Sunday, August 11, 2013

three concepts-- just copying them here.

 This is actually a convergence-- I am struck by how useful the three "old" theories are to creating online courses. Each one gave me the idea for a type of instruction and related assignment/learner activity. (I guess that was the point of assignments 2 and 3. :) So the first concept is the adaptation of traditional learning theories to DE-- they can each be used to support and deepen a type of learning in the online environment.
2. Also I found important the constructivist notion of the essentiality of knowing first the goal of the course or program within the organization's purpose, and also within the potential learner's journey.  I'm realizing that we shouldn't even start to design a course without defining the goal first, and then deriving objectives from it. This could be quite important with writing courses. The first course, for example, might introduce students to essay structure and get them comfortable with stating a point and supporting that with evidence. That would mean there's no need to teach particular modes-- they can start writing about their own lives or experiences, as long as they get the idea of analysis: Point and support. 
Defining each course's goal can help differentiate, so that students aren't doing the same basic assignments over and over regardless of level.
3. Lifelong learning is aided by the ability to join and contribute to communities of practice, especially in the learner's profession or avocation. These have been important since, oh, the guilds of the 14th century, but are becoming even more important and accessible with Web 2.0. Designing and supporting online communities of practice can be a way for universities to stay relevant in the lives of learners after they leave school.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Constructivism in museum

Went to a thing at the art museum, a discussion of a Hopper painting, and he did a lot of "landscapes" in the 30s which kind of present man-made elements (like a railroad track) as part of the natural environment, and that kind of fit in here... we don't think of an old steel mill as "wilderness," but that's what we'd call a stretch of nature that was let go. So urban wilderness, not wasteland, I guess? In England, they of course do this better-- but then, they have tin mines the Romans abandoned in 300 AD, and yes, they look pretty cool now. Maybe Detroit will look that great in 2300.
Anyway, the husband afterwards said he enjoyed it but would have liked more "lecture," and I realized that the instructor (one of the curators) was engaging in "constructivism". 

Woolfolk (1993) defines thus: "The key idea is that students actively construct their own knowledge: the mind of the  student mediates input from the outside world to determine what the student will learn.
Learning is active mental work, not passive reception of teaching."

The curator said that they were trying this "closer look" model out, following the Frick example, where they led a discussion of a single painting. There was a cognitive element too, that is, we were being led to the skill of art analysis, to figuring out (especially) compositional elements. But it was mostly constructivist, with the curator asking questions, like "What strikes you most about the colors here?"

I say it's constructivist rather than, say, collaborationist, because there was, in that grim new term, a SME (subject matter expert) in the curator, who led the discussion. In fact, she said afterwards, if anyone had mentioned, say, how this resembled Wyeth's painting Christina's World, she would have led into a discussion of influences, but "the topic didn't come up." I found that interesting, because she would direct us to observations and questions and then answer them, or discuss them, but she wouldn't start a topic.

So the husband (we met at a university that prided itself on great lecturers, and we both love a good lecture) said he felt like we were learning how to "read a painting," but not really much about this painting itself, and "I don't really want to hear what the other students think because what do they know."

I mentioned that it wasn't really "the blind leading the blind," as I used to term that pedagogical trend in the 90s that forced the instructor into the role of another student (and a rather silent one at that), while the students fumbled their way to understanding something, which might be okay with a poem, but was pretty useless when it came to comma usage rules (they never did seem to find their way to the rules). At least now, the instructor was leading the discussion and answering the questions, not just prompting students to do the work.

Anyway, it was interesting to see this in action, and I did think it was constructivism really, as the learners did work together to get a comprehensive understanding, and shaping the learning, but with the subtle and expert facilitation by the curator.

New York, New Haven and Hartford
The painting in question. I noticed that the "shelf talker" or whatever they call the description/bio/title card on the wall next to the painting gave far more explicit "lecture-type" information, and so does the page on the website:
"This painting, named after an East Coast railroad line, was created during the Depression and depicts a landscape and desolate house. The prominent track evokes Hopper’s recurring themes of transience and the loneliness of the traveler."

