Week 3 Reflections

At the conclusion of the second session of ENG 298 Critical Analysis of Video Games last Thursday, a student approached me with a "burning question," which is a feature in the campus newspaper. The actual question was a variation of "How's the semester so far?" Without much hesitation, I replied, "Better than expected." All three courses and most all students are performing above and beyond my initial expectations. This was about the extent of my response and I found it difficult to elaborate when prompted by the student for further words. So, allow me to do that in this space instead.

Having overhauled
ENG 252 Advanced Composition and created two brand new courses in 298 and ENG 513 Digital Rhetorics & Identities, I had more than a few associated anxieties. I worried over taking so many risks in so many courses in one semester, focusing on everyday writing in 252, surveying a variety of issues within the medium of video games and looking at digital and online representations of identity, all while also using blogs and Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word and incorporating Twitter in some capacity. Some of these risks I considered taking in my first year at UM-Flint, but I grew gun-shy as Fall 2008 approached. I instead taught that semester and Winter 2009 from a position of pure comfort, presenting few challenges to myself and to students. I fear we both suffered for this in some ways, but whatever successes we had better prepared me for developing 298 and 513 as well as revising 252.

None of these current offerings are perfect, of course, but as Week 4 looms (or is already here) my curiosity and interest in students' ideas, reactions and thoughts remain high. Whole-class discussions are vibrant with unique perspectives often injected with humor; blog posts and subsequent comments are evidence of sustained engagement. In other words, students are in the process of usurping the traditional role held by course instructors like me. With the success of every class session, I become more unnecessary, even obsolete.

When this realization first arrived, panic soon followed. It was if I saw the end of higher education in that moment, of the system in which I've had some measure of success. The panic didn't last, though, soon replaced by that curiosity and interest in the ideas and thoughts of others. More important than maintaining the current system of education in this country is the fostering of such curiosity and interest and the connection of various and sundry ideas toward productive ends. Because of this, I grow more uncertain if academia's persistent existence is the best method of sustaining such things. These observations have been made before, and in ways more astute than this, but I don't think that makes them any less important.

So, how's the semester so far? Well enough for me to question the future of what I'm doing.

Progression

Could we end up with WYSIWYG editors so flexible and fast that we’ll be able to lay out vertical column magazines in an instant, merging infographics, text and images into the flowing whole that they’re able to become in print magazines?

Necessity

There is far too much content written for the English teacher or the English exam you crammed for. You want to impress. You want to show off all the clever things you know. You want a beginning, middle and end. You want to tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you've told them.

Sophistication

We'll only continue to see video games becoming more characteristic of their cultural origins. This is an entertainment medium after all, cultures shape markets, markets have tastes, tastes ought to be fulfilled, developer's need to meet the demands of their market, market is shaped by culture. We're a medium becoming more sophisticated

Week 1 Reflections

With the first week of classes over, I think it appropriate to reflect on it all went. Doing so not only begins a record of reflection I plan to continue for the duration of the semester but it also allows students to see more of my own perspective on course-related items. While this post (and future posts) will make specific reference to particular courses, I will refrain from identifying students by name. Should any recognize themselves in a post, they are welcome to come forward in the comments section. Furthermore, it is my aim to remain constructive with these posts. I intend not to voice complaints here; instead, I want to provide a kind of instructor's commentary. Here we go...

Most students seemed much more ready to use Blogger and Google Docs than Twitter. Preconceived notions about what Twitter's about informed some students' resistance to using it, but even those appear open-minded enough to suffer through the next three weeks. At that point, each student is then free to continue using Twitter or to stop. I worry about that point as I can foresee some kind of split occurring between those who continue and those who do not. Of course, this worry might have some egotistical origins. I could very well be overestimating my influence in this regard.

Requiring students to utilize Blogger and Google Docs as well as Twitter comes from a desire to streamline the communication process, removing the tediousness of sending emails/attachments back and forth, dealing with incompatibility issues, etc. However, I'm also interested in continuing class discussions in an online capacity. This is already happening for some, but not for all. I think more progress can already be noted with students engaging via Twitter as opposed to past (non)use of Blackboard. To amend one student's comments, Twitter's revolutionary in that its simplicity encourages participation while Blackboard does not. We'll see if that continues.

I'll be surprised if students' disinterest in grades also continues. It was quite quiet in each opening session as I described my intentions to withhold grades until the last week of classes and, instead, to provide substantive feedback on their blog posts, longer written works and oral presentations (check Scribd for my syllabi and fuller justification). Only one student has so far made known intentions to negotiate a grade contract, but I've yet to receive an email about it. Perhaps more will be interested in contract negotiations as we move forward. So far, though, I'm rather happy with how it all went and students seem to be all right, too.

Despite being introductory, each class session this week left me energized and interested in what future ideas and observations students have. I just hope their honesty, openness and willingness to engage face-to-face increases online.

blogging guidelines for all courses

[amended from Delia DeCourcy]

Blogging should be concerned with the regular examination of ideas in a substantive way and provide concise arguments that convey a unique view and voice. Make clear to readers that there is substantial thought behind the ideas presented. Reference specifics, including text, hyperlinks, video, images and audio, as means of support.

Find new ways of saying what you think you want to say. This may mean incorporating a collage of images with your text, plugging a Youtube video in the middle of a post and/or including a sound clip. Push yourself to explore the ways you can get at ideas through the use of different media. Images, sound clips and video snippets need explanation, too. Don't just stick them in a post and expect readers to understand why.

Your blog is a place to further explore the ideas we discuss in class, write about related concepts of interest and ask questions about those ideas and concepts. By semester's end, your blog should contain an extensive record of your intellectual expertise for the course.

Basics
  • Posts should include several paragraphs of text, but not exceed 600 words.
  • Comments on other students' blogs should be completed within 48 hours of the blog post.
  • When using images, sound and/or video, cite the source at the bottom of the post in the form of a hyperlink.
  • Always include an interesting entry title
  • Use paragraphs, correct grammar and check spelling. Proofreading couldn't hurt either.
  • Comments on other students' blogs should be thoughtful and substantive. In terms of length, think short paragraphs (or long paragraphs, if inspired), not just a sentence or two. This is a conversation. Please engage fully. Ask questions, disagree with respect, bring up new ideas, point to other examples that support the blogger's point.
Content
  • Relevant to course material.
  • Prioritize depth over breadth (focus on one idea rather than six).
  • Pursue ideas beyond the scope of class discussion and readings that are specific to your interests. This should include relevant articles, websites, videos and podcasts discovered on your own.
  • Revisit prior ideas and reconsider them.
  • Experiment with different media.
On...
  • Structure: Get right to the point. There's no room (or need) for warming up. Write your post. Go back and read it. Cut anything out, especially at the beginning, that isn't directly related to the argument or central point you wish to make. Posts should be focused.
  • Credibility/Authority: Employ the use of examples to support claims and broaden exploration, sometimes in the form of images, hypertexts, weblinks, audio and video. Cite sources.
  • Voice/Tone: Reflect a consideration of the blogging audience (members of the class, instructor, etc.) by striking an appropriate and engaging tone. Have a consistent tone from post to post. Employ a unique voice that reflects your personality, evident in content, organization, diction and sentence structure.