December 10, 2012

The Writer's Process: An Interview with Shanny Jean Maney

The PCCC Writing Center Blog welcomes guest blogger Sarah Dolan, the Assistant Director of Residential and Student Life at Lincoln College Normal. Sarah travels, writes, and creates various forms of art in her spare time.  The PCCC Blog, in addition to sharing writing best practices, is also a space for readers to learn more about writers and their process. This blog introduces an interview with poet Shanny Jean Maney.

Shanny Jean Maney, poet.
Shanny Jean Maney lives in a house that looks like it belongs to a poet, a composer, and two dogs named Cricket and Wembley.  Art adorns the walls, books fill the shelves, and a piano is nestled into an impossibly small room.  It is in this home that Shanny smiths words into images as real as our own memories.  Throughout her book, I Love Science, Shanny whisks the reader away in a chicken limo navigated by Jeff Goldblum, and her awkward 11 year old self recounting events of a childhood that seems distant but familiar.  It is in her home that Shanny, dogs in tow, answered questions about her writing.  When asked about her childhood, Shanny recounts that she read too much. “I would often hide in the closet to read.  My parents used reading as a reward.  I couldn’t read my book until I practiced my violin.” 

 Even though Shanny always had a love affair with books, she never thought that she would eventually write one.  “If you asked me 8, no 5, years ago, I would have never thought that I would ever make a living writing.”  Initially, Shanny’s creativity was expressed through performance.  She competed in speech tournaments and performed slam poetry.  According to Shanny, “Writing something that is going to be said is different than writing something that is meant to be read.” 
Because of this, the transition from spoken word to written word came with some challenges.  Shanny entered Write Bloody’s open book contest.  In the second round she had to submit 40 poems.  During that time, Shanny quit her job as a waitress and wrote constantly while coaching speech.  When asked about her initial writing, Shanny laughed, “It was not all good.  I had a few trusted friends who I would send my work to.  Often they thought it didn’t fit with my overall theme.  It’s hard to not take it personally, but it also gave me the opportunity to defend my work and see what was really important and how to express that idea.”
I Love Science by Shanny Jean Maney.
What happened next still seems impossible to Shanny.  She won and became published, but the hard work did not end there.  The next phase was promoting her book.  “People think that getting a book published means a lot of money and riding in limos.  What they don’t realize is that it means sleeping on friends’ couches and hoping that your last gig will pay for the gas money to get you to your next one.  You are extremely lucky if you make money let alone break even."
But being published has its perks.  Shanny has traveled the country reading her work.  Most recently she presented at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to a class that had read her book.  She expected them to hate it, proving that she is always her toughest critic, but was met with a group of students eager to hear her read.  It is no wonder.  Through her writing, the reader cannot help but feel that they have known Shanny her whole life.  For aspiring writers, Shanny has these words of wisdom, “My husband once told me that as an adult no one tells you what to do, in college somewhat, but after you need to do it.  No one is going to care if you don’t write or create art, so you have to care.”  I Love Science is meant to be read out loud amongst friends.  It can be bought at or on Amazon.

November 26, 2012

A New Way of Looking at Completing College

An article, New National Tally of College Completion Tries to Count All Students, by Katherine Mangan in The Chronicle gives many community colleges some hope that the statistics on college-completion rates may come closer to the realities of our many students who can only attend one or two classes per semester. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released a report that looks at the non-traditional path many of our students take toward a college degree.

The report, "Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates," concludes that when such nontraditional but increasingly common patterns of enrollment are considered, the national completion rate jumps to 54 percent, from 42 percent. Among full-time students, 75 percent earn a degree or certificate within six years.

While those numbers are lower than most educators would like, they aren't as alarming as the figures that state and federal policy makers have decried in calling for policies that tie budget allocations to colleges' graduation rates.

Many students who are balancing classes with family and work obligations attend more than one institution and take longer to earn a certificate or degree, the report points out. "Conventional measures of success, such as graduation rates for institution-based, first-time full-time degree-seeking cohorts, are insufficient for recognizing the distinctive pathways these students take, or for understanding the particular risks and supports that shape their academic careers," it says.


November 19, 2012

From Local Center to Global OWL: An Interview with Muriel Harris

The PCCC Writing Center Blog welcomes Muriel Harris, founder of the Purdue OWL. Muriel Harris is professor emerita of English, Writing Lab Founder and Director (retired), founder and current editor of the Writing Lab Newsletter and founder of Purdue's award-winning Online Writing Lab (OWL). She has published books, including The Prentice Hall Reference Guide and The Writer's FAQs through Pearson. In this interview, Harris talks about the Purdue OWL best practices, its humble beginnings, and what's next for the online lab.

PCCC Writing Center: The OWL at Purdue is known as the oldest online writing lab but also one of the most comprehensive. How did the OWL get its start? Can you talk about the process of establishing an OWL?

Muriel Harris: The Purdue OWL started as a small e-mail service and morphed into a huge website along with the technology that was available at each stage of its growth. Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and there was no Internet, most writing centers had cabinets filled with paper handouts to use in tutorials. When the earliest e-mail became available (before web browsers), I decided it would be helpful for students writing their papers at night (especially on Sundays) if we could make the handouts available online. Somehow, by securing small bits of funding, I managed to find students who could type those handouts in ASCII characters and upload them so that they’d be available 24/7 by e-mail request. The attempts at formatting were minimal in that limited online environment. But a student with programming skills was able to set up the service so that a user could send an e-mail requesting the index and get an instant response. Then, the student could browse through the index and request specific handouts listed there, send off the e-mail request for them, and again get an instant response.

Initially, Purdue students were infrequent users (many not yet computer users back then), but somehow people all over the world learned about this resource when it was written about in various computer magazines. Usage increased with startling speed. Since this was all happening via e-mail, people needed an e-mail address to send their requests to. We had considered something such as “Word,” but feared the wrath of Microsoft for infringing on the name of their word-processing program, Word. One student who was working on this project suggested that since our writing center is the Writing Lab, we could simply call it the Online Writing Lab or OWL, and that became the address.

Later, in one of those rare moments of serendipity, a grad student from another department who had previous extensive IT experience at a software company before starting grad school at Purdue heard about the project and came over to the Lab to see if he could work on our burgeoning OWL. He introduced us to the earliest web browser, Mosaic, which had become available, and designed the initial website, uploaded the documents, and launched our fledgling OWL on the web. Since then a number of graduate tutors in the Lab and I worked on updating the resources that were there, plus creating new handouts. As I was able to secure funds for grad students to serve as OWL Coordinators, they enhanced their own computer skills as they worked on improving the OWL’s appearance, ease of use, materials in different media, and ways to respond to questions sent in by users. Among other projects, we ventured into PowerPoints for teachers to use, and moved forward as technology advanced and added services. Because I’m now retired, I no longer have access to the OWL or to the Purdue students who are continuing to develop it.

