Blogs & Beyond: Teaching with Technology and Curiosity

Blogs & Beyond: Teaching with Technology and Curiosity

[flying classroom]Blogs & Beyond: Teaching with Technology and Curiosity

The rapid proliferation of digital tools and media is encouraging many of us to rethink our course development and classroom strategies. The adoption of these exciting new tools, however, is not simply a matter of grafting digital elements onto the traditional classroom methods. Instead it uncovers and unsettles many of the basic pedagogical assumptions that have long driven our teaching. 

Many of the technologies have allowed us to have different kinds of conversations with students, incorporate richer and multilayered sources of materials in the classroom and in assignments, accommodate various learning styles and paces, and enable sustained collaborative learning among our students. These technologies have fundamentally changed the classroom environment and course development, both for campus-based classes as well as distance learning. 

But, these technologies have also created some new challenges as instructors and students. To name just a few: 

  • students' widely varying technological capacities and experiences
  • the distractions of laptops in the classroom - they can impact classroom conversation as well as distract others nearby
  • ensuring technology is not implemented just for the sake of it, but is adding something to the class

[lecture in Second Life]And, of course, the simple fact of trying to keep up-to-date with the wealth of potential approaches, tools, and media afforded by this explosion of digital technologies!

By focusing on practical challenges, solutions, failures, and future plans, we hope this forum will generate a productive conversation that will inform our pedagogy by making our engagement with teaching technologies more effective both for teachers and for our students. 

We also want to consider "technology" more broadly defined. Along with new tools like Twitter, wikis, course sites, in-class tablets, GIS mapping, Digital Humanities projects, textual analysis, and mobile phones, we want to consider what can be done with non-digital, traditional technologies and how novel interactions among the analog and digital can arise. We hope you will consider the following questions and responses as a jumping off point for this conversation.


[space instructors, by]1. What challenges and/or failures have you faced while teaching with digital technology? How have you dealt with these issues and what did you learn? 

2. How have you utilized technology to encourage critical thinking about difference - such as the Digital Divide/class/race/gender/sexual orientation. How have students responded? Has it been useful? Have you been wary of using technology for this purpose because of any specific concerns or questions? 

3. How have your experiences with technology changed your pedagogical methods, expectations, or results? That is, how do we avoid this: "digital facelift" - merely taking what you do & doing it online (ex. online courses in Blackboard)"? (via @academicdave on Twitter, from this talk)

4. What degree of technological experience is necessary for instructors to be able to discover, evaluate, and effectively use the plethora of digital tools & projects available? 

5. How have these technologies impacted your own labor as an instructor? Do you need to spend additional time teaching students to use these tools, and does that feel useful or is it an additional burden? Do you think teaching certain technological 'literacies' is an essential or ancillary aspect of your curriculum development? 

6. How can we use teaching technologies to make learning bidirectional? What have we to learn from our students? What have you learned from your students?

*We especially welcome links to your course websites, blogs, wikis, or syllabi. If they're not online, feel free to post excerpts below, or post it as a blog and include the link here! We have also created a Zotero group for saving and organizing these links, which can be joined here.

Hosted by:

Michael Widner

Kimberly Singletary

Jennifer Lieberman

Christopher Hagenah


When I first started tacking issues of pedagogy within and with technology, it was in relation to the digital divide.  Choosing a class that focused not on inclusion, but exclusion helped me better understand non-physical, but sometimes impenetrable barriers to learning and using (smart) technology.  

It's not just getting the computer and the gidgets and gadgets, it's learning how to find networks and spaces that enable you to communicate effectively in a medium that can be quite daunting on the first couple of tries.  Too often, lower-income and/or minority users are those excluded from discussions like the awesome ones we have on HASTAC.  As a grad student at an affluent private university, I have a front row seat to examine differences between my students who grew up with technology and those who, since arriving on campus, are for the first time just beginning to use all these wonderful thinkpads and iPods and blogs and social sites - alongside taking more challenging classes, navigating new social networks and being away from home for the first time.  It's a steep learning curve.

Too often, we teachers stress the progress of technology without acknowledging the underside - the very real issues that have an impact on how fast we pick up the slack and how we utilize lessons from class.  It's my goal as a future teacher at the collegiate level to address those access issues while blending it with my research interests.  How we can use technology to address problems of ethnic/racial difference?  How do we, as teachers, remain sensitive to issues of ethnicity/race that are often repressed/hidden behind dominant modes of understanding technology in pop culture?  (e.g. Why are the majority of people in the "Windows 7 was my idea" ads white (and in one case, French), but not of color? How might YouTube college application videos put low-income students at a disadvantage?)

For me, it's not just about access, but rather, once access is gained, in what ways are some communities still excluded and what can we do to make sure all students understand how those exclusions are working?


I think this is an interesting issue. As I've taught, in both material classrooms and on-line classrooms, I have noticed that the "real" digital divide comes in ability to use technology--not just access to technology. It is interesting to note that there are many not-for-profit organizations designed to get technology into the classroom. (The Gates fund and even Apple have all spent significant money on some of these projects). However, there is a vast difference between the students who know how to use the technology and those who don't. Part of this is--maybe-- Cultural Capital. I also think part of this has to do with teacher training. Too often, when schools try to train their teachers to use technology, they devote a day or two of teacher preparation time to giving a crash course workshop on how you may want to use technology as part of your curriculum--or part of your pedagogy. Two days hardly seems like enough training--especially since these teachers are then, usually, left without a support network to help them after the technology workshop.


Hi Heather,

When I was doing research for this forum, I came across this book, which discusses precisely this issue of access and competencies. This problem also touches on one of the other questions we asked; how much time should teachers spend teaching these technology competencies? I like that you mentioned teacher training, too. Perhaps we should have faculty and student joint training sessions sponsored by the institution itself. After all, it seems inefficient to train the teachers who will then train the students, especially if the goal is not to teach only the technologies, but to use them in ways conducive to learning.


Hi Michael and Heather -

Sorry, I somehow just saw this thread this am. whoops.

Heather, that's an interesting point about cultural capital, although i might lean toward saying economic capital is at the root of the problem. you're right in pointing out that just sticking a computer in a classroom isn't enough. But in my experience (which on this particular point have been with K-12) it's that the kids get only a little bit of time with the technology at school, maybe a short computer class *if* the school has funding and then when they go home there is no computer. so there is no chance to bolster skills. this is exacerbated in school systems where there are only basic computers, not the bells and whistles kids in affluent towns get.  If you don't have the money to get and maintain a somewhat up-to-date computer, either at school or at home, your ability to master beyond the basic is hampered. So you get to college and are struggling, Hulk-against-The-Abomination style.

As for teacher training, you're right. teachers don't get nearly enough. And there is not enough support for them to seek more training once they get it. Michael, I think it's an interesting idea, the joint teacher/student training, but I wonder how many teachers would want to become a student with their students? There's nothing like getting dusted in website class by a kid who you failed because he couldn't pass a test on Gorgias. 

Most definitely an institution-supported format would be awesome. Like when teachers got inservice when we were little. It would seem like we'd need to really push hard to get the institution to see the value, however, in adequately training teachers on its dime. Teachers at the uni level are doing so much professionally and personally, that if the university wanted to make a real commitment rather than just lip service to tech-ed, then it would need to free up some requirements. So perhaps this is an issue that stems, in part, from the upper level administration?


I enjoy using, analyzing, and helping to develop new teaching technologies; and I'm sure I will discuss my most useful and stressful experiences in this arena as the forum progresses. Nonetheless, as a researcher who critiques the history of black-boxing, I hope that we can interrogate the technologies that shape our classrooms without positing a false divide between digital and paper materialisms. Like James W. Carey and John J. Quirk, I am concerned that discussions about "book versus computer in education" too often displace serious considerations about about the need for "an adequate curriculum" ("The Mythos of the Electronic Revolution," 1970). I also worry that the impulse to steward students across the so-called "digital divide" proposes a technological band-aid for deeper problems in our educational system. For example, at the prison in which I tutor, I've had students tell me that they had taken several courses on computing at community learning centers while they were struggling to stay in high school at a second-grade literacy level. I have other students who would rather use their limited time in the prison library reading than learning how to type their essays out in Microsoft Word.   
Consequently, I hope this forum can explore how we can use teaching technologies to become more effective instructors and learners; and how these technologies might have broad-ranging impacts on the problems facing educators at every level. I want to subject my personal interest in "cool" and "cutting edge" technology to a healthy skepticism that promotes critical pedagogy. I want to use effective teaching technologies while encouraging my students to challenge and break the "black-boxes" that mediate their writing and learning processes, including everything from Microsoft Word to course blogs, from literature anthologies to simple pens and paper. And, of course, I always want to learn from my students. To me, that means valuing their resistance to specific tools, or to "crossing" the "digital divide" in general. How do/would you go about this kind of critical contextualization in your classroom? Or do you find my ideal needlessly limiting?


It's remarkable that in a relatively short period of time, the affordances of the computer, the internet, and digital media in general have transformed the landscape of college curricula, specifically its design.  Many, if not most, instructors are reeling at the speed with which their students become habituated to not only using, but incorporating social networking, texting, tweeting, etc. into their daily lives.  This profoundly affects the ways in which they think, learn, and respond to college assignments, which puts at stake the knowledge and values our pedagogy is designed to interrogate.  For me, it's crucial to be as transparent and self-conscious of the values we inscribe in our pedagogy with regards to our attitudes toward technology.   How can we think about pedagogical practices that keep students self-conscious of their own technological skills and practices?  To what degree do we address certain biases toward different kinds of technologies?  How do we desist from imposing our own biases all the while encouraging productive and innovative student work?  

I'd like to provoke discussion with a quote: in Audiovisions, speaking of artistic and cultural production, Siegfried Zielinski writes, "if one understands the co-existence of heterogeneous forms of expression and media praxes that wander between the analogue and the digital as a challenge and an opportunity for radical experimentation, for risky balancing acts between different worlds, then leaving behind conventional patterns, it is possible to create something which would be unthinkable without its passage through the media, but which at the same time keeps the option for subversion open but the option for supervision closed."  What if we put this assertion in dialogue with our own pedagogical production?



I think your Zielinski quote is interesting. Although, I'm also curious about a space where subversion is possible, but supervision is not--I'd like to see what that space looks like. There 's part of me that thinks that subversiveness could benefit and proliferate in a space where there is little supervision. But then, there is also part of me that wonders whether or not a subversive act necessitates a space that is supervised--or organized in a paritcular manner--with a particular aim. Is it really subversive to initiaite an action or a movement in a space that is not supervised? So, along those lines, I wanted to pose the question of how subversive and creative technologies (digital technologies, other technologies like the chair and desk, and even technologies in the Foucauldian sense) look different in a K-12 environment, when compared to a university environment. We're talking about technologies in education--and I think that the K-12 environment is defintitely subject to a greater level of supervision than the university environment. What does it look like to se technologies for subversion in that space?


I remember, as an English teacher--or rather Language Arts Teacher, doing a unit on Protest. I wanted to challenge my students to think about how protest is a particular kind of language. We looked at text, art, film clips, music etc. Then, the students had to perform a protest on their own. They had to talk about what they did as a form of protest in a presentation for the class. My students used all sorts of technology to make their own film, record a song, advertise their feelings using posters, one group held an art show with their protest art. While there were definitely problems with this assignment, it was interesting to me to see the different types of technology that different students used.




It's interesting you've moved this into the K-12 discussion, which I hadn't thought of!  I think you're absolutely right that supervision operates on a different and more powerful level in the K-12 environment- so an ethics of supervision with regards to tech in the classroom would be different from that in a college classroom- but let's talk about the former.  Perhaps pedagogy must consider subversion and supervision as a spectrum.  Of course, you wouldn't want to go too far in either direction- for instance, what kinds of subversion do you want to encourage, and what kinds do you want to discourage?  You don't want your students to suddenly think you're okay with them hacking into the school's grade system as a gesture of subversion (I was thinking of this in the high school age, but I realize that hacking skills probably get employed by younger and younger people).  I think subversion could be articulated as a form of play and empowerment.  We want students to be able to grasp concepts and at the same time be able to manipulate them or at least understand them as manipulable- we want them to understand concepts from different perspectives.  We don't want them to learn by rote, or to learn and accept and memorize one understanding of history, or literature, or the social sciences, or even debates in the sciences.  But we want them to find their voice, to be able to understand their role within a community and feel empowered enough to be active within it.

Rather than a traditional poster for a history class that presents, or re-presents one narrative of U.S. or world history according to their textbook, or even Wikipedia (if that's where they're getting their info), the assignment would ask students to use something like (I know this is a pay-service- could this be free for educational purposes?) in order to trace their own histories, and then line them up chronologically with the histories of their textbooks.  The idea here is that the student would see their own part in a diverse and dynamic history, one that wasn't just an "American" history, but perhaps a history that derived from many different nations, cultures, and languages.  Or perhaps the assignment could ask students to do a "research" paper (I'm thinking of the research paper I had to do in 7th grade, using a card file to do my library research) that, beyond teaching them how to use the library and collect evidence, also required them to do internet research in the vein of using geneological forums.  I've read many of these myself, and they require you to interact with other people within a digital environment in order to share information about your ancestry. 

Perhaps, when it came time for these students to present their research and the project, even if it used the traditional poster, each student would be able to see the individual histories that compose the general one- in this sense, the institutional power of the textbook history would be subverted, but in a playful and empowering way, by their own unique stories.

As far as supervision goes, of course, I can't quite begin to articulate how you create a space without supervision in classrooms with young students.  My wife teaches pre-school.  Should she design assignments to make transparent the institutional power manifested in a "chair" or nap time?  Of course not.  But she uses methods from the Reggio-Emilia approach which encourages individual play coupled with a limited type of supervision.  Perhaps we could learn from this with our oan approaches to employing digitial technology?


I want to provide this link to a very interesting project being done at UCLA, one you may be aware of: hypercities.  Todd Presner just came to UCSB to give a presentation on this project, but I'd highly reccommend taking a look at it, particularly the ways in which protests are tracked in Tehran.  This could be a very interesting project, for instance, in either K-12 or undergrad, in teaching political engagement and activism through digital technology.


Here's another post that we have to consider if we're going to encourage using social media in the classroom: Digital Media Addiction.  This is a report that followed students who were asked to go for one day without using any kind of social media- texting, facebook, etc. and then blog about their reactions.  Many were found to experience symptoms similar to that in withdrawal from addictive drugs.


Thanks for the link on the Day Without Media! I remember doing the "Week without TV" exercises and how hard it was. While I can live without TV these days (90210 the sequel isn't as good as the orginal), I imagine I'd have the same reaction as the kids who did a DWM.  What I found most interesting was the part that the newspaper and even, possibly, the news, was considered expendable. Of course, connecting to one's friends and family is super important, but it the study seemed to indicate an insularity among students that I found alarming.  That leaves me with the question, how important is it that we address issues of (global) community as we teach with technology? At what point should it be a concern, if at all? 


I agree that "addiction" and attention are issues we have to keep in mind when we talk about the use of digital media for teaching and learning. I am reminded of what a friend of mine said about students using computers in the classroom -- he referred to the screen distraction in the classroom as a form of "visual farting," which I think is quite an interesting and apt way to describe it. What are the boundaries of using technology within the physical walls of the classroom? How can teachers encourage the use of technology in the classroom to go beyond Facebooking during valuable class time, etc. (I think Bridget Draxler's example of the use of cell phones in her class is a great example -- see her comment about "Bidirectional Pedagogy" in this forum). I am also reminded of Cathy Davidson's example (in "The Future of Thinking" session at HASTAC2010) of Howard Rheingold's class in which he begins by asking students to shut their eyes and technological devices, and just track their own thoughts for the next few minutes. Davidson points out that this exercise allows for rewarding self-reflexivity in which students can think about what it means to re-open their eyes and laptops. Only by closing one's eyes, letting one's hands rest, and stepping away from constant "digital addiction" can one begin to appreciate and think critically about or interpret one's use of technology. One of the things I'd like to see happen in the digital age, in terms of teaching and learning, is a greater balance and interplay between online and offline spaces, digital and physical media, analog and digital, etc.. I am always fascinated by the relationships, tensions, and connections between these contending spaces as they relate to learning with technology. This topic makes me want to branch out and talk about the numerous things it makes me think about! One last thing I'll mention for now is that "digital addiction" and the increased use of and exposure to new media also points to the need for information literacy skills (Rheingold has also written on this) and how important it is for educators to work with students in developing these skills. Students may grow up in the digital age, but separating good information from the "bad" and learning to navigate the massive world wide web are still skills that they'll need to learn. It's getting late and I am sort of thinking out loud here, so forgive me if I am going all over the place, but this reminds me of a video on NYTimes that points to the increasing need for information mentors who can guide students through the flood of digital content they're faced with regularly -- see video of "The 21st Century Librarian."