The frontal view and the broad horizontal line of the railroad suggest a stage, underlining the separation between the viewer and the scene.
The crisp lines and sharp angles of the house are softened by the rounded, natural shapes of the trees, and the dark green balances the bright sky. Hopper’s compositions are often based on oppositions like this that unite to form a harmonic whole.
Which is a "better" pedagogy? Neither, I suspect, is "better," but the curator's discussion was probably better at teaching us to understand painting, and the information "lecture" was better at teaching us about THIS painting. Both work together, but maybe they have to be in different environments? Like the website is the "lecture," and the "classroom" is more discussion-oriented?

As a novelist and a fiction-writing teacher, I labor under the illusion that everyone else is fascinated by our creative choices, you know, why did you choose to hide the secret for 11 chapters and reveal it by accident rather than protagonist decision, or why did you choose that title? (Like the painting above is named for the railroad line that owned the tracks in front of the house... did Hopper want to call attention then to the railroad tracks particularly?) So I think one effective path of this constructivist approach could be learners asking questions and speculating about creative choices

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A question of tone

For the paper-- A friend suggested that I interview Ellie.
So I was writing that "you don't know me, but we have a mutual friend in Jenny". I typed after that, "Would you mind answering some questions?"
And that just sounded sort of more like a demand than a request, so I changed it to "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?" 
I'm trying to keep track of "tone changes" and the change from negative construction to positive in sentences for an eventual paper. Eventually. :) Send examples if you come across them?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ethics and all that

I was struck, reading Kop and Hill and esp. Downes, of their subtext of the need to respect learners, and how many questions that raises. What does it mean to respect students? I think about the teachers' lounge (or blog equivalent) and the utterly necessary freedom there to say what drives us nuts about students. Even as I engage in that, it feels disrespectful-- like gossip. But maybe it's also constructive somehow. I don't know. I feel like I learn a lot from interacting with students, and I don't know if I'd learn as much if I were really idealistic about them. So still thinking about ethics of describing writing/learning communities, but how do you avoid it? Using the people who confide in you? Students, colleagues, clients? I don't know what it means to respect their privacy, or whether I'm violating that privacy when I discuss their work or their behavior. I try to mask the identity and usually revise whatever the question or issue is so that even they wouldn't recognize it. 

I have always TRIED to come up with my own "teachable moments", but I don't have a great imagination, and a client or student or friend will have a writing or editing issue-- like a sentence even-- that is so perfect, I want to talk or write about it. I always try to change the wording or something so it's not traceable. But sometimes--

Once I got an email from -- (you get to recognize this sort of subterfuge after awhile... that really annoying commenter on my editing blog who disagrees with everything I say about commas? That was a woman using a male name, and I only know that because my co-blogger traced the IP address, and really, that should prove I am not the nibby one in our partnership :)-- a man who was trying to sell a romance novel and so wrote under a woman's name (ask Nicholas Sparks... a man writing a romance novel is cool! Keep the male name, fella!). Anyway, this guy obviously-- again, you get to notice this sort of thing-- loves loves loves flashbacks, or anyway incorporated one in a scene and wanted to justify it, and wrote to me asking for my thoughts about flashbacks. Well, I knew she/he just wanted to hear that "flashbacks are awesome," but I actually think flashbacks are lousy plotting, and wrote a long honest answer, and when she/he wrote back and said that surely there were good reasons for flashbacks, and I wrote another achingly earnest reply about how flashbacks disturb the chronology and everything in the book ought to contribute to the character change and flashbacks (which, like dreams, don't actually happen), and of course I referenced Oedipus the King (aka The World's Greatest Plot Evuh), and he/she wrote back a response dripping with contempt (because, after all, after 30 years analyzing fiction, I don't know as much as he/she who just started writing, which makes me wonder why he/she decided to ask me anyway), "Well, that is all well and good for Sophocles, but that was a long time ago, and I'm not Greek, so who cares."