PCCC Writing Center: Share an OWL best practice.

Muriel Harris: The best practice for any particular OWL depends greatly on the technology and resources available to that writing center and the needs of students and teachers at that institution. When I retired, there were no usable software programs that would allow some visual and verbal synchronous contact between tutor and student, a format I consider necessary for tutorial interaction. Because talk is the pedagogical format in one-to-one conferences in a writing center and because I value the generative and clarifying power that back-and-forth dialogue permits, I didn’t have any means to explore ways in which an OWL tutor could interact more effectively with student writers. Now, there are some highly sophisticated means for tutors and students to communicate online, and I assume some best practices are being defined. And, I hope, writing center specialists will continue to think about the theory and pedagogy of online interaction which, finally, is not the same as f2f interaction.

PCCC Writing Center: Did you ever envision the OWL becoming as popular as it has? What does the future look like for the OWL?

Muriel Harris: No, initially, I hadn’t envisioned the OWL being anything more than a local resource for students and teachers. Then, at a few conferences I suggested to audiences of other writing center people that they could develop their own OWLs. Then we could create a national database of writing resources by pooling and coordinating all the OWLs and their resources into some grand writing center mega-site. Some people who didn’t have their own resources to create an OWL linked instead to the Purdue OWL. Because of this and the continued growth of users around the globe, the Purdue OWL developed a life of its own and became both a national and international resource. When we read some of the marvelously appreciative messages sent by people who had found our site, we were delighted to be able to offer this free resource. Ironically, though, I’ve had complaints from textbook representatives. They tell me (and my unhappy editor) that they occasionally are unable to convince composition adoption committees to select either of my first-year composition textbooks because instructors prefer the free Purdue OWL. While I appreciate the sales of those texts, I too am an academic and, like all academics, want to share information freely. I appreciate hearing that the Purdue OWL continues to be so widely used.

So, no, I never envisioned what the OWL would become. Sometimes, when we recognize a need, we can step out into the void without knowing where we’ll land or what the goal is, especially if the goal keeps changing.

PCCC Writing Center: Did you ever consider adding a component to the OWL that address writing for the web as either an online student or a professional (e.g. discussion boards, blogs, social media)?

Muriel Harris: I have a number of ideas, but again, because I’m retired, I no longer have a venue for developing any of such tempting components. If I were still actively involved with OWL, I’d focus on more interactive means of working with writers and think more about visual presentation of information. Instead, because I continue to edit the Writing Lab Newsletter (a publication with articles by and for writing center specialists,, the Development Editor, Alan Benson, and I continue to expand the resources and forms of interaction on that website. But WLNis a journal, not a writing center, and so we’ve focused on creating spaces for people in writing center to interact and build collections of resources they find useful. And WLN has Twitter and Facebook sites where we post writing-related content and pass along notices of conferences and materials on the social media sites of writing centers.

But there are people in various writing centers who are currently developing their websites in interesting, new ways. For example, the website for the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, under the direction of Brad Hughes, continues to add a wealth of resources: They have incorporated a variety of new media, including a blog, podcasts, Twitter, and YouTube videos. Other writing center websites have training videos for tutors, YouTube videos that introduce and help publicize their writing center, online handouts, etc.

PCCC Writing Center: What advice can you give writing centers wishing to add an online component to their services?

Muriel Harris: I’d suggest they first define for themselves how they want to enact the theory and pedagogy of writing centers in an online environment. Then they can formulate how they want to interact with writers and teachers along with thinking about what they want to offer on the site. And they need to study both their student population and the instructors of writing to see what is appropriate for their context. Of course, it’s also necessary to secure funding sources to develop an online site and to recognize the amount of work this adds on, e.g., deciding on hardware and software and ongoing updating; training tutors for online tutoring; designing the website; publicizing it, developing it further as technology advances, etc. Writing center people generously and enthusiastically tend to take on more and more projects as their writing centers develop, but they also need to step back and assess the extent to which all this gets folded into their already overloaded list of responsibilities. However, developing online components can be inordinately enjoyable as tutors and directors work together to develop new, useful, creative ways to interact with students. I look forward to seeing where technological advances and the imaginative minds of writing center tutors and directors will take us next.

November 12, 2012

Social Development and the Need for a More-Knowledgeable Other

The PCCC Writing Center Blog would like to welcome guest blogger Shawn O’Neil. O'Neil is the Assistant Director for Academic Skills at the Learning Assistance Center—a learner-centered organization that provides tutoring and academic skills instruction for students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For more information about his program, click HERE.  

Lev Vygotsky: you might not know his name, but I’m pretty sure you’ve demonstrated his Social Development Theory at some point between Kindergarten and today. Vygotsky posited that social interaction is pivotal to learning and that consciousness and cognition (you know, things otherwise known as “thinking”) are the product of socialization and social interactions.

His work has three major themes. He believed that social interaction plays a fundamental role in learning, and that, everything you learn, you learn twice—once on a interpsychological level (between you and others), and once on an intrapsychological level (inside yourself) (Vygotsky, 1978). He also coined the phrase “More Knowledgeable Other”—someone who has a better understanding or higher ability level than the learner, who helps the learner learn.

The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) is what I’d like to focus on in this post. Basically, this person can be anyone—a coach, a teacher, another student (of any age), or even a computer. This is someone who guides you in how to grow and improve, and who does it by interacting with you. Vygotsky would say that the MKO is someone who helps you go from not being able to do something, to being able to do it with help, to being able to do it on your own.
[image: Zone of Proximal Development] 

This person is pivotal in your ability to learn, and is the reason why tutoring programs are important. Vygotsky believed that the reason why we learn at all is to serve a social function, such as to communicate our needs. By going to a tutor or writing assistant with homework questions, you can talk with someone who knows where you’re coming from and can guide you in a better way to look at the material.  Your job as the learner is to try to internalize the processes that you’re shown by your MKO—whether that’s a friend, a tutor, or your instructor. Their help is not supposed to be just to make sure you got the “right answer”—it’s a way to get you thinking about how you think, and to learn the tips and tricks you need to know to do the work yourself, later.

So when someone corrects an error or makes a suggestion on how you can improve, try to think of their help narrowly, in terms of just that one assignment or project, but as a way to improve yourself. What steps did that person take?  Try asking questions like, “how did you know to change that expression?” or “where could I look up this information, if I need it again?” You don’t have to do what they do how they do it, but by learning how they learned, you’ll be in better shape to internalize the processes and make them make sense to you.

This process is something you repeat over and over again. Each time you learn how to complete a task on your own; you’re ready to learn another. So let’s keep learning!
How do help guide students through the learning process in an academic support center? What are some strategies your center has incorporated during a tutoring session to help tutees better understand content?


Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

October 26, 2012

The Write Advice: Authors Talk

I am sure from time to time you have sought out advice on your writing. I do it all of the time (I mean all of the time). Though I can’t help but wonder, whose advice can you trust? How does someone else’s advice on your writing affect how you write?
What about successful writers? What advice can they provide to help us get from draft to draft? What can they tell us about writing despite all odds? Writer’s Digest recently published an article called the “Top 90 Secrets of Best Selling Authors,” sharing top writer’s secrets from 90 years of their magazines. The article discusses how they got their ideas, dealt with reader bias/judgment, writing habits, process, publishing (preparation), and downright odd rituals.
I have put together a few secrets from each area of the article in hopes that it will inspire you not only to write, but continue to write.
Check out the full article at Writer's Digest:

Thank you to Writer's Digest for allowing us to re-publish part of the article.


“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it. … This is our life and it’s not going to last forever. There isn’t time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write.”
—Natalie Goldberg

“I have a self-starter—published 20 million words—and have never received, needed or wanted a kick in the pants.”
—Isaac Asimov
“I do a great deal of research. I don’t want anyone to say, ‘That could not have happened.’ It may be fiction, but it has to be true.”
—Jacquelyn Mitchard
“You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.”
—David Morrell
“Oftentimes an originator of new language forms is called ‘pretentious’ by jealous talents. But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
—Jack Kerouac

“I write in a very confessional way, because to me it’s so exciting and fun. There’s nothing funnier on earth than our humanness and our monkeyness. There’s nothing more touching, and it’s what I love to come upon when I’m reading; someone who’s gotten really down and dirty, and they’re taking the dross of life and doing alchemy, turning it into magic, tenderness and compassion and hilarity. So I tell my students that if they really love something, pay attention to it. Try to write something that they would love to come upon.”
—Anne Lamott
“The real writer learns nothing from life. He is more like an oyster or a sponge.”
—Gore Vidal
“A genuine creation should have character as well as be one; should have central heating, so to say, as well as exterior lighting.”
—James Hilton
“When you are dealing with the blackest side of the human soul, you have to have someone who has performed heroically to balance that out. You have to have a hero.”
—Ann Rule

“For a book to really work, form and function must go hand in hand, just like with buildings, as any decent architect will tell you.”
—Tracy Chevalier
“Transitions are critically important. I want the reader to turn the page without thinking she’s turning the page. It must flow seamlessly.”
—Janet Evanovich
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King
“I try to write a certain amount each day, five days a week. A rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.”
—Herman Wouk
“… Falsely straining yourself to put something into a book where it doesn’t really belong, it’s not doing anybody any favors. And the reader can tell.”
—Margaret Atwood
“I’m a tremendous rewriter; I never think anything is good enough. I’m always rephrasing jokes, changing lines, and then I hate everything. The Girl Most Likely To was rewritten seven times, and the first time I saw it I literally went out and threw up! How’s that for liking yourself?”
—Joan Rivers
“If you have the story, editors will use it. I agree it’s hard. You’re battling a system. But it’s fun to do battle with systems.”
—Bob Woodward
“Publishers want to take chances on books that will draw a clamor and some legitimate publicity. They want to publish controversial books. That their reasons are mercenary and yours may be lofty should not deter you.”
—Harlan Ellison
“I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.”
—Roald Dahl
“In truth, I never consider the audience for whom I’m writing. I just write what I want to write.”
—J.K. Rowling

Have any advice for writers? Tell us about it.

October 16, 2012

Just Say 'NO' to Writer's Anxiety

In Susan Shaughnessy's book of writing meditations, Walking on Alligators, she motivates writers to write everyday. My favorite section is where she talks about writer's anxiety. She includes a quote from Erica Jong: “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place where it leads.”

As writers, are we always walking in the dark? Every day we step out into the middle of nowhere and hope to come back with something in the cradle of our hands. When we do bring something back we doubt its totality.

Why is it that when we search for something we end up back in the same place we started? We fade into the unknown and into the small spaces of our breath.

When you get to this intersection of uncertainty, stop and confront it. Ask yourself why you are stuck. Ask yourself why you are giving up. Do you want it?

Somewhere in the dark though is the light that it takes us to rebuild again. Even when you feel that your ideas have run out into a field far, far away, go after them.

Susan's advice: Go into the dark with courage and breath deeply through your lungs. You are ready to follow your talent. You are ready to go into the dark.

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September 28, 2012

PCCC's Newest Building

Passaic County Community College opened its newest academic building for this fall semester. The  $12 million building on Memorial Drive and Ellison Street will be shared with Passaic County. The first floor and part of the second floor will be leased by the state to house Passaic County’s One-Stop Career Center.

The other part of the second floor and the entire third floor of the three-story structure will be used for classrooms. With an enrollment of about 13,000, PCCC is among the fastest-growing community colleges in New Jersey.

In addition, the college also is planning to build a $1 million pedestrian bridge across Ellison Street in the next six month to connect the new building with its Academic Hall as was done to connect the parking deck to Academic Hall. and the pedestrian bridge that crosses College Boulevard.

September 27, 2012

The Effects of College Remediation

Of tremendous interest and scrutiny in the community college world the past few years has been the need for remediation and the research into its impact on student learning. Half of all college students take at least one remedial course as part of their postsecondary experience.

According to a study, "Development, Discouragement, or Diversion? New Evidence on the Effects of College Remediation" by Judith Scott-Clayton and Olga Rodriguez (August 2012. National Bureau of Economic Research), the primary effect of remediation appears to be diversionary. Students simply take remedial courses instead of college-level courses.

With data from a large urban community college system, this paper looks at  three alternative models of remediation. In addition to credits and degree completion, the researchers examined the initial decision to enroll, grades in subsequent college courses, and post-treatment proficiency test scores.

Sadly, the evidence from this study suggests that remediation does little to develop students’ skills. The diversionary effect of students taking remedial courses instead of college-level courses has the greatest effects for the lowest-risk students.

A PDF version of this paper is available for download at

September 26, 2012

Writing Intensive Courses For Fall 2012

During the Year 4 semesters (Fall 2010 – Fall 2011), 74 sections of WI courses were run. The sections increased from 18 in fall 2010, to 21 in spring 2011, 35 in fall 2011 and 33 in spring 2012. This fall, there are 41 WI sections across the three campuses and online.

