All posts by Michael Evenden DFA

M7 (Michael-Come-Lately): OERs and student time

I fell out of step with my colleagues while traveling and missed posting on this module–now, in the race to the finish, I wanted to add only this: I suppose I’m already supposed to be a dab hand at this, since I was the editor of online resources for the old “Bible” of theater history in English, Brockett and Hildy’s History of the Theatre (I should remember which edition, but just now I don’t ). So I have some sense of what is or has been out there in my field, and have referred my students to some of these resources in the past.  But I’m not sure how much I want to rely on the OERs I’ve found for my particular course.

My problem is that none of the online resources I’ve found takes the particular point of view I’m pursuing in my survey course–neither in the historical-materialist method of integrating the historical context that I choose to focus on, nor in doing the comparative work between European and Asian theaters.  And there are always historical disagreements and contentious terms, like “feudalism” and “primitive,” to struggle with.

So for this particular course I’m stuck with a lot of resources that I could refer students to only provisionally or with caveats. And there are many, many resources out there, but–sigh–it feels like an entirely different pedagogical (heutagogical?) task to prep them with the critical skills they would need to question these sources and view or read them critically.  Useful skills? Sure! But this is a 200-level survey course where I feel I need to focus the inquiry. It’s not a research methods course. I would gladly offer them many of these resources as extra credit or as illustrations to pursue at their leisure–but it’s summer and I’m racing them through centuries of material: what leisure?

There are other courses where OERs might integrate more easily . . .

M8 Michael’s Curiosity About How “Online” Affects Accessibility

I think I was one of the first to ask about accessibility and online instruction this year, and it’s something I try to think about all the time in my teaching–perhaps because Theater Studies often seems to attract students with learning differences, perhaps also because I have a close relative who’s learning-disabled, and, thus, have had to think a good deal about alternative neurologies–and other relatives who are mobility-impaired, as well. I feel I’ve seen Emory grow up a bit on this subject (I have some unpleasant memories, back from my department chairing days, when I saw faculty department chairs laughing together at the very thought of testing accommodations). I found these readings this week familiarly disturbing of simple ableist complacencies, and appreciated a few best-practice ideas about inclusive media.

I choose at this moment to be hopeful about online instruction and accessibility;  I’m wondering if our online technologies might not actually be especially helpful to students with these particular considerations. Certainly we’re getting past some physical accessibility issues from the get-go, yes? (No wheelchair ramp issues here.)  There are obviously steps that can be taken–some of them cumbersome and expensive, but they exist–to augment recorded lecture or other audible media with captioning, and visual media with narrative description. (Is anybody else disturbed by the inherent bias of so many of these technological tools against language and toward narrowly visual culture?) Hearing-impaired students might be able to participate more easily, both listening and expressing, in text-based interactions.I might be drawn to take these additional steps with online courses that I wouldn’t take in normal F2F classrooms, where the ease of face to face interactions might seduce me into thinking we’re all seeing and hearing the same.  So I think we’re in a great place to address accessibility issues thoughtfully.

As for learning differences, such as processing issues, media that allow students, according to individual need, to engage asynchronously, to stop, review, take a break, start again, skim, focus on outline or pattern of the lecture or material, might be transformatively helpful to some (after all, isn’t notetaking in  an F2F lecture just a way of providing asynchronous materials that allow for review and recapture of that fleeting synchronous lecture? Take that, Aristotle! Now we can go further).

A conversation Emory is having only slowly and behindhand deals with the question of educating ESL students; here, too, I think the asynchronous elements of online instruction might be key to helping students work through language difficulties and simply hear more of what we’re all saying.  It’s not the complete answer, but it’s a step.

At the same time, I feel, as many have said, that this kind of media interaction will work better for some students than others, and that there is an executive function of managing your different needs, off-center strengths, or disabilities that inevitably places additional pressure on these students, and technologically-rich teaching environments might be especially challenging to some. I certainly have struggled with technological interfaces in our course, and strain to force ideas to cohere for me when I have to search for them across a variety of platforms. I could see an ADD student, for example, getting lost repeatedly in the mix. (Part of the reason I’m imagining a very consistent routine for my course, at the risk of engaging variety.) I have no idea how students with manual dexterity issues would manage keyboards and cursors.

