A couple of online teaching articles in Inside Higher Ed

First, there’s “U.S. push for free online courses:”

WASHINGTON — Community colleges and high schools would receive federal funds to create free, online courses in a program that is in the final stages of being drafted by the Obama administration.

The program is part of a series of efforts to help community colleges reach more students and to link basic skills education to job training. The proposals are outlined in administration discussion drafts obtained by Inside Higher Ed. A formal announcement could come in the next few weeks. In addition to the free online courses, the plan would provide $9 billion over 10 years to help community colleges develop and improve programs related to preparing students for good jobs, and a $10 billion loan fund (at low or no interest) for community college facilities.

Fair enough, but there’s a difference between putting a bunch of stuff up online and offering an online course, and that difference is basically some kind of teacher. I mean, there’s plenty of things online right now to help people to get “good jobs;” making information available in and of itself doesn’t seem like that much of a move to me.

And then there’s this, “The evidence on online education.” Here’s a quote and a link:

Online learning has definite advantages over face-to-face instruction when it comes to teaching and learning, according to a new meta-analysis(PDF) released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took “blended” courses — those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction — appeared to do best of all. That finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment.

But part of what this meta-analysis suggests is that at least some of this is the result of students spending more time with online classes and being more highly motivated– in other words, not so much about the teaching medium as the students themselves. And of course a lot of this depends on how you define some of these key terms: learning, instruction, better, etc., etc. Still, it’s interesting. In my own experiences, it’s hard for me to tell if students are doing better online, but I don’t think they are necessarily doing worse. Of course, a lot of online students don’t finish the courses, which means I guess the ones that finish do “better.”

This month in death

Wow, it’s been a weird one, huh? Just off the top of my head:

  • First, we’ve got David Carradine, probably (maybe?) from autoerotic asphyxiation. Which, for at least a few days anyway, had me wondering: could it really be that much better than just, um, normal autoeroticism? Anyway, I was never a big fan of the kung fu stuff he did, but I thought he was great in the Kill Bill movies.
  • Then, quite a bit later, Ed McMahon. Wikipedia says he was born in Detroit; go figure. Always did like the original Tonight Show with Johnny and the chortling Ed, and I will admit to watching plenty of episodes of TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes back in the 1980s. Never watched much of Star Search, but there were a lot of pretty famous (now) people on that show, actually.
  • Farah Fawcett of course, and while I always thought this was a great poster, I kinda liked Cheryl Ladd better on Charlie’s Angels. She had been sick for a long time, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise she had died. On the other hand….
  • There is the gloved one (more than enough said, and I was never much of a fan), and…
  • Billy Mays. Really?! Billy Mays? It’s too early to tell, but it would appear that he might have died after luggage fell on his head during a not so great airplane landing it was probably a heart attack/just one of those things. I’m not really a fan of the infomercial format or even his commercials, but I kind fo liked this show on Discovery called Pitchmen.

Man, I hope that next month is a little less weird….

And other Computers and Writing highlights

I was going to wrap this all up in my previous post on Twitter, but since that got kind of long and very Twitter-centric, I thought I’d post one last time about C&W09 here. Some of the other highlights:

