Beyond the Blog
Professor Sam See, English department, and Alison Kanovsky, graduate student in American Studies, and Robin Ladouceur, Instructional Design Specialist from ITG, presented for today’s lecture.
Robin started with a recap of a NPR segment that pointed out Andrew Sullivan’s blog is 10 years old–blogs have been around for over a decade. She then posed a couple questions to the audience: What are the characteristics of a blog? Chronological reverse order, diary, updates were answers volunteered from audience members. What are some blogging platforms? Blogger, WordPress, etc. What about blogging in higher education? Specifically, using blogs in higher education? For a collection of outakes/b-sides (materials in addition to course work); student responses to readings (apt for English or Literature course that focus on reading and writing), were just a few of the answers blurted out.
WordPress as the blogging platform in courses was implemented at Yale in 2008 (multi-user) and it gained an immediate and sustained traction in English department as faculty used their course blog as a place for students to post reading responses from formal to informal. Robin posited that the ways in which a blog sustains active participation outside the class democratizes the sharing of ideas. She noted that the ease of use of WordPress is why ITG maintains it as their platform for course sites. It is easy to set up, easy to teach and get students set up, involving a 20 minute demo with faculty and an additional 20 minute demo with students. Robin noted that WordPress is a beyond the blog tool because of its flexibility. WordPress is endlessly customizable. She further explained how WordPress allows such such customization, mainly through its commitment to open development of plugins and themes. Hundreds or thousands of developers adding themes and plugins on a daily basis. WordPress sites are really not called blogs anymore, but instead called sites because of the infinite creativity of the developers. Yianni Yessios from ITG develops plugins for specific course site needs. Faculty come to ITG with ideas about what they want to do pedagogically and usually WordPress is the answer/tool to fulfill the learning objectives of the course.
Robin continued to show examples of course sites, some of which Yianni was able to customize for the course. Slavic 210′s site allowed students to provide examples of linguistic moments that they were talking about in class. Sociology 221′s site needed an anonymous forum given the sensitivity of the class topic (sex and romance in adolescence) and ITG developed “Anonymizer,” which allows students to post without their netid attached to the blog post. The “Modern Poetry” course mainly used WordPress as a course site with sections like units, timeline, primary sources. However, it did embed audio files of poems that were discussed in class. Additionally, the “New Directions in Legal Anthropology” course site gave students access to video clips to which they analyzed and responded to all in the same site. Lastly, “Medieval Manuscripts to New Media” course used WordPress as an announcement forum and also a one stop shop for access to course materials. Students additionally had their own blog, set up like an e-portfolio (all assignments were turned in here).
Sam See talked about using WordPress in two courses, “European Literary Tradition” and “Queer Mythologies.” He noted that he has been teaching for 7 years and used WebCT before for gathering student responses, but that WordPress is much more user friendly and aesthetically pleasing. He also mentioned that he is fairly “old-school” in his pedagogical approach. Sam believes in a close reading of text and that class discussion drives the course. He started to use online posting to fulfill the writing requirement for courses, but noticed that it developed into something else. Essentially, it presented a way for students to take writing seriously and as a communicative medium across the disciplines. His assignments require students to post reading responses that moving from subjective posts to objective ones that make an argument as the course develops over time. Evidence and analysis is given through each response and Sam responds to each of them in the first few weeks of class. The public nature of the course blog may ultimately encourage students to write thoughtful responses since their peers can read them. Around the 6th week of the course, the students begin to respond to one another with an argumentative post; respond to argument with an argument. WordPress functions as a public forum for sharing arguments and therefore fulfills a learning objective for the course. Robin suggested the plugin DigressIt as a means to workshop writing in the “Queer Mythologies” course. In DigressIt, students post drafts of essays and he asks the students to comment on each other’s drafts to create an online dialogue. With DigressIt, it is remarkably easy to do this. The students copy paper and paste their paper from Word into the site. it reads their paragraphs from word and creates a mechanism whereby students can insert comments about each paragraph as opposed to only being able to comment on the whole draft. Same noted that the students’ comments are really earnest and was very impressed with the investment of their time to each other. He does provide them with guidelines about what to comment on. Identify the problem statement, for example, is one such guideline. He ended his portion by posing the question: Could it be the technology that inspired the level of commitment to each other as well as how they think of writing as a serious craft?
Allison gave a demo of GalleryPress, developed by Yiannos, by showing a work in progress site. Professor Matthew Jacobson needed a site that could manage and present the thousands of photos that he is taking through a historian’s eyes and also that could take student image contributions and allow for comments. GalleryPress allows one to add a gallery of images with data through the upload of a folder of images and corresponding text file (which could be made from Excel). Essentially, a gallery of images is like making a post. It utilizes Lightbox to display a larger image and a metadata tab and a comment tab are available to show or hide. Allison took us through the back end, how to upload thousands of images in one post. This plugin’s strength is in its ability to match images with data and batch upload.
WordPress allows endless possibilities for your course site. Visit ITG to learn more.
For podcast coverage of this session, please click the video below (note a slight delay upon initial playback):