This was SO PERFECT. I mean, really, how totally new-novelist (again, have encountered many) to sneer that Sophocles is outre (only they wouldn't know the term :) and who cares, and "I'm not Greek."

You know, because only GREEK NOVELISTS can learn anything from Sophocles.

So I couldn't help myself! When I gave workshops about plotting, and someone asked about flashbacks, I'd say, "Well, let me tell you about someone who loves flashbacks, and told me, when I explained about how Sophocles used a flashback, 'I'm not Greek, so who cares!'"

It was like, you know, the perfect comment from the scornful sort of writer who refuses to learn from other writers, like, you know, SOPHOCLES.

So once I was saying this line and everyone was laughing-- because it's that sort of awful arrogance we have only when we're just starting to write fiction-- and I noticed that one guy wasn't laughing. And afterwards he came up to me and said, "That wasn't what I meant. I meant just that what you were saying didn't apply to me." IT WAS HIM!

(Well, it did apply to him, but I recognize that most writers have to insulate themselves from influence in order to find their voice, and that very few are like me-- trained in literary analysis and never actually freed from the need to analyze. So he couldn't see that Sophocles's use of doubled roles and revelations-in-flashback really did illuminate his own situation, and anyway, duh, he asked me about flashbacks.)

But instead of snapping back that he should learn more about his craft, and that western lit was based on 3000 years starting with those Greeks he scorned, I ducked my head and apologized for using his very funny line.


But, you know, ethics? I don't know.

It sure is easier to do research about EA Poe than to write about actual writers I encounter in my life.

(BTW, I just proofed the galleys of my mystery book coming out supposedly in two weeks, and IT HAS A FLASHBACK! On page 3! I can't believe it! Are we sure I wrote this book?)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thinking about what Michelle said about class blogs and "debate"

 I once taught a class where there wasn't a "class blog," and each student had his/her own blog (as in this class). But the blogs were all resident within the classroom-- I can't explain it, but you know what I mean. There was a tab for "Blogs," and you clicked on that and there was a page with the thumbnail of each blog. I found there was a lot less contentiousness and a lot more friendliness because-- this is odd-- the students kind of respected each other's "ownership." It was like if you go to Aunt Mary's house, you don't argue with her, where if you were at a restaurant and she said the only true sign of womanhood was childrearing or whatever, you might take issue with it. So if you went to Sarah's blog, you might comment, but you wouldn't object to what she said because, after all, it was her blog.

I don't know if that was good or bad, this "ownership" and courtesy. I've had an editing blog for years, and I have to admit that while I loved getting questions and comments, there was one commenter who constantly disagreed with me. (I mean, the subject of most of the blog posts was "punctuation," but she still managed to disagree about commas. <G>) I think I was a lot more annoyed at her because it was MY blog. (And, to be fair to me, she was generally just WRONG and was pretty obviously disagreeing because she didn't like someone else being an "expert".) I kept wanting to say to her, "Why don't you start your own damn editing blog, and there you can say that introductory elements don't need commas, huh?"

Some Web 2.0 media is "social," but some is still "private ownership." And I bet that dictates to some degree the level of formality or something. Like email is "private" and "mine," which is why we get annoyed with spam-- what is this junk in MY inbox, where we wouldn't worry too much about ads on the Yahoo page, say. 

Something to take into consideration. Do we want to encourage "ownership" as an "investment" so we assign "private" Web 2.0 devices? Or do we want more to encourage collaboration, so everything is "joint?"

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

links and apps I might need

My classmates and the instructors have been so good at posting and suggesting useful stuff, and what happens when I no longer has access to the class? Will I lose them? Best to list them here, and always have them:

Thanks to everyone for the aid!l This will be messy as I'm just copying all the links.  And I'm putting the actual post early in the semester so it's not blocking the front page:
Links and comments from class

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Topic!