  • Before the Ganley keynote, Nick Carbone and I worked on incorporating some video from Matt Barton (who was originally going to come to C&W this year but then he didn’t, I think because of travel fund issues) into my part of our talk about textbook publishing, “Textbook 2.0: Open Source Textbooks and Multimodal Composition Programs.” There is a podcast recording of it on the C&W 09 web site– one of these days, I’ll connect that audio with my slides and post them here. Anyway, it was a pretty well-attended session in my estimation, and I enjoyed presenting with Nick.
  • I was “back to back” presentation boy at this year’s conference as I followed the textbook presentation with my contribution to “Sustainable Blogging: Problems and Promises for School, Work, and Play.” I set up a new web site/blog, “Blogs as Writerly Spaces,” to host stuff about this research, and I have a link to my presentation script here. It was a smaller crowd than the textbook talk (which says to me that I’m a lot more interested in my research in blogging at this stage than most other people), but some really good presentations from my Indiana University of Pennsylvania colleague and friend Gian Pagnucci, along with some IUP grad students, Sabatino Mangini and Jessica Schreyer.
  • Friday night was the banquet, which was fine but not that exciting one way or the other, and then it was out to the Davis nightlife with various C&W folks.
  • Slept in Saturday morning (well, sort of slept in– I never did get my time issues straight out there) and managed to walk through the Davis farmer’s market on the way to the conference. I debated getting some beautiful looking morel mushrooms, but I wasn’t sure I could get them back on the plane in my carry-on luggage. Probably, but I didn’t want to chance it.
  • Then to the conference and I went to see “Researching Fully Online Instruction: Assessment, Pedagogy, and a Sustainable Theory of Hybrid Online Learning,” which was a panel by some fine folks at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Given the discussions we’ve had here in my program about teaching online, I guess there are two things I found striking. One speaker, Christopher Dean, presented about how the research suggests there is “no significant difference” in what students learn in online classes versus similar face to face classes. There are some big problems with these kinds of claims, including a kind of fuzzy sense of what exactly it is we are measuring when we describe “learning.” But I will say that in my own experiences his claims seem accurate to the extent that the writing projects and other graded “artifacts” students produce in online classes are pretty much the same as those students produce in face to face classes, and that even includes things like the collaborative video projects and such. More important to me though was that two of these folks, Randi Browning and Kathy Patterson, spoke about their experiences teaching online for the first time. I wish these folks would come and talk to some of my EMU colleagues because I think they would be a lot more persuasive than me in speaking about what it’s “like” to make the leap of faith to teach online.
  • Went to Bill Cope’s keynote, which was fantastic, in my mind: very solid theoretically, well-put together and polished, pushing the edges of what counts as technology, etc. Interestingly, I think he was making the same basic point as Ganley; but besides the delivery, I think the differences had to do with tools than it had to do with concepts.
  • Then I took a conference break to go grade– I was and remain woefully behind– and I had a solo lunch and grading session at Crepeville. Very nice, and I got a fair amount of work done, too.
  • I attended another panel after my grading lunch (a pretty good one– G1, “Hybrid Writing Classes: Literacy, Dialogues, and Intellectual Property”), I went to Town Hall III, where I was on the panel. This was an odd experience. First off, I was pretty unprepared compared to the other people on the panel, I guess because what I thought I was supposed to do mostly was react to the stuff I had seen at the conference. I wasn’t expecting to have a little speech written up. And second, as I was sitting there next to Cindy Selfe and Kathy Yancey (not to mention some other heavy-hitters), I most distinctly had the feeling of being a little like Kathy Griffin on “the D list.” But it was a good conversation and a good opportunity for me. I tried to get Cindy to sign onto Twitter with no luck though.
  • Then it was an art exhibit that actually was kinda cool (I have some video to upload sooner than later) and then bowling. I took lots of pictures that are here, but my favorite is the one video I took:

    And this was followed by a comparatively quiet night on the town.

  • And just to prove that the conference isn’t over until you’re long LONG gone: I ended up riding back on the plane with a fellow conference goer and right behind this group of drunk women. It’s a long story, and it was a long plane flight, and I’m still running behind….

All in all, a fantastic C&W this year. I thought Davis was great, I think I actually went to more panels than I’ve gone to in a long time, and I have to say I enjoyed thoroughly having my own room (though it cost too much). Carl Whithaus and friends did a fantastic job, and I’m looking forward to next year’s conference at Purdue.

#cw09 and when I saw the point/power/danger of Twitter

I haven’t seen much about Computers and Writing 2009 from the usual academic/computers and writing blogs I read, I suppose because a lot of that crowd wasn’t there. There’s this Computers and Writing post at a blog called “NWP Walkabout;” there’s this post at “Amber’s UIWP Blog;” and Dennis Jerz has lots and lots of great stuff on his blog too. So, in an effort to procrastinate from wrapping up for the spring term and preparing for summer term, I thought I’d ramble on about my thoughts from this year in Davis (to build on my previous posts here and here).
Continue reading “#cw09 and when I saw the point/power/danger of Twitter”

I’m not the only one who self-published on the web…

I gave a talk at the recent Computers and Writing Conference on self-publishing my textbook, The Process of Research Writing, a talk which I’m hoping to eventually make available here– stay tuned. But this morning, I came across this article from Inside Higher Ed from last week, Douglas J. Amy’s “Adventures in Web Publishing.” In short, Amy self-published a book that he could not get a popular press to take on and he said he wasn’t interested in working with a university press since the readership would be so small. So he put it up on the web.

Part of what he discusses in this article is what I discussed in my presentation, which is the “capital” one collects from projects like this; for example:

I have also received a surprising amount of feedback on my work. I could probably count on both hands the number of letters or e-mails I have gotten from strangers about my other books. But I’ve received hundreds of e-mails about the materials on this Web site. Undoubtedly, part of this is due to simple convenience: Readers merely have to click on the link “Contact the Author” to send me a message. But also, the culture of the Web is a very interactive one, with people used to making comments and discussing issues online.

