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The Best Professional Development $150 Could Buy: Final Report on HASTAC V

I was on the verge of taking a variety of next steps before attending HASTAC.  The conference allowed some of the ideas I had to crystalize.  As a result, I have had a burst of activity since the first weekend in December.  I am grateful that I was able to attend HASTAC and appreciate the support given by the dean not only for my being able to attend but also being able to bring students with me.

One of the requirements of receiving college funding to travel to the HASTAC Conference was the requirement that I complete a “Final Narrative Summary Report—Travel” within seven days of the trip.  I appreciate that my dean gave me an extension on this requirement so that the report could reflect actual changes I implemented as a result of the conference; not theoretical changes.  Now, seven weeks after the conference and on the verge of a new semester, I am ready to submit the report showing that the $150 the dean provided for me to attend HASTAC was well spent.  (Because text does not convey emotion, I want to emphasize that nothing snarky is intended by the last comment.  My registration fee was money well spent.  Although "only" the registration fee was reimbursed for this conference, the dean has come up with a great deal of other funding for me and my students during the 2011-2012 academic year.)

Following is what the December 2011 HASTAC Conference meant to me using a framework required by my college.    

 

Describe the purpose of the activity, conference, or event.

I attended the HASTAC Conference which took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  As part of the trip, I took eleven students with me; six supported by the college and five whose registration I paid.  Some of the students will be taking classes from me during the 2012 Winter semester and my hope is that the conference would give them a jump start on preparing to promote digital technologies and student centered learning in the courses they are taking.

One of the conference plenary speakers was Dr. Cathy N. Davidson whose book *Now You See It* will be a required text in my 2012 Winter ENG 102 classes.  Some of her essays served as the foundation for work I did with students during Fall 2011.  Being able to see Dr. Davidson as well as to give students the opportunity to meet her, was an important part of the trip.

Finally, I hoped to make connections with others in the Digital Humanities who have similar interests in engaging students in non-traditional classrooms.

 

Describe how your skills and knowledge were enhanced or updated as a result of this activity.

Given the nature of the conference, my skills were not directly updated simply as a result of attending the HASTAC Conference.  Instead, I gained knowledge of possibilities and, as a result, have had to stretch my skills as a result of having attended the conference; a process that continues.

For example, while attending the conference, I realized that technologies were available that would make it possible for me to allow two sections of ENG 102 during the 2012 Winter semester to work on a single project:  the Ocelot Scholar's project.  Two blog postings published since the conference describe this project:  "May You Live in Interesting Times" (22 December 2011 at Etena Sacca-vajjena) and "Ocelot Scholars Website: Students Promoting Student Success" (11 December 2011 at*HASTAC).

Because current Schoolcraft College policy does not permit the creation of a special BlackBoard section where two classses can be enrolled together, I have had to investigate a number of other possibilities.  As a result, I have learned to navigate the suite of materials available through HASTAC.  I have also become much more proficient in WordPress; particularly with the creation of multi-author blogs.  I have also learned to better use the materials available through Facebook. (See Ocelot Scholars on Facebook as well as my Facebook author page as well as my HASTAC profile which details postings I have made through HASTAC.)

In addition to improving technical skills, I have also become aware of possibilities for learning to push myself to become a better professor using digital technologies.  I have already begun to become active in HASTAC and have started to participate more in discussions at the national and international level.  My work to develop more positive educational experiences for students in the 21st century has already received some attention both on our campus as well as from individuals on other campuses around the country.

Because of my more active engagement with colleagues from around the country, I have also been writing more.  In addition to Etena Sacca-vajjena which is my teaching blog, I have begun a Micro-blog to have almost daily reflection.  I have also become more committed to responding to blogs and articles published in a variety of places (including some class blogs I have developed to facilitate discussions both within classes as well as between classes and the larger community).  See:  Ocelot Scholars blog, Film Studies blog, and Early American History blog as well as a list of my HASTA Contributions.

Finally, I have increased my web design and HTML coding skills so that the student section of my personal website is now mobile friendly.  The mobile friendly URL is http://www.stevenlberg.info/mobile/.

