Unconference updates

Session proposals are rolling in! Scroll down to read them, and check back here periodically for new ones. There’s still time for you to propose a session of your own.

As long as you’re here, why not register for the unconference? It’ll help us get a sense of how many people to expect. If you don’t get around to registering, though, you’re still welcome to join us!

Here are a couple of unconference updates. First, activities will begin at 9 a.m. on March 24 in Doty 302E. That’s when participants will decide which sessions will run, and when they’ll run. We may want to roll a couple of sessions together if there’s enough overlap.

Second, Matt Gold’s lunchtime keynote presentation (pizza will be provided) is titled “Open Teaching: The Promise and Perils of Networked Digital Pedagogy.”

See you on the 24th!

We’re holding an unconference!

The Metagogy Unconference for SUNY Geneseo faculty and staff will take place March 24-25, 2017, in Doty 302E and surrounding rooms. Register here.

Update: Activities begin at 9:00 a.m. on March 24.

What’s an unconference?

From THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp):

The shortest answer is this: an unconference is a highly informal conference. Two differences are particularly notable. First, at an unconference, the program isn’t set beforehand: it’s created on the first day with the help of all the participants rather than beforehand by a program committee. Second, at an unconference, there are no presentations — all participants in an unconference are expected to talk and work with fellow participants in every session. An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture; going to an unconference is like being a member of an improv troupe where going to a conference is (mostly) like being a member of an audience.

So this is going to be about technology?

Not necessarily. The Metagogy Unconference will provide an opportunity for SUNY Geneseo faculty and staff to share and discuss innovative pedagogical methods. These needn’t involve digital technology at all. What we’re borrowing from THATCamp is the unconference model, not the emphasis on technology.

How will it work?

Participants will convene in Doty 302E (the digital seminar room) on March 24 (time TBA — watch for details) to create the schedule based on sessions that have been proposed on this website. (See below to learn how to propose a session.) Sessions will run through the end of the day on Friday and, if desired, into Saturday. There will be a keynote presentation on Friday by Matthew K. Gold, Associate Professor of English and Digital Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center.

Update: Professor Gold’s presentation is titled, “Open Teaching: The Promise and Perils of Networked Digital Pedagogy”

So this is going to be about the humanities?

Not necessarily. All disciplines are welcome. The focus will be innovative pedagogy, not the humanities or technology.

How do I propose a session?

The easiest way is to use this simple form to propose your session. We’ll post it right here where participants and prospective participants can see it, and we’ll attribute the post to you.

That said, the best way is for you to post it here yourself. To do that, begin by creating an account on the English @ SUNY Geneseo network. Once you’ve created your account and logged in, join the group Metagogy. As a member of the group, you’ll now be able to post here.

To post, click +New in the black ribbon at the top of your page. (You’ll only see it if you’ve created an account, joined the group Metagogy, and logged in.) Write a post proposing your session, clearly indicating, in the body of your post, which of the three session types below applies to your proposal:

  • Discuss a topic: Propose a topic for informal discussion, such as “The Place of Diversity in the Science Curriculum” or “The Challenge of Assessment in the Humanities.” By proposing a discussion session, you’re also signing up to be the discussion facilitator.
  • Share a skill: If you have expertise in, say, a particular pedagogical method or software application for teaching, propose a session in which you share your expertise. Remember, though, that the session should not be a presentation. No shiny powerpoint with screengrabs and bulleted lists! Your session should be hands-on and give participants an opportunity to try whatever methods or tools you’re sharing.
  • Build something together: Propose a session in which participants work together to create a tool for assessment, a certificate program, a general education curriculum, a platform for online discussion, or something else. The aim in this kind of session should be to move beyond ideas to some kind of concrete, if rough, deliverable.

What if I don’t want to propose a session but just want to attend?

No problem! Your active participation is the important thing. Come ready to discuss, learn, or build. That’s all we ask. Well, that and one more thing: please consider registering, just so we know that you plan to come. (If you don’t register, you’re still welcome at the unconference. Registration is purely for planning purposes.)

I need help!

Still unsure how this works? Having trouble posting to the site? Open a new discussion thread in the Metagogy discussion forum. Be sure you’ve joined the group and are logged in before you try to post. Or email contact-at-sunygeneseoenglish.org.

Logging blogging (and other things, too)

One of the challenges of asking students to do a lot of online work—this semester I’ve asked my ENGL 340 students to blog, tweet, post to online forums, and leave marginal comments on Walden—is keeping track of all that activity. I don’t use myCourses—all the work is on open platforms like Twitter and WordPress—so I don’t get automatic analytics about the activity. A solution I’ve devised that seems to be working pretty well is to ask them to log this activity themselves and share it with me in a Google spreadsheet.