Thanks for these great comments! I really like the idea of having students close their eyes and let go of all of their digital connections for a moment -- I think that could be a really useful exercise. In the same vein (and because you brought up librarians) I thought I would mention a few strategies I have used to help students realize that they have to filter the endless amount of information they find on the web.

First, a brief anecdote. When we give our students library tours here -- no matter what specific databases I've asked the library staff person to introduce to the class -- it becomes an advertisement for how hep the library is. Always, a Stephen Colbert youtube clip about wikipedia, and announcement after announcement that they now have video games for check out, etc. I understand why the library does this -- they want to meet students on their own turf (as Brian suggested in arguing that we should use spaces our students already traffic rather than set-aside schoolwork spaces if we really want to engage). But, as much as I understand these library tours, I don't find them very useful for my classes. After a few failed attempts at having the library staff person introduce my class to specific databases (like ProQuest historical newspapers, for example), I've given up on signing up my classes for library tours altogether. Now, I have an assignment where I have students talk to a librarian about a project -- emailing the librarian or going to ask in person are both fine. And every time I've done this, my students are amazed at how useful librarians are in helping them locate truly relevant sources. I've had dozens of students ask why nobody makes them talk to librarians sooner, to which I've responded: 'why didn't you think that a person who really knows how to look through stacks and archives could be as helpful as a search engine?' :-)

I also have a small project in which I ask students how various texts appear to have authority. I've done this one in multiple ways: bringing in examples of books, articles, webpages, and asking them which one they trust the most and why. I've also done it as a response to turned-in material. But I don't just ask them about why they trust certain sketchy websites -- I also ask why they trust books, videos, etc., and then I use their responses as a way to launch into class discussion about research practices, and how they differ across disciplines. I discuss when I use wikipedia or google, and when I don't, etc. These are pretty simple exercises that don't take much time, but I'm always surprised at how taken aback students are when asked to explain how they identify expertise our authority in their citations. This has led to useful discussions about how a lot of the searching they've done for previous writing exercises was really just trying to find sources that corroborate ideas they already had; and how it can often be more challenging, rewarding, or fun to find sources to argue with.



I had a great chuckle as I read "I've had dozens of students ask why nobody makes them talk to librarians sooner, to which I've responded: 'why didn't you think that a person who really knows how to look through stacks and archives could be as helpful as a search engine?' How many times have I encountered this!?  I am firmly resolved in using your idea to make it a requirement to contact a librarian- I also found that when I took students to the library for a presentation, it was in no way not helpful on the librarians part, but I felt that I could have shown my students exactly the same thing (search term strategies for the most part- Boolean operators etc.)- I didn't get the show I had expected from these highly trained info adventurors.  I have said so many times in my own classes this same thing- "you would be amazed how helpful librarians will be for you if you talk to one- they will give you more ways to access different kinds of sources than you'll know what to do with!"  Of course we don't want them to be overwhelmed- which is precisely why librarians are so helpful.

I think the major issue here, and I've found this popping up again and again (Michael has also commented on this) is the need for tools that help students learn to research in digital environments.  These must be fun, engaging, and productive in the sense that they return credible sources without an extraordinary amount of work.  They must be more intensive than standard search engines (we all know the first place our students go when they want to "know" something- google), but they must inculcate search engine skills- mostly developing the ability to not let search engines do the student's thinking for them.  I find this to be a major problem- students don't want to think about the different ways they can define their terms- they think if one search with two vague terms- "teaching" and "technology" let's say, returns thousands of sources, they've failed b/c they can't possibly go through them all, or they understand their search is too broad, but they can't think of any other way to narrow their search parameters.  Wouldn't it be great if we could develop one excercise that would be fun (I'm thinking of Edmond's list for video games lower in the forum), and instructive and would improve our student's research skills and information literacy.  Any ideas?  Or any successful assignments/exercises/digital tools?


@Viola and Jenni  

You bring up great ideas in relation to engaging students beyond the technology. Jenni, I think what you mentioned about H. Rheingold and his request for students to re-center themselves in relation to their thoughts and technology was really interesting. I don't know if I can use it in my classes right now, as we are focused more on performance than research or technology, but that is something I will definitely reference in classes later on.

Jenni, I really like that library assignment! I have done that with getting students to open up and approach people and groups they don't normally contact (as in, find someone not affiliated with the university, not in your gender, ethnic, or religious group, and interview them for this assignment). But I like the idea of getting them to the library on their own to have a one-on-one with the librarian who can help get beyond what Christopher noted as the "google" as a verb in research stage.  I think it's a great way to get them not only better prepared for other classes, but also to utilize the library resources.




Jenni, Kim, and Chris:

Thank you for your feedback and great ideas! Jenni, you also made me chuckle this morning! It is so true that the ease in which students can enter search terms on Google and find relevant information to corroborate a point they're making in a paper makes going to the library seem unnecessary. Why walk down to the library when Google, blogs, etc. seem to offer what they need for completing a paper and its requirements of having evidence for ideas? Of course, one can find interesting and valuable information on the Web, but I think students still need the research literacy skills in order to be better knowledge producers and learners. What if schools require incoming students to take a class (say, for instance, a "Digital Literacy" class) before they go on to take writing classes that require research and evidence from *legitimate* resources? I really like your assignment of getting students to go to the library to work with a librarian for a specific research project/paper. I wonder how classes, teachers, and libraries could work more closely together in order for the school's resources to be more fully utilized by students.

I had a discussion on research literacy skills with my class a few weeks ago, and we talked about how many of us were not given proper training or lessons in ways of doing research, and that going to the library to look for information and finding articles on academic journals and databases like JSTOR, MUSE, etc. were skills that we developed overtime as we began to write more and more research papers.

Today, the digital age offers an increasing abundance of information, and the need is greater and more urgent for educators and librarians who have the skills to guide students in sifting through the hundreds of articles they find on online journals/databases and information on search engines, as well as sharpening the students' skills in knowing what to type in the search box. I also think it is just as important for students to sharpen/develop the skill of navigating the physical space of the library, knowing where to find what they need (and, for instance, understanding why the Rare Book Room could be a wonderful resource, etc.)... I think it may also be intimidating for students to use the library, if they are not familiar with using some of the resources like periodicals, microfilm, etc., so I think Jenni's assignment of getting students to work with librarians one-on-one on specific assignments is a really good one for allowing students to see the value in using the resources to help them learn and further their work.



@Viola and Jenni  

You bring up great ideas in relation to engaging students beyond the technology. Jenni, I think what you mentioned about H. Rheingold and his request for students to re-center themselves in relation to their thoughts and technology was really interesting. I don't know if I can use it in my classes right now, as we are focused more on performance than research or technology, but that is something I will definitely reference in classes later on.

Jenni, I really like that library assignment! I have done that with getting students to open up and approach people and groups they don't normally contact (as in, find someone not affiliated with the university, not in your gender, ethnic, or religious group, and interview them for this assignment). But I like the idea of getting them to the library on their own to have a one-on-one with the librarian who can help get beyond what Christopher noted as the "google" as a verb in research stage.  I think it's a great way to get them not only better prepared for other classes, but also to utilize the library resources.



Thanks for the insightful comments, Viola, even if it was late at night!  I'll try to expand on two threads within them.  First, I'm intrigued with the idea of space, and in particular virtual spaces in which we can experiment with student participation.  I think the excerise you mentioned- Rheingold's- engages students by reminding them, or making them aware of their own embodiment in space, as well as their connections to laptops or cell phones or other devices.  By closing one's eyes, one is reminded of how much one takes for granted- in other words, how much we rely on the visual in our subjective construction of space, and how much we fill in with our other senses when we take that particular sense away.  The exercise is a kind of defamiliarization.  In the same sense, virtual online spaces, unless they're primarly visual like Second Life, require different senses and therefore a different level of engagement in space- one becomes embodied in a much different way.  I love any exercise that reminds students of their own materiality as well as the materiality of the devices or media they're using- it's grounding.  I think this is connected to teaching information literacy, which leads to me to my second point- by navigating the different spaces digital media affords- online spaces in the form of forums, or blogs, or even Second Life, students must negotiate with the materiality of these things, and most importantly with what is said or performed, and how it is said and performed within them- or to put it differently the quality of information!  In other words, it might be common for some students to think of virtual online spaces as "virtual" and thus not real, which affords them different ways of thinking about information, and ways of being toward that information.  It must be our jobs then, to show students the degrees to which these virtual spaces are no less real than the classroom, albeit different.  I'm thinking here of a student's relationship to information, and the ways that that relationship is affected by the media or channels in which they get their information.  This reorients exactly what you're saying about "good" or "bad" info!  Info literacy skills are closely linked with the spaces in which they develop those skills, and these spaces are becoming progressively virtual.


Thank you so much for these comments! I am intrigued by the really interesting and stimulating ideas that you bring up: embodiment and materiality as they relate to information and learning. I agree with everything you have said, and think that materiality of texts and information is one of the most important things students should be made aware of. This is a topic that I'm really stimulated and fascinated by.

How do you think teachers can get students to think about issues of space, medium, materiality, and embodiment, so that they have a more enhanced relationship to the information and texts that they interact with and read? Do you think that it would require hands-on activities/learning by doing (and, if so, how would we achieve that in, for instance, English or literature classes whose focus is mainly the articulation of ideas, and are traditionally more theoretically-bent?)? Would info literacy skills, paired with an awareness of the spaces in which they develop these skills, be something students should be taught early on in their college career? I am still learning as I go, and as I write my M.A thesis (which, by the way, talks a lot about the materalities of texts!). I'm curious about the "how" of these processes of learning. Do you have any exercise you could share that reminds students of the materialities of their own bodies and senses, as well as of the media they are interacting with and using? 


I too am fascinated with this subject- I actually think the haptic nature of digital media is one of the best ways to make students self-conscious of not just the media they're using, but especially their own interaction with it.  I think one of the best methods of teaching this, particulary when coupled with english or literature classes where interpretation is foregrounded, is outlined by Jerome Mcgann and Lisa Samuels in "Deformance and Interpretation."  In this essay (you may already be familiar with it), they make the case for a different kind of methodology.  Using a poem by Emily Dickinson, they suggest that "the critical and interpretive question is not 'what does the poem mean?' but 'how do we release or expose the poem's possibilities of meaning?'"  OFten, we take for granted the performative quality of poetry, or in other words, we consider poetry as a type of communication for information- we read for a message (or our students do, or want to!)- in which case, as they explain, "criticism (scholarship as well as interpretation) tends to imagine itself as an informative rather than a deformative activity."  To read something deformatively, then, requires a kind of, theoretically at least, haptic approach towards a text.  In order to engage with a poem, one should "read it backwards", pull it apart, "mistranslate" it, all of which reminds us, in their words, "the physical artifact, whose stability and integrity is [typically] taken as inviolable."  I'm slipping into professor mode, so let me slip out.  They give great examples of actual "deformative" interpretations of works- you should absolutely check them out.

I think the major point here, though, is that often student's approaches to literature are hindered by that literature's "untouchability."  They're not allowed to "touch" it, for many reasons.  It might be a canonical work, and therefore many thick discursive layers are laid on top of it- many "expert" english professors and literature scholars have had their say, and what insight could a sophomore bio major possibly add?  In the same way, if they were to go into a special collections unit of their library, they would be told (rightly so) to be careful with the text, to be delicate with it, and this material assumption makes its way into their approach to their interpretation of that text- "be careful- the 'material' is delicate"  These approaches presuppose an immanent "materiality" that distances the text from the student.  Digital media, on the other hand, can give them access to the text through a virtual interface- they won't "damage" the text at all, and therefore, they can experiment and play with different performances, and especially, deformances of the text.  Perhaps this is too abstract.  I'll point to some other real examples.  I used digital tools to "deform" a comic book (Jason Lutes' Berlin, an amazing comic book I recommend to everybody), stripping it down to its basic formal elements in order to parse the different levels of images, icons, and text that the work was operating on and through.  Here is a link to the project, but perhaps even better are some examples, textual models, filmic models, and image models

If you get a chance to check these out- they offer just one way in which digital tools- we used Photoshop (or the free version of it- I forget the name), and adobe digital film editing software to achieve these effects.  If we were to do this to an actual, print text, we would perform real violence on the text- we couldn't be able to return it to its original form.  But because of digital media's ability to modulate, we can return it to its original form with a click (it's all code in these representations).  To return to another theme of this forum, I believe these approaches help empower students, especially in the formation of their relationship to a text- they get to have a more active, "haptic" relationship, where they can touch, poke, and prod the object, and perhaps, ideally, be touched in return!


I love the interpretive model you set up here. It's a powerful way to harness the nonconsumptive nature of digital media. It reminds me of a moment in Alfred Rockwell's biography when he mentions that he borrowed a book from George Miller Beard, which had markings but also huge chunks missing. Beard had literally cut-and-pasted the sections he found most intriguing. I hadn't reflected on the significance of being able to aggregate or rearrange parts of Things-We-Like without ruining their originals before. Thanks for sharing!


Thank you for the really great insights! I have not read McGann and Samuels's "Deformance and Interpretation," but it is now on the top of my reading list (thanks for the link!). I'm so glad that you provided concrete examples and explained how creative digital deformation works -- they're very helpful and I enjoyed looking through the different models. I had just recently been made aware of the notion of deformance for expanding processes of interpretation in Matt Cohen's essay about the Walt Whitman Archive: "Transgenic Deformation: Literary Translation and the Digital Archive" (The 2nd chapter of my MA thesis talks about digital tools and methods for literary interpretation and focuses on the Whitman archive). 

I agree with what you said about the haptic nature of digital media and its ability to allow students to form a different, and perhaps deeper, kind of relationship to a text -- this active, haptic, and organic relationship came alive in one of the assignments using digital media in an American literature class that I TAed for. Students were asked to do performative readings/interpretations of a section of Whitman's text and post them on YouTube, and they really took off with the assignment.

Thanks again for your insights -- I'm learning a lot from this forum! Fascinating topics. I can't wait to read more about the deformative approach to interpretation.


Yes. I think this kind of thing is really interesting. I also like the idea of examining protests through out the world as a project that could engage students. I also like the idea of pointing students to the idea of using technology as a protest tool. I look at some of the stuff on youtube--or even on CNN's I-report--and it looks like people are using their mobile phones to really explore and critique their world. Then, of course, you could also get into the idea of surveillance and privacy issues. My experience is that both high school students and undergrads have some very strong opinions about privacy and their mobile devices. By exploring the mobile phone as both a device of surveillance *and* protest--you could really allow students to explore some of the nuances of technology and technological policies in our world.



Thanks for this great post -- I love the idea of having students connect their familial histories to History more generally. I have a friend who does a course on student activism in the 1960s. Rather than asking students to be "subversive," and having to deal with the problems you mention (like potentially encouraging illegal activity) he has students go into the student archive and look at what people were doing on this campus 50 years ago. It introduces them to a way of understanding the student position as something other than a passive learning following a given set of seemingly-arbitrary requirements. He hasn't tried tying this to digital media, but I could imagine an assignment in which students research such histories and then spend a day looking on google earth and talking about some of the layered meanings of space. Today, this part of campus represents X to me, whereas this was the site of huge Black Panther protests during my parents' generation. A group of students with sophisticated CS skills could even imprint spaces with augmented reality tags glyphs that could bring aspects of these layered meanings into 3-dimensional visualizations.

The issue you bring up about play and supervision is also a crucial one, that I think teaching with technology may complicate. I really enjoy giving students very broad, creative assignments and just letting them explore what they can/want to do. For example, in my last suvery of American literature, I had students create their own anthologies that defined what American literature meant to them and then articulated that definition through a theme. The assignment itself asked for a 5-page introduction including their definition of American literature, and then an annotated table of contents in an order that the students had to justify. The assignment allowed students with different creative and analytical skill sets to produce very different objects -- it also allowed us to discuss how (or whether) "literature" means something different to them given new types of digital media that they use for entertainment and creative production. I encouraged students to make anthologies online if they wanted, but that class gravitated toward material projects (some with accompanying CDs with images and extra material). Next time I do a similar assignment, I will devote more class time to showing students how to use more web tools (like wordpress) because I would like us to discuss the differences between interacting with an online anthology as opposed to a book. I raised the question, but we only hypothesized these differences since no one went the digital route. [Though I have had a student make a video game with me as a character for a project, and that was amazing!]

Anyhow, to bring this back to the issue about play and supervision: I wonder, when all of you out there introduce your students to open-source tools that you'd like them to use for various types of technological mediation or publication, do you discuss the differences between plagiarism and open-source? How do you frame the sharing of this type of intellectual property in a way that informs rules that you have for other assignments, like writing essays? In a sense, it's easier for me to grade paper material that students hand in than digital projects, because I can get a sense of their writing style and tone as they progress; but in a literature class, I don't really get to see they're programming styles enough to really understand how much effort this type of production poses for each individual students. Have any of you thought about this issue? It's really just occurring to me now...


