EDUC 373: Adolescent Literacy Wrapup

This week we had the final presentations for EDUC 373: Adolescent Literacy. In the class, area middle school students team up with Vassar students to develop digital storytelling projects. The students explore a number of multimedia formats, including but not limited to podcasts, PowerPoint, digital photography, digital stories and video. We had a really great sharing session as family members joined us to celebrate in their work.

You can view their projects here, thought it doesn’t really tell the full story. This was my fourth time helping Erin McCloskey with this class. This semester was a real high water mark for collaboration, attendance and productivity. The Vassar students spoke very articulately about how much they learned while working with their middle school partners. The students evinced great pride as they shared their blogs, videos, photography and stories. During the semester, I spend the workshop time helping different groups with one technical problem or another, so I don’t often get to know the students very well, but the relationships and personalities were on display yesterday afternoon as the students presented their various projects.

One of my favorites was the “Rainbow Food Review” where the participants tried eating unique food combinations simultaneously:

I was impressed with the variety and creativity of the media shared. Mya and Diamond discussed their fashion blogs along with their DIY makeup video. Tori and Simone created a short film based on the concept of an Alien Talk Show. Some students shared with writing, poetry and photography (sometimes all at once). Others presented slideshows summarizing their various projects.

Erin McCloskey discusses the class here, illustrating how the class benefits both the Vassar students and their literacy partners:

In my opinion, the underreported story here is how often Vassar students (Education students) are involved productively in partnerships with diverse community members. Many of the middle school students return year after year to participate in these digital storytelling workshops!

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GIS Tools for Teaching and Research

by Baynard Bailey

Anthropology Professor April Beisaw is a very active user of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and other technologies in her research and in her classroom. ACS recently produced a video featuring Professor Beisaw employing mobile mapping devices in the field (devices she was able to purchase via the Frances D. Fergusson Technology Exploration Fund). Using the GPS mobile mapping device makes it easy to collect data that can then be imported/loaded into GIS to make nice maps. The video features April Beisaw using mobile mapping devices for field research.

Professor Beisaw continues to be a dynamic user and an advocate for using various GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technologies in her classroom. Last year she asked that QGIS be added to the base image for public computers on campus. I didn’t know about QGIS until April pointed it out to me. QGIS is a free and open source tool that empowers users to “create, edit, visualize, analyze and publish geospatial information”. It is also cross-platform, so that means you can use it on your Mac, Windows or Linux machine. (As an educator, I really appreciate it when software is free and cross platform!) Not too long ago, April gave a little demo in her office showing me and a couple Economics professors how to import maps into QGIS and how to get started creating your own customized maps. It seemed like a great tool for teaching and research, although there is a bit of a learning curve.

All of these maps were made with free QGIS:



I should also mention that Vassar has a GIS lab (using ArcGIS) in Ely Hall 114 and that GIS is available on the SciVis Lab machines. Vassar GIS users can also arrange a consultation with Stephanie LaRose, who is a GIS specialist that comes to campus a couple days a week. If faculty or students are interested in pursuing any of these technologies or resources and would like help, please contact Academic Computing Services by emailing acs@vassar.edu.

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Don’t Assume Too Much: Teaching the ‘Digital Natives’

by Baynard Bailey

In Academic Computing Services, we supervise a number of students that are truly experts in multimedia production in a variety of forms. They continually wow us with their outstanding project work. The students create remarkable multimedia in a variety of forms (video, web sites, sound projects etc.). Based on these wonderful projects, it would be easy for us to believe that all college students possess this remarkable level of digital fluency. Faculty that have also been ‘wowed’ by student digital projects could be lured to into making this assumption as well.

According to the British Journal of Education Technology article, The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence, despite students’ nearly 100% fluency in email, word processing and web surfing, “only a minority of the (students 21%) were engaged in creating their own content and multimedia for the Web, and that a significant proportion of students had lower level skills than might be expected of digital natives.” My experience working with Vassar students confirms this conclusion. Despite being very facile with computers, most students need guidance and support when it gets to the nitty-gritty of multimedia production, whether it is video editing or posting to WordPress.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Alex Levy's ability to create beautiful video is the exception, not the norm.

If an assignment for class requires students to create some kind of media that isn’t a standard part of the course (like a podcast, movie, poster, website or digital story), arrange for mandatory skills training for the students. I’ve witnessed the best results when the workshops are scheduled as part of class time. In a pinch, arrangements can be made for something outside of class, though I’d encourage making it required. My experience is that if something is optional for students, they will opt not to come (and regret it later). In general, the students  have a tendency to overestimate their own digital production abilities, and then find themselves ‘stuck’ later on (e.g. two weeks after the workshop) when support is not available. At the very least, students should be put in contact with someone who can provide one-on-one help. Providing skill training as part of the curriculum will empower all students to have their best chances for success.

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The 2011 Teaching with Technology Forum

by Steve Taylor

On April 7, Academic Computing Services (ACS) hosted its 9th annual Teaching with Technology Forum. The forum features a keynote address, given this year by Prof. Lisa Paravisini, on the topic “Teaching with Blogs: Going from the Source to Cyberspace.”

