Before the Fall 2009 semester began, I sent an email to all students enrolled in my courses about the required use of technology. While I received no replies about Blogger and Google Docs, there were a fair amount of student responses about Twitter, many boiling down to "Do we have to??" With this in mind, I decided to change the requirement for using Twitter, advocating only that students utilize this particular online communicative technology for the first four weeks of classes. After that, I figured there'd be some honest discussions about whether or not to continue using Twitter for course purposes. Such dialogues occurred this week; what follows focuses almost exclusively on what came out of them.Some students advocated Twitter's convenience as a communication tool, its allowance for the easy sharing of information and how its use encourages brevity, which, those same students explained, can help with writing. Such characteristics make Twitter "way better than Blackboard," one student said, who also observed that it is often quicker than email if there's a need to contact someone. According to other students, what makes Twitter better than Blackboard, too, is how it works as another way of sustaining class discussion, keeping it alive, present and continuous. A few students even admitted to their own initial, vehement resistance to using Twitter, quick to explain how and why they have since come around to seeing its potential benefits.However, other students were just as vocal in their opposition to Twitter, explaining irritation at the 140-character limit and how that alone stifles deeper discussion as well as the lack of substantial postings by others in the class. They also admitted their own apathy (or even hatred) toward Twitter, that because I instituted no hard requirement for its use, some felt uncertain about what they should post. Twitter's lack of organization bothered certain students, while some suggested that using Twitter made for more work that's often pointless and/or self-indulgent. A few argued that there are better things to use than Twitter, suggesting (to my surprise) the creation of a Facebook study group for class.In the end, both ENG 252 and ENG 298 students elected to make Twitter use optional for the rest of the semester, but with a requirement for 252 weekly reading groups to share appropriate links and preview intentions for their class facilitation. Only students in ENG 513 decided to keep Twitter as a more integral part of the course, agreeing on the requirement of five class-related updates a week.With these discussions completed and unlikely to resurface, I'm still surprised at how some students professed a hatred for Twitter. Perhaps making Twitter usage a soft requirement, merely suggesting that students try to keep an open mind in their experimental use, doomed it to an optional fate in both undergraduate courses. I didn't provide much guidance in proper Twitter usage either, expecting that simply having students immerse themselves in the technology and see how I utilized it would be enough. So, for potential Winter 2010 students, consider this a warning: We won't be experimenting with Twitter; we will be using it as an integral part of the course.
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.
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?
Our new forms of writing—blogs, Facebook, Twitter—all have precedents, analogue analogues: a notebook, a postcard, a jotting on the back of an envelope. They are exceedingly accessible.
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.
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
We must no longer be satisfied to understand and support games as leisure or productivity or nothing. We must do with games what we do already, implicitly, with every other medium we use to create or consume ideas.
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.