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