C&W 09, in the midst of it

I’m actually attending a session right now about “Hacking Spaces” by Douglass Walls, Scott Schopieray, and Danielle Nicole DeVoss, but thought I’d post a few miscellaneous notes/observations:

  • I went to wine country on Thursday, which was actually more conference/technology related than you might think. For one, I went with my colleague Doug Baker (and his father and a friend of his, both of whom were very able guides) and we chatted about the conference a fair amount. For another, when we were at Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, I wandered into an exhibit that had some “Magic Lanterns” and this video that is slightly risque:

    It figures. I go to wine country and the coolest things to me are these old media technologies.

  • I was going to go to the reception for C&W last night, but I found out there was no wine/beer/etc., which kind of for me defeats the purpose of a “reception.” So I connected with Gian Pagnucci and some Indiana U of Pennsylvania folks for dinner. Lots of fun, and one of those moments that you do get from actually going to a place instead of just doing stuff online: we met a local woman who was having dinner alone and talked with her quite a bit about teaching, learning, Davis, books, reading, writing. And in the course of it, we found out she was out by herself because her husband had died a few months earlier. She had a picture of him with her and talked about how they both loved food and trains, and she liked to come here with him and listen to the trains go by.
  • Got up this morning after finally getting some sleep, and I combined a “run” with a trip to the grocery store (needed toothpaste), and leisurely got ready for the day. I’m not sharing a room at this conference, and I must say as much as I like traveling with Steve B. and/or Bill HD, I could get used to the luxury of my own room for future conferences. The one bad thing about the Hallmark Inn here in Davis– and it is a significant bad thing for me– is the wifi service is just awful. It means I’ll be even further behind when I get home. Swell.
  • Worked on one of the presentations I’m giving here with Nick Carbone for a while, and then went to the keynote. In the interest of both time and decorum, all I will say for now is I thought that Barbara Ganley’s talk was problematic, and certainly not addressed to the right audience. Had she given the spiel that she gave about “re-imaging how we can teach with technology” at NCTE or some kind of National Writing Project meeting, people would have been on their feet. Here, the reaction seemed to be a) yeah, we do that, and/or b) you’re not really engaging with the issues. But what was most fascinating was the twitter feed on this stuff. It’s ongoing and here; I suppose if you scroll down far enough, you can get the whole gist of it all.

I’m sure there will be more later. Davis, by the way, is a lovely place. It sort of seems a kind of California-ish version of Ann Arbor, that college town kind of thing with groovy restaurants and stores and stuff, only in a much more pleasant climate.

C&W 09 prewriting/preparing post

I’m off to what is generally my favorite conference of the year, Computers and Writing, which this year is in Davis, California. It’s not one of the “big ones,” like the CCCCs or something, and it can be kind of inconsistent in terms of who attends and the overall “quality” of the experience because it is a conference that is more or less hosted by folks who are willing to host it. But it is still my favorite or one of my favorites, mainly because these are my people, so to speak.

Anyway, a few random, preparatory thoughts:

  • When I have mentioned to people “in the know” about California that this conference is going to be in Davis, the general reaction has been “oh, that’s too bad.” Well, all I know is I’m planning a trip to Napa Thursday, the weather is likely to be pretty nice (sunny, dry, low 90s during the day, 50s-60s at night), and I’ll be busy doing conference stuff most of the time anyway.
  • My usual traveling companions are not going this year, I suppose because they already had their trip to California with the CCCCs. I suspect that is true with lots of people, actually. In any event, since this is my only conference this year, I am kind of “livin’ large” with my own room and such.
  • My “main presentation” from my point of view is “Endings: The Problem of Sustained Blogging,” which is part of my ongoing blog research. I’m in the process of setting up a web site for that project, http://baws.stevendkrause.com, which is going to host some of the stuff I’ve done and will continue to do, including responses to the survey I conducted.
  • My “not main presentation” is “Fast, Free, and On the ‘Net: The Story of a Self-Published Textbook,” which is a round-table discussion called “Textbook 2.0: Open Source Textbooks in the Land of Sustainable Computing.” The table promises not to be that “round” though because Joanna bowed out and Matt had his funding cut– he’s going to maybe make a video. I’ll post stuff here when I’m done getting something together that is, well, postable. Interestingly enough, someone from a Cal-Irvine PR office called me to ask some questions about my presentation to drum up some interest locally in the conference. I guess I’d better be ready for people showing up to this one….
  • And I’m on a panel/a respondent at the “Town Hall III: @ School, Work, and Play in Freeborn.” There’s some really cool people in that group, but since it’s the last thing of the day before “dinner on your own” and bowling, I’m not exactly expecting a huge crowd. Well, maybe I’ll at least have some good people to go eat dinner with after that…
  • I’m kind of annoyed with my air travel plans because I don’t get there today until almost midnight and I won’t get home on Sunday until about 10 pm. Grrr.

“Do computers make students better writers?”