Twelve faculty members and two Computing & Information Services members presented posters and made themselves available to explain technology projects that they had undertaken over the past year. Here’s an overview of those presentations:

“Native Narratives in Archaeology: a Tumblr Blog”
Students in Sara Gonzalez’ class created blogs and made archaeology-based postings about Native North American culture. Tumblr.com was used to collect the separate blogs into an organized whole.

“Blogging About Semiotics in WordPress”
Students in Saúl Mercado’s Semiotics course use a blog to apply theories to contemporary linguistic and multi-media objects. Their postings have explored intermedial art, fictional language, the evolution of language, the semiotics of gesture, the language of robots, as well as sports and advertising.

“Off the Wall: The Frances Lehman Loeb Center Blog”
Nicole Roylance, Coordinator of Public Education and Information at the Lehman Loeb Art Center, maintains a very active blog site about exhibits and events in the Center.

“Developing an Online Multimedia Database of the Vassar College Costume Collection”
Arden Kirkland has been developing online materials for exploring and learning about Vassar’s historic costume collection. She has begun using the new, web-based “Omeka” system to organize data, photos, 3D representations, etc. , as well as a blog in which student participants share their experiences with the collection.

“The Queer of Color Glossary Project”
Hiram Perez’ course “Queer of Color Critique,” explores issues of race and sexuality. He and Sean Wehle (2013) created the Queer of Color Glossary, a blog site intended “to house a growing discussion of queer of color terms, theories, practices, activism, and art.”

“High Performance Computing for the Sciences”
Marc Smith and Jodi Schwarz co-taught a bioinformatics course, which included both Computer Science and Biology majors. The two groups learned to work together to develop software for analyzing biological data.

“VAST Stories in WordPress”
Erin McCloskey’s students work with local middle school students via the Vassar After-School Program. She created a blog site, both to share the children’s work with friends and family and to develop the Vassar students’ ability to write for a broad audience.

“Viva and Bacteris: Blogging About the Small Stuff”
David Esteban maintains two blogs— one about viruses and one about bacteria— and he expects students in all of his classes to write entries as guest bloggers. They choose a recent study from the primary literature and write a brief description. The target audience is the general public, so the students— including freshmen— must describe the work in an accessible and interesting way.

“Memory Across Generations: an Oral History Project About Holocaust Memory”
Students in Silke von der Emde,’s course, “Memory Across Generations,” collected oral history materials concerning the Holocaust. They conducted face-to-face interviews with two Vassar alumni/ae in NYC using digital recording devices, Skype interviews with more remote alumnae/i, and one in-class videoconference with Marvin Chomsky in Austria. They used a blog to collect all of the information and results.

“Vassar Campus Sound Map”
Students in Tom Porcello’s Media Studies course on Sound explored the use of immersive audio representations of spaces, called soundscapes. Nick Inzucchi (2011) created a 3D, interactive, virtual environment, using 15 simultaneous sound recordings from a campus space.

“Learning in Lynda.com’s Online Training Library”
Chad Fust, of CIS, provided information about Lynda.com, the broad set of online training materials on technology subjects, now available to college constituents.

“Blogging the Chester Cycle”
Dorothy Kim and her students performed a play from the 16th-century Chester Cycle, in Toronto. They used a blog site to document their rehearsals and preparations and to provide related material to the community.

“The Faculty Lounge Network: Online Campus Tools for the Vassar Community”
Students in Tobias Armborst’s Architectural Design course were tasked with addressing the spatial aspect of the issue of encouraging a feeling of community among the faculty. John McCartin (2011) and William Mann (2012) responded by organizing a directory of available faculty lounge spaces on campus an facilitating a way for faculty members to reserve and cater those spaces. They created an attractive brochure and The Lounge Explorer, an interactive website with which faculty members could explore the available spaces.

“eBook readers: iPad 2 vs. Kindle”
John Collier, of CIS, demonstrated and compared the most recent models of iPad and Kindle, with particular regard to their use as e-readers.

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10 Tips to get the most out of your class blog

by Baynard Bailey

Last week was jam-packed as I provided workshops for seven different Vassar classes, introducing multimedia technologies for different projects. Five of those classes’ projects were using WordPress. It made me think— Some of these class blogs will flourish and some will wither and die. Why? What makes the difference? Here are some old-school tips to get the most out of your class’s WordPress site.

Faculty Investment:

1. Discuss expectations

When beginning to use WordPress, have a discussion with your students outlining your learning goals for the site. Provide clear guidelines and timelines for posting content. Discuss how you will grade their WordPress-published work. If the site is going to be public, have a talk about appropriate content and confidentiality. WordPress knowledge unfolds over time, so you may  want to let them know that it is a work in progress and that you look forward to their input on how to best incorporate the site into the work of the class.

2. Contribute content

Make your own contributions to the site in terms of page or post content. Modeling is an extremely influential teaching tool and I fear too often neglected, especially when it comes to technology.

