at Columbia University
Karen Goodlad, New York City College of Technology, CUNY
Jennifer Sears, New York City College of Technology, CUNY
Sandra Cheng, New York City College of Technology, CUNY

Open pedagogy in Biology and Political Science

Inspiring work in open pedagogy – both projects integrate general education competencies including information literacy.

Suzanne Wakim, Biology – Butte Community College

Butte Biology

Modern Biology 

Michael Elmore, Political Science – Tacoma Community College

http://www.openwa.org/stories/ 

View their presentations: Designing for Open Pedagogy and slides

“Ten Things the Years Have Taught Us In Ten Years”

A few of us from City Tech were invited to attend last month’s forum on instructional technology sponsored by City College’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. We heard from faculty and administrators at a number of campuses, but what stood out to me was George Otte‘s presentation. He shared some wisdom he’s earned through working as the University Director of Academic Technology and the other positions he holds at CUNY. My notes might not be quite as complete as his presentation–if anyone can update, complete, or correct this list, please do!

Ten Things the Years Have Taught Us In Ten Years

  1. Don’t wait until you’re ensured the necessary wherewithal. As Otte put it in other words, “If you build it, they will fund.”
  2. Put things in writing. As that is all I wrote down for this point, and it’s not clear what he was referring to specifically, I already wish I had followed that advice!
  3. Always focus on the why and not just the what. It’s important not to use the tools for the sake of the tools, but for the opportunities for learning, working, and sharing that the tools afford.
  4. A Corrollary: Be wary of trends for trends’ sake.
  5. A Caution: Don’t sit and wait for things to stabilize: they won’t.
  6. Principles before all other Ps (procedures, programs, even pilots). 
  7. People matter more than technology. 
  8. Ends matter more than means. For any project, there is a need to articulate goals and demonstrate usefulness.
  9. Expect change, because change is the expectation.
  10. Network, network, network. That is, make sure others know about what you’re doing, and also know what’s out there so you don’t reinvent the wheel.

As I listened and eagerly took notes during this presentation, the OpenLab was at the forefront of my thoughts. We certainly need to keep ideas such as #5 in mind–otherwise, we would just keep building and building without ever releasing to the City Tech community what we’ve developed–or #7–since the OpenLab is about building community and bringing the college together, using a virtual space where a physical one isn’t available. What I came to consider afterward was how these lessons apply to our classrooms, just on smaller scales. When we assign work that uses technology, is the technology the take-away? Will the core of that assignment work in ten years, even if the specific technology is replaced with something else? When we ask students to blog or tweet or shoot video, we’re encouraging them to develop skills that are current and transferrable, and we emphasize that each of these technologies is a medium for thinking and expressing course content. We need to ensure a balance between #4 and #5–that we don’t only look to trends, but that we don’t wait so long to determine what’s fleeting and what’s here to stay that we miss both. I’m curious to hear how others in this Open Pedagogy group consider any or all of these Ten Things, and hope we can engage fruitfully with each other via comments to this blog post, since those are the means we have (#8).

Ditching textbooks, and faculty collaboration

On Friday, I attended a talk that was part of the CUNY Open Access event at the Graduate Center. Kristina Baumli from Temple University presented a project she’s involved in that provides faculty with a small stipend to ditch their textbooks in favor of materials openly available on the web, or through the college’s electronic library holdings. Also check out what the Chronicle had to say about this textbook-ditching project.

A number of us in the English Department have tried this kind of approach, with varying degrees of success. One big difference seems to be access to technology. All of Baumli’s students had access to the readings both inside and outside of class because she requires them to all have some kind of computer: a laptop, netbook, or tablet. The cost of these devices can be less than the cost of one course’s books, and can be used in all courses for the entire college career and beyond. When I used all electronic texts for my ENG 1101 courses, students often wouldn’t bring the materials to class. They didn’t have portable devices, or they didn’t have wireless access if they brought laptops, and they often couldn’t get to the printers in the computer labs on campus to even print the short readings. Some brought up the materials on their phones, but this didn’t allow for them to mark them up in a way that is productive in an English Composition class.

Difficulties aside, I love the idea of asking students to invest in resources that they can get a maximum benefit from–a netbook, let’s say, and free course readings rather than two textbooks, for example–but even more, I love the idea of building up from a series of readings to a framed textbook with students. Why not make the students contribute to the questions one might ask at the end of each reading? They can identify unfamiliar words or expressions, frame issues for class discussion, even participate in drafting essay questions for further exploration. The students’ writing, then, can be included as samples for future students to see exemplary work.

Baumli spoke convincingly about the collaborative effort from faculty. If one professor can create a couple of modules in a semester, perhaps, then think of the volume that could be created when several instructors teaching the same course each develop modules. It wasn’t clear to me how faculty at Temple would share these modules, but in addition to the variety of options available, we have a solution for that here at City Tech–the OpenLab. We could certainly create projects that would house resources for different courses: links to texts, or even full-text options where copyright permits, suggestions for questions, vocabulary, activities, assignments, rubrics, connections to other texts. This model seems very doable in my field, English. The biggest limitation I can see would be for texts that are not available electronically. What would it look like in other disciplines? What would the obstacles be for other fields?