Fall 2012 Writing Intensive Courses

1. AE-101-OL1 (0033149) APPRECIATION OF ART Thoubboron
2. AE-101-PE2 (0035437) APPRECIATION OF ART Moore
3. AE-101-W04 (0035439) APPRECIATION OF ART Wallace
4. BS-101-W01 (0033187) BIOLOGY I Sloan
5. BS-102-M01 (0033188) BIOLOGY II Smith
6. BS-203-ME1 (0033215) MICROBIOLOGY Areche
7. BU-203-M01 (0033245) MARKETING Cox
10. CT-101-ME1 (0033499) CRITICAL THINKING Della Fera
11. CT-101-WE1 (0033503) CRITICAL THINKING Hillringhouse
12. EC-101-M03 (0035411) ECONOMICS I Furrer
13. EN-205-M02 (0033758) INTRO LITERATURE Bender
14. EN-205-OL1 (0033762) INTRO LITERATURE Mitnick
15. EN-205-P01 (0033764) INTRO LITERATURE Marranca
16. EN-205-WE2 (0033768) INTRO LITERATURE Tilley
17. ENS-106-M01 (0033789) PUBLIC SPEAKING Tilley
18. ENS-106-MHY1 (0033801) PUBLIC SPEAKING Risher
19. HI-101-ME2 (0034257) WESTERN CIVIL I Kaempfen
20. HI-101-OL2 (0034259) WESTERN CIVIL I Jenkins
21. HI-101-OL3 (0034260) WESTERN CIVIL I Brozyna
22. HI-102-OL2 (0034270) WESTERN CIVIL II Brozyna
23. HI-102-W02 (0034274) WESTERN CIVIL II Drakulich
24. HI-201-OL1 (0034279) U.S. HISTORY I Perdew
25. HS-204 GROUP DYNAMICS Gasparino
26. MA-101-OL2 (0034678) COLLEGE MATH I Patel
27. MA-101-M03 COLLEGE MATH I Oriente
28. MA-101-WE1 COLLEGE MATH I Corpus
29. MA-103-M01 (0034687) BASIC STATISTICS Sankaran
30. MU-106-OL2 (0034742) APPRECIATION OF MUSIC Ayala
31. PH-101-M02 (0034780) INTRO TO PHILOSOPHY Fruncillo
32. PL-101-ME1 (0034791) INTRO POLITICAL SCIENCE Torres
33. PS-101-ME2 (0034813) INTRO PSYCHOLOGY Abdel Dary
34. PS-101-OL3 (0034818) INTRO PSYCHOLOGY Cianci
35. PS-101-P02 (0034820) INTRO PSYCHOLOGY Page
36. PS-101-W01 (0034823) INTRO PSYCHOLOGY Murphy
37. RL-101-OL2 (0034964) COMPARATIVE RELIGION Nesius
39. SO-101-M09 (0035423) INTRO SOCIOLOGY Brown
40. SO-102-OL2 (0035009) INSTITUTIONAL RACISM I White

September 25, 2012

How Big Is That Community College Pipeline?

Although it may not be their only mission, community colleges have always been an important way to start students on a path to a four-year degree. New data from the National Student Clearinghouse shows how big the two-year institutions are in starting towards a bachelor's degree.

With information from more than 3,000 colleges, the study finds that 45 percent of all students who finished a four-year degree in 2010-11 had previously enrolled at a two-year college. Of those students, 24 percent had been enrolled at the two-year institution for just one term, 16 percent for two terms, and 19 percent for three or four terms. But a full 12 percent were enrolled for at least 10 terms, suggesting that even students who spend a significant length of time at a community college might eventually go on to a four-year college.

 We hear a lot about completion rates being low and students being too slow in completing 2 or 4 year degrees. This study shows that more than half of the community college students earn their bachelor's degrees within three years. In that cohort that completed a four-year-degree but started at a community college, 16 percent earned their bachelor's degree within one year of enrolling at the four-year institution, and 36 percent had earned a degree within three years of enrolling.

Here in New Jersey, there were 52,003 students who in 2010-11 completed degrees at 4-Year Institutions, and 19,750 of them were previously enrolled at 2-Year institutions

September 24, 2012

PCCC Writing Center Opens With New Director

The PCCC Writing Center on the Paterson Campus opens for the fall semester today with a new Director.

Loren Kleinman comes to PCCC after serving as the Assistant Director of Academic Support Centers (2006-2011) at Berkeley College and as an Instructional Designer at Berkeley College Online (2011-2012).

She has a B.A. in English Literature from Drew University and an M.A. in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Sussex (UK). Her poetry has appeared in literary journals such as Nimrod, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Resurgence (UK), HerCircleEzine and Aesthetica Annual and she is the recipient of the Spire Press Poetry Prize and a 2000 and 2003 Pushcart Prize Nominee. She is currently working on her second collection of poetry, I Want No Paradise, which explores trauma narratives.

Loren also founded LK Editorial, a full-service editorial firm serving small businesses and authors in startup phases.

Loren will be managing the Writing Center Staff of consultants on the main campus and at the Wanaque and Passaic campuses. She will also be continuing the programs started during the Writing Initiative. That includes supporting the instructors and students in Writing Intensive courses, offering worksops for students and professional development for faculty.

Please come into the Writing Center, located within the library, and welcome Loren to the PCCC community!

September 21, 2012

Sharing Documents in the Cloud

There are several services online that allow students and teachers to collaborate and share files easily online. Using Google Apps for Education is growing in popularity. Here in NJ, Princeton is one of the latest colleges and universities this fall using Google Apps. Google says that seven of the eight Ivy League universities and 72 of this year’s top 100 U.S. Universities (as determined by 2013 U.S. News and World Report’s ranking) are using them.

Students and teachers can collaborate in and out of the classroom using files shared in the cloud. And anyone can take advantage of having files available from any location of device. No more moving files via flashdrives or by email and matching old and new copies.

Using Google Apps across campus involves getting your IT department involved and that may not be easy at your school. There are other services that you can set up on your own. For example, one easy and free service is You install a small program on any computers you use (home, work etc.) and you will have your files when you need it them and they will automatically sync so that the newest version is available to you on all the devices. You can also access the files on any device without installing the app at the Dropbox site.

This is a great way to collaborate on a document with others because you can share files with other dropbox users. It's also a service I recommend to friends because it is an easy way to have your files backed up with the cloud copy. If your laptop crashed, all the dropbox folders would still be safe on their servers. You can sign up for the service for free.

But Google Apps does offer more than just file storage in the cloud. Faculty can offer "office hours" and small group presentations using "Hangouts." Students can create e-portfolios in a Google Site; And with document sharing, you can give real-time feedback in a Google document and have students work on group projects virtually.

August 30, 2012

Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing - Even Online

Back in 2008, I was teaching a course that included collaborating on writing online. We played around with a number of services that were available. We tested out online collaboration tools like Writeboard, Google Documents, Zoho etc. that could be used for writing, either for yourself or with a group of students.