I'm going to be dropping comment bombs here and there as I run down the list of replies, and I'm going to keep myself sane by not writing the monster post that is surely brewing. But I just wanted to note that the desire to free students to be subversive strikes a chord with what Julie Meloni recently wrote on ProfHacker about the "Screwmeneutical Imperative." (See also the link to Stephen Ramsay's essay on "The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around".) We need to give students the opportunities to simply fiddle with and within systems. And that impulse is, of and in itself, subversive within an educational system that is geared toward the exam (which is true of both K12 and college classrooms).


I couldn't agree more, Brian.  I've always been the type of learner who found that any type of system I always learned simply by playing with and especially, by breaking it.  I remember breaking open a radio when I was younger and the total frustration that followed as I tried to put it back together again (I ultimately failed- but in the process came to know every part of that radio and what it did- I had broken a part that I didn't have a replacement for).  In the same way, when I have learned digital skills, like coding, website design, or programs like Final Cut, I would start with tutorials and ultimately give up on them in favor of just, in yourwords, "fiddling."  By doing this, I learned the stystem and when I had problems, I could articulate them specifically and then direct them towards an expert, rather than vaguely or abstractly or theoretically trying to envision something.  Play is a powerful tool, and even when it is "non-productive" in the sense that it doesn't result in a finished "product" it is nevertheless always productive.


Like Brian I am going to drop comments and try to resist the long post, as I am late to the party here. Let me just second Brian's observation and say that I think this is a larger shift than the short comment suggest. Encouraging students to play, fail, experiment, in the end not produce anything, signifies a rather substantial pedagogical shift, maybe not on the individual class level, but certainly on the level of the institution for which end product is everything (it is how we give grades).


Curses. Triple posting. #fail



In the past two years as a HASTAC Scholar I've read and participated in many thoughtful and exhilarating conversations about pedagogy, technology, and how the two intersect. As a result of these conversations and seeing what others at my university have done, I decided this semester drastically to change my method of assessment. While I have always tried to incorporate various digital technologies into my courses, they had mostly not upset in any significant way the ways in which I graded. One notable exception is the recent and excellent HASTAC Scholars forum Grading 2.0, which covered, among its many subjects, using the Learning Record, the method I've adopted this semester. Since I've become active on Twitter I've also joined a vibrant community discussing numerous topics relevant to our forum topic. One thing I've discovered both through HASTAC and Twitter is that, even if you're highly engaged in seeking out new methods and tools, there's always more to learn and more experiments to try in the classroom.

My experiments have had mixed success. Going paperless enables me to make far more extensive (and legible) comments on student papers. Student blogging has been a mixed bag. Video projectors tied to a computer are a mainstay (especially helpful when I teach them how to do online library research). Wikis? Twitter? Unused. I'm in the odd position, too, of developing an advanced humanities research tool while, at the same time, sometimes barely using any "advanced" technology in my classes. It has, in short, been a very gradual progression of incorporating technology into my pedagogy even though I'm constantly thinking about what an ideal, currently nonexistent digital research tool might look like. Further, in both my classroom experience and in the digital humanities more generally, I find that one of the biggest challenges is publicity. Many students lack basic skills using library resources. Similarly, there is a plethora of tools that, despite their usefulness, don't have the name recognition of ones like Zotero (which, itself, is a revelation to many students). One of my hopes for this forum, then, is to discover more methods, tools, and practical tips to improve my own teaching. In turn, I will do my best to publicize all the relevant websites, tools, and other resources I have found.



I've found that moodle works really well. I can place a lot of class resources in a space that everyone sees. Students can add their own resources--and collaboration goes from there. Also, moodle has online forums. I get a lot of participation on those on-line forums. I have had students comment on their evaluation forms that they comment far more on the foums than they do in class. They like having that outlet. So, I've had good luck with that.

On the other hand, I've had mixed success with students creating webpages as part of their course work. I've taught a 400 level course where some of the students did webpages for a course project. Some students used  wiki blogs and others used Mahara. I had mixed success. Some just looked like essays with hypertext. Others were more fleshed out. Still, while I like the idea that a webpage offers an opportunity to be creative and collaborative, it seemed like the overall quality of information was not what I expected.


Thanks for mentioning Moodle. Its feature set reminds me a little bit of Blackboard, but without the bloat (BB is particularly slow at my university, but perhaps that's not the software's fault) and an easier interface. The demo site they show is quite plain and unappealing, though. Have you installed Moodle yourself or does your institution provide it? I like, too, that it's open source and centralizes a lot of disparate features offered by separate tools. Do you provide some guidance when introducing them to Moodle? Do you make it a part of your discussion frequently? Also, are the webtexts your students created available online? I'd be interested in seeing them. I'm not surprised that some are just linked texts. The idea of born-digital texts is one that's still being examined by scholars at the cutting edge of that field.


At my university, it is possible to have your college set one up for you or you can design your own, as long as it is fronted by the tech people at the college level. I use moodle every week in my classes. I set up the assignment and tips for the assignments on moodle. I have a weekly "thought question" that students are required to answer. They are also required to "interact" with each other's posts. This is where some of the better discussion in the class has gone on. I think it is great to see students commenting on personal experiences and playing devil's advocate with each other. I also do some group work projects on moodle. At my university, moodle is password protected, and I'm not sure how that would work with FERPA stuff. However, some of the webpages the students created are live. Here's an example of one.


I have used Moodle, too, though I wasn't particularly happy with it -- in large part, because as you mentioned, it's boring to look at. I've found that students would rather do the same type of exercise on a blog than a moodle forum. Heather, what types of personalizations/assignments have you used?

I used Moodle to do mini course commonplace books (< links to a description of the practice)--an idea I got from a friend who has used them with better results-- in which the students pulled out quotes that they responded to, and then responded to one another. The semester that I first tried this prejudiced me against Moodle because it kept going down, and now that page is no longer available to me as a reference for future courses. I also had particular trouble because students led each commonplace book discussion in groups, but Moodle didn't allow me to alternate between their group and individual identities. 

Is there anything about Moodle that you prefer to a blog format?



I feel like I can manipulate moodle more easily. I can divide the class into small groups and have them do group projects--using moodle as a collaborative space. Then, as the teacher, I can manage all of the small group projects. I also like that my students can create their own forum groups. I have had students use the moodle to form study groups and, interactively, come up with study lists and review concepts for the test.


I also like that moodle allows me to select participants and send them notes and requests etc. I guess you could do a lot of this stuff using a blog. But, I feel like moodle allows me to manage all of these things in one place. Maybe it's also that I'm just accustomed to moodle. I don't know. I'll have to think about that one.


I agree that moodle looks boring. It is open source--and I've thought about sitting down to try and come up with something different. Thus far though, I just haven't had the time.


I use a moodle-inspired platform for UCSB called Gauchospace.  I have students post a lot of their assignments on their blogs, I use it to post a lot of the classroom material (exercises, handouts, etc.), and I have forum posts fairly often.  I've found it difficult to actually get students to post comments unless I require it, and I want to move on (is this too ideal?) from "requiring that students do things" in their own assignments.  The class is a freshman writing class, so we all know the level of engagement for these classes, but I tell them all the time that knowledge is social and to improve their own ideas, they can bounce them off their fellow students through comments on these fourms.  Plus, for those shy students in my classes, this can serve as a space to mitigate their own insecurities with speaking in front of others- this can give them a voice.

But what I often find in terms of resistance to participation with these forums or blog comments is the anti-technology attitude, or the cool, ironic reserve.  Does anybody else find this, and how can we engage it?



You raise a question I would also love to hear other opinions on: how do you engage student resistance to using technologies. When I've used moodle, I had to require the precise number of student responses or I didn't get many -- and often their responses demonstrated less engagement and critical thought than I saw in papers or in the classroom. When I surveyed the students about the stark divide between their types of performance, I got answers that weren't too helpful for calibrating future classes. Mostly, "I don't like Moodle."I did a lot of work to explain that we were doing something different than a standard response paper: we were creating interactive threads that had more of a payoff than continuing and generating conversation -- I used the quotes they discussed most as test questions, to let their interests guide the course structure.

I've been wondering if a more creative online project might spur different, more playful (and productive?) engagement. I've been thinking of asking students to adopt personas of different authors we encounter and constructing a blog as if that person were still alive. So, one student could adopt Walt Whitman's persona, and one could be Stephen Crane. I'm thinking this will allow us to disucss voice and tone -- how do we know Whitman when we see him (aside from just memorizing quotes that are likely to be on a test?) -- and the project of having them respond to one another as characters seems potentially fun, at least for a mini beginning assignment. Have any of you tried using blogs or Moodle for more creative assignments? I'm not sure how well it would go, but it's an idea I'm floating around for the Fall, so I would love feedback... If you haven't done a creative assignment, how have you prompted blog responses productively, so students participate without being forced into it??


Hi Jenni,


I've done role-play assignments in the classroom. They've worked really well. I've never thought of caryying this over to a moodle or another digital space. (Why has this not occured to me before??!!) I think you have a great idea. If I were your student--I think it would be fun. Now you've got me thinking--I wonder if I can adopt some of the role play debates I do to a moodle space? Hmmm.


As I see it, one of the key problems to engaging students with online projects is that they are still schoolwork. And there's very little that we can do to dress up schoolwork into something else. At the end of the day (as my students this semester have been fond of telling me), we are just one of many classes. And anything we are asking them to do--no matter how cool or cutting edge it is--is one more thing to get done. That's not to say that we can't try to engage them, but tools like Moodle are not where the students go of their own volition. They go to check on classwork. To get them involved on a more regular basis, you have to catch them where they are spending their time. Facebook obviously comes to mind, but also the browser itself. To what degree can we use browser tools/plugins to get students involved. We must make the threshold lower if we want constant engagement with students.

For related reading on the subject of getting students to participate, I'd highly recommend Mark Sample's post, "Reflections on a Technology-Driven Syllabus."



One of the Scholars has successfully used Facebook in a class - I can't remember who it was, so hopefully they'll pop in here.

But you're right - it's still a class, no matter how fun/interesting/interactive we try to make it! Even if we were exactly where they already are - that form of engagement requires and produces a slightly different mode of interaction. It's a good reminder, and I suppose it's a balance between trying to make the access as easy and intuitive as possible, and using the class as an experiment in new technologies,  or even more so - having them learn new software or tools as a new way of thinking.

I must admit your comment about "we must make the threshold lower if we want constant engagement with the students" made me laugh -- I had a student TEXT me one day a question about the reading. On the one hand, wow, a question about the reading ahead of time? Sweet! Bring it on! On the other hand, it crossed some line for me in terms of interactivity and connectedness. I'm sure that line will change someday, and there are certainly teachers who encourage cell/text-connection but I'm not quite there.



I totally get what you mean by feeling discomfited by some student/prof interactivity. I've had kids call me at home after finding my unlisted number and I remember feeling distinctly weird. I also have found myself to be really uncomfortable finding my students/former students' awesomely designed blogs - with all sorts of, um, behind the scenes info for my perusal.

But echoing (slightly) Brian, we are still going hit limitations as "the Man" in front of classes. In some ways, they are going to see us as putting work upon them through an awesome interface, maybe, but definitely for class. Oddly enough, I have gotten great results by introducing them to sites (just out of nowhere and not making them do it for class); I've gotten comments that they've used it in other venues. But the question becomes, is the only way to get students to take the bait by pretending you don't want them to take it in the first place?



You raise a great question: "is the only way to get students to take the bait by pretending you don't want them to take it in the first place?"

This is precisely why I'm hesitant about incorporating things like facebook into my courses (though I would be interested to see assignments that worked!) And of course, there's the old joke that '[things like] facebook are like high school parties: when the adults show up the party is over.'

I am personally OK with students recognizing that they are doing work when they're in my courses. I do my best to make that work relevant to their lives, to facilitate vibrant discussions, and to challenge and surprise them -- but I do not want to incorporate teaching technologies just because they're cool or 'the kids are using them' unless I think it will help my students better understand or engage course material. It is really exciting to see students pick up things we introduce them to (like the sites you mention), but I also think catering to technological trends resituates our work in a way I'm not fully comfortable with.

I've never had students call or text me, like Kim and Fiona have, but I do have to put on syllabi that I will not respond to emails between 8pm and class the next day; and that I will not respond to emails asking broadly general questions about imminently-due writing assignments.

To touch on something Kim mentioned earlier, about how her body (and all of our bodies) shapes classroom interactions in different ways, being A Teacher (even in a 'democratic,' relatively student-centered classroom) still has value to me. As exciting and valuable as the moments when play and work converge can be, it's not something I think we can consistently reproduce. In fact, I often value difficulty as much as play in my classroom -- with the one stipulation that I always point out and congratulate students for dealing with something truly, truly challenging. (After I had my freshman fiction students read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, for example, I gave them certificates that said 'Congratulations on completing an incredibly difficult modernist novel,' and I explained that I want them to learn to congratulate themselves for accomplishing difficult things -- instead of taking the common attitude "That tough reading assignment is done, now on to study for my Linear Algebra test...")

Of course, I am sure all of the teachers in this forum challenge their students and don't just cater to them with technologies -- I've seen such great assignment ideas and critical pedagogical thiniking already! I just thought that I should mention this aspect of pedagogy as a potential challenge to the idea that we ought to try to reach students in the digital worlds they already inhabit.


Hi all! I'm sure there's another Scholar that used Facebook in his/her class, but I just wanted to mention that I also used Facebook in an undergrad Amerlcan literature class that I TAed for, and it was fun and productive! We decided to use Facebook as a way to get students to engage with Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie on another level... I documented the Facebook-Sister Carrie project on last year's Day of DH:

One thing that my Day of DH post doesn't mention in great length is the use of Notes for short prompts and collaborative writing assignments, as well as the use of photo albums for visual interpretations and cultural/historical contexts of Sister Carrie. Because we had about 50+ students in the class, each Facebook profile was comprised of 4-5 students, and they all collaborated on the writing prompts that we posted on Facebook. Grading was an issue -- students were anxious to know how they were being graded on their writing on FB, and how we would know who wrote/posted what, but we assured them it was a low-stakes form of assignment and that we would credit them as a group. 




LOL! As I mentioned earlier, I was thinking of having a role-playing part of my course next Fall, to encourage students to really think about character and authorial voice -- and of course to just have fun. I've been seriously considering either Sister Carrie or House of Mirth and I think this is just the type of project that could really help students get into realist/naturalist novels that often seem too long or too dry to them.

Quick questions: was this just a pass/fail assignment? and what percentage of the course grade did it account for?


Hi Jenni --

The FB assignment was part of the students' overrall grade -- students were given credit for their work on FB, and basically nobody could fail it if the group participated and responded to prompts (everyone did the work, was active on FB, and really engaged with the text). I'm not sure, however, what percentage of the course grade it accounted for -- that was the professor's decision and I can't remember what the percentages are at this point (sorry can't be more helpful on this aspect!). 

I'd love to hear more about your course in the Fall and what you decide on in terms of assignments for reading/studying/deforming the texts! 


Only have time for a quick post- Here are links to both my personal and class blogs on which I've reflected on some of these issues. 



Hi Meredith, thanks for the interesting links. I particularly found your discussions about how you deal with student distraction in the classroom useful. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you teach at a school where all the students get a tablet device to work on. I would love to see what I could do if we had ubiquitous computing like that in my classes. Of course, I mostly assume all my students have computers, but I can do that because our libraries offer computer workstations. Having taught in some classrooms where all students have a computer, though, is quite different because of the immediate interaction with the technology they allow.

Your series of posts on the Haiku project also stood out to me. When you get some time, could you talk some about that? The combination of art and literature is very nice. Perhaps we should expand our definition of "technologies" to include cognitive technologies. Drawing is vastly different from writing; I'm curious to know if you found any difference in how students reacted to haiku because of their drawing exercises.



A friend and colleague here at the University of Washington and I just presented a poster at the UW Teaching & Learning Symposium on "Teaching (With) Video Games" representing the growing number of teachers and classes incorporating video games.  Even though a poster is reductive, here are some of the things we presented in the hopes of sparking discussion (even putting on the map that teaching and video games go together):

"Teaching with video games offers unique pedagogical opportunities and medium-specific challenges, which require particular attention to reading and playing literacies, to careful ludic and analytical framing, and to access.  On the one hand, video games are not the promised land inhabited by digital 'natives'  On the other hand, they are a worthwhile, playable, popular medium and art.  In other words, video games cannot be a gimmick or dangling digital carrot, but rather video games must be the artifacts and occasions for study, investigation, dicussion, and interrogation."