There was a good article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed the other day, “Studies Explore Whether the Internet Makes Students Better Writers.” I think it might make for good reading/discussion for English 516, where this basic question of “are computers helping students be better writers” often comes up. I like this passage from Jeff Grabill too:

“The unstated assumption there is that if you can write a good essay for your literature professor, you can write anything,” Mr. Grabill says. “That’s utter nonsense.”

The writing done outside of class is, in some ways, the opposite of a traditional academic paper, he says. Much out-of-class writing, he says, is for a broad audience instead of a single professor, tries to solve real-world problems rather than accomplish academic goals, and resembles a conversation more than an argument.

Rather than being seen as an impoverished, secondary form, online writing should be seen as “the new normal,” he says, and treated in the curriculum as such: “The writing that students do in their lives is a tremendous resource.”

But I guess this does prompt me to think about/mention two things:

  • My guess/gut feeling is that a lot of the expression students have about how they “like” to write more outside of school than inside of it has a lot more to do with school than it has to do with what it is they’re writing. I agree with Grabill about trying to give assignments in classes about real world problems, things that resemble conversation rather than academic, five paragraph, “there are three problems with x” kind of essays. But no matter what I do to incorporate these kinds of writing assignments into my courses, there is still all the apparatus of the situation. I mean, none of this is voluntary. I wouldn’t be doing these assignments and this teaching if I wasn’t empowered (and paid!) as a college professor, and my students wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t trying to complete coursework and a degree program. So there’s always going to be a division between writing students do for school and writing they do “outside of school” not because of the kind of writing but because of the situation of writing, which is school.
  • Despite the headline, it seems to me that neither of these studies is actually trying to answer the “do computers make students better writers;” rather, both seem to be studying how students actually practice their writing in and out of the classroom with computers. Which is a good thing. My take on the “do computer technologies help make student better writers?” is that it is really an irrelevant question because it is what students and everyone else uses to write nowadays. If someone did a study and somehow was able to prove that people “wrote better” when they used a quill and parchment (or hell, just pens and paper), it wouldn’t make any difference because I think most people nowadays find using these older tools to be a pain in the ass.

And really, the stuff that Grabill is talking about in the part I quote isn’t about technology. You can teach a dreadful academic research paper kind of class in a computer lab, too.

If Twitter ever had a purpose, see #IranElection

Of course, I’m mostly interested in the idea that there is something resembling democracy and free elections in Iran, but as someone also keenly interested in new media and writing technologies, what’s been going on with Twitter and the Iranian Election is just fascinating.

Here’s a link to but one article about it, a NYTimes piece, Social Networks Spread Iranian Defiance Online. Basically, the unwashed masses of the Twitterosphere (it hurts to type that word) have more than cleaned the clocks of Main Steam Media in keeping people in touch and involved. I don’t know if the Iranian election was rigged or not (I think it probably was though), but I have learned a hell of a lot more about what’s going on in 140 character bursts than I have listening to NPR.

So, if you haven’t done the Twitter thing yet because you thought it was a waste of time along the lines of Facebook (and, truth be told, it probably is a waste of time mostly), sign up and do a search for #IranElection. You’ll immediately see what I mean.

“Can you afford to be an adjunct?”

Some very good and blunt advice from “Piss Poor Prof” in Inside Higher Ed, “Can You Afford to Be An Adjunct?” Just about everything he says here is spot-on to me: the money isn’t worth it, it is not a “back door” into a more permanent job, it’s something only worth doing while doing something else (e.g., finishing a novel or a dissertation), and be prepared to teach at a bunch of different schools at the same time.

When I was the program adviser, I used to talk to plenty of current or perspective grad students who wanted to finish our MA and then teach at an area community college or part-time teach at a place like EMU. I wish I had had this article to show them. Making matters worse– at least at EMU– is we just aren’t hiring as many adjuncts as we used to. The situation here has more to do with local politics and general education shifts, but I suspect that there is something similar going on at places where budget problems are being solved by increasing teaching loads. It kind of feels to me like academia has been in some version of a recession for a lot longer than the rest of the economy.

Anyway, good advice. If you want to teach one or two classes as an adjunct while doing something else– and there is something to be said for having one’s sources of income diversified in an economy like this– that’s great. But it ain’t a long-term solution and it ain’t a career.

Oh, and since I read some of the CHE stuff online after I read the above article: No, “For Adjuncts, Stitching Together Part-Time Jobs Into Full-Time Pay While Staying Put” is not a viable and long-term strategy for anyone– administrators, faculty, adjuncts themselves, and most definitely not for students. But yes, “Adjunct and Tenure-Track Professors Need One Another, Say Speakers at AAUP Meeting” and can clearly work together just fine, as is the case in my department. But when part-timers or non-tenure-track folks are put into positions that really should be occupied by permanent and tenure-track folks, well, that relationship gets testy.