This page serves as the online “home base” for the CFT workshop titled “Digital Writing: Using Social Media to Enhance the Teaching of Writing” held on Thursday, February 11, 2010.
Please note that the CFT is holding another workshop on the topic of using blogs in teaching. CFT Educational Technologist Rhett McDaniel is facilitating a “virtual brownbag” on teaching with blogs on February 25th. More details are available here.
- Panelist Resources
- Session Highlights
- Google Docs
- Research on Digital Writing
- Other Resources
In a world of text-messaging, Facebook status updates, and Twitter, students are used to expressing themselves 140 characters or so at a time. What kind of impact does this have on the teaching of writing to today’s college students? When students post their essays on class blogs, making them visible to their peers and the open Web, what kind of effect does that kind of audience have on their writing? Might students learn to write more effectively when they work together on written assignments using collaborative writing tools like Google Docs?
On Thursday, February 11th the CFT, in co-sponsorship with the Undergraduate Writing Program, will host the Conversation on Teaching Digital Writing: Using Social Media to Enhance the Teaching of Writing in order to begin dialogue to answer the questions above. To be held in Buttrick Hall, Room 205 from 4:10 – 5:30PM, the workshop will feature faculty panelists Jay Clayton, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor and Chair, Department of English; Jane Robbins, Senior Lecturer, Organizational Leadership; and Gabe Cervantes, Postdoctoral Fellow, English. Panelists will discuss how they have integrated various forms of digital writing in their courses, reflecting on best practices and digital writing’s potential to deepen and enrich student learning, as well as the challenges and pitfalls it can pose to students and instructors.
- Jay Clayton
- Jane Robbins
- Gabe Cervantes
- Gabe’s presentation [PDF]
During the workshop, CFT Assistant Director Derek Bruff tweeted some highlights from the panelist remarks and subsequent conversation. For those of you not following the CFT on Twitter, here are Derek’s comments.
- English prof Jay Clayton talking about his “Worlds of Wordcraft” course on narrative and virtual worlds. Course blog: http://is.gd/8bD7d
- Jay had students use own blogs the 1st time, but that led to too many tech problems. Upshot: Don’t let the tech get in the way of learning.
- Jay shares his blog traffic stats w/his students (up to 30-40K hits over the life of the blog). Gives the students a real sense of audience.
- Another takeaway from Jay: *Informal* blog writing helped students better understand the *formal writing* they did in the course.
- Jay’s students’ posts were informal, but not sloppy. Grammar, spelling, mechanical errors weren’t allowed.
- Jay’s current course is on genetics and literature. Here’s the course blog: http://is.gd/8bEKv. Blog categories generated from student tags.
- Jay wants his students to tag their posts. It helps them contextualize their contributions and drives blog traffic.
- Now hearing from Jane Robbins from Leadership, Policy, & Organizations at Peabody College. Leadership course blog: http://is.gd/8bFvN
- Here are the slides Jane is using: http://is.gd/8bFHo [PPTX]. And here’s her Innovation course blog: http://is.gd/8bFMr
- Jane gives her students a strict word count limit. Wants her students to practice concise, professional writing. But 250 words is too few.
- Jane Robbins: Brings student blog posts into the classroom discussion. This keeps the blog work from being disconnected to rest of class.
- Jane requires students to subscribe to the blog via email or RSS. That way they stay more regularly involved in the blog discussion.
- Here’s a great post from Jane’s leadership course blog on superhero leadership: http://is.gd/8bH0F. Lots of peer comments.
- Jane: Course blogs do a great job of creating community among students, extending and applying the in-class discussion.
- Next up: Gabe Cervantes on using Twitter in his “Lives of Slavery” course, an upper-level writing course on bios and autobios.
- Gabe showing what’s out on Twitter by searching for #literature and showing the user @EmersonRalphyW.
- Gabe: I’ve been commuting to and from school as a student or teacher for as long as Lady Gaga has been alive.
- Gabe on Twitter vs. email: Twitter better for short, timely messages. Also puts more responsibility on students to stay current.
- Gabe Cervantes now analyzing the Twitter bird as a metaphor. Drawing connections to Emerson’s writing and nature.
- Emerson: “Language must be raked…” Language is something that has to be worked on, managed, curated, patterned.
- Gabe’s next course will require students to post quotes from the reading on a course Twitter account.
- Why? Should capture ephemeral responses to reading–what usually receives highlighting, underlining, or margin comments.
- Also, literarary writers work by quoting and integrating the works of others. Students tweeting quotes brings them into this tradition.
- Hmm, that should have been “literary” not “literarary.” Will Gabe count off for typos in his course?
- Interesting comments about the public nature of course blogs. Students are writing to each other, but the public can “listen in.”
- Jay Clayton: Course blogs, esp. w/large readerships, help students see themselves as producers, not just consumers, of knowledge.
- Jay: When students see what search terrms are leading visitors to the blog, they find out that, say, high school students are reading them.
- Jay Clayton creates categories for the course blog, like a table of contents. Students can make up their own tags, however.
- Great discussion on the use of tags (students tagging their own posts, others’ posts) to help students synthesize course material.
- One idea: No tags throughout the semester on course blog. Then give each student a copy of the whole blog & have them retroactively tag it.
- Check out this short video from CommonCraft, “Blogs in Plain English,” for a quick introduction to blogs. Or read EDUCAUSE’s two-page “7 Things You Should Know about Blogs” handout.
- Here are some examples of course blogs at Vanderbilt and elsewhere.