Writeboard (*see bottom of this post) allowed us to share a document without fear of losing or overwriting. It allowed me as the teacher to compare different versions of a document and see what each student had contributed. I could subscribe to documents via RSS and be notified of changes. The only real problem was that the interface was more wiki-like than Word-like (which is what all the students were used to using).

The following year Elizabeth Nesius and I teamed up with Ellen Spaldo and Janet Boyd from the Metro Writing Studio at Fairleigh Dickinson University. We did a full-day workshop called "Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing: Online Strategies to Support Writers in All Disciplines" sponsored by NJEDge.Net.

It was a hands-on workshop and sharing session as we worked our way through the process of planning, developing, designing, and delivering online writing resources to support students across the curricula.

We were interested in finding out how people at other writing centers were making decisions on policy, procedures, and even budget, particularly as it applied to supporting students online.

PCCC was already using online tutoring, and was embarking on an ePortfolio initiative as well as using LibGuides and media resources to support student writing.

We chose that title - "Better Writers, Not Just Better Writing" - because we were far more concerned with changing the students as writers than "fixing their papers." We borrowed the phrase from Stephen North's idea that the goal of a writing center tutor, is "to produce better writers, not better writing." (North, Stephen. "The Idea of a Writing Center." College English 46 (1984): 433-446.)

We see many similarities between what we do in meeting with student writers on the ground, and what we do with writers in the computing cloud.

For example, in a tutoring situation, what students need to do to get the most out of a submission to an online tutor, applies to live sessions too. Provide the tutor with as much information as possible about the assignment and you have a much better start to a session. Ideally, we want our tutors to have the teacher’s written instructions, requirements, textbook or readings. We are very lucky in that all of the writing-intensive course sections at PCCC (38 for this fall) provide the Writing Center with their textbook, syllabus and assignments.

We also encourage teachers to send students to the center before they begin an assignment for help in formulating topics, creating an approved thesis etc. If then session is a meeting about starting an assignment, we ask that the student bring a sample of their writing that is in a similar mode.

We have collaboratively created many LibGuides (websites) for courses and services to support these efforts. (Almost all of them are indexed at

* If you would like to try out Writeboard, you can log in without registering to our original 2009 post for the workshop at using the password: collabwrite   Feel free to experiment and add/change content and leave a comment on your edits.

August 20, 2012

Would You Plagiarize Even If It Didn't Count for a Grade or Credit?

PCCC will be introducing this academic year as a way to help student learn about proper citation of sources, and as a way for faculty to more easily and accurately detect plagiarism in student work. So, I found it interesting that an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education says that there have been "Dozens of Plagiarism Incidents Reported in Coursera's Free Online Courses by students even though the courses carry no credit.

Students cheating even when the stakes are low? What are we to conclude?

Eric S. Rabkin, a U. of Michigan professor who teaches a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), posted to his 39,000 students that he wanted them to stop plagiarizing. The people at Coursera (who offer the course) are reviewing the issue and will consider adding plagiarism-detection software in the future.

What is interesting is that in the Coursera humanities courses that have complaints, the complaining has come from other students. The courses use peer grading and each student is asked to grade and offer comments on fellow students.

I am happy that a student says "I just graded my second batch of peer essays and was saddened to find one of them was lifted from Wikipedia" because it means that he is being educated about plagiarism from the other side of the desk, and that he does not approve of it. But I am also surprised that he is surprised that it occurs. The article goes on to say that many students (in the online discussion) "expressed surprise that their peers would resort to fraudulent behavior in a noncredit course."

Is that what they find surprising - not the plagiarism but it occurring in a non-credit course? (Students who complete a course can get a certificate showing that but the courses do not count for credit at any university.)

Coursera is a company that partners with some top universities to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free but without credit. Learning for the sake of learning.

Of course, as soon as MOOCs came into being, faculty were immediately skeptical (most still are) and one question asked was "Who will monitor and grade the work of thousands of students?"  Quality control is certainly an issue, as it has been for decades in online courses of any size.

We will see what changes occur. Perhaps, students will be able to take MOOCs from a source outside their college, but will be tested and evaluated on what they have learned by their own college and awarded credit based on that evaluation.

Plagiarism is a very old academic issue. Academic integrity in online courses has been an issue for about 40 years. MOOCs have inherited those issues, but are so new that they have not had to really address them as of yet.

August 15, 2012

Google Offers An Online Digital Citizen Curriculum via YouTube

I recently discovered a Google/YouTube collaboration for teaching digital citizenship practices. The curriculum is for teachers to use to teach students what digital citizenship means and how it impacts their online and offline lives.

The interactive curriculum is on YouTube. There was a time in the early days of the Internet when I would hear that teachers felt an obligation to educate students on how to be safe, engaged and confident model "Netizens." It has been awhile since I heard that term used, and I'm not sure if this is still a topic that is taught. Perhaps, we are assuming that students are born into Net citizenship.

This initiative is aimed at students aged 13 to 17, but elements could certainly be used with older and younger students with some adaptations. For example, the lesson on Copyright, which includes a Teacher's Guide and Slides, could be used with an introductory college group.

Google is using their own YouTube community as the content for the lessons provided. They cover YouTube’s policies, how to report content, how to protect their own privacy, and how to be responsible YouTube community members. Teachers would hopefully lead students to see the wider implications of being part of an online community and how this applies to places like Facebook.

Each lesson comes with guidelines for teachers and ready-made slides for presentation. There’s also a YouTube Curriculum channel where videos related to the project will be posted.

August 7, 2012

Trickle-down and Bubble-up Pedagogy

"Trickle-down economics" and "the trickle-down theory" are terms in United States politics to refer to the idea that tax breaks or other economic benefits provided by government to businesses and the wealthy will benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole.

Though many people today associate it with Reaganomics or supply-side economics, the term has been attributed to humorist Will Rogers, who said during the Great Depression that "money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy."

In some ways, there is a “trickle-down pedagogy" theory around in education - especially in the use of technology. The theory is that innovation starts in higher ed and then works its way down into K-12.

Examples might be the use of learning management systems, or 1:1 computing, or giving students iPods, tablets and phones. A lot of this innovation is economically motivated. Colleges have more to spend and can require students to spend. They also have fewer restrictions on what they can do with adult students.

Right now, MOOCs (massive open online courses) are a hot topic in higher ed. Though I can't imagine a K-12 school or system being able to offer a MOOC, I can see high school students and teachers participating in them, In fact, I can imagine more of the secondary school people participating than in higher ed.

More and more vendors of educational software are looking to K-12 as an untapped market for products and services that were seen as more suited to colleges. Learning management systems is a good example.

I feel pretty safe saying that the innovation in pure pedagogy - how we teach - comes from the lower grades and sometimes bubbles up to higher ed.

Is there any trickle-down pedagogy?