I would love to find research on what online instruction itself makes easier and harder, just in terms of perception and cognition.

M4–FIrst Impressions (only) from Michael

(Baby steps, Michael–micro-movements! Calm down.)

I took approximately forever getting my syllabus draft posted, and am scrambling today to catch up with the M4 readings, so I have only initial impressions to share.

One issue I keep coming back to is that many of the ideas and tools (conceptual and technological) we are gaining here may be differently useful in different courses. I keep encountering ideas that I’d like to keep in mind for revising other courses. (Really hoping I can discipline myself not to lose these intuitions in the onrush of regular-school-year responsibilities, but to keep studying and trying adjustments and innovations across my teaching–as they suit. Fragile idealism.)

For now, though, I’ve chosen a course that I find stubbornly resistant to some of the vision being shared here: I won’t detail it too much, but it’s a very teacher-centered course, simply because I’m trying to do two very unusual things in the field–integrating Western and non-Western literatures at each step and linking literature to history through the practices of materialist mentality history (okay, that one’s less rare, and yes, I went to grad school in the eighties, what’s it to ya?) [wink]. Neither approach is self-evident; I need to do a lot of the initial spadework for the students. I do try to be transparent about my methods, and will gladly use the online format to engage them in miniature instances and problems so they can at least get a feel for these analytic techniques–but only up to a point.

I feel I can’t expect students to spend the whole semester generating new knowledge according to my preferred analytic methods, working upward from the primary and even secondary data without slowing down the course to the point that it’s not fulfilling its purpose as a survey. This is where I split off from the skill-centered focus we’re reading about–I get it, I do, but this course resists the shift because of the requirements of coverage: I still need to race them through the Louvre, as we in the survey-course biz say.

So I’m trying to be patient and to believe that more of this will be applicable over a larger shift in all my teaching.

To that end, I think I’ll always keep Bloom’s taxonomy to hand–it’s an old reliable for me (although I hadn’t encountered his work in the affective domain, which I need to think about NOW.)

The two articles offered as “Primers” in Assessment both held my attention and seem useful as introductions to larger questions; I do wonder how much they are addressed to public-school instruction as well as upper level, and keep imagining a subtextual dialogue with standardized testing here. I found my mind shifting, in the Sewell, Frith, and Colvin article, to larger departmental learning assessment goals and the dialogue of my courses with them–so I want to go back and take those thoughts further.

The other articles seem to be for me to keep and apply as I approach other courses, although the article on student self-assessment read to me as a nudge to keep my grading standards crystal-clear (is that the same as transparent?)

Michael’s Midway-into-M3 Primal Scream

Okay, I’m not going to scream. (It was just an attention-getting headline.) But, having read M2’s material about learner-based syllabi, and now, in M3, the initial overview of Instruction Design Models, and the OLC Five-Pillar Quality Framework material, I have to remark:

No teacher talks like this.

These are not terms teachers use, at least none I’ve ever conversed with.  (It’s a matter of both vocabulary–Content assets? Storyboarding? Domain specific referenced items? Post-assessment items?–and more.)

There’s always the possibility–I think this is the faith we’re riding on at this point in our course–that these are terms we’ve actually always needed, and that here’s our chance for paradigm-shifting enlightenment about something we’ve all been doing for years. Or that these terms correspond to things we’ve always done. It’s also possible that some disciplines are closer to these ways of thinking than others.

But for me, it’s a mysterious view. And as a historian, I always argue that it’s important to listen to the accounts and points of view of the people your research represents: concrete, on-the-ground experience contributes meaning and insight that you can’t get any other way. And as one who’s been in the thick of teaching for a generation now, I can’t believe these people have ever taught or listened openly to a teacher, at least to a teacher like me;  I find these thoughts–to put it as neutrally as possible–unfamiliar, somehow off-base, and therefore something less than organically connected to what I’m trying to do. Doesn’t mean I’m not willing to try, but–isn’t it important that no teacher talks this way?