- English 208B: The Impossible, Perverse, and Strange, Dahlia Porter, Vanderbilt University
- PSY 1200: Minds, Brain, Context, and Culture, Craig Smith, Vanderbilt University
- Cryptography: The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking, Derek Bruff, Vanderbilt University
- History of Western Civilization II, Steve Harris, University of Mary Washington (UMW)
- Musical Theatre Performance, Christopher Wingert, UMW
- Fairy Tales and Fantasy Literature, Maya Mathur, UMW
- General Psychology, Mindy Erchull, UMW
- Spanish Composition and Grammar, Jeremy LaRochelle, UMW
- The Last American Pirate, Jane [undergraduate student], George Mason University
- See also this list of more University of Mary Washington course blogs and sample blogs shared by Jeff McClurken in his presentation at the American Historical Association’s 2010 conference.
- Vanderbilt has a blog server that Vanderbilt faculty can use, http://blogs.vanderbilt.edu. To sign up for a blog there, visit http://its.vanderbilt.edu/vublogs/signup.
- For some advice on using blogs to facilitate student discussion, see the CFT’s Teaching Guide: Questions and Suggestions for Using Discussion Forums.
- For some thoughts on the impact of the public nature of course blogs, read “Open Teaching Multiplies the Benefit but Not the Effort,” an essay by David Wiley of Brigham Young University.
- Check out this short video from CommonCraft, “Twitter Search in Plain English,” to get a sense of what kinds of productive conversations can happen on Twitter. Or read EDUCAUSE’s “7 Things You Should Know about Twitter” two-page handout.
- A few Vanderbilt people and organizations are on Twitter, including Derek Bruff, Tim Caboni, the Center for Teaching, Peabody College, and Vanderbilt Public Affairs.
- On his blog, Mike Winiski of Furman University describes his use of Twitter to motivate his students to think deeply about course readings before class.
- Joanna Dunlap and Patrick Lowenthal describe their use of Twitter in an online class to foster community among their students in a 2009 article in The Journal of Information Systems Education.
- For some ideas on using Twitter during class to foster backchannel discussion, watch the short YouTube video, “The Twitter Experiment,” which describes University of Texas-Dallas history professor Monica Rankin’s use of Twitter during class discussions. Further reflections by Dr. Rankin are available, as are thoughts on this use of Twitter by CFT Assistant Director Derek Bruff.
- Gardner Campbell of Baylor University has also used Twitter for backchannel discussions. His recent EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative presentation, “Twitter Symbiosis: A Librarian, a Hashtag, and a First-Year Seminar,” is available online (slides + video). His use is interesting, in part, because of the involvement of an off-site librarian, Ellen Filgo, in the Twitter conversation. She found that her involvement in the class via Twitter led the students to seek her help earlier in the research process than they would normally. Derek has blogged about this case study, as well.
- Jessica Gross argues in a Huffington Post opinion piece that college teachers using social media with their students are helping students “become literate in our network-based society.” She includes links in her article to several uses of Twitter by college teachers.
- Twitter was used extensively during the December 2009 Modern Languages Association (MLA) conference as a forum for backchannel conversation during the conference. ProfHacker’s write-up of the use of Twitter at MLA 2009 describes some of the benefits of Twitter in this context. Be sure to read Amanda Watson’s discussion of Twitter as manicule, the little hand icons used in texts to highlight notable passages.
- US News & World Reports featured a story on the use of Twitter by college instructors in class as well as out of class in their June 2, 2009, issue: “Twitter Goes to College.” Twitter use by college instructors was also featured in the November 22, 2009, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Teaching with Twitter: Not for the Faint of Heart.”
- And for a little Twitter humor, check out this Dilbert comic strip:
- Check out this short video from CommonCraft, “Google Docs in Plain English,” for an easy-to-understand introduction to collaborative document writing via Google Docs.
Research on Digital Writing
- A Stanford University study of student writing in the digital age indicates that students today are writing with an awareness of their audience and their potential to affect change through their writing. One student interviewed in the study said, “I was used to writing transactionally – not just for private reflection, but writing to actually get something done in the world.”
- A California State University study of digital writing indicates that students who use a lot of “textisms” in their everyday communication tend to be less skilled at formal writing assignments but more skilled at informal writing assignments.
- The EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) released its annual survey of undegraduates’ use of educational (and other) technology last October. There are interesting data in the report about how frequently students use certain technologies (like cell-phone-based text-messaging) and how they perceive faculty use of educational technology.
- The Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center at the University of Michigan conducts research and provides resources on the topic of “digital writing.” See also their essays series, “Why Teach Digital Writing?“
What about FERPA? The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is designed to give students (and their families, when those students are in K-12 settings) control over their own academic data. Following this federal law means that, for instance, you can’t post student grades outside your office door or return tests by putting them in a pile at the front of the room and having students look through the pile to find their own. The decision to disclose a student’s grade to someone else should reside with the student, not with you.
Institutions should seek advice from their campus general counsel about potential liabilities associated with student speech and potential violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). If a course is required for graduation, the instructor may be violating FERPA by insisting that students submit their work to a public site—giving up a privacy right—as a condition of enrollment. FERPA legislation does not explicitly address these and other questions involving emerging technologies. For this reason, it is important that institutions seek the advice of legal counsel to ensure that their student privacy policies take into account emerging technologies such as blogging.
How do other institutions deal with this question? North Carolina State University has a policy addressing this question, available in this Word document. (A sample student consent form is included in there, as well.) You can see Colorado Community Colleges Online’s take on the issue in this interactive quiz.
For some articulate student thoughts on this question, see the comments on this post on the Instructional Design and Development Blog of DePaul University.
- For an introduction to some of the issues involved in students’ use of social media, read “Untangling Web 2.o’s Influences on Student Learning,” an essay by Peter Magolda and Glenn Platt that appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of About Campus.