Part three of our online content from the Teaching Seminar focuses on how we use technology in the classroom and for teaching. We focused primarily on how English teachers can use this technology, and we discussed a range from basics about Blackboard to incorporating digital humanities.
1) Blackboard - Many of us wish that we had an alternative to blackboard because it is a challenging system to use effectively for teaching. However most students expect teachers to rely on this tool to some degree. Check with your school's IT department and see if they are offering workshops on Blackboard. They can teach you tricks and tools that would be hard to learn on your own. If you intend to use blackboard in your course, make sure your students are, in fact, familiar with the system. It may be useful to set an initial discussion board assignment or a class writing submission in the first week so that you can be sure they know how to use these blackboard functions. Familiarize yourself with the Grade Center! This can be one of the most helpful tools in blackboard because it gives your students a clear idea of their current grade all term and helps clear up grade confusion. Use the Course Documents tab to post all handouts and assignment sheets that you give out in class. This allows students to find copies of them if they lose the hard copy, and takes away the excuse if they miss a class. Finally, try out the External Links function - this can be extremely useful if you want to keep links to the Writing Center or Library on your campus, or if you want students to view a youtube video or author website before class.
2) Dropbox - many of you may be familiar with this tool, but let us reiterate how amazing this file system is. Dropbox allows you to store files on a server that you can access on any computer. You can also download the "box" on any computer that you use regularly so that saving and accessing files is as easy as pie. No more keeping track of a USB drive or emailing files to yourself. It also allows you to share files easily with your colleagues or students. Watch the tutorial here and sign up asap!
3) Powerpoint or Prezi - We often wonder if using powerpoint presentations would be useful for lectures, especially for literary lectures. Can they really be useful in this context? Well an interview with one of our speakers made me a believer. This faculty member uses powerpoint presentations not only to show his class useful images such as maps and historical pictures, but also to perform in-class close reading. In one example he showed me how he highlighted a passage in the powerpoint and explained the way in which his class unpacked the quote. For certain parts of the quote, he was able to flip to another slide to contextualize the word, listen to a sound clip, or see a