Success & Advantages

  • fun factor
  • engages students in their area of knowledge, in something they have experience with and skill in
  • engages multiple learning styles
  • playing awake: activity and interactivity
  • play across disciplines, including literature, cultural studies, education, sociology, computer science, art, and politics
  • teaches close reading and close playing
  • cutting edge, creative possibilities

Challenges & Limitations

  • critical frames: managing student expectations
  •      "it's just a game!": games aren't serious or academic
  •      "you're destroying my childhood!"
  •      playing asleep: playing only for fun, entertainment, distraction, escape
  • student interest/skill/knowledge
  •      not all students play or like video games; students will have varying degrees of experience or skill with games
  •      different types/genres of games appeal to different people
  •      everyone plays different: it's not always about winning or losing
  •      gendered differences and attitudes
  •      proficiency or skill at playing games is different from the ability to critically analyze games
  • selecting games, problematic game content
  • cost and access
  •      new media requirements in and out of the classroom (projection, internet connection, computer or console)
  •      hardware and platform requirements; compatibility issues
  •      game cost, subscription fees, availability of games
  • game studes and game pedagogy is new
  •      no clear/established disciplinary approach
  •      no clear/established teaching models
  •      burgeoning theory and scholarship
  •      lack of institutional support

Tips, Tricks & Advice

  • don't defend: provide frames, lenses, key concepts
  • if you take games seriously, they will take it seriously
  • let resistance to analysis *be* the content, at least at first
  • draw connection and analogy to other familiar media
  • stick close to the text at hand, close read and close play
  • focus on play not narrative or progress
  • demonstrate, use save points, supplement with walkthroughs and game play videos
  • simple games for complex ideas
  • use free, shareware, and trial games
  • encourage shared or group play, set up a play station in a computer lab or during office hours
  • take risks, be creative, have fun

For more specific course descriptions, assignments, and ideas, please visit


Hi Edmond,

As a gamer myself, I've very happy you brought up games as a method for teaching. Have you seen Rhetorical Peaks? It's a game available in multiple formats designed to teach rhetorical concepts. I've been to a demonstration of it before and it seems quite interesting, though I've never had a chance to incorporate it in my classrooms as I haven't taught rhetoric in a while. I see from one of your links that you've taught a course that used World of Warcraft to explore issues of race and class. Did you use WoW mostly as a visual aid that students could relate to? Did you move around the world as you discussed some of these issues? What were some of your students's reactions?

Also, as a sometime Bioshock player, I love the idea behind this course. It looks like, generally speaking, you're interested in how games construct and reflect different human identities. I want to highlight these points from the "Bioshock: Cyborg Morality and Posthuman Choice" course description:

"technological and biological determinism, individuality and objectivism, post- and transhumanism, and technological mediations of race, gender, and sexuality. Playing Bioshock and a selection of cyberpunk short stories will be deployed as theory alongside formal video game and posthuman critical theory"

How much has the dystopic world of Bioshock influenced the interpretation of posthuman and cyborg theories, which are themselves often more celebratory of the possibilities?


Michael -

Thanks so much for the link to Rhetorical peaks! As a future teacher of Rhetoric, it looks like something my colleagues and I should definitely check out.


James Gee does research in this area. I'm trying to experiment with this myself. I love this idea. Can you give some specific examples of what you've done--what has worked and what hasn't?


This is a really helfpul list, Ed!  I wonder, for those trying to implement video games studies into their own programs, how much of a burden it is to successfully have students, in the same way that they read a text, actually play the video game.  I imagine a lot of video game courses could actually navigate studying video games without having to play them necessarily- most of the lectures would be screen captures or videos of gameplay, followed by lecture and discussion (of course "live" play would ideally be incorporated- but for the sake of time screenshots and videos might work better) about certain issues.  In this case, you could put certain video games "on reserve" for those students who want to go further and actually play the things, but for a larger class, it wouldn't be necessary.  Just trying to think practically...


It seems highly problematic to me to think that one could study games by looking at screen captures of them. So much of gaming has to do with being the controller. That's what makes the choices in games like Bioshock so fraught. But this debate has been hashed out quite well in Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harigan's First Person (2004, MIT P).


I know, heresy, right?  It's like asking students in a film class to never actually see a movie, but only to listen to me talk about them.  I completely believe if one were to "learn" video games they would have to use them and engage with them as primary sources.  I simply want to know, practically, how video games are used as texts without driving up the costs prohibitively for students?  It's easy for me to assign classic novels because the students can buy them used, take them anywhere, and access them anytime.  For newer video games, this is not the case- how do you get students to do these assignments?


This is a really great list, Edmond. I'll have to mark it for future use. I particularly like the point about letting resistance to analysis *be* the content, at least at first.

To share two very provocative courses that deal with videogames, look at (1) Jay Clayton and Matthew Hall's Vanderbilt course, Worlds of Wordcraft and (2) Zach Whalen's University of Mary Washington course, "A Videogame Canon."


I'd like to add a challenge (or perhaps a sub-challenge) to the list, and suggest that another might be effectively removed in the near future.

1. Labor Intensity / under "game studes and game pedagogy is new"

In my experiences with teaching games and technology/new media, I have often found that the labor time I put in to developing the class and its lectures, presentations, etc. In teaching lit and philosophy classes my brain works really hard selecting passages in texts, framing topoi and inquiries, etc. Surely my brain is working just as hard in developing and prepping for my games courses and class sessions, but no matter how good I get at it intellectually, it still takes a tremendous amount of time to cut clips, procure screenshots, capture audio etc. - and this is not really visible or accounted for, institutionally or even in casual comments with some colleagues. Things have gotten easier as Youtube develops an archive of gaming videos, and game media is slowly archived on the Web. But if you are trying to make specific points about games you class is playing, this is still not much help.

2. Cloud Gaming, Steam / under "cost and access"

Services like Steam and OnLive are indirectly attacking this problem, especially the latter. As game computing and storage decentralizes, teaching with and about game media will gain some benefits (there are also some new costs, too), particularly in ease of access.


Hi Meredith, thanks for the interesting links. I particularly found your discussions about how you deal with student distraction in the classroom useful. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you teach at a school where all the students get a tablet device to work on. I would love to see what I could do if we had ubiquitous computing like that in my classes. Of course, I mostly assume all my students have computers, but I can do that because our libraries offer computer workstations. Having taught in some classrooms where all students have a computer, though, is quite different because of the immediate interaction with the technology they allow.

Your series of posts on the Haiku project also stood out to me. When you get some time, could you talk some about that? The combination of art and literature is very nice. Perhaps we should expand our definition of "technologies" to include cognitive technologies. Drawing is vastly different from writing; I'm curious to know if you found any difference in how students reacted to haiku because of their drawing exercises.


What a great prompt, and what an exciting conversation!  I am especially compelled by your question #6: How can we use teaching technologies to make learning bidirectional? 

This semester in my general education class, I organized a number of outside-of-the-classroom activities: my students took a literary tour of our community, explored rare books in the library, and studied Shakespeare outdoors, both literally and figuratively.  But what did students find to be the "most memorable classroom experience," according to their midterm evaluations?  The day we used in our discussion of Jane Austen.  "We got to use our cell phones in class!" they raved.  And admittedly, it was one of the finest discussions all term: students who had never willingly talked in class were suddenly raising their hands, and students who consistently made thoughtful comments in class demonstrated new complexity in their thinking.  The novelty of using technology in that way got them initially hooked--but the interactive, visual, collaborative experience of using this digital tool actually helped them to think about literature in a competely new way.  That's magic in the classroom. 

I've started integrating technology in other ways: my students post their reading responses to an online dropbox that lets them turn in papers any time of day or night, and they post their project and paper topics to a community discussion page so that they can get ideas from one another and students with similar interests can work together. 

Many of my colleagues at the University of Iowa use wikis in the classroom (you can check out a video about their work here:  Inspired by these teachers, I have designed a course wiki called "Novel Words" that my students can contribute to for daily participation points.  Suddenly, my students have fascinating comments to make about the Oxford English Dictionary.

Technology works wonders for group work, too, and I have started offering team-based, digital alternatives to some traditional paper assignments: rather than writing a short film adaptation of a novel, for example, you can work in groups of 2 or 3 to write, perform and record your adaptation.  Not surprisingly, many students choose to participate in these group projects, even if it requires more work in the end.  Why?  Because they enjoy the work.

Inevitably, these out-of-class interactions enrich our in-class time together, and by having a safe online space to test their ideas, my ESL students and shy students are especially emboldened to contribute to live class discussion.  When my students have participated in an online project of some sort before class, they always come to class with things to say.  By inviting the students to engage more with class material, digital technology has also noticably improved the quality of their work.  And no matter what you teach, and what you believe about teaching, that's good change that we can all agree on.

There are challenges of course--particularly when the technology doesn't work the way I had planned.  But if my students learn a few things about problem solving in addition to things about literature, they're no worse off, right?  Learning about technology has pragmatic benefits for our students, because they will be applying for jobs where digital literacy will be a major, or even fundamental, asset.  In our current academic atmosphere, a few practical skills thrown in with their critical thinking skills is a bonus for them and us.


Hi Bridget,

Thanks for sharing these great ideas. I know all my students have cell phones (I've asked them before). I wonder if having them use those in class might help with discussion. Even this late in the semester, there are some who remain mostly silent, and this is in a small class of 15 students (one of the joys of teaching at 8 AM). I've also tried having students post the paper topics to the course blog, but with varying success. Do yours share theirs without prompting, do you require it, or do you just promote it better than I apparently do? I especially love the idea of having a wiki for vocabulary. We read Lolita, "Song of Myself" and some of the Canterbury Tales this semester, so a collaborative page for OED and MED research would have been perfect. I've been looking for ways to integrate wikis into my course. I have a suspicion of group-written papers, which was the only idea I had for wikis previously. Now I'm already sad we didn't run this forum before the semester!



I thought I had replied to your question last night--but again, one of those *mysterious* technical glitches that I won't confess is probably based on human error.  : ) 

I do require my students to post their proposals in an online community space--it is how they "turn in" their topic to me, and it's worth a small fraction of the final paper grade.  I do not, however, have them publicly post the actual papers, and I offer private alternatives for those students who don't feel comfortable submitting their proposal to the whole class.  I find that they get great ideas from each other this way, and they find other people in the class working on similar topics for collaborative brainstorming. 

I share your hesitance with group-written papers, but I think technology has improved its potential.  With something like googlewave, for example, you can trace the evolution of a paper: who wrote what, when they wrote it, etc.  You can rewind and see earlier drafts, and there is no way to hide it if you started the night before or if one group member did all the work.  Once the bugs are worked out, I think it will be a really fabulous tool.

In terms of my OED wiki project, we should chat more!  I'm working on making a publicly accessible version of the wiki right now, and it would be great to have more variety in our text base.  How cool would it be to see how a word like "master" or "sense" or "moral" is used differently by Nabakov, Austen, and Chaucer?  I'd love to hear more about how you're teaching these works together... what a list!!


Michael, have you seen Another ProfHacker spin off, but one worth checking out in that it provides an opportunity for students to get some anonymized feedback on their thesis ideas.


I have (even tweeted it), but I took it as more of a joke than a serious tool. I didn't realize it was inspired by a ProfHacker blog post, to be sure. While I like the idea of crowdsourced feedback like that, it seems like the name's allusion to the original HotorNot site has doomed it. Have I misread it?


Hi Michael -- I was a TA for an American Lit. class a couple of semesters ago, and the professor and I implemented the use of some digital tools for literary interpretation. You mentioned that your class read "Song of Myself" this semester, so I thought I'd share with you a project that we did on "Song of Myself" in the class I TAed for -- we decided to experiment with a collaborative interpretation of the poem, and used a wiki and the blog to accomplish this. It turned out to be quite a fascinating experiment/project -- we had about 60 students (I know, crazy!), so the poem exploded into something else and took on a life of its own. We posted a portion of "Song of Myself" on a wiki, asked the students to choose a word/phrase in the text, insert an image to interpret that word/phrase (visual interpretation), and link both word/phrase and image to their individual blogs, where they wrote about 1-2 paragraphs explaining their word/phrase choice and the rationale behind their reading and interpretation of the poem. It was really quite fascinating to see so many student voices and interpretations come together as they read and dissected the poem. This is a different use the wiki, but thought I'd share! I'm excited to hear about the great work that you and Bridget are both implementing and thinking about in your literature classes, as I'm really interested in how we can use new media in literary studies (at my institution, colleagues and professors have started to go beyond the CMS to using the blog, wiki, and social networking sites in their literature classes, though they're still very much in the minority), so I really appreciate the conversations here!


I'm going to include a link to a really valuable resoure that Alan Liu has developed over the years- this is our UCSB Toy Chest.  There are an incredible array of different digital tools here that could be incorporated into assignments and curricula in general. I'll talk more about these later when I have the chance- but I'd love if everybody here got the chance to flip through some of these.




Wow, thanks for sharing the resource! I am already starting to imagine the various ways that some of these digital tools can be used for reading and studying texts. I'm also glad (and relieved) that the digital tools don't require sophisticated programming skills; often, I'm intimidated by using some digital tools because of my lack of knowledge and technical skills in programming. Would definitely love to hear more about these resources!


That's fascinating, Viola. Did you find any consensus emerging among the different student blogs or recurring themes and ideas? I know in our class discussions on Whitman we tend to develop something of a consensus about what work his poetry does. While this is no doubt partially an effect of my own interpretation of his work, I find that students tend to find similar things. How did the visual interpretations enhance their understanding? One of the things I try to do when teaching his poetry is to get students acclimated to his technique of ever expanding lists and to try and visualize each line as a potential poem in itself. It sounds like this sort of exercise would really help in that effort. It sounds, too, like this would be another great way to get students to dig into the specifics of language in a small section rather than wander off into vague generalities.

Was there a reason the wikis needed to connect to a blog rather than simply keeping it all on one site? I know Wikipedia has biased us to thinking wikis should present objective information, but I see no reason the same interpretive text couldn't exist on a wiki page rather than a blog. Finally, are the results viewable online somewhere?

I find I'm asking that last question a lot.



Hi Michael,

I really like your exercise in getting students to try to visualize each line of Whitman's massive lists as a potential poem in itself. We found that in getting students to do a visual interpretation of a specific part of the poem, some -- not all -- students tended take the "easy" way out by interpreting the poem literally, on a very surface level, which worked more like a visual facelift. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I guess we hoped for slightly more in-depth analyses. Granted, it was our first time trying to get students to perform literary interpretations via visual means, and we could have been more specific in our goals and expectations, but I think that it had a lot to do with developing students' visual literacy skills. In retrospect, I think I would have spent a little more time talking about visual rhetoric and perhaps leading a class discussion about how visual images and pictures communicate, and how to avoid simply adding an image to a word for the sake of a visual facelift, etc. 

I wish I had a more revolutionary reason as to why the wiki needed to be connected to a blog rather than simply keeping it all on one site. I think it had a lot to do with my lack of technological skills, really :). I'm sure there's a better and more sophisticated way to do the assignment. First, I suggested that assignment because I thought it would be really interesting to reinterpret a section of "Song of myself" via visual images, and to have that all on one document/wikipage so that the class could see what the collective interpretation of the poem would look like. I thought linking it to their individual blogs was a good way for us to track which student has done which interpretation, and for students themselves to be able to look at and read what their individual classmates had done. Most of all, I wanted the assignment to be an embodiment of "containing multitudes" -- a poem collectively interpreted on one page, which then branched off into 60+ individual blog posts.

Do you use any digital media when you teach Whitman? I'd love to hear about any exercise that you implement in getting students to read and interpret his work. I'm thinking that getting the students to use the online archive would be an interesting assignment as well... 

I'll look for the website and include it here when I find it. 


I'm ashamed to confess I have used almost no digital resources for teaching Whitman other than the Walt Whitman Archive and an eBook that our library makes available (Miller's Mosaic of Interpretations). Despite all my interest in technologies, my class is for the most part fairly traditional. They write papers, which they submit electronically and receive back with my comments. There's a course blog. We use various useful websites in class, like the OED, MED, Walt Whitman Archive, etc., but that's pretty much it. Hence my excitement about this forum. I already have so many good ideas for ways to use tech more effectively in class that I wish the semester were starting rather than ending. Since I spend so much time in class working on close reading and analysis, we often don't use anything other books.


The polleverywhere site looks really intriguing - would you mind sharing or talking more about how you used this site to discuss Jane Austen?


Hi Jenni,


I'd be happy to tell you more! is a site that allows you to create surveys and then map the results: you pose a question, and participants send their responses via text message.  It requires classroom Internet access and (ideally) projection capabilities.  If your students are anything like my students, then the third requirement, which is that they have cell phones, is probably more of a sure bet. 