When I moved from secondary education to higher ed in 2000, I was amazed at what pofessor had not heard of in education. Topics and movements that I had been exposed to ten or even twenty years earlier were unheard of on campus. I blew the dust off materials I had about Bloom's taxonomy, learning styles, backwards design, rubrics, problem-based learning etc. and presented them to educational theory virgins who were surprisingly interested. More than a few faculty confessed to me that they knew almost nothing about educational theory and research. Some said, "I try to be like the good teachers I had and not like the poor ones."

I guess that would be a form of bubble-up pedagogy.

When the college I was working at back then offered some days of professional development for high school teachers, we had a hard time finding professors and topics that would be new to the teachers that they could actually do in their classrooms. They loved seeing our labs and toys, but they knew they had no chance of using what they saw in their classes. In teaching those workshops and sitting in other professors sessions, I often heard the high school teachers suggest to the presenters ways that they taught the content that seemed more innovative than our pedagogy.

And I don't want to get started on the blame game that trickles down from every higher level about how the students are unprepared by the earlier levels. That game extends even beyond schools. Primary teachers can blame pre-schools who can blame parents. Employers can blame the universities.

Of course, the best pedagogy sharing would be bidirectional and we would each learn from the other levels. It's unfortunate that upper level teachers (high school and college) often look down on teachers in K-8 because the content is so "simple" and ignore the innovative ways it is being presented and assessed. College professors are often seen as working in ivory towers of rarefied academic air that has little application to the teaching of "children."

Trickle-down or bubble up. We need good pedagogy to move across all levels of education.

Cross-posted from Serendipity35

July 31, 2012

PCCC Awarded New Title V Grant

Representative Bill Pascrell and Dr. Rose at Passaic County Community College
Representative Bill Pascrell (left) and Dr. Rose at Passaic County Community College

Last month, U.S. Represetative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-08) announced that Passaic County Community College (PCCC) has been awarded a new grant through the Department of Education’s Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Program.

The first year of the grant awards $541,813 to the College and the department anticipates a similar grant being given to the college annually for the next five years.

The Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program provides grants to assist HSIs to expand educational opportunities for, and improve the attainment of, Hispanic students. The HSI Program grants also enable HSIs to expand and enhance their academic offerings, program quality, and institutional stability.

The current Writing Initiative that began in 2007 and ends September 30, 2012 is part of the same DOE Title V program.

“PCCC put together a fantastic proposal and I am pleased that the federal government is seeing fit to support our community college here in Paterson ,” stated Pascrell, a former educator who led a grassroots movement to make sure the college was founded in Paterson . “Building strong skills in math, reading and writing are central to our students’ pursuit of educational excellence and advancement. I applaud PCCC for its focus on our student’s classroom performance, and working to secure resources that will improve academic achievement right here in Passaic County.” Pascrell served on the Board of Trustees at PCCC and gave the commencement address at the college this Spring.

PCCC will invest the grant into a comprehensive five year reform effort that seeks to increase achievement of Hispanic and other low-income students by improving course pass rates and persistence rates of college-level students enrolled in several barrier or “gatekeeper” courses.

“Our highest priority at Passaic County Community College is to ensure that our students meet their goals,” said Dr. Steven Rose, the President of Passaic County Community College. “These resources will allow us to implement innovative programs and services to better support our students. Again, we thank Congressman Pascrell for his ongoing four-decade commitment to the College.”

July 30, 2012

Formal and Informal and Lifelong Learning

We always include in our workshops for faculty on writing a discussion on informal and formal writing assignments. Reading a post by Jared Stein recently, I started thinking about adding the element of lifelong learning.

I agree with Stein that lifelong and continual learning is critical to success. He also feels that we are "moving from an era of 'universal schooling' to an era of 'lifelong learning.'"

That means that learning not only happens continually, but it occurs anywhere, not just in classrooms or in online spaces controlled by schools.

It is also important to lifelong learning that the learning is self-selected for the learner's needs, not because of the needs or limitations of the school's offerings.

That's why the Internet -without any help or interference from schools and educators - became such an important learning resource.

Classrooms are chock full of formal writing, and informal writing often doesn't carry much "weight" with teachers - and therefore not much weight with students. So, not surprisingly, formal educational  experiences like the typical course taken for credit and paid for by tax dollars or tuition are valued over informal learning experiences. That has always been true, still is true, but may not be true in the next decade or two.

When we discuss in/formal writing, we start with the easy modes. Everyone in the group agrees that the research paper is formal. Most teachers agree that student notes are informal. Someone always brings up text messages, twitter, Facebook and social media as informal. They probably also blame all that informality for the poor quality of the formal writing (and possibly for the decline of civilization).

But it's not a black and white topic.  That email to a friend asking if we are still on for a Friday movie seems clearly informal. But the cover email that has your reume attached for the job you really want at the company that only accepts electronic applications is definitely formal.

Perhaps, my students' lecture notes are informal in structure, not required and ungraded, but the lab notes for anatomy lab are very structured, required and a significant part of the course grade.

Our discussions always lead us to a series of similar conclusions, including observations like:
  • formal isn't formal just because of a grade or weight (though formal tends to be graded)
  • informal writing is often the best way to move towards formal writing
  • informal writing is often more "real world" and is more often done outside the classroom for personal reasons
  • informal writing often has a structure
  • the higher stakes nature of formal assignments allows less room for experimentation and risk-taking by students
  • teacher comments and intervention is important in the writing process and far less important (to students) when a formal graded paper is returned
How many of those conclusions are also true of lifelong learning experiences?

How might we compare the research a student does before buying a big-screen TV to the research they do on an author? Do they even consider the TV consumer research to be"research" in the same sense as the author assignment?  That's one reason why we prefer the term information literacy for assignments rather than research, which still makes students think about something that leads to a "research paper" rather than a well reasoned conclusion.

Are lifelong learners more likely to take risks with informal learning - such as when taking a free online course from a university or any provider? I would say that is an absolute "Yes."

Since I see the future of learning as being less formalized and less likely to be provided by traditional educational institutions, thinking about these distinctions is increasingly important. That may be especially true for formal institutions of learning who have the most to lose in this paradigm shift.

July 18, 2012

Assessing Critical Thinking in Writing

Our Writing Initiative rubric for evaluating critical thinking in student writing is very simple. It has three competencies that we feel should be made evident in the assignment, and that should be evidenced in the resulting papers. There are many aspects of critical thinking that might have been used as measures, but we chose three that we felt were common to almost all good writing assignments.

The three competencies are:
1) Find appropriate evidence and accurately interpret it
2) Identify pertinent arguments pro and con and rebut those arguments that counter to your thesis
3) Draw a thoroughly justified conclusion(s)

We ask instructors to have students indicate when they submit assignments to their portfolios which assignments best address critical thinking competencies. Part of that request is because we want students (and faculty!) to be very conscious of critical thinking elements in the assignment.