I keep changing topics for the best practices assignment. I have been thinking that I'd like to explore how my two workplaces (a writing center and a community college) could improve their online pedagogy, and going back and forth between the one and the other as a topic.

But you know, it's frustrating enough to have to deal with the problems every day when working. The idea of having to think even more about how they could be improved and finding support and showing how the newer theories could create a better learning experience... well, I get stopped each time realizing, "They don't want to know. They don't care." It's just too frustrating. The entrenchment of the administration in "what we've always done" is so utter that a piledriver and a backhoe wouldn't move them, and when I've proposed even slight changes to the one (the other is too big a bureaucracy to allow any more than sneakily changing my own classroom-- it's not like anyone notices or cares), there has been a swift negative response, usually in public and always with exasperation and annoyance, you know, like thinking about how we can better fulfill our mission to help students is some form of rebellion against the monarchy.

So... I bagged those topics. Bad enough for the blood pressure having to deal with the response that comes even when I feebly suggest that one material we are ordered to use (I don't actually use it-- passive aggressive R us) still bears the old logo with the old program name we're never supposed to use. I mean, really, if switching out an old logo is too much shock and awe for them, I can just imagine the response if I start getting into negative and racially and gender loaded language.

Anyway, decided on a new topic. One of those felicitous things. Serendipity. My husband went to a meeting at a library devoted to the works of the most famous author from our town (Vonnegut) and told the director that I taught online. She called and asked me to lunch because they were thinking of offering courses in Vonnegut (face to face) and suddenly she thought maybe there should be an online class too. So I talked to her about the issues involved (she wanted the course I guess to be hosted also by universities in their network), the whole Tycho/Blackboard/Oncourse/D2L platform problem and how I didn't know much, but maybe do it all in HTML because that works everywhere with minor tweaking. I also talked about something I actually know a bit about thanks to this class-- MOOCs (or "SOOCs" really in this case)-- and the creation of a "static" information-based ("lecture") class with a lot of other media (links to film, photos, etc.), just to get started, and then maybe later (because they don't yet have money for instructors) a few interactive online courses with discussion forums and assignments.

So I think I'll do that-- kind of design a MOOC/SOOC that would be appropriate to this situation. And that way I will feel positive and future-oriented instead of bitter and frustrated. I was reading Keith Devlin's blog about his MOOC, and the commenters were so incisive. I keep coming back to Gagne's suggestion always to establish objectives for a course, and I think above all, the objectives of the course that would become a MOOC would be different. I was talking to a friend who is taking the Sloan certification, and we kept coming back to that, the need to start with objectives-- not the format of the course, but the objectives, and let the objectives determine what format is best.

It has been a really bad week on the work front-- love the work, but the office politics are impossible. Impossible. I don't know that I can work well in a system that doesn't value working well.
But then again, this week I had that lunch, and there's this nice person from the Vonnegut library who doesn't just regard me as "that staffer who makes too much trouble," but someone who knows just a little bit about how to teach online.

Can I stick this job out? I mean, the paying one. I love the work. I love the students and their gritty yet idealistic attitude. I love the professors and their openness. But the program... I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.
When you live in dysfunction, dysfunction becomes the norm, and that's what's happened. If I had any sense, I'd bag it-- don't really need the job, can get something else with someone who thinks I might have something to contribute rather than this crew who seem to resent anyone actually doing a good job. Shows them up, I guess.

So--- Vonnegut is so cool anyway. No one outside the Midwest will understand how INDIANA he is-- that fatalism mixed with kind of a nutty optimism. That love of creating new words. Yes, that's Indiana! And that vista-- the sense of place-- the knowing that capturing a place in words means keeping it forever (and he's writing about Dresden before the bombing, and it lives forever-- "I thought it was the Emerald City of Oz. The only other city I'd seen was Indianapolis." (That's my town, and it's no Emerald City, though it's summer now, and very green. :)