The activity works particularly well with Austen, because it gives you an opportunity to talk about how themes in the novel--including social conformity and social expectation--play out in a contemporary digital context.  I preface this activity with a powerpoint presentation on the social rules, gender expectations, courtship manners, class boundaries, etc of early 19th c. English society, so they have some basic contextual information.  We concluded by comparing Austen's social world with the social world of the Internet, and they saw more similarities than I would have imagined.

But, back to polleverywhere.  First, you need to set up an account, which requires a working email address.  Before class, enter your questions and potential answers into the site; it’s very user-friendly and logically constructed, so this only takes a few minutes.  Here are my questions for Pride and Prejudice:

Wickham is not a villain; he is a victim of English society and its rules.

Charlotte Lucas was right to marry Mr. Collins.

Jane Austen is a feminist.

Pride and Prejudice is a fairy tale.

Mr. Bennet is a good father.

Manners are a good judge of character.

Money is very important when choosing a marriage partner.

Darcy doesn't change; it's Elizabeth's impression of him that changes.

The narrator stays mostly in the background.

Pride and Prejudice would be a good novel if it's weren't so predictable.

 In class, when you click the “start” button for a question, a 5-6 digit number will appear on the screen, along with different numeric codes for each potential response.  (I like to keep it to a simple Y/N).  Once the students “text” their answer, the results are mapped visually on the screen with a horizontal bar graph. 

The results are anonymous and instantaneous.  As students see the first reactions coming in right away that lean to one side or another, the more undecided responders (or slower texters, like me!) may be more--or less--likely to jump on the bandwagon.  The chart changes immediately with each new response, so you get to trace the collective thinking of the class over the 30 or so seconds it takes for all the votes to be submitted.  You can see a sample result by clicking here: As you can see from this poll, my students were fairly confident about Mr. Bennet's parenting skills.  (After our discussion of the results, a re-vote probably would have been more evenly split or leaning the other way). 

Once the initial rush of excitement from using their phones in class wore off, we had a really lively discussion.  It was a way at the beginning of the semester for all the students to feel like their voices were being heard, and their votes were being counted, even if they weren't comfortable enough yet to speak up in the discussion.  Some students chose to explicitly state which side they agreed with and to persuade others to change their minds; others were more implicit about the way they voted and insisted on more complexity in the novel than a simple Y/N question allowed.  (Which was, of course, my whole point--insert mad scientist laugh here). 

 The best part was, everyone got involved.  The activity created a sense of real class cohesion and community.  And by the end of class that day instead of saying "I think," they had started to say "we think." 




Thank you so much for expanding on your assignment. I love it! I'd seen a Discovery Channel special about having students use special remotes in the classroom to do this kind of polling, but I had no idea we could do it with hardware that most (if not all) students have handy. I also love the idea of requiring them to leave their cell phones on one day :-). I am especially excited for that "we think" moment -- that's an affect I hoped would arise from blog threads, but it sounds like the immediate results would make this much more effective. I will definitely try something like this in the future, and I really appreciate your sharing the idea with the group.

Also, I'd love to get in on your's and Michael's conversation about using Wikis. I'm working on a Technology and Literature syllabus right now and I had planned to have students compose WikiSpaces entries on how different authors define terms like "American," "literature," "technology," "realism," etc. It sounds like you've done exactly this type of assignment before, and I'm wondering, perhaps too mundanely: how do you grade it? In my first draft of the assignment, it is a check/check plus/check minus grading model, but it also seems like even these minute gradations might be 'crowdsourced' as students correct, amend, and complicate original entries. Part of me almost doesn't want to assign this type of knowledge production a grade -- but as Christopher mentioned in an earlier post, sometimes it's difficult to motivate students to engage these tools without the potential currency of some percentage points. 

Have you tried Commonplace Books? I mention it in a response above, it's a similar type of communal knowledge-production, and it seems like the sort of thing that might fit well with your pedagogical practices :-).



I lament the grading, too!  It can be not only arbitrary but also woefully tedious.  The hardest part for me is deciding how many short, standard posts equate to a longer, more thoughtful post--and I don't like the mathematical quantification that is implied by such a comparison.  Usually, I give them credit for completing the assignment if they have created a fairly complete analysis of their chosen word and made a number of thoughtful comments about their peers' words. 

One suggestion I got from a friend that seems to work really well is this: let the students grade themselves.  My friend uses this system for giving participation grades, but it also works great for web posts: she describes in detail what it takes to earn an A, a B, a C, etc, and then the students auto-triage, explaining what grade they deserve and why.  They are surprisingly accurate.  Of course, you'll want to say that as the instructor, you'll have the final say.  But it's a great system, and it's another way of asking them to take ownership of their own education. 

I'd love to hear more about Commonplace Books--can you let me know a bit about how you use it?


After our Grading 2.0 discussion, conversations with Cathy, and now seeing this -- I'm definitely moving to that mode for participation grades the next time I teach. This semester my class really struggled with participating on the blog beyond the very bare minimum outlined by the syllabus. Previous classes have taken to it like a duck to water - posting frequently, sharing links, commenting, referencing the blog in discussions. For various reason, this semester it's felt more formal, more like strictly something on their to-do list than a genuine conversation. Surely it's for numerous reasons, but I really like putting it back in their court: this level of participation, this grade.

Do you have that grading scheme for online participation? Or anyone else use something like this for online post grading? 


In the past, I've had real problems getting students to do anything more than the bare minimum in terms of blog posts. Since I got tired of seeing them turn what was intended as an informal forum for experimentation and extended discussion into just another perfunctory task, I decided to get rid of the minimum requirements. Instead, and in conjunction with my switch to the Learning Record method of assessment, I simply offer the blog as another space for them to engage with or not at their discretion. While I post from time to time and always comment on any posts my students make as well as bring them up in class discussion, I don't require any minimums. What I've tried to do is persuade them that the blog is a useful, low-stress place where they can create evidence of their learning, which in turn will count as part of their grade. As a result, the conversations have been far better and less forced while the number of posts has not noticeably decreased. I have, in fact, read a number of excellent posts that are more insightful and detailed than anything I saw last semester. Now, not everyone engages with the blog, but I'd prefer that those who do so find it worthwhile rather than simply busy work. Since they have to make the case for their own grade at the end of the semester, I also figure that if they chose not to do anything on the blog, then they're making a decision about how much work they want to put into my course. 

Even though the shift in how I sell the blog to them seems to have made some difference, I also think some of the variations across semesters (I've been experimenting with class blogs for several years now) also results from simple interpersonal chemistry. We've all had the classes, I think, where we do nothing noticeably different from other times, yet the quality of discussion and student interest varies wildly. I know I want at times to find some sort of magic bullet method that will have predictable results, but that desire is not only probably futile, but also assumes students and classes are fungible.


Grading such assignments can be difficult--in part because if you're having your students write on a weekly basis, it means that you never end your grading. When I did a class blog last semester, I decided I only had time to evaluate the students on four basic points, which resulted in their being awarded a "pass" or "fail" grade for each week's required post. And although they were allowed to respond to one another rather than write their own post, I only got one comment all semester long. Nevertheless, I could tell in class discussions that they were reading one another's posts.

For my class wiki notes assignment, which is adapted from Jason B. Jones's original, I make it very clear that the stduents who are crowdsourcing the notes will evaluate each member of the group, including themselves. This makes up approximately 1/5-1/6 of the grade of the assignment, which itself counts for at least 15% in most classes. At the end of the semester, I require the students to email me numerical evaluations, with short sentences for why they have given the scores that they have, and I use these evaluations, coupled with my own observations to compile scores. I have a pretty complicated spreadsheet that I use for the process, which I can try to share when I have time to generate a clean one (FERPA, beware!). The result is a group assignment that is 4/5 done as a team and 1/5 done as an individual. And I find that that balance generally works. Note that I don't say that it gets everyone to play along; rather, it results in a great set of notes, it rewards those who work, and it punishes those who do not.

It's also worth taking a look at Mark Sample's post on how he grades class blogs.


Wow - I really like your pass/fail grading scheme for the blog entries. Each point addresses the main components of both a decent entry, and a decent entry that adds to the class discussion in some way, and puts a limit on the kinds of negotiations that you're willing to have (about deadlines and what constitutes a post in general). That's a very useful list -- thanks for sharing. Will check out Mark Sample's post too. We might try to collect all of the links and tools suggested here, and compile them on an easily readable and distributable document or post. 

Your spreadsheet sounds intense and amazing! 


Forgot to address your point about the students not writing comments even though it could replace an actual entry. I've had the exact same experience. In order to encourage responses, I actually included them as a separate component of participation. So their participation grade was in-class (preparation, presentations, comments, questions, the works) and blog comments. That got a much better result - and students who are shy in person felt a kind of validation at being able to participate in another format. Comments are important to me, and the ability to digest and react and respond well to a blog or online article is a necessary communication skill for a number of reasons. 

But the comments were also useful as a way of supporting and reinforcing the ecosystem of the class. Students realized that writing their blogs in a certain way would garnish more attention, better comments, more interactivity online, and a much better response in class. Once that connection got made, the entire experience was a bit more organic and they saw their own writing capacities morph to better suit the technology, their audience, the situation (class), and the texts themselves.

Thanks for sharing the class wiki assignment too. Especially impressive and interesting is the way you foreground how easy it would be to do a bad job -- by completely missing the point of the collaboration and long timeframe of the entire semester to edit. That's a really good tip to include not just how to do the assignment, but also a pointer about how it might be derailed, or how it's failed in the past. A nice tip! 


Fiona and Brian (and anyone else who wants to weigh in),

I love all of these ideas (esp. the class notes wiki - that is inspired!) but I have a logistical question: when you assign these projects, how do you balance other assignments? For example, do you assign less daily reading with the knowledge that they'll be spending a good amount of time working through notes after each class?

With my commonplace book assignment, I estimated that students would spend less than 10 minutes of time per entry; but some of these exciting assignments sound more time/labor-intensive, so I'm curious how other people go about balancing these assignments with other types of labor we expect from our students.


On thing that I think is an issue here, especially in Texas, is the way that students are taught to test. That is first year students especially are actually really good at asking what do I need to know for the test, learning it, performing it, and getting the grade. Of course in these online spaces the value is precisely not in this type of top down product based interaction. So I find that it is part of my job not only to teach students to use these spaces, but to move away from the expectation that they will be graded on their ability to perform according to a test. I find that the hardest part of any assignment I give now is to give them enough direction to succeed but also enough lack of direction that they can experiment (and that means fail). My students always want more direction and guidelines, I usually respond by giving them a talk about why I am not giving them guidelines.


My friend Mary who first introduced me to the commonplace book uses it in a way that many of us use blogs or Moodle. She has students pick one quote from every reading and write a paragraph explicating/responding to it on their class webspace. In her model, the students are encouraged (but not assigned) to interact a bit with each other's quotes and explications. Entries are due at the end of each week, so if a student is a little behind on readings they can post it after class, but they have to write something about everything. She said in her class that makes them stay on top of the material much more closely. She does not grade posts as they are put up; rather, students print out, read through, and write a final response to the entire commonplace book at the end of the semester and then she grades them as final projects.

Initially, I loved the idea of the commonplace book, but I thought having 36 people posting a quote from every reading and trying to talk about them all was going to be too much (in large part it's just a problem because our course sizes are so large!). So, when I tried it I divided my students into 4 groups, and each group was in charge of posting quotes for specific classes -- other students were allowed to post if they were so inspired, and they were all  assigned to respond to one another. When I use this assignment again, however, I'm going to do it Mary's way -- she's had success in equally-large courses and I think that making students write something about every reading has intellectual merit. More importantly, I think when students reflect on their entire commonplace book, it will be a much more powerful experience if they wrote about everything instead of just 1/4 of the readings. Mary's students have written in their reflection papers that they noticed trends in their interests and improvement in being able to close read, and I think that their experience looking back on the class is one of the most valuable parts of the assignment. It's a more personal way to reflect on the class as a whole and everything covered than a cumulative exam!

I'm also thinking about tweaking the assignment so that and the quotes students post and respond to will become the quotes I put on tests or quizzes. I think this will encourage students to read and respond to quotes on their course webspace because it will allow them to self-select the quotes they're most interested in.  (Sorry for the bold, but since we were discussing how to get students more involved in responding I thought I would highlight that strategy as a possibility.) If I go with this method, I would have a clause in the assignment that explains quotes that generate the most debate or conversation on the course blog will be strong candidates for tests and quizzen. In addition to some of the more playful ideas I mentioned earlier, I think that this could be a way to give value to the act of reading and responding without having to say "You Must Respond X Times."

However, since reading all 35 of their peers' quotes is a good deal of extra work, I may hybridize the assignment, so that students have to write an entry for every text, but we rotate so that certain students' entries are flagged for response on a rotating basis (and other responses would be welcome, naturally, if anything stands out); or instead, I might make response groups whose job it is to flag certain entries that they like and encourage other students to look at those entries first if they don't have time to read through every one every week. On the one hand, I want them to be able to gravitate towards the most interesting quotes; but on the other hand I want to make sure everyone has the experience of having something they selected responded to, and I don't want to make the assignment detract from the other work we have to do in the course. Not 100% sure how to mitigate the problem yet. Mary's method of minimizing the requirement for them to respond is one way to do it, but I am still trying to come up with a way that really harnesses the power and fun of responding. I may end up keeping the commonplace book separate from, but overlapping with, a post-and-response assignment.

Here's a less uncertain synopsis of the practice of commonplace booking. Like any assignment, there are a ton of ways to implement it to deal with the needs of your specific classroom. If (hopefully) your class sizes are smaller than mine, you may be able to implement this type of assignment without all of the stress of adding too much labor :-).

I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have any!


What a great strategy, Jenni... I love the idea of assigning rotating groups to post quotes/questions and respond.  The portfolio idea is nice, too; having students assemble and reflect on what they have written seems a crucial step.  Do you have them categorize the quotes in any way, linking them according to character or theme, or are they presented as more of an indiscriminate list?  Are your students able to synthesize the little things they notice, either in class discussions or for a formal written assignment?  Any particular success stories for texts or prompts that have worked well? 



The first time I tried it, I did not have students categorize the quotes at all (and I didn't even specify that they had to include page numbers! whoops!) I thought their explications would do a lot of the contextualization, and I wanted this to be a quick response, not something that adhered to a formal set of rules. Then, we discovered that much of the time quotes from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein out of context were almost impossible to attribute to different characters. We all giggled at some of the mix ups we made during that class, and then everyone automatically started adding more context. I also think in courses that don't unravel chronologically, like the one I'm currently planning, I will have to make these entries chart dates and other things (like, which texts students think might be 'realism' and which might be something else), so we can discuss the construction of genre beyond the strictly chronological narrative. Next time, I will modify the "indiscriminate list"* model by doing this on a blog instead of Moodle, so students can tag their posts. I may ask for a few specific tags (year of publication, supposed genre, character speaking, author..?) and then ask them to supplement with one or two descriptive tags of their own choosing. I am excited to see where those tags will cluster.

I think there are multiple opportunities to synthesize the ideas that come out of this project -- even before the moment that the student rereads all of her posts and reflects on them. Although I don't track grades throughout the semester, I always bring posts to class to start off our conversation. In the past, I've seen students have their own 'aha!' moments, tying things together, but because they didn't exuberantly comment on one another's posts, the commonplace book was more of a jumping off point, an exercise in close reading, and a diary of ideas that each student had as the semester progressed. I'm always thinking about how to make these assignments more integrative.

I like Fiona's idea of having the blog count as separate participation points -- and I really appreciate Brian's examples of crowdsourcing blog grades. I think I will apply these ideas to future instantiations of commonplace books in my classroom.

Hope this helps clarify some of the ways I've implemented the assignment, but I'm sure that there are many ways to improve upon my still-in-progress model!

*note on the "indiscriminate list" understanding of the project: the Lyceum link I posted above has criteria for how to select quotes, so it's not indiscriminate but it's also not ordered.


I love commonplace books. I have my own digital version that I've been building for over 10 years. Though my additions to it slowed significantly once I entered graduate school and mostly stopped reading strictly for pleasure, the collection I've amassed makes me happy. I had never considered adapting it for a class, though, but it fits perfectly with my interest in teaching strong close reading skills. What better way to encourage a deep engagement with the text itself? I'm going to try this next time I teach. I plan to have a wiki for words and now one for quotes, as well. I think I'll probably also have them link them to one another so that they'll be cross-referenced.


Wow. I am defintely going to use this idea. This sounds like a fantastic assignment. Thanks for sharing.


I agree- this is a great assignment and something I'd like to try in my own writing class!


