When I find something I love, admire etc I want to give it a shout out. Today, I want to tell you a little about my email conversation with Deb Moore about a Wiki she made to handle all of the composition classes she was teaching. This isn’t just a post that can apply to teachers. I think many of you will just find this plain interesting so join in our conversation because you can use wikis for so many different things!
First off you can visit the wiki yourself just to see how awesome it is.
Tell me a little bit about your teaching wiki.
I have four sections of Comp II this semester. At UCA, the Writing Department is part of the Communications Department instead of English, and so our Freshmen writing classes are Rhetoric and Composition-based, instead of literature-based. Teaching four sections of the same course makes the work of setting up and using the Wiki worth the while. Once the work of setting everything up is done, the semester goes much more smoothly.
The only hard copy documents I hand out are the syllabus, the outline, and the first assignment (the scavenger hunt) on the first day of class. Students turn in assignments on the Wiki. A lot of class exercises, we just do ON the Wiki (like the Super Bowl Commercial Critical Analysis), and then formal assignments are uploaded to their personal pages. We would be completely paperless, except that they have to bring in copies of their peer reviews (too much work for me to track them down on the Wiki), and a couple hard copies for in-class read around peer review. (I’m a big believer in peer review; they do a one-on-one, a writing center appointment, we do one day of whole-class, where I show a volunteer’s paper on the screen and we review together so I can model, and then we do a read-around. We devote a week to it.) When it’s time for grading, I download papers, make digital comments, and save them in my dropbox. Students who want the digital comments shoot me an email and I respond with a copy. You would be surprised at the number who don’t ask. Sigh
Unless you offer extra credit it seems students don’t jump at a chance for extra feedback or anything that seems like “work.” How have the students responded to using the wiki?
The students really like it, and it makes things more interesting (and convenient) for me, too. Among other things, we’re finding that it makes it easier to change our minds at the spur of the moment and still keep everybody in the loop. That’s really the way I like to teach–I don’t always know what’s going to work best for a group of people until they are an actual group of people. It’s perfect for collaboration, too.
Last semester, when I taught Comp I, I decided at the last minute to have students prepare a digital portfolio, instead of a paper one (Lord, the stacks of papers I used to have at semester’s end!). One of the things that the Wiki lets me do is relax the assignment guidelines–letting students make their own decisions about the best way to communicate their point, which is something they weren’t always getting to do before. They converted their personal Wiki pages into portfolios. (I did tell them that they could do their reflective introductions using any medium they chose–that if they wanted to feed their dog peanut butter and record him talking about their process, or rap about it while tap dancing, they could. They were so excited by the prospect, yet none of them did. Too much work, I suspect.)
This semester in Comp II, during the Superbowl commercial critical analysis exercise that we did, the students in my 8am class and I picked the commercials and then all students in all sections were allowed to work on as many as they wanted. This gave me the idea to do the actual critical analysis essay collaboratively on the Wiki, opening it up so that students were working with students from other classes.
This was their chief complaint, in fact, when we were finished with the assignment and talking about lessons learned–that they wanted to work with the people in their own class. As I explained to them, though, in the world where they will work, it’s more likely that they will be working with people in different time zones than with those in the next cubicle.
How do you deal with contacting and grading your students? I rely on Blackboard (my schools’s primary choice for online courses and web enhanced face-to-face courses) and I can email them directly from that program. My students tend to be a bit technologically challenged.
I think Wikispaces is a good choice because I don’t want it to be too complicated for the students, who will (for the most part) have to learn to navigate it on their own. I model and troubleshoot a lot in the beginning of the semester, but mostly I encourage them to get in there and flop around until they figure it out. If they break it, I can always go in and restore it. In my experience, MOST freshmen taking Comp are technologically challenged–as far as they are concerned, the computer is just a Facebook machine. I try to teach them every trick I know–for instance, I require them to email their user name and password to themselves at their university email address.
I can email students (and them, me) from within the Wiki. Whatever email we used to sign up will send us a message that we have mail in the Wiki. I like that I can email the whole shebang, if I just want to remind them of a due date. I use Engrade for grading. There’s a link on the Wiki and students can check anytime to see how they are doing.
Another feature in Blacbkboard that I worry about not having if I went to an offsite source would be SafeAssign which checks for plagiarism. How do you handle that?
I don’t really do anything proactively about plagiarism, except that that is one of the reasons why I wanted students to post papers online. I read somewhere that students were less likely to plagiarize if their papers were more public (as opposed to just between me and the student). I have kind of funny ideas about plagiarism, anyway. I don’t like having to function as the plagiarism police. I focus on telling them everything they need to know to avoid it, including its causes. I respond appropriately when I discover plagiarism, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking for it. I would much rather catch them doing all the things they are doing right. But when it happens, accidental plagiarism cases get a grade of NG and the opportunity to correct the mistake. Overt plagiarism means an F in the course. I’ve only had to resort to the later a couple times.
Another good thing about them posting their papers online is that it lets them look at what their classmates are doing–instead of the one example in the text, they have 80 other papers to look at.
What, if anything, will you change next semester?
I don’t know that I will change much–most of the changes have happened as we go along. Evolving, I guess.
Using the Wiki lets me figure out what parts of what I’m doing are worthwhile (useful to either them or to me) and what really, really works. I discovered that some of what I was doing before the Wiki (learned in grad school while TAing) just doesn’t work/isn’t necessary/is outdated. Using it has really changed the way I teach. I think it lets me be more student-centered, which I like.
I would say that it has been a success. My first year writing director asked me to do a faculty development workshop on using the Wiki last semester, and I’m writing a paper about it. I get really excited when other faculty want to set one up to use in their classroom.
Thanks to Deb for telling us about her wiki and her class. I plan to borrow some of these terrific ideas for my fall classes and maybe – someday – when I can relaunch a discussion group for writers I know.