Fall semester happenings

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I’ve gotten pretty behind on updating the blog this month, so I thought I’d do a post with “quick hits” on the the things I’ve been up to and what’s on my radar in the coming weeks. I need to focus on writing more – both scholarly and non (including the blog!) – so here goes!

I’ll start with some good news: I’ve finalized my dissertation committee! My chair will be Carolyn R. Miller, SAS Institute Distinguished Professor here at NCSU. The other three members of my committee are Bill Kinsella (Communication), Nancy Penrose (English) and David Rieder (English). They are all members of the CRDM program here at NCSU, and I’m so excited to have a great team behind me. The next step now is finalizing my exam reading lists, which I’ll do between now and the new year, so that I can begin reading for exams in January. My exam areas are (approximately; subject to more specific language as I construct the lists): rhetorical genre theory, rhetoric of science and environment, and digital media theory.

I think I’ve settled in to my administrative jobs with both the Campus Writing and Speaking Program and the First Year Writing Program. I’ve hosted a few successful workshops thus far and have a few more planned for the year with the CWSP team. One of my major projects for the FYWP will be coordinating assessment of our recently-implemented hybrid writing classes in conjunction with our large program-wide assessment in the spring. These admin roles are a welcome change of pace from teaching, and I think the jobs really agree with me – but, to get used to all the meetings!

Next week I’m traveling with Susan Miller-Cochran to give an invited talk on hybrid writing classrooms for a group of instructors in the mid-West. I’ve written before about teaching hybrid classrooms both on this blog and my WPA Hybrid Guide site, and I’m really looking forward to working with instructors at other institutions. I definitely plan to write more after the trip and will hopefully share some Tweets as we travel, too.

In two weeks I’m heading to Cleveland for the annual conference for the Society for the Social Studies of Science. I’ll be presenting my research (done with Ashley R. Kelly) on discourse about nuclear energy in the Carolinas post-Fukushima. CRDM students just heard this week that we’ll receive some funding for conference travel this year – that great news arrives just in time for this conference! I’m so glad to be in a program that can support our professional development activities and has administrators that will go to bat for us to get us the much-needed funding.

 I’ve taken on a few service-oriented tasks this fall as well – conference proposal reviewing, textbook reviewing for a publisher, throwing my name in the ring for a professional organization’s board – and am glad to start (net)working with professionals in the field beyond NCSU. I know it’s important for my development as a scholar, but I’m also keenly tuned to the discourse I hear for/from graduating CRDMers and the job market. My biggest struggle as I do my PhD is not the work itself, but what kind of work I take on. There is so much work associated with being a scholar, educator, and administrator that the real issue seems to be what work is most beneficial for my professional growth and – let’s be honest here – getting a job. Balance is a word that I hear frequently. Too much service and committees might think a candidate can’t get research done. Too much research (if there is such a thing) and committees won’t think a candidate is a team player who will make a good departmental colleague. Or is it just that when you’re a PhD student, you just need to make your CV as long as possible? As the accomplishments of newly-minted PhDs get better and better every year, the idea behind getting a tenure-track job seems to be doing as much as humanly possible.

Back to reading!

A-conferencing we will go

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This week is a major conference within our field, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, in Atlanta. I’m getting ready to head down there to enjoy scholarship and fellowship with a few thousand colleagues. I’m not presenting this year, but I’m looking forward to listening for a while, particularly because there will be so many panels that can help me with teaching. I’ve only seen one panel on the program thus far about hybrid (blended) writing classes, which is disappointing, but I’m hoping to ask around when I get there and maybe find out about a few that are somewhat related.

I’m hoping to blog about my days while I’m down there – give a recap of my day – including the panels that I attended, people I talked to, and social events that were hosted. What a better way to share all of the great panels than blog to the world? I’d love to live Tweet, but I’m not sure how reliable the wi-fi access is at the conference location. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow Tweets from others by searching for the hashtag #cccc11 or #4c11 (I’ve seen both circulating). And if you’re at CCCC’s, I’d love to meet you!

Halfway through the Hybrid (or Blended) Class

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An article published earlier this week by the Chronicle, “Tomorrow’s College,” prompted me to think more about how I am teaching my hybrid academic writing class this semester and the impact that the format has on students. Until now, I’ve really only been thinking about how my teaching has to change and how I’m trying to take advantage of technology to teach a blended course successfully. My thoughts are that the students in my hybrid classroom are learning new and different skills from the students in the traditional ENG 101 classroom

I’m confident that my students are learning to use different technologies, software platforms, and website tools to accomplish tasks in our hybrid class. In August, they had no idea that you could use Google for more than searching or email, and now they are adept at using Google docs and sites for classroom purposes. I’ve introduced them to Mendeley for organizing their files for the literature review, though I didn’t make it required for them to get it (more on this soon, with an update on grading with Mendeley). Obviously, they’ve mastered Moodle, the learning management system that our school uses. Next semester, I’d like to show the students even more ways to use technology to help them accomplish their school work. Some possibilities: blogs (either reading or writing them, or both), Twitter, and Reddit or Diigo. Any other suggestions of useful technologies/software/websites that I should consider for the spring?