Beneath it all–this is beyond the question of jargon–what I sense is a businesslike conflation of broad, undergraduate liberal-arts education and inquiry with focused, practical, and measurable workplace skill-training; there is, deep in the assumptions here, a reduction of teaching to the transfer of testable information, combined with a bias toward “application to real-world problems”–and I’m teaching literature. There are certainly elements of information, comprehension, and analysis in what I teach, but–crucially, I think–a lot of the value of what I do isn’t that easily reducible:  I need to share an element of appreciation, of evoking pleasure and affect from the text, of  inviting enthusiasm and interpretive imagination, of modeling a life of reading and perceiving and enjoying to my students (which may affect them more than any specific text they read). These are easier to do face-to-face. Online, I’m pondering how to preserve that part of my work. (And, by the way,  my teaching has elements of “faculty satisfaction” these guys have never heard of.)

At this point, I’m not embarrassed to defend these sorts of intangibles–the feel central to me. What do you think–am I just being sentimental?


M2–Michael, Imagining the Efforts Required

Random thoughts here:

What I realized yesterday during our synchronous session was that our current online course–and maybe all of them?–is essentially a “flipped” classroom: that is, the things we are used to using face-to-face classtime for–presentation and explanation of the material, discussion–is now happening outside of class, as individual work mediated and enriched though the discussion-like interactions of VT and SB and diigo; our synchronous time simply coordinates and facilitates the more-independent journeys of the students.  I have some experience with this, so I’ve got a more familiar framework to put this in, and perhaps to think about the course I’m preparing.

What I’m trying to wrap my head around is the nature of the teaching effort in the online instruction I’m likely to take on. Frankly, I’m trying to assess the mental and interpersonal energy required. In the course I’m (still) planning, I have my lectures and powerpoints down, and, while I try to improve them each time, I’m comfortable with presenting them, as polished as they are, as my principal teaching effort. Okay, perhaps too comfortable! But should I now imagine setting those up to run automatically, and devoting myself instead to the new tasks of questioning each student about each lecture and reading, checking those responses, replying to each, observing students replying to each other, while trying to find some way to shape an online conversation–pointing out the student responses that are most productive, redirecting those who are off task? I can see the value of it, but. as a world-class introvert, I’m already planning to up my protein intake and keep some five-hour energy bottles on hand.

This will work so much better with the right kind of student–self-motivated, organized, deadline-keeping, technologically comfortable,  confident students who are comfortable sharing first impressions and tentative thoughts. That’s not everybody.

Final thought:  I found Van de Vort and Pogue’s article “Teaching Time Investment: Does Online Really Take More Time than Face-to-Face?”unintentionally hilarious: “Communication with individual students was not considered to be instruction time” and “No initial course development time was included in the study . . . ” So what were they measuring?

Michael–M2–Did I choose the right goals?

Just to acknowledge it, the Module 2 readings and training in Scholarblog have me wondering if I’ve chosen the right course to retool for online instruction. The course I am starting with, History of Drama and Theater I, is an old (old) fashioned lecture course with powerpoint presentations and exams, and, while I have long-term goals with this course that I wanted to pursue by reworking it online, the fact is that I’d be inventing whole new ways of interacting with the students around this material, probably numerous new assignments, with new rubrics–it’s a lot of work! Whereas I have another existing course–Reading for Performance–that already has the more interactive rhythm suitable to, say, a course blog and VoiceThread responses. If I were au courant with the technology, I might be readier to shoulder the harder course re-design, but, as is–Leah, has anybody ever changed courses mid-course?

Michael E–First Use of Scholarblog Ever

Hi, Leah.

I once made an official announcement that if anyone ever saw me creating and posting a blog, they should check my back yard for an empty alien pod, because the body-snatchers would have to have taken me–such is my allergy to blogs as a form of scholarly expression.

But here we are.

This post should inform you that my alien replicant has read the Scholarblog tutorial.