Hi Bridget -- thanks so much for sharing your ideas here! I really appreciate reading the conversation that you and Michael are having about the use of technology in literature classes, as I also have a background in literature, and I'm really interested in the intersections between literary studies and new media. I worked with a professor as his research assistant for an American literature class, and we decided to use YouTube as one of the extra credit assignments. We had a unit on Modernist poetry, and asked students to choose one of the poems assigned, record a video interpretive reading of the poem, and publish it on YouTube. When we first implemented this, it was a raw experiment as we both didn't have much experience with using videos for literary interpretation, but students put out such interesting and amazing work on the video platform that we decided to give it out as a regular assignment the following semester. We continued to see really interesting interpretations via the students' videos of their readings of the poems (for instance, we had a student autotune Whitman's "Song of Myself" -- it was hilarious at first, but we then realized that the student had done something pretty ingenious with the poem).

One thing that surprised me was that students were memorizing lines after lines of poetry so that they could perform the poem on video. In "Against Interpretation," Susan Sontag says that we need an "erotics of art" in a culture of excess and mass reproduction. I think that we can find an "erotics of art" in new media -- and the videos that the students are producing could very well point to the possibility that the "erotics" of new media can work in the favor of, say, managing one's attention (e.g., the memorization of lines of poetry in doing an interpretive reading and performance of the text). The video assignment also allowed (surprisingly) quieter students to come out of their shell, perhaps because they were able to perform another side of themselves and explore another identity.

For now, I'll end with pointing out how much I appreciate what you said about the use of technology for learning and reading texts:"By inviting the students to engage more with class material, digital technology has also noticably improved the quality of their work.  And no matter what you teach, and what you believe about teaching, that's good change that we can all agree on."


One of the things that really intrigues me about this prompt is the way it draws attention to the ways that the labor of teaching is changing. In the material classroom, technology has become a great tool for allowing teachers to try to inititae discussion, encourage critical thinking, inspire a love of learning, and cover the curriculum in some really exciting ways. Right now though, I've been thinking a lot more about the on-line classroom space. I've been writing about the body of the student and the teacher in on-line classroom spaces. I think that, in education in general, we tend to view our students--and even our teachers--as brains and thought processes without attending to the ways the body comes into play. This tendency is even more pronounced in on-line classrooms. It seems like it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing technology as a way to divorce the body from the mind--or the body from identity--and use technology to encourage a type of learning that tends to reify the Cartesian duality. Right now, I 'm trying to think about the body as a phenomenological concern--and thinking about how a phenomenological approach allows us to see embodied learning, in on-line and off line spaces, in a new way.


I've been thinking about what my body does when I teach--both on-line and off-line. Do I teach in a diferent way because my body does different thing in an on-line classroom when compared to a material classroom? For example, in a material space, I tend to move around a lot when I teach. When I teach on-line classes, I'm sort of forced to stay sitting down in front of the computer. So, does the very nature of what my body *does* change the way I teach?


I also think about the actual spatial artefacts of our classrooms. I went into a classroom recently where the desks were bolted to the floor in straight lines and rows. Does it make a difference if we can move the desks/chairs into a circle, or table groups? How does this kind of thing work in an on-line space?


Anyway, I am wondering about what others' experiences have been in on-line teaching. Do you feel your body in a different way? Do we even pay attention to our bodies and what they do, the types of power they enforce, when we're teaching?


One of my research interests is embodied cognition, so I'm happy to see you bring up this aspect of teaching. I don't remember precisely, but I think it was Howard Rheingold who related this one. He would stack the desks in his class before students came in, then watch them obediently unstack them and arrange them in neat rows as if no other configuration of desks were possible. One of the morning routines in my class is the circling of desks whenever we shift into discussion mode (which is most of the time). The times I leave the desks in a line are when I'm discussing things like grading criteria, schedule changes, and other administrative issues where I keep my authority. Since I don't want to lecture when I can avoid it, changing the room layout and thus the ways the people in the class see me and each other (all sitting, all facing one another) signals a certain degree of equality... I hope. I have yet to teach online, though, so I can't speak to how the divorce between obvious embodiment and teaching works. I remember in one of the recent HASTAC forums (again, I don't recall which one it was) a commenter noted that, even when sitting at a keyboard controlling an avatar, there is still a distinct form of embodiment and action. Hands control the keyboard and mouse; eyes track movement; faces adjust. I've also recently read a study about how the simple act of adding a video feed that shows the professor's face in an online course greatly improves student attention and performance. 


Yes. I've been doing some writing on this too. In fact, in one of my classes last summer, we turned the cameras on which allowed students to see the teacher. It was weird how many of the students said that they paid attention more easily--just having that face there to look at. Then, for me, it was this odd moment of --do I --or don't I--show myself. It was odd having the choice. I knew my students expected me to leave the camera on so they could see me. On the other hand, though, I find that I feel a particular type of gaze from my students in a material classroom. Somehow, it felt like I was avoiding that gaze when the camera was off--but not when the camera was on. When the camera was on--I had to worry about all the conerns of a female teacher---what am I wearing--does it say that I am a professional--or that I'm trying to look like an undergrad? Is my shirt cut too low? Should I have put my hair in something other than a ponny-tail. What does it mean to have a white blond woman on your screen representing the authority of the teacher? Is there something that is different--or that we think about or feel in a different way--when we cannot see the teacher?


I don't know--these are still issues I'm thinking about. Any thoughts anyone?


Hi Heather (shout out to the Chicago schools!

So I am probably going in a little bit direction than your question has implied. It made me think of embodiment and the minority professor.

As a gender and race minority, I assert my authority with my mobility.  Universities, although there are more female professors, still are gender-biased; although there are more faculty of color, universities are also still race-biased. My ability to call on people - to literally, control who speaks - to move freely, to speak the last word, is integral to my role as classroom teacher.  

It is precisely this reason that I feel less comfortable in all on-line settings.  As a double minority, I am subjected to particular challenges in the classroom, such as students openly challenging my knowledge in an aggressive manner, treating me with less respect, feeling free to call me by my first name and others (white and/or male) by their surname, etc. In an online setting, I feel like my ability to assert my authority in terms of my command of the classroom is lessened or non-existent.  

Simply put, online teaching sessions make me feel like I have to work harder to establish myself as a voice of knowledge and authority.  While some would consider this a good thing: the evening out of classroom hierarchy, I am always in a position where there is some sort of hierarchy working against me: race and gender, in my specific case.  So in an online setting, I often feel like the rug is pulled out from underneath me.  

Of course, this may be because in my experiences in an online setting, my color and gender are known, so I am forced to contend with these issues from the start, instead of it being an anonymous or situation where self-identification is voluntary.  But given my particular subjectivities (and I would assume this for many people in which their minority status is easily recognized, given the conversations circulating in certain academic circles) I use the physical classroom space to assert myself and online teaching makes me feel like I am on much less stable ground.




Hi Kim,


That is very interesting. I feel my authority--and the need to establish my authority--in different ways depending on the space of the classroom. In a material classroom, I use my body language, my mode of dress, and my circulation throughout the classroom to symbolize authority. I use the desks in a circle or in tables--and the fact that I sit down with the students at those tables-to symbolize my desire for a sort of "social justice" Freiren teaching environment.


When I'm on-line, I usually decide to avoid having the students see me because I feel like this gets me free of having to pose my body to symbolize authority. I may do a little more name dropping when I'm in an on-line space--as a way to assert my authority. I'm not sure on that one. I'll have to think about that one. I know that I put my students into small groups and have them work as groups--with me "circulating" between the various dicsussion rooms that I've set up for them. But, no doubt--the posing of authority--and the posing of equality that we do in the classroom looks different in an on-line space.


Another excellent prompt and conversation.  I found in the courses I taught that I tried to balance my luddite tendencies with my digital optimism.  For instance, laptops and smart phones annoy the heck out of me, because as a graduate teaching assistant sitting in the back of the class I learned early on the sad ratio of note-taking to game-playing/chatting/otherwise goofing off.  Sometimes I banned them outright, and sometimes I engaged more often with laptop users to make sure that they knew they were part of the classroom experience--both of which were easy to do in the courses I taught given that they never had more than thirty students.

But the unevenness of digital literacy was something I hadn't expected.  I thought every college-aged kid was making movies and writing blogs and contributing to Wikipedia, but that simply wasn't the case.  Especially among the liberal arts students, there seemed to be a regression in technical skills to something less than what my peers understood when I was studying philosophy six or seven years ago.  Maybe it's because the various digital phenomena have grown more easy to use and therefore require less practical understanding of the underlying technology.  Given this unevenness, and that it meant I had students who didn't even know how to use Powerpoint (not that they should, since they'll likely end up fouling up our great military industrial process with it, but you need to learn a thing before you denounce it, at least that's one of my guiding pedagogical principles), I focused on pushing them into collaborative projects.

I think group projects based on the model followed in the sciences is the best way to help undergraduates integrate higher-level digital tools into their concept of humanities scholarship.  In a group, especially with some kind of peer collaborative workspace, they can see the skillsets developed by their peers and evaluate their own contribution to a project.  By focusing their group work on something interdisciplinary and requiring novel digital skills (in my case, environmental history) I found it pushed the digitally literate to develop new skills and the less technically sophisticated to grow much more comfortable with using digital tools for humanities research.



You're absolutely right in pointing out the unevenness in digital literacy. It was surprising to find out how many students were unfamiliar with (and even resistant to) blogging and social networking when I implemented the use of these technologies in a literature class. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised -- my first use of PowerPoint (I'm embarrassed to say) was late last year for a conference presentation. I was not trained in using powerpoint during my undergraduate years as an English Lit. major, and got away with never having to do presentations with powerpoint (not that I'm saying it's a technology everyone should use). The lit. classes I was in were pretty traditional in the sense that they were mostly lectures and discussions of the texts, with the exception of the occasional use of the overhead projector. With that said, I really like your idea of collaborative work and mixing students with different levels of digital literacy skills in each group, rather than separating those who know the skills from those who do not. If we take this approach to the wider community of humanities scholars, it could potentially turn into something really good for humanities research, as you've pointed out.



I think this is a smart way to troubleshoot the problem I've also encountered: many of my students have a passive relationship to technology, or feel intimidated by it. Group work is always an essential part of my pedagogy -- I think learning to conceive of yourself as being a part of a community is one of the most important things we can help teach students, especially at huge research institutions where they may miss that community in other parts of their campus life. However, I have a few logistical questions on how you have used group work in this way:

- how do you assess which students have technical skills, so you can distribute that knowlegde across groups

- have you encountered resistance from students who don't want to end up doing more work because they happen to know how to, say, use power point, and their group-mates do not? in other words, how do you contextualize the division of labor?

I might be tempted to make *everyone* learn something relatively new to avoid putting more pressure on students who are familiar with existent technologies. For example, if it seems like half of the class is really familiar with power point and the other half isn't, I might ask them to make their presentations with the less well-known prezi so they all have to learn a new interface together. Although I completely agree that having them share knowledges makes a lot of sense and answers some of our key questions about how to divide up class time to deal with these asymmetrical literacies -- so I'm curious to hear how you've framed these group projects and the types of responses you've gotten from students.


Assessment of technical skills was based primarily off of self-assessment.  I tended to have them start group work for their final project early in the semester, with research and production milestones well-defined.  Though I didn't require any particular digital solution, and told them that it would be perfectly fine if they presented a linear presentation with images and text, I exposed them to a wide variety of tools and digital methodologies and was able to shepherd interested students into integrating those technoglogies into their presentations.  It was all very holistic, and likely not reproducable on a large-scale (especially in big classrooms) but one aspect of it would likely hold true regardless of class size:  The entire time I pointed out to them that in the sciences collaboration is the norm, and they were exposed to collaboratively written scientific journal articles and collaboratively produced digital media.  By focusing on collaboration, it necessitates the implementation of formal and informal collaborative tools, almost primarily digital.  Since they're already skilled at collaborating with each other to develop commons-based media and narratives (though related to their video games, clubbing or other facebook-style activity) it made the use and adoption of digital tools much easier than if they thought of themselves as autonomous, book-writing traditional scholars.

As far as division of labor, I've found that if I'm very upfront about the nature of collaboration in the real world (both professionally and academically) which is that some people do less work with others and get away with it (practically represented by giving them all an equal share of the final grade) that it defuses any complaints about effort or skillsets.  Again, I'm not sure how well that would scale, but it works out very well with small classes.

As far as the prezi idea--while I love prezi and all the interesting digital tools out there, I always thought it best to establish core literacies in traditional digital tools.  I'm stodgy, I know.


I don't think it's stodgy to make sure they get to know the basics! I actually make similar points about coauthorship as a norm in other disciplines, and then also often preface group work by noting that just about everything we do is coauthored, even :gasp!: in the humanities -- papers come out of conversations, curriculum, etc.

I personally haven't tried to get students to collaborate on learning tools before, and my concern was from an anecdote a friend in a PhD program told me about problems he's had with division of labor in computer science group work (he's in Bioinformatics, so half of the students have programming experience and the other half don't) -- it made me concerned at first, but the success that you and Kim have had with this approach suggests that it might be less of an issue for training each other to use power point than, say, writing out entire scripts in Python :-).

I also think it's provocative that you address the potential for unequal division of labor up front. I've never done that, but the utopian fantasy that everything works out with perfect evenness is rarely if ever the case. I'm sure your students appreciate the honesty and I think it's a conversation I will have to have in future classes.

It sounds like you both frame your assignments in a way that allows students who are proud to have strong computer literacy can feel like they can shine and share their knowledge with their peers, and students who feel behind on the tech stuff can learn if they're interested, but can also approach the project from a different and equally-valued perspective. I am impressed with how critical and fluid you guys are with your group work assignments, and I am definitely going to take this conversation into account as I work on developing future lesson plans and assignments!


You raise what I think is one of the larger issues we are going to have to deal with, how to evaluate based on groups rather than individuals. Many of the projects I assign, now by their nature require more than one student to accomplish, the difficulty comes in when I am asked to grade individually. When group projects go well they do really well, when they go poorly they go really, really, really poorly. 

I am actually toying with the following idea for next semester:


  • At the beginning of the semester students will form groups based on project interest. No minimum to group size. If some projects have a lot of interest, might divide into two groups.
  • The student groups than spend the first week establishing community rules, expectations, etc.
  • Student groups are allowed to have a process by which they dismiss group members for not living up to community standards.
  • All students within a group receive the same grade.
  • If you are removed from a group you can do an individual project, or form a group with someone else. (Up to you to negotiate.)

Brutal I know, but I kind of think it will work.



I think your ideas for group projects sound great. As a student, I have often found that working in a group on wiki pages and case studies is really helpful. It helps me learn about the subject my group was assigned to investigate and the important skill of collaboration. Also, it has helped me improve my skills and knowledge about new tehnologies from others in my group. I was interested when I read that student groups could dismiss members. I have been in a few groups where one person did not do as much work as the rest of the team. However, I think as fellow students, it would be hard for people in a group to kick someone out due to connections and experiences as students (which is especially true at smaller schools where most people know each other through friends and see each other often). In order to fairly judge the amount of work each person in a group puts into a project,my professors often give group members anonymous evaluation forms where students rate their group mates and themselves on the experience of working together. These ratings are then used in the final grading of each group member, so different people can receive different grades even though their final product was the same.


Elijah - 

I think you hit on an important note: the assumptions we teachers may make when approaching students and our expectations for what we think they should know in terms of technology.  As a student who came into college with more computer experience than others (b/c of my dad's job we've had a computer in the house since the 80's) I remember the kind of favoritism I received from teachers who wanted to know more about how to manipulate certain programs.  I still had to work in my classes, but I did feel good that I knew something that could impress the teacher. It gave me a kind of confidence that I needed (especially in math class, Lord knows I needed all the confidence I could get there.)

That said, the flip side of that is that there are tons of kids who really have no clue, b/c they either had no opportunity or had no interest in learning how to run programs or use certain technology. In many cases, this can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.  Sure a student is smart and capable, but when the assignment requires Ppt or Google Wave or to create a Wiki or whatever, and the student has a lack of knowledge that we assumed was already there, it can really harm a student's performance, even when we as teachers are thinking, "this will be an easy assignment at which they can excel cause everybody under age 30 knows how to make a wiki."

I also have used group work for working with technology; I find this has been much better in terms of students teaching one another and for them to capitalize on their respective skills.  I have found they are willing to share that information with the class so others can use that knowledge in future classes, which evens the playing field, a little bit (I hope!) for future work in other classes.


What do folks think about laptops in class? Do you feel differently in a smaller seminar (especially if the topic itself isn't technology or media) and conversation is impacted, compared to a large lecture hall? A recent post called Dealing with "Digital Distractions" in the Classroom talks about the rising bans of laptops in class, and suggests that they "represent a physical  manifestation of 'distraction' (i.e., boredom) for school administrators and instructors to single out." [link from @DMLcentral on Twitter]

This huge AskMetafilter question on What to do about teaching and the internet? is also asking about laptops in the classroom. The answers seem varied: be more interesting as a lecturer, wander around the room to 'catch' people, let them surf at the periphery of the class so the visuals don't distract classmates sitting nearby, include the internet in your lecture - ask folks to google things or look up answers, or don't even respond because it's the students' decisions to pay attention or not, it helps some students pay attention and you can't ban all distractions, but there might be a limit on certain pictures because it creates a different kind of micro-culture around the laptop.