 

How will the curriculum be revised or updated , or the content of the program or courses be enhanced as a result of your updated knowledge and skills?

The connections I made at the HASTAC Conference as well as being able to see how others are redesigning classes to better prepare students with the skills they will need in the 21st century has helped lay the groundwork so that I could take the next steps in my own development in terms of pedagogy and professional role.  I have become even more committed to allowing students to take on significant roles for course decisions.

For the 2012 Winter semester, I invited students in two classes to work with me to design the syllabus.  In one class, no students responded to the offer and I made the decisions I had hoped we could have made together.  In the other class, there have been discussions about course content in which students have had a significant impact in the themes we will initially cover during the part of the course when I typically make all of the decisions.  In fact, as a result of the discussion, "I" will be teaching Guns, Germs, and Steel even though I have neither seen the documentary nor read the book on which it was based.  I have been collaborating with a student on this section of the course and he is preparing to give the presentation that sets the background for the documentary.  Although such collaboration is consistent with my beliefs, attending the HASTAC Conference pushed me to develop the procedures that would allow such discussions to take place.  Finally, I have invited students in all of my classes to help determine what will be covered on the first day of class; a class that will fall on the federal holiday honoring Dr. Marking Luther King, Jr.  (See the following blog postings for additional details of this collaboration:  “The ‘Problem’ with Dr. Martin Luther King Day” (Etena Sacca-vajjena, 10 January 2012), “Ten Short Films Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” and the discuss that follows (Film Studies, 10 January 2012), “MLK, Blogging, and Constructive Criticism” (Microblog, 10 January 2012)  “Collaborating with a Student” (Microblog, 9 January 2012), and “Co-Teaching with Students” (Early American History, 8 January 2012)

Another change I am making in my 2012 Winter classes is to ask students how they are going to meet the course requirements as defined in the common syllabus.  Besides defining which portion of the course grade is participation, I have no intention of defining exactly how non-participation criteria will be met.  Students will do equivalent but not identical work and their individual assignments will be mutually negotiated between each student and me within the context of the classroom environment.  While this is consistent with my teaching and I have done similar types of negotiations in the past, this will be the first time I will not provide a list of assignments that will serve as a starting point for class assessment.

During the break between fall and winter semesters, I have been updating my website.  Both current and future students have been given the opportunity to make the website more student friendly.

I am also going to use multi-author blogs that can be used to share information, publish assignments, facilitate discussion, and involve a larger community in discussion of course issues.

Finally, I have changed the timeline for the "Welcome Message" I sent to students.  Typically, I have sent those messages three to seven days before the beginning of the semester.  Given the nature of the classes, I have begun contacting students much earlier--as long as four weeks before the beginnign of the semester.  Therefore, students will become familiar with my expectations as well as the nature of the class.  As a result, I hope that the learning curve for them to feel comfortable with the approach will be lessened.

 Another benefit of earlier notice about the courses is that students have time to change sections if they do not want the type of experience I can offer them. 

 

Describe the value and impact, mastery of competencies or alignment with employable skills that the activity will have upon the students enrolled in the course or program.

As Sir Ken Robinson rightly argues in Changing Education Paradigms, our contemporary educational model is built around the agricultural economy of the late 18th century to prepare students for the types of industrial jobs available in the early 19th century.  This is a poor way to serve students who will be competing in a 21st century job market.  If our students do not have the flexibility to adapt to a changing world that is relying more and more on technologies and team work, they will be ill equipted to succeed once they graduate.

This point really came home in a HASTAC Conference session I attended on quilting.  Because I was the first person to attempt to compile a list of Michigan quilt collections, it was amazing to see how an effective use of digital technolgies were being used to bring together people on an international level.  Although A Guide to Michigan Quilt Collections was valuable when it was published in the 1980s, it would be unpublishable today.

Adopting more digital technologies in the classroom, promoting teamwork and collaboration, helping students develop critical thinking skills better prepare them for a career in the 21st century working in jobs and with technologies that have not yet been invented.

 

 

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