At the start of the Initiative in 2008, we realized early on that instructors too quickly said that "all my assignments use critical thinking" but were then unable to actually point out where that critical thinking occurred.

The assessment of this area in writing samples has shown improvement the past five years. Students are most capable in achieving competency in evidence gathering and interpretation and in drawing conclusions. This can partially be explained because these skills are addressed through research in not only WI classes but in other courses as well. The competencies we stress in our information literacy component also reinforce these two areas. The development of argument and drawing conclusions are a focus in Composition I & II essays, and are stressed in the College Writing Exam essays.

The weakness that is evident in our analysis is one that keeps many papers in the “competent” part of our rubric rather than receiving a rating of “accomplished.” We observed in earlier years and have addressed in subsequent Faculty Institutes, that many instructors create assignments that require a single argument rather than the more “accomplished” criteria of addressing multiple and counter arguments.

That also affects the third competency, since a writer addressing only one point of view will most naturally arrive at only one conclusion.

In some writing situations, such as in the sciences and on the College Writing Exam, multiple arguments are actually seen as “going off topic.” We have made very conscious efforts this past year in our training and when working with faculty on assignment creation to have them create assignments which allow and encourage multiple perspectives on an argument.

In our analysis of portfolio samples from the fifth year, we again found improvement in all three competencies but competency 2 (argument) both showed the greatest improvement and still remains the weakest area. 

Our conclusion is that this is an area that needs to be addressed by more courses using writing across the curriculum. The problem may be more in the assignments that are given, than in students' ability to accomplish the task.

All of our rubrics, including the critical thining rubric, are available online.

July 16, 2012

Non-Traditional Students

Nontraditional students - adults who attend college part-time - are a large and growing segment of American higher education. They figure into the “completion agenda” (or lack of completion) that has gotten more national attention the past year.

According to some news reports, it seems that many colleges do not really track the graduation or retention rates of these adult students. Why? Currently no one requires it.

According to a survey conducted jointly by InsideTrack, a student coaching service, and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association Center for Research and Consulting.
77 percent of institutions do not know the graduation rate for their adult students.

But that may change. Why? Because someone may require it. It might end up being the federal government that wants that information. But, for now, it might start with accreditors.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is in the process of requiring institutions to report detailed information about those two key measures of student success, for all student populations, including the nontraditional ones.

Another finding from the survey looks pretty bad for the colleges. Adult students “tend to be viewed as cash cows” by colleges and 43 percent of colleges said their central administration values the money that adult programs bring in, but that the administration provides little support to those programs. So, colleges keep enrolling adult students, even if those adult students aren’t earning degrees.

This group is also rather difficult to track. They often “stop out” multiple times, and move from community college to 4-year institutions several times. It may take this adult student eight years or more to earn a bachelor’s degree, and that's a number the degree-presenting institution doesn't really want to tout.

cross-posted from Serendipity35 

July 11, 2012

Redefining Community Colleges (Whether They Want It Or Not)

I'm seeing a lot of articles this summer about the changing mission of the community college or redefining that mission. Some articles portray this as a natural process that is occurring. Others see it as something the colleges need to do deliberately.

On, Richard Kahlenberg titled a post "Defining Community Colleges Down." He notes that even the media that rarely gives attention to two-year colleges seems to be picking up on these stories.

For example, the Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews wrote a post telling why he avoids community college pieces: "page view totals and e-mail traffic indicate readers move on quickly … whenever they see the words ‘community college.’”

The New York Times column, “Filling the Skills Gap,” is on the side of community colleges being places to prepare students for “middle-skill jobs.” The author associates the earlier mission to prepare students for a university degree as what they did in the days when they were known as “junior colleges.”

What is the community college mission? Skills, certificates, AA degrees that improve employment prospects, or preparation for the 4-year college...

Federal education data shows 81.4% of students entering community college for the first time say they eventually want to transfer and earn at least a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, only 11.6% community-college students get that baccalaureate degree within six years.

On the other end are colleges like Miami Dade College and some other community colleges "upgrading" by promoting “high skills” as well as “middle skills and offering baccalaureate degrees.

The Century Foundation Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal is one group that rejects "downgrading" two-year institutions - although that downgrade might just be a return to its original mission.

July 10, 2012

Writing Across Disciplines Workshops

This past year, The Writing Initiative team has been presenting full day events for faculty in all academic disciplines who are not teaching writing-intensive courses.

Our next WAD Day is this Friday and another event will be held on August 10. These sessions have filled very quickly (a generous stipend of $250 for the day provided by our grant certainly helps).

The objective of this full day Writing Across Disciplines workshop is to have more instructors, particularly adjuncts, incorporate writing into their courses. Preference is given to instructors teaching courses that already encourage writing in formal and informal ways.

Based on the best practices that have emerged during the four years of the PCCC Writing Initiative, we discuss how to use, assign and evaluate writing that occurs in different disciplines.

The workshop includes an overview of the goals of the Initiative and our writing intensive courses. In a roundtable, seminar-style, we address:
  • What do you do with writing in your classes now?
  • Using formal and informal writing
  • Creating effective writing assignments
  • Incorporating information literacy and critical thinking
  • Responding to and grading student writing - for content and for writing
  • Writing Resources available to you and your students at PCCC

July 5, 2012

Is Wikipedia Too Complex for You (or your students)?

I was doing a Web search on some science terms this week for a post on another blog. I happened to be using Bing and was surprised that the top result was not Wikipedia (as I expected), but it was the Simple English Wikipedia at I didn't even know that another Wikipedia existed.

Even though people often bad mouth Wikipedia as a poor place to do research (I disagree), apparently the information there is too complex for some users.

I was searching the term aphelion, but the standard Wikipedia link  redirects for "Aphelion" and "Perihelion" to "Apsis" which has a much more complicated article. Yes, a definition of aphelion is in there, but it was simpler to read the Simple Wikipedia entry on the term.

So why is there a simpler Wikipedia?

Before you start hearing arguments about the erosion of education and the world of knowledge in general, take a look at what Wikipedia has to say about this alternate version.
The Simple English Wikipedia is a Wikipedia encyclopedia, written in basic English.

Articles in the Simple English Wikipedia use fewer words and easier grammar than the English Wikipedia.

The Simple English Wikipedia is also for people with different needs. Some examples of people who use Simple English Wikipedia: Students, children, adults who might find it hard to learn or read and people who are learning English.

Other people use the Simple English Wikipedia because the simple language helps them understand difficult ideas or topics they do not know about.

