English 30 reflections post #1

This term, as I’ve discussed a bit before, I’m teaching Honors Rhetoric and Composition1 as part of the University’s project with Sony. We are checking out Sony’s ebook Reader and doing most of our course’s readings on this — either in ebook format or in pdf format. Students will be researchers in the project as well, interviewing each other with IRB approved research questions.

It’s been an exciting two days so far. We haven’t started with the Sony Readers yet, because the students are getting the books next week, but we’re starting the term off with a critical analysis unit on the non-neutrality of technology and design. We discussed Jennie Winhall’s “Is Design Political?” today in class, which was fruitful. Students are most excited (I think) that they don’t have to buy textbooks this term (and I don’t blame them — in fact, that was part of the reason I was excited). My students so far have been talkative and great and offered some interesting ideas and perspectives.

The thing that I’m most frustrated with at this point is the course blog. The teacher of the other section engaged in this project and I decided that rather than traditional journals or posts on ANGEL (which I loathe almost as much as Blackboard) that we would have class blogs. I set up a Movable Type blog on my PSU webspace (figuring that it would be best to keep things on PSU server space) and started immediately running into problems. I can’t invite students to the blog until they’ve taken an online questionnaire showing they “understand” copyright laws and PSU policy for their webspace. We did this in class today, but there is a 1-3 business day turnaround for their registration to go through, so I’ll have to wait to invite them to the blog. And I’m not used to MT (I’m a WordPress blogger, for certain), so it was a bit of self-teaching and information seeking in order to set comment moderation the way I wanted, to incorporate links in the sidebar, etc.

I’m not sure how much privileges I’ll be able to give students on the blog. I want them to have quite a bit of control to play with the blog, including adding links to the sidebar, should they feel so inclined, but I’m not sure what MT will allow for users who don’t “own” the blog. Guess we’ll find out.

What’s most exciting about this experiment is that it’s obviously an experiment. I view all my teaching as an experiment (like a pragmatist), exploring what works and what doesn’t, and what works in what situations. But this term, I’m doing so much that’s just new to me and to students. It’s probably going to take up a lot more of my time than teaching did last term, but that’s okay.

Additionally, we’re using the Sony Reader in one of my graduate courses, which is exciting, so the eleven of us will also be exploring the tool as we discuss literacies and technologies.

1 The course catalog and ANGEL (our Blackboard-esque software) call it Honors Freshman Composition — a term I am not too fond of because of the gendered “freshman” and the lack of “rhetoric” in the title. Our non-honors sections are titled Rhetoric and Composition.

This entry was posted in Blogs in Classrooms, English 30 Language Technology and Culture (Spring 2009), English 584 Postcritical Perspectives in Literacy Studies (Spring 2009), New Media. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to English 30 reflections post #1

  1. matt says:

    I’ve already talked to Rebecca about this a bit, but I’m working on a 202C pilot that is using the same blogging software. I’ve played around with it some, and I have regular meetings with the ETS people who created/manage it, so if you have any problems, I could maybe help out (or point you to people who could). The overlap between the grad seminar and the English 30 class sounds really exciting, I bet the two will feed each other in interesting ways!

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks, Matt. I will definitely consult you if I run into more problems, which I probably will.

  3. Travis says:

    We’ve had trouble with our Moveable Type blog for 595 this term, too, and I’m wondering why it seems favored over Blogger or WordPress. I know it’s a good program, but on the other hand, Safari seems to have some limitations with it. Curious where you’ll head with the blog (and what we’ll do for our class).

  4. Michael says:

    MT is probably favored over Blogger because it can be hosted on the school’s website. It seems (from what I understand) to also have more publishing options than WordPress, which allows someone to make more of a website than a blog with the same software, so that might be a reason for institutions to go with MT.

    I too am curious where my class’s blog will go. I had a great experience using blogs in Lisa’s class. I hope you do too!

  5. oncomouse says:

    I’d be interested to hear what sorts of shared access you can have on Blogs @ PSU. I’m teaching a 202C section in the project Matt mentioned and have had the students create their own blogs (which has been a real problem). Rather than have them all post in the same space, I figured they could use an RSS aggregator. Sadly, none them have ever heard of such technology (and these are science/engineering seniors). Suffice to say, this week in my class has been more hand-holding and less rhetoric stuff.

    Also, if you have problems the support forums at http://blogger.psu.edu seem to be gathering a collection of fairly knowledgeable collection of MT users.

    One final thought: the reason for MT over WordPress is because: 1) WordPress-MU (the multiple blogs per single instantiation version of WordPress) still doesn’t fully work and 2) MT is non-free, which is something PSU looks for in IT (why get something for free when you can pay for it?). That said, I understand your pain, I’m having lots of trouble converting from WordPress, too.

  6. Michael says:

    Thanks, Andrew.

    Since I’m still waiting for my students’ little test things to go through, they don’t yet have access, which sucks, but we can be patient. I thought about the individual thing, but I figured an RSS aggregator would add just another website to visit and more confusion.

    I’ve found, after a few years of teaching, that our students are not as “web2.0” as the media and some scholars like to claim. There are usually 2-3 students in a class who know as much or more than me about web stuff, and the rest are proficient at Facebook, perhaps MySpace, and a few other things. Once, I had to teach a student how to put attachments in emails. He was a junior in history.

    Perhaps you could set up a blog that aggregates for them and then they could visit one site? I’ve read that it’s fairly easy to do on MT. And it means that all students go to the same blog to read posts instead of each having an RSS reader — though perhaps that the RSS reader is a good idea if they’re reading other blogs.

    And I think you’re right re: WordPress. I’ve heard lots of frustration about WordPress-MU, and proprietary software has more ethos among the old guard tech folk.

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