I've only taught small classes, where conversation and interactivity is both part of my pedagogical style and a necessary reaction to the size of the class itself. It's fairly obvious when students are looking up something interesting for the class itself, or on Facebook; partially I can tell by the reactions and distraction-level of their seat neighbors. But they also use them for awesome additions to the discussion: youtube clips, images, recent news, history, other examples of whatever we're talking about. Perhaps because I let them be present at times, and at other times it's obvious that a laptop will be a distraction, I've been fairly lucky not to have any major problems. My own personal annoyance at them is the physical separation - huge laptops that separate actual bodies in the classroom. I've been known to request a few minutes of 'laptops down' time when we're doing close readings or having an in-depth conversation. I wonder if tablets will change any of this! Any other thoughts about laptops in the class?


I've also only taught small classes, where my experience has been the same as yours, Fiona.  I've banned them and supported the banning of them by professors for whom I've TAed, but I've also allowed them with the same vocal prohibitions you've mentioned, "You guys need to sit in the back, so that other students aren't distracted by your Facebook updates."  It always got a cheap laugh.  I'm sure it's indicative of the changing nature of social spaces and our definition of antisocial behavior.  We're still teaching students in a style and a space designed by people who didn't even have cell phones (and even the fancy collaborative spaces still feel like one-offs rather than "Born Digital Learning Environments").  But I don't think anywhere in social networking that there's been a locational solution that integrates the digital realm fluidly with the spatial (think of just how unsophisticated something like 4Square is from a technological and social standpoint) so I think it's a lack of an innovative solution anywhere, not just in the academy.


For me, the jury is still out on this one -- in part because I am a doodler. I often focus best when I keep my hands moving, so I draw constantly. I've always wondered if my instructors thought my attention was divided when I drew in class; but I think it often helps me recall and process material better. To this day, I vividly associate certain drawings with specific course material. I may just need more synaptic connections than the average student :-).

So, for our students who were raised to cultivate multiple, divided attentions, I question whether completely taking away laptops would be a beneficial strategy. If a student seemed too distracted to participate in discussion, or if their participation or coursework flags, I would say something. I just like to think of my students as adults, and I hope that can learn to gauge whether or not they can responsibly handle the nearness of distraction or if they can't. (Though, perhaps the recent SEC scandal suggests that this self-policing is too much to ask of most adults; and of course students can experiment with discovering their own learning styles outside of our classrooms, where they may distract others.) For me, a main issue is that I know people with certain writing differences who benefit from being able to type rather than hand-write; and I don't want to make students get permission from disability services to be able to take advantage of that fact.

I really like your idea about asking students to search for something if they have their computer open. I think that could be a productive way to take a potentially-disruptive moment and play it back into a "teaching moment." I wonder what other strategies people have employed. For me, this is all speculative because I haven't had a student bring a laptop to my class before -- which is kind of amazing now that I think about it!


Jenni - this made me laugh: "To this day, I vividly associate certain drawings with specific course material. I may just need more synaptic connections than the average student :-)" SO true. I can actually find the notes in my notebooks based on my doodles. I would draw the classroom, and sometimes even the board, including the notes *on* the board, and the teacher, and whatever else was in the room. So now I can find the actual notes based on what doodles and drawings are in the marginalia. That is kind of crazy, now that I think about it. But it was a form of processing information and thoughts at the same time.

And of course the crossword is probably one of the top classroom companions. As a student in classrooms though, I actively choose my seat based on what folks often have on their laptops -- I'm not distracted by a doodler or crossword, but flash games or Facebook or random subtitled movies, or even those super-hard typers - those are really distracting to me. Half the time I want to see what's so interesting over on their screen! But it seems to be a happy medium - those folks can be there, processing or not, and I can choose my seat accordingly. I guess it helps if the room itself is set-up for that kind of physical structure, if need be.


That's really interesting, Fiona, that having the physical context for your learning helped you remember. It sounds a lot like the things you learned were/are closely tied to the configurations of the classroom space. We need a phenomenology of learning. Then maybe we could design course activities, group note-taking exercises, and other such things in ways more conducive to helping students recall information.


I've come up with group work assignments that necessitate laptops. I've had my students prepare class presentations on things like Brown v. Board.. using their laptops--and then present them to the class--all within the given class time. I've also used laptops in a sort of digital scavenger hunt type assignment. Everyone brings their laptops anyway--so I thought I would use them. I divided people into groups and then gave them a list of "artefacts"--usually answers to questions or concrete examples of a theory we were talking about--to find using their computers. The team who amassed the best artefacts (as determined by the class) the fastest--wins a prize or bragging rights or the llike. My students seemed to really like it.


I am one of those folks who bans laptops, precisely because my classes are based on discussion and i find that anything that bellows, whoops, tingles, jingles, rings, vibrates, dings, or buzzes is bad, but not being able to engage in discussion b/c ppl are too busy typing every last thing i say instead of learning to paraphrase my argument and use that paraphrasing to create their own argument is much worse. for me, laptops cut eye contact with me and the rest of the class and make it harder to establish relationships. If i am teaching sensitive topics about ethnicity, or class, or inequality (it's amazing what you can fit into a public speaking course!), I don't want anyone to be able to avoid having to participate b/c they are typing. I imagine this idea will be amended somewhat when i teach other things, but for now, i am hoping my commitment to a laptop-free classroom will make them more efficient public speakers and arguers. 


Most people at my college do not bring their laptops to class (for example my laptop is old and I would have to plug it in to one of the few outlets in an older classroom for it to work). However, everyone in my Biochemistry class enjoyed case studies. We would meet and form groups in the student lounge area with our laptops. The goal was to answer questions and learn about topics, such as genetic blood diseases, using the internet. This type of interactive work is often fun, and the information that other students and I gained through this process was easier to remember over a long-period of time.  


I agree with Fiona that laptops should be managed well in the classroom- I'm not against allowing them, even in lectures, but I do think their presence should be well integrated into pedagogy.  I really liked your ideas, Fiona, about letting students use them, all while putting them to work finding appropriate videos, links, etc. that they can show to the class- all of this really adds to the engagement in a dynamic classroom- this kind of class has the potential to not be boring as opposed to traditional lectures or discussions.  They can of course be distractions...

There must be interesting ways to incorporate them into different kinds of activities- I'm thinking of this especially in terms of research.  Because this topic has come up before in these threads, I'm thinking of a way we can use laptops in the classroom to practice research skills.  We have the option (as I'm sure many of you do) to use a computer lab, although I haven't really used it often, but if we had at least a few laptops in a classroom (maybe 1 for every three people), we could effectively turn this kind of classroom into its own lab.  In groups then, like Heather's idea, as opposed to each single person getting their own computer- the students would have to work together to use the internet to track down certain sources (using EBSCohost, or Lexis-Nexis etc.).  This could of course become competetive- like a race where the group who finds the best source (not just first) would be rewarded somehow.

I think this would really integrate the laptop into pedagogy, as opposed to considering it as an enhanced version of a student's notebook.  In addition, if students are going to be doing the most of their research on their laptops, this can be a great training excercise in using that laptop specifically for the needs of research.  Great idea, Heather!  I think I'm going to try this out soon...


Just quickly -- it's Friday, after all, hurrah! -- I wanted to put a note up about two of my favourite course sites. They're from HASTAC Scholar Jentery Sayers, and they have been so incredibly generative for my own teaching. He's currently teaching Modernisms Now: Digital Platforms for Studying Fiction, and he's also taught Animating 1919. Take a peek at the assignments and the way he communicates with students. They've both been really helpful for me -- I'll drop in here later to identify some of the particulars, but wanted to get this up now, and maybe Jentery will stop by and talk a bit about his experience with these courses too.


I came across Animating 1919 before and I would love to hear more about it!


I appreciate the nod, Jenni and Fiona. Thank you so much to everyone who is involved in organizing this forum!  It's fantastic, and I'm looking forward to participating more as it unfolds. 

In the meantime, apologies for my belated response.  I've been in a writing cave all week, and (as always) things took longer than I imagined they would. (Much longer.)   But now there is light!

As for the classes you reference above, or any of the classes I reference here, I'm happy to answer any questions you have, be they about course material, technical matters, or pedagogy.  

Now, with regard to the questions up top, below are a few things I've learned while teaching with technologies and multi-authored platforms (including blogs):

(1) Here's a question I'm currently exploring: What are some low-tech approaches to high-tech climates?  How can I introduce students to things like metadata, markup languages, and multimodal composition without the use of a computer?  I ask these questions because, aside from material conditions and tech costs, a challenge I face is how to help humanities students become less intimidated by software and interfaces, and I'm really keen on the idea of approaching technologies speculatively rather than instrumentally.  I also think many folks tend to assume that learning about computers only happens through computer use. 

(2) When teaching courses on, say, technoculture studies, I've found that students are more comfortable speaking to gender, class, and sexuality than race, even if I include scholarship by Lisa Nakamura or Wendy Chun.  I'm not sure that this is unique to technology studies, tho.  While I've used digital divide and access-related stats, I want to learn more about approaching technoculture studies from the vantage of production---who are the technological "experts," who is contributing web-based content, through what means, for whom, and to what effects.  That said, here, I'd love to hear more about how folks talk about race (and technology) in the classroom. 

(3) I particularly like this question: "How have your experiences with technology changed your pedagogical methods, expectations, or results?"  For me, the use of multi-authored WordPress blogs has (dare I say radically?) changed my pedagogy.  I'm a big, big fan of short, low stakes entries that iteratively build toward a final paper/project.   Through blogs, I've moved to more assignments that ask students to do less during each step.  I also usually require students to comment on each other's entries.  (Here, having them organize themselves into clusters is helpful, particularly if the clusters share a common goal, like studying a specific topic or keyword.) 

These short steps add up, and (if prompted in a certain way) they can privilege revision/editing over that end-all, be-all of a final product.  What's also pretty cool is that, by the quarter's/semester's end, all of those short steps are stored and filed in one space (e.g., on the blog, under the student's name), and students can wrap up the quarter/semester by speaking to the entire process---ideally without positivistically treating the final paper/project as the only possibility that could have emerged from all of the steps they took. 

And perhaps the greatest thing about a class blog is that students see how the entire class is approaching a single prompt.  It opens what tends to be a one-to-one conversation between student and instructor (e.g., submit a printed essay to the instructor and receive individualized feedback) to a network of intersecting ideas, debates, and inquiries---links, RSS feeds, and commentary included. So, before any given class meeting, I can check in to see what the class consensus is on a given  text, what's not clear, what they like/don't like . . . In fact, something like descriptive metadata (e.g., tag clouds) are a quick way to get that perspective at the aggregate level.  "Why is the keyword 'alienation' so popular among the class right now, and how do I speak to that phenomenon in class today?" 

All of these things considered, I'm curious where and how people in this forum are storing their course blogs.  Or, to what degree do you consider the shelf life of the blog after a course is over? 

(4) Re: the question of tech experience and pedagogy, I think it depends on instructor investments, student expectations, and the discipline.  I will say that the more I know about a given platform (e.g., how to code/program included), the better I can teach it.  For example, next year I'm teaching a series of courses for the UW-Bothell's new "Media and Communication Studies" emphasis, and I'm trying to incorporate media theory, history, and practice into every course.  I'm not sure I could do that if I didn't know how to design a website, free-write in code, or construct a database.  Then again, some instructors might not find any of those competencies relevant to fields like English or history. 

(5) Over time, technologies (esp. blogs) have saved me a lot of labor.  (However, initially they did not.  Setting them up, designing them, etc. takes time.)  But I'll be honest: I often cut and paste old prompts, and then edit them to fit a course.  And more importantly, I can locate all of my work (past and present) quite easily, and I tend to learn more about teaching in so doing.  I also have examples (e.g., of student writing) readily at my disposal.  (Note: I passcode-protect my course blogs.) 

I will add that (related to #4) I do think teaching media/techno-literacy is crucial in the humanities.  That's just my take. Comparable to folks like Julie Meloni (over at ProfHacker), I'd argue that --- if students will, in fact, be composing digitally quite a bit in the future --- then they likely need some competencies in how platforms work.  For that reason, I treat computers like texts.  I want to know their material history, how they influence modes of production and social justice, and how they are made intelligible to non-professionals.  Plus, I think students (tend to) enjoy exploring how to critique and re-shape things like templates and readymade tools. 

(6) On bidirectional pedagogy, I always learn something when I give students a chance to critique and edit the prompts I write (e.g., a prompt for a final paper, annotated bib, or the like), especially if that workshop occurs in the classroom.  And almost always, my prompts are too detailed or too long. 

That's it for now!  Hope we can chat more!  Thank you again, Michael, Kimberly, Jenni, and Christopher!







I have to rush out the door, so I can't comment on everything I'd like to comment on here. In the meantime I wanted to say:

Yesterday a friend told me that she has her students do these types of iterative response building projects, but she keeps them private so students cannot see one another's posts because she found that when one of the more vocal/engaged student posted something substantive, other students felt intimidated or sometimes even mimicked or passively agreed with already-posted comments. Although this hasn't been my experience, it was still an idea I'm interested in thinking through.

Jentrey's assignment of having students develop their own papers might detract from this sort of experience somewhat, but I'm curious: have you found that shy or less-confident students resist these assignments, and if so, what have you done to mitigate their responses/fears?

I think that having the entries public is powerful in a number of ways -- not least because my students seem genuinely curious about one another's work and ideas. But I'm curious if anyone else has any thoughts/experiences on this issue.


I've always defaulted to making them public because I feel it's good to provide students with models of work they can emulate. When they see their peers doing things, it seems to make more sense for their own work. It's hard to tell, though, if really substantive posts intimidate the shyer students since, by definition, they tend not to engage as much. I have seen students who don't speak much in class really shine on the course blogs, which suggests it actually helps them overcome some of their shyness. One of the things I really appreciate about the Learning Record is that it makes confidence and independence one of the dimensions of learning, so students can push themselves to show improvement in that area. I've seen this semester one student who started out very quiet and unwilling to comment on blog posts become both more vocal in class and more engaged with the discussions on the blog. This development has made me quite happy, but I don't think I did much to make it happen.


Thanks for the detailed response, Jentery. Your question about using the low-tech to explain the high-tech is particularly fascinating to me. The first thing that comes to mind is the library card catalog, which itself is slowly disappearing. But it's a physical repository of metadata information. We have at UT, for instance, the Harry Ransom Center, which is our special collections library. Although there is an online catalog, there's quite a bit of information in the card catalogs that isn't available online. So, just to find the manuscripts, you have to interact with the very low-tech, old-fashioned catalog. The differences between online searching and physically flipping through cards is instructive, yet not terribly dissimilar. Given the increasing importance of metadata (which is only going to increase as the semantic web/linked data model becomes more mainstream), students having a grasp on what metadata is and how it works is crucial. Since they spend a lot of time searching ineffectively, a lesson on metadata could be quite valuable and relatively straight-forward to do first without a computer.

There's also the possibility in collaborative writing or individual revision to return to the methods writers used to use before word processing programs. What about scissors, tape, and post-it notes?

Your response to question three fits well with my own experience. I'm continuing to shift away from valuing the "final" product of student work to trying to capture the process of learning. Blogs are indeed one wonderful tool for managing this. My attempts to give students more places for informal writing also corresponds with a shift in my own writing process. Rather than worry about planning most of a work's structure or main points in advance, then carefully crafting it all (which leads to me not having fun and producing more stilted writing), I've begun just throwing down words without concern for how I'll fit it all together later, what my audience expects, or even how defensible my ideas are. I leave all that for revision now, which is probably what I should have been doing in the first place. Removing the stresses surrounding producing a final, formal, polished work has made me far more productive and improved what I end up with after appropriate revisions. I've already seen this semester my students incorporating some of the ideas in their low-stakes blog posts into their more formal papers, too. I think next time I teach I'll go even further and work more with wikis and Twitter to provide other low stakes places where they can just jot down ideas and collaborate.



Hello Michael - On the topic of the card catalog and learning from bibliographic materials, I thought I'd link to a nice little piece published in the NY Times a couple of months ago, on the topic of school libraries.  I'm fond of Matthew Kirschenbaum's contribution: many of us know him as a new media scholar:



Thanks, Scott. I like that most of the contributions mention the importance of the physical book. These lines from William Powers put it nicely:

What are often considered the weaknesses of the old-fashioned book are in some ways its strengths. For instance, a physical book works with the body and mind in ways that more readily produce the deep-dive experience that is reading at its best.

I know I can barely revise my own work unless I print it out and have paper to mark on. Even though I'm perfectly comfortable with many different aspects of digital technology, I find that the focus enabled by stable print on paper is the best technology for reading and revising.