3. Grade

It’s blunt, but effective. Assign an appropriate percentage of the class grade to reflect writing published on the WordPress site. Keep in mind that writing can be in the form of page content, posts and comments.

Promoting High-Quality Dynamic Online Discussion (AKA Scripting Spontaneity)

4. Vary “posting” with “commenting”

If every student is posting critical responses to the weekly reading assignments, who is left to read the blog? Mix it up a little bit. For larger classes, half can post one week, and then read and provide comments the next. You could try having one student being responsible for an excellent post, and then the entire class reads and responds.

5. Write your prompts carefully

A little extra time spent on crafting a great prompt can make for more meaningful responses, or varied responses. No one wants to read thirty responses all saying the same thing.

6. Participate

Project a presence into to your class’s blog by making comments to posts. Paraphrase and/or cite the best ideas in the classroom itself. Some faculty like to make printouts ahead of class and cite them during discussion. I think this is a fantastic technique. Students will get the message very quickly that their intellectual work published to WordPress is valuable.

7. Share with the world

Students will generally write better content when they are writing for a broader audience (campus, friends, family, the world etc.). Set your privacy settings to provide access to everyone and to be “Google-able”. (Hint: Be sure to discuss this with the students.) Invite participation from beyond the campus through guest posts or comments. (Turn commenting on). Recognize student efforts that result in community interaction.

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Site Design

8. Consult with your ACS liaison

WordPress is customizable and extensible. Make sure it is working the way you want it to by contacting your ACS liaison. We can help you make your instructional technology dreams come true.

9. Recruit a student to administer your site

Ask your class if there’s someone with experience running their own blog. Chances are, there is. If you have a good relationship with that student, recruit them to help you administer the site. ACS is happy to provide training for students and research assistants.

10. Make your site user-friendly

Can on- and off-campus users find the content that is being published to your site? Imagine you’ve never been to the site. Does it make sense? Be sure to include widgets that make your site easy to use. Add a button so users can follow your blog with email subscriptions or an RSS reader. Include a link to the dashboard so blog contributers can log in easily. Add the Search widget to make your site search-able. Spend some time working on menus and structure so your site is easy to navigate.

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Student Writing for a Global Audience

by Steve Taylor

It may be humbling for instructors to realize that they don’t necessarily inspire the highest quality of writing from their students. Of course, students are motivated by grades to submit good writing to their teachers, but many have found that the prospect of students having their papers read by their peers can be even more motivating. For years now, many instructors have had their students upload written assignments to a shared digital space and found that the expectation of that sharing significantly improved the quality of writing.

The ante is now raised, as some instructors require their classes to share their writing with the whole world, via a publicly accessible website, such as a blog. These students know that they not only have to assemble sentences well enough to avoid embarrassment among their classmates, but they have to get their information right or risk being called out by any number of experts in their topic.

Publishing to the world is more than just a challenge not to fail, though— it’s also an opportunity for students to put themselves out there as legitimate, albeit novice scholars. Instead of paying several years of dues in graduate school before daring to submit a bit of original work in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, they’re publishing now, and getting feedback as well.

At an ACS symposium this fall, Profs. Lisa Paravisini and Jenny Magnes spoke about these and other benefits of student blogging. “If you define your assignment topic well,” Lisa said, “having students publish their writings to a blog ups the ante, in terms of audience. The potential audience is the world.”

Lisa Paravisini-Gebert

One assignment she uses is to have students completely re-write a Wikipedia article. Their research must be thorough, accurate, ethical, and original. Sometimes earlier contributors to an article will immediately undo the submission; other times, it will remain and possibly generate some discussion among different contributors.

It’s even more interesting for a student to be able to publish original material, something that’s more feasible than most people realize. Students in Lisa’s environmental studies project photographed and interviewed people adjacent to the Casperkill Creek and blogged their work. What they shared was unique materials, of interest to a potentially wide audience.

Jenny Magnes

Jenny Magnes assigned her students to propose and execute a simulation project related to electricity or magnetics. They had to write a proposal, then a plan, create the simulation, and finally post their reports on the blog, along with their data files.

All of it was original work. Jenny browsed the web to make sure none of the proposed ideas were already posted somewhere. Each student had to make substantive, constructive comments on each others’ posts. But classmates weren’t the only ones responding.

One of her students did a project on induction (as in induction ovens), including one video that she made and one that she found on YouTube and several simulations, depicted with thoughtfully designed graphs.  One of the reader comments was from an upstate firm that does work similar to what she had simulated— the student was invited to visit the plant and speak with the engineers!

Lisa has also seen some surprising responses to blog posts. In her own blog about Caribbean Studies, she mentioned some of Sean Penn’s work and promptly received a comment from Mr. Penn’s assistant. One student posted a critical analysis of a book and heard back from the book’s author!

As Lisa says, online publishing brings a sense of responsibility to students’ research methods; they have to carefully consider issues of integrity, ethics of attribution, and originality. Because you never know who might be watching.

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