Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September 5, 2012: Fall Forward, Part Two

[I’m on my first sabbatical this fall, and will be working on a bunch of different projects. All of them could benefit from the input and ideas of my fellow American Studiers, and so this week I’ll be blogging about a handful of those projects and asking for your contributions (not financial, it’s a paid sabbatical). I’d love to hear your thoughts! And please feel free to share some of what you’re working on too, so I can return the favor.]
On my goals for, and questions about, bringing some of my favorite courses into the digital age.
When it comes to supplementing my in-class work with complementary uses of technology, I think I’m doing all right. Virtually every one of my courses uses either weekly email responses or weekly Blackboard posts, allowing me both to build discussions out of these existing student ideas shared (with me and/or with each other) between classes and to talk to students about papers and work in progress throughout the semester. I also use online versions of many shorter readings, keeping book prices down and giving my students’ access to far more content than would be the case in any one anthology or set of texts. Between those two most consistent uses of technology, I would say that students in most of my courses are reading, writing, and working online at least a couple of times a week, and are able to make decent use of their laptops in class (Fitchburg State has had a laptop initiative for many years now) as well.
But of course reading and writing online, while easy for my students and better than no use of technology, in many ways aren’t radically different from reading and writing offline, or at least don’t use many other aspects of what’s available and possible in the digital realm. In the past year or two I have thus begun to feel that I’m not making the best use of technology, particularly in my two most frequently taught courses: part I and II of the American Literature survey. I even wrote an article about ways to enhance my work with content in those courses, focusing heavily on the use of technology as much to goad myself into further thought as to speak to other teachers. I like my syllabi and the main readings for those courses quite a bit—part I uses the first two volumes of the Norton Anthology of American Literature; part II is grounded in six longer readings supplemented by short stories and poems available online—but I know that I’ve got to keep moving these courses forward, and am hoping this fall to do some significant work with those syllabi and to make technology and the digital key elements to those revisions.
I could write more about my ideas, of course (and am happy to share my thoughts further in comment-conversations); but that linked article highlights some, and as with this whole series I’m especially interested in hearing your takes. So what are some ways you’ve used technology, digital sources, the web, and any related materials and/or content in your classes? (This question goes to students just as much as teachers!) Are there particular sites, particular sources, particular kinds of content, particular exercises or student work, that you have found to work better or work less well? Ways in which the non-digital still seems preferable or more successful? Or, if you’re still thinking about all these things too (and who isn’t these days?), what are some of the questions or problems you’re dealing with? What can we figure out together, as a community here?
Thanks in advance for your thoughts, questions, and voices! Next fall project tomorrow,
PS. You know what to do! Answers to any and all those questions, now and at any moment down the road, will be greatly appreciated and very valuable.
9/5 Memory Day nominee: Amy Beach, the pianist and composer who is considered the first American woman to create large-scale artistic and symphonic music, and whose influence can still be felt in American music and culture.

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