This conversation reminds me of a great article I've just read a couple of days ago on Prof. Tracy Seeley's blog. She launched what she calls the "Slow Book Movement" -- here's the article she posted on e-books vs physical books: "An E-Book is Not a Book, In Which I Launch the Slow Book Movement." 


Thanks for the great number of ideas here, Jentery- these add a lot of substance to this continuing forum.  Your course sound fascinating- would it be possible for you to share some of your syllabi (maybe you've already done so further along in the forum..?)  I'm also a big fan of using blogs in my classroom, and I especially agree that it's crucial that students be active in learning how to write "digitally" considering that a great majority of their writing in the future (and for future students) will be with this medium.  I'm at the point now where I've been using blogs in my classroom for almost a year.  As I look back on how I've used them, I want to advance their use beyond merely being a substitute for written assignments on paper.  Often, to be honest, I have used blogs to cut back on paper use, and to make it easier for me to evaluate because I can type my comments faster than I can write them.  But your use of, for instance, descriptive metadata and tag clouds is intriguing, especially for the case of determining where students where are in their reading prior to a discussion of that.  This means that we can attend to their questions, concerns, and even incomprehensions or misreadings in a "live" sense.  Because we don't know what they're thinking prior to a discussion, it would be fantastic to use this simple tool.

I think what we need here, and we're going to put together a kind of report when the forum winds down (which it shows no sign of doing- fantastic!), is to develop some kind of primer- absolutely nothing too complex- for instructors to help them begin to incorporate these technologies.  I think, Jentery, that this also responds to your first comment in a different way- your questions: "What are some low-tech approaches to high-tech climates?  How can I introduce students to things like metadata, markup languages, and multimodal composition without the use of a computer" could just as easily be applied to other teachers rather than students alone.  Perhaps this primer wouldn't need to provide instructions, but could serve as a map that would guide instructors to the appropriate resources they would need to continue developing the integration of these technologies into their pedagogy.


Hello Jentery - Thanks for these reflections: they make me think back to a conversation we were having earlier in the year about Wordpress, democratization, and expertise.  Since then I've continued to have mixed feelings about the "author function" in Wordpress.  For the most part I've simply found the Wordpress format extremely helpful in encouraging a more collaborative mode of learning: students often interact with and respond to each other more substantially than is possible during class, they link to all kinds of relevant and interesting conversations and debates, and they de-center a classroom model in which so much expertise is inevitably filtered through the instructor.  I continue to think that many more students struggle with basic new media literacy than we tend to assume (for one thing, because they do not own computers), and because of this I think it's a good idea not to idealize the blog as a fully or completely collaborative space.  I've noticed that for some students it can be even easier to tune out of blog discussions than to tune out during class - and to post without paying attention to the ways in which the other material on the blog can challenge or refine their thinking.  But I agree that digital literacy is crucial for them to learn - and also that emphasizing the "comment" feature helps to avoid non-collaborative tendencies.

Here, though, I'd like to say a bit about the place of new media within the broader teaching environment.  How does a course blog, that is, interact with class discussion, essay writing and other out-of-class assignments?  It's a basic question that has already come up in this forum, but I've noticed even here that it's tempting to imagine that new media is somehow other to or separate from other teaching protocols - or, as though we can evaluate what a blog does separately from the role of other media in teaching.  I'm brought back to the question by your thoughts about low tech approaches to high-tech climates: how can we use tools like blogging to explore and teach the interactive, hybrid relationship between new and old media?

For instance, using a blog in my courses this year has kept me thinking about the relationship between new media learning spaces and the performative space of class discussion.  I tend not to write much on the blog myself: occasionally I will provide a prompt, but I prefer them to generate the discussion themselves.  But I have found it very useful to refer judiciously to the blog during class ("so-and-so had an adverse reaction on the blog to William Carlos Williams: how might we respond to this and defend the poetic enterprise of 'This is Just to Say'?").  I also use the blog to shape my classroom agenda: I encourage students to write about material we haven't yet discussed in class, so that I already have a sense of what they aren't seeing or how to intervene before class begins.  Above all I've found that blogging works best when it is not understood as a self-sufficient world or discourse or environment.  At its best it serves to link the work that students to in class and in their reading and writing to other worlds of thinking and interaction.

In fact, my experience with course blogging has helped me rethink essay-writing, that bulwark of English pedagogy.  I had an interesting conversation last week with Kirk McDermid, a philosopher at Montclair State University, about plagiarism.  Kirk, who works on the epistemology of plagiarism, pointed out that one of the reasons students plagiarize is that we as instructors are not clear about what kind of work we expect an essay to produce or reveal.  Many students do not see plagiarism as a problem because they do not see how essay writing relates to the rest of the class.  If they are simply supposed to find or "produce" vaguely relevant writing (they might ask), why bother writing it themselves?

I hadn't thought about plagiarism in this way before (having simply dismissed it as indefensible) - but in combination with the thinking I had been doing about the blog it made me realize the importance of fully integrating varied media formats into teaching.  Teaching is always a highly multi-media form, and the challenge for instructors is to integrate lecturing, discussing, test-taking, essay-writing, blogging, etc. etc. into a larger project.  As opposed to the individual virtues of blogging, that is, I've been concentrating on how it is helpful as one of many media formats and technologies of learning within a larger course or form.


That's really interesting, Fiona, that having the physical context for your learning helped you remember. It sounds a lot like the things you learned were/are closely tied to the configurations of the classroom space. We need a phenomenology of learning. Then maybe we could design course activities, group note-taking exercises, and other such things in ways more conducive to helping students recall information.


Yesterday at the World Wide Web's colocated FutureWeb conference, I chaired a panel on "The Future of Learning is the Future of the Web" and here's the YouTube video of that event with Negar Mottahedeh, Laurent Dubois, Mark Anthony Neal, and Tony O'Driscoll.


More than once, I referred the audience to your lively forum.  I've been checking it in while on the road and I'm learning so much.  


I just want to mention a few things.  First, my "how to crowdsource grading" experiment went brilliantly.  Not only was attendance nearly perfect and the blogging perfect too, but, by the end, I couldn't tell which were simply weekly peer-led conversations and which were the final, multimedia collaborative presentations (the equivalent of a final).  They were pushing one another so hard that everything became impressive beyond what I measured.  Also, the writing in the blogs was, according to one of the people in our writing program, about three times the normal amount in an advanced humanities course with a writing component and it was superb. 


Thank you for the seriousness of your own remarks here.  I'm learning!


By the way -

I'm helping to develop a curriculum to bring creativity and interdisciplinarity to the engineering major at the University of Illinois. I already have a lot of ideas of my own, but I was wondering if any of you HASTACers might recommend any reading (short story, novel, fiction, nonfiction, what have you). Did any pieces of writing change how you think about creative production, invention, science, or technology?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Hi Jenni-

I've actually thought about developing a literature course that focused specifically on engineers and "literary engineering," that would appeal to the engineering crowd.  I often find a divide when I introduce literary study to freshmen (non-English majors) between, let's just be reductive and general, "right- and left-brained people."  The "creative" right-brained people are totally willing to speculate on multiple interpretations of literature, while the left-brained calulators and engineers are trying to hone in on the exact "meaning" of a work.  I tend to please one half of the audience who find interesting my wild interpretations- (thus, usually my point in teaching is just to back up claims with solid evidence, thus the wilder the interpretation, the more fun the excericse is)- and turn off the other half of the class who give me the raised eyebrow- the look like either I should belong in an asylum or, how did this guy get to be a college teacher?  These are the students who always reduce any not-obvious interpretation to overanalysis- they just want concrete answers! 

Anyway, so this has been my compulsion for coming up with something that would appeal to this set- obviously using technology and digital tools for the purpose of interpretation (especially in the mode of someone like Franco Morette, using graphs, maps and trees), but then of course, which primary sources?  I think one of the best is Neal Stephenson- either The Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon- these books often include long "engineering" or "computer-savvy" passages filled with technical langauge that might really appeal to engineers and even more, Stephenson can be considered quite "literary" in the sense that he does very different and interesting things with language.  The other one I've considered is, that famous Boeing-technical-copywriter-engineer-turned-famous-literary-recluse, Thomas Pynchon, whose langauge can also be imbued with engineering terms and "technicity."  Though, to be honest, I would imagine that most people would probably be turned off by Pynchon.


I completely agree that students are taught to interpret themselves as left-brained or right-brained; but I think that this is a flaw of our educational system that encourages students to overdevelop certain apptitudes that were identified early, while giving them an excuse to let other areas atrophy. It's just about impossible to diffuse these self-identifications in one semester, but I am really dedicated to trying. Likewise, the engineering program I'm consulting for hopes to encourage students to value creativity and interdisciplinarity -- in short, to value humanism -- as essential to their education and growth. That said, I'm sure the students in the program would love Stephenson; but I also want to surprise them and occasionally confound them into new ways of seeing the world -- if only for a few fleeting moments.

And on Pynchon: he's someone I have to investigate more when I get a free chunk of time. For years when people found out I had degrees in math and English the first thing they'd ask is what I thought of Gravity's Rainbow. :-)


I've wondered about this, too. I don't tend to get engineering or sciences people in my courses (though the occasional bio or chem major shows up), but I've considered teaching quantitative analysis and text-mining to see what people come up with. Here's an example of what somebody did with Emily Dickinson. They used software from The Nora Project. Since that website appears to be down right now, here's a description on a different site about Nora. One thing they mention is the similarity between this sort of textual analysis and Moretti's idea of "distant reading".

As an aside, I find it interesting that Moretti gets so regularly credited with this idea. Yes, his book is interesting and useful, but it's not like he invented the idea of quantitative textual analysis. There is, for example, a book by Colin Martindale called The Clockwork Muse that makes a case for how genres evolve by using a quantitative approach that was published a full 15 years before Moretti's book. Of course, Martindale, a psychologist by training, takes numerous shots at our discipline's usual methods, so it's not surprising his work is not as popular as Moretti's more broadly theoretical view and positive tone.

There are also collation tools like Juxta for different editions. When we were talking about the different editions of Leaves of Grass this semester and even comparing some of the deathbed edition poetry with the 1855 version, I thought about how I could get students to engage more deeply with meaning and poetic effects change across editions.

Finally, there was this presentation about SEASR from the HASTAC 2010 virtual conference, which you might find interesting.


I've wondered about this, too. I don't tend to get engineering or sciences people in my courses (though the occasional bio or chem major shows up), but I've considered teaching quantitative analysis and text-mining to see what people come up with. Here's an example of what somebody did with Emily Dickinson. They used software from The Nora Project. Since that website appears to be down right now, here's a description on a different site about Nora. One thing they mention is the similarity between this sort of textual analysis and Moretti's idea of "distant reading".

As an aside, I find it interesting that Moretti gets so regularly credited with this idea. Yes, his book is interesting and useful, but it's not like he invented the idea of quantitative textual analysis. There is, for example, a book by Colin Martindale called The Clockwork Muse that makes a case for how genres evolve by using a quantitative approach that was published a full 15 years before Moretti's book. Of course, Martindale, a psychologist by training, takes numerous shots at our discipline's usual methods, so it's not surprising his work is not as popular as Moretti's more broadly theoretical view and positive tone.

There are also collation tools like Juxta for different editions. When we were talking about the different editions of Leaves of Grass this semester and even comparing some of the deathbed edition poetry with the 1855 version, I thought about how I could get students to engage more deeply with meaning and poetic effects change across editions.

Finally, there was this presentation about SEASR from the HASTAC 2010 virtual conference, which you might find interesting.


How many of you have incorporated music or video into your classrooms? I've played some YouTube clips from time to time, particularly in my rhetoric courses (analyzing Mr. Rogers's rhetoric is a favorite exercise) and have occasionally used music. When we read The Bluest Eye, for example, I'll often play the Black Star song "Thieves in the Night", the chorus of which is inspired by a beautiful passage near the end of the book. But I've also, at times, played music in the background either before class starts or as students are working. I haven't yet tried it during class discussion, for fear it might be too distracting, but there's something about well-chosen background music (I prefer hard bop and cool jazz) that creates an ambiance that seems to effect the entire class. What experiments have you tried with music or video?


Hi Michael - 

I use music all the time! It makes my world go round on a daily basis anyway, and I feel jazzed to start class when I have a good song on. I throw on Pandora (a fav) and let them choose which of my channels to pick; I alternate between hard rock, pop and house/trance but am open to suggestions. When I do use it in lessons, it's in relation to certain news stories or TV shows, or larger topics like gender or ethnicity; I mostly use it to question our unquestioning consumption of pop culture (of which I am as guilty as the next kid). 

As for video, I often ask them to send in a link or video clip of something relating to a particularly heated to popular discussion if they'd like. For their final project, many kids opt to use short videos to clarify their more complicated thoughts. I find that as long as I am clear about perameters (if there's language that is generally or ethnically or any other kind of offensive, they need to give a disclaimer) it's a good way to get them to conceptualize and think deeply about what they watch and listen to, as well as teach other students.

As my concentration is on visual rhetoric, I have a few classes dedicated to image analysis. They bring in a photo on one session and a video on the other and are expected to explain the addressed audience, the unintended audience, the cultural and ethnic cues, as well as stereotypes that may be present in the image. My students have asked to do it more than once and have commented that it was one of their more favorite lessons. (It's also my fav, too!)



Well, a bit late to the party, but I've been in the field. Indeed, I've not even had a chance to read all the EXCELLENT posts in this WONDERFUL forum. Many, many thanks to the organizers for opening a conversation on such an important and timely topic, as well as providing us a space to share and learn about how we are all applying these technologies and ideas to teaching.

I just wanted to quickly talk about my experience using a drupal installation for teaching [I have to give a big thank you to Ana for introducing me to drupal last fall]. I installed drupal as a learning resource for my recent class on Collective Violence in America. I taught this course through the honors program here at the University of Florida for the first time this past spring 2010 semester, and decided to experiment with digital tech and teaching in regards to my dissertation topic of racially charged collective violence.

For those of you who are not familiar with drupal, it is an open-source content management platform and is wonderful for setting up your own social networking site, web site, blog and so on.

Bascially, I installed drupal on my personal website, and then installed and configured the gmap module. The gmap module allows your drupal site to use a Google Maps API to add spatial tags to entries (called nodes in drupal). This isn't too hard, especially if you have experience with web design and basic coding - or just really good at following instructions! :-)

The class assignment involved each student adding 20 lynching instances to the drupal site, which was set up to serve as a spatial database for visually inteacting with historic data. Each instance was drawn from a larger database created in the early 1990s by Tolnay and Beck, authors of A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930. Stewart Tolnay shared this impressive resource with me freely when I asked for it last year, a great case of academics sharing information.

The database for the book by Tolnay and Beck listed over 3500 lynchings during this time period. However, the location of each event only includes state and county, so looking for patterns at finer scales is beyond the ability of this dataset. That said, the information as provided still allows for the quick creation of interactive data visualizations, an example is available here. After locating the towns for more than 200 lynchings during the years between 1890 and 1920, I provided each student with their list and we spent part of one class learning how to enter them into the drupal site.

A major goal for setting up drupal was to encourage students exploring and inteacting with this regrettable aspect of America's white supremacist society, something still all too real in the present unfortuantely. I came up with the idea of encouraging students to help me create a spatial database of lynchings. This way, each student had to concentrate on the events and not simply see them as numbers. As each student entered thier individual lists, a complete spatial picture took shape.

This was a great experience and the students really responded to it. Several commented on how the time involved in entering the information caused them to more deeply reflect on the fact that each statistic, each instance, each lynching represented a lost life (and in several cases more than one life). The assignment went beyond helping me spatially analyze racial violence in Florida's history, it made the 'data' come alive for the students involved. This was a test run, but in the future after finishing my PhD and (hopefully) getting a job, I hope to expand this methodology to create usable information (e.g., new spatial databases of past events) and generate increased interest in myself and others by making these kinds of contextual analyses come alive. Of course, the added bonus of spreading work between multiple hands is a nice benefit as well.

If you'd like to take a look at what we created, you can sign up for an account and have a look around here.

Cheers, -ed


Anonymous (not verified)

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Anonymous (not verified)

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I completely agree that students are taught to interpret themselves as left-brained or right-brained; but I think that this is a flaw of our educational system that encourages students to overdevelop certain apptitudes that were identified early, while giving them an excuse to let other areas atrophy. It's just about impossible to diffuse these self-identifications in one semester, but I am really dedicated to trying. Likewise, the engineering program I'm consulting for hopes to encourage students to value creativity and interdisciplinarity -- in short, to value humanism -- as essential to their education and growth. That said, I'm sure the students in the program would love Stephenson; but I also want to surprise them and occasionally confound them into new ways of seeing the world -- if only for a few fleeting moments.

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