This semester, I’ve asked each student to maintain an independent spreadsheet. For each activity, they log the date it was completed and the URL where I can find their work. That’s been a big help—but not as much of a help as it might have been. Next time around, I’ll create a Google form that they can all go to in order to log this activity. That way I’ll only have to visit a single spreadsheet to view their activity, and I’ll be able to sort by student, activity, date, or URL.

I also keep track of my students’ tweets using IFTTT—but that’s a story for another day.

One last thing I’ve recently been tracking in a spreadsheet is attendance. I’ve never taken attendance in my classes after the first few meetings. It uses valuable time, and it just feels too much like K-12. But I’ve always worried that not taking attendance sends my students the message that I don’t really care whether they show up. And although I can’t prove it (having intentionally denied myself the data), I’m pretty certain that my attendance has suffered as a result.

Last semester I hit on the idea of creating a spreadsheet at the beginning of the semester that’s shared with everyone in the class. I called it “Who’s here?” and put the students’ names in the leftmost column. In each successive column to the right goes the date of a class meeting. The first thing I do in every class meeting is open this file on my own computer, projecting it on the screen at the front of the room. I ask students to put an “X” in the box where their row meets that day’s date. The bottom row automatically sums the results. As the semester rolls along, the whole class can see the general pattern of attendance (which, by the way, seems to me much more consistent—and high—than in the past). Attendance doesn’t count as part of their grade, but the exercise simply focuses everyone, briefly, at the beginning of each class, on the question of presence. Who’s here? Who’s not? The pattern of X’s tells a quick and graphic story.

Though there’s no credit attached to this accounting, it seems to make students more accountable. I’m impressed by how consistent they are in “checking themselves in” at the start of each class. In fact, if I’m a few minutes late, I invariably find that a student has created the new column for that day, heading it up with the date, and that many students have already indicated their presence.

Using Google forms as rubrics

Although most people associate rubrics with assessment, they’re also a great tool, in my view, for setting clear expectations on assignments and helping students understand how well they’ve met those expectations.

Recently, I’ve moved from the familiar grid-based rubric to using Google forms. For a given assignment, I create a form like the one below, keep it open while grading students’ essays, and after reading each essay quickly complete the form. I set the form to collect my email address each time I submit it, then select the option to have Google email me a copy of my answers. When the email hits my inbox, I forward it to the student whose essay I just read.

When I’ve completed the whole set of essays, I have a snapshot of how well student’s met my expectations in the aggregate and can share the results with the class.

Flipping Dickens

I’ve been wondering for some time what the “flipped classroom” might look like in English. The discussion-driven English classroom is already flipped by comparison with the lecture model. Instead of using class time to deliver “content,” the artful discussion leader treats the literary text itself as content, assumes that students have examined it on their own, and uses class time to put students to work solving problems that arise from that content — problems of contextualization, interpretation, analysis, etc.

What’s left to flip?

Here’s what: the authority to decide what problems to discuss, what contexts to explore, what interpretive paths to follow, what analytical tools to make use of.

Also: the work of discovering, assembling, and sharing information about a text’s or author’s contexts — work that the discussion-driven classroom can’t do without, work that the artful discussion leader traditionally tries to make more or less invisible by threading background information in here and there, dropping the occasional carefully researched historical fact (sometimes carefully researched the night before) or critical perspective as though he’d been familiar with it his whole life long.

There’s a lot to be said for the model in which the professor sets the agenda and provides the context — after all, she’s the expert. I don’t know whether flipping that authority and that work would represent an improvement.

But this semester, I’ve decided to give it a try and see what happens. Not for a lark, but because I can glimpse the possibility, at least, of certain gains: increased student engagement resulting from an increased sense of ownership; the opportunity to make agenda-setting an occasion for struggling, as a class, with the problem of how to frame a good interpretive question or which analytical tools best suit a given question; the opportunity to make their efforts at contextualization an occasion for struggling, as a class, with the problem of finding and evaluating the credibility of sources.

The class I’ve “flipped” in this way is ENGL 458, Major Authors: Dickens. As I’ve told the students on the main course page,

In this course, you’ll decide, as a class, which of these questions to ask — or whether it would be better to ask other questions altogether. And you’ll decide how best to answer the questions that you do ask.

Because this is your course on Dickens.

To see how I’ve tried to put this promise into practice, have a look at the syllabus.

Already, I’ve faced some interesting challenges. Twice in the last week or so, I went rogue, abandoning the carefully planned rotation of student reports and group discussion in favor of traditional, full-class discussion of issues I just wasn’t prepared to see us ignore. And the students’ research, which gets posted to the Nineteenth-Century Studies at SUNY Geneseo blog each week, hasn’t always been as thorough as I would have liked, or drawn from the caliber of sources I’ve encouraged them to find.

But, as expected, the research issues have led to conversations in class about credibility, credentials, and peer review. And I hope that my occasional hijacking of the discussion agenda has the advantage of highlighting my own passion about the issues I refuse to let go unaddressed.

I’ll see how it goes. And I’ll report back at the end of the semester.