When the Simple English Wikipedia began in 2003, the ordinary English Wikipedia already had 150,000 articles, and seven other Wikipedias in other languages had over 15,000 articles. Since the other Wikipedias already have so many articles, most Simple English articles take articles from other Wikipedias and make them simple; they are usually not new articles. Right now, the Simple English Wikipedia has 84,531 articles.

This makes Simple English articles a good way to understand difficult articles from the ordinary English Wikipedia. If someone cannot understand an idea in complex English, they can read the Simple English article.

Many articles are shorter than the same articles in the English Wikipedia. Technical subjects use some terms which are not simple. Every effort is made to explain these terms in simple language.
It makes good sense to me, especially the idea that it is for "for people with different needs" such as adults who might find it hard to learn or read and people who are learning English.

I am always amused and bemused when I hear teachers at all levels say that "I don't allow my students to use Wikipedia," as if they follow their students home and to the library when they are doing research. Your students use it. They just don't cite it.

Yes, Wikipedia is one of the top sources for plagiarism. All the more reason to teach how to use it better and how to cite it. In most cases the Wikipedia article has better documentation for sources than the papers you get from students - and better than citations than in articles you read online in most major publications.

When I was a young student in the last century, we used encyclopedias and World Book was the one my teachers didn't want us to use. It was the Wikipedia of its day - too simple; too easy. That was wrong to do then. It's wrong to make believe that Wikipedia is not useful. Even with the flaws inherent in its use by students, it is here to stay. Use it. Teach how to use it.

And start giving your students who have different needs the link to Simple Wikipedia.

cross-posted from Serendipity35

July 3, 2012

Is Technology Changing Teaching Models?

We often hear that technology is changing the way we teach and the way students learn, but that doesn't always seem evident. In an article titled "Technology Driving Widespread Shift in Teaching Models" the indicators are that change is occurring. The article was in THE Journal (which is focused on K-12 education) but certainly much of this applies to us in higher ed too.

Their main point is that, according to the report referenced, "over the last two years, nearly half of faculty have moved away from a traditional lecture model and adopted a range of technology-driven teaching practices."  That report, "Learn Now, Lecture Later," was done for the tech vendor CDW-G.

They found an increase in the adoption of classroom-based technology use which resulted in a variety of changes to teaching and learning.

The vast majority of faculty and students, for example, now use notebooks and netbooks as classroom learning tools (75 percent of students and 72 percent of faculty overall), as well as digital content (69 percent of students and 73 percent of faculty).

Learning management systems were in use by a smaller majority, with 56 percent of students and 58 percent of faculty members reporting they use an LMS in the classroom.

What changed in the pedagogy? The increase of tech led to an increase in the use of non-lecture-based instructional delivery methods during class time. Those were identified as s hands-on learning, group projects, guided independent study, distance learning, and one-on-one instruction.

The majority of students participating in the study indicated they'd prefer a mix of delivery models, including:

    Distance learning (the choice of 11 percent of students);
    One-on-one tutoring (8 percent);
    Independent study (14 percent);
    Group projects (12 percent); and
    Hands-on projects (17 percent).

Additional findings included:

    69 percent of students reported they want to see more technology used in the classroom;
    26 percent of students reported they have used tablets in the classroom;
    34 percent of faculty have used tablets in the classroom;
    33 percent of students have used telepresence in their classrooms; and
    31 percent of faculty reported used telepresence.

No surprise that 76% of campus IT pros reported that teacher requests for classroom technologies have increased over the last two years.

June 27, 2012

Moving Assessments Online

As with so many other aspects of education, assessment is moving more and more online.

Assessment movements usually start in K-12 by mandates and sometimes trickle up to higher education later. In the 2014-15 academic year, more than forty states will implement their online testing programs. Thirty states already do their summative assessments online, but the new assessments will require more of the schools including changes in instruction, and possibly different tech devices and high-speed bandwidth.

These new assessments are being created by two major consortia of states, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). They are based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and will try to assess address higher-order thinking skills and problem solving.

As online assessments they will include the traditional multiple-choice questions but also simulations, computer-based items, short answers, and a lot of writing.

The objective is to cover all the standards, some of which are harder to measure, especially online. Part of the appeal of online testing is being able to obtain results quickly with the hope that teachers can use the results to affect instruction for classes and even specific students.

June 25, 2012

A University Open Textbook Project

I have been an advocate for open textbooks. I think they are a good way to cut costs and put more textbooks in the hands of our students. But I'll admit that they are not widely used.

There are a number of possible reasons for that. They aren't easy to find, even though there are a number of sites that collect open and free titles. Instructors don't always trust that titles are "as good" as commercial textbooks. It also takes time to review titles for adoption.

The University of Minnesota has started its own online catalog of open books. In an effort to reduce costs for students, the College of Education and Human Development created the catalog to be reviewed by faculty members. The books are all released under a Creative Commons, or similar, license, and instructors can customize the books to fit their course needs.

Students can access free digital versions or purchase low-cost print copies of open textbooks. The university will pay its professors $500 each time they post an evaluation of one of those books, and professors who have already adopted open-source texts will also receive $500. (The money comes from donor funds.)

They hope to address faculty concerns about locating texts and having quality control over titles that have been peer-reviewed. They have almost a hundred books in the catalog.

Although it is encouraging that UM is working to get open textbooks used on campus, I find it discouraging that they need to duplicate the efforts of other repositories that are collecting textbooks and reviews on a larger scale.

What do you consider the most important criteria in choosing an open textbook for use in your teaching? Check my list and vote here.

June 21, 2012

Video Lectures for the Flipped Classroom

As a follow up to yesterday's post about the flipped classroom, here are "Lessons Worth Sharing" - TED-Ed’s idea of sharing presentations (lectures? sort of) on great ideas. Probably some of you already use a TED talk with your students. The example mentioned in the video promo below is "Just How Small is an Atom?" By Jon Bergmann. More videos that were flipped by teachers are being posted all the time.

I have used videos online as short, flipped lectures. One I like to use is from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson about "Changing Education Paradigms." Though I had education majors in my class this semester, the class was on critical thinking. Students watched, enjoyed and remembered the video throughout the semester and the discussion was lively.

One thing I liked about this particular version of his talk is that the video portion of Robinson actually speaking is replaced by an animated version of someone drawing (very well) on a white board to illustrate Robinson's points.

I asked them to answer some questions based on their viewing at home the 12 minute video.
  1. Robinson assumes you know this - What is a paradigm?
  2. Why does he believe that we need to change public education today?
  3. What is his opinion about ADHD?
  4. How would he group students in classes?
  5. How would he compare divergent thinking versus creativity?
  6. Explain his example of geniuses in kindergarten.
  7. How would Robinson compare/contrast cheating versus collaboration?
  8. Summarize what you feel are his 3 main arguments.
  9. How does having the visualization of his talk change the way we hear/see his talk?  Is this visual thinking?