This is not to say that students in the traditional classroom don’t use these tools (because I know that they do), but that the tools are embedded into the format of the course. I’d like to think that this benefits them – they are learning that the Internet is useful for things other than Facebook. I think that’s a win!

I’d also really like to think that being in a hybrid class for their first semester of college encourages them to develop the self-motivation necessary to succeed in future courses. Again, that’s not to say that traditional class formats don’t – but a hybrid class forces it on the students from the get-go. If they don’t do the work online and turn it in, twice a week for every week of the semester, they’re “absent” and would eventually fail (due to the First Year Writing program’s attendance policy, which holds all students equally accountable for attendance). It’s painfully obvious when students leave work to the last minute, but I’ve noticed that many of the students turn in the work up to a full day before it’s due. Those assignments are less likely to be rushed and are unequivocally stronger responses than those that are posted the minute before the deadline. I’m not a social scientist, but that’s correlation, people.

So, is hybrid (or blended) format the future of college teaching? I don’t know. But, it’s here, and I’ve been asked to continue teaching in that format for the spring, so I’m going to embrace it and use the opportunity not only to diversify my teaching portfolio and technology repertoire, but also to show my students how to use technology and Internet tools to help them succeed while they’re here.

    Preliminary Thoughts on Hybrid Teaching

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    This fall, I’m teaching the same course that I’ve been teaching at NCSU – ENG 101: Academic Writing and Research – but in a new format. As a hybrid course, half of our course meetings are in-class and half are virtual. So, I have one 100-minute session per week with students, and they complete 100 minutes worth of work online to earn credit for the other “class meeting.” I came into this new teaching experience with an open mind and wondering how this format would compare to my previous experience of four 50-minute class meetings in person per week. To corral my thoughts so far…

    To start with what I see as a negative aspect – I only see the students once per week! Three weeks into the semester, I feel disconnected from them. Only seeing them on Thursday afternoons makes for a very different interaction with the students. I can’t ask them how their weekend was, or follow up from a conversation we had the previous day, or even bring in as many current events as I’d like. To counter this negative, though, I will point out that I’ve only ever taught one class per semester, so I’ve always had the opportunity to get to know students personally. I won’t always have this luxury and suppose that this problem may not be such a big deal by the time that I’m teaching three lecture courses per semester. But for now – this is a drawback. I feel that I’m at my best as an instructor when I really connect with the kids, and this has yet to happen (and it may still).

    On the plus side – the students are doing a lot of writing. Definitely a lot more writing than when I saw them in person four days a week. When we’re in person, I can get recognition of understanding by asking questions, have them do group work, or have them lead a part of the class. But when you have to evaluate a student’s participation and understanding virtually, one of the most obvious options is to have the write and submit their work on the learning management system (we use Moodle at NCSU). The funny part is… it makes perfect sense! I’m teaching a course on academic writing, and my students are practicing writing. Not sure why it seems like such an epiphany, but when you’re in front of students in person, it somehow feels as if you should be speaking to/with them and not watching them think and write. With online class time, I actually feel more free to assign work that gets them practicing the ideas we talk about on the days that I see them in person.

    Other things that are positive: attendance is great. Because I only see them once a week, they’re always there for that one day. They see how important it is to be there and do their best to get the most out of the one class session that we have each week. And with very few exceptions, they turn in all of the virtual work in a timely manner, and some have gotten in the habit of doing things well ahead of time, leaving them the opportunity to ask questions if issues arise. Moodle works pretty well for our class setup, giving us a central location for our class online. The students have caught on to the system fairly quickly, and I love not collecting a single piece of paper. The only component of it that I don’t use is the grade book. For some of their class work, I use an Unsatisfactory/Satisfactory/Outstanding grade system, and Moodle translates those designations to grades of 0% / 50% / 100%. To me, satisfactory is a C, and there’s a big difference between completing half of the work and completing it perfectly, so I haven’t used the numbers for student grades as Moodle has calculated them. I’ve translated the grades into my own spreadsheet system, which requires a little extra work on my part, but allows me to use a grading scale that I truly believe in. 

    As we progress through the semester, I will try to shape my thoughts more cohesively to come up with a proposal for talking about the experience at the North Carolina Symposium for Teaching Writing hosted here at NCSU. In the meantime, if you have experiences with hybrid or distance ed. teaching, I’d love to hear ideas and suggestions for fostering a greater sense of community among the students for the one day per week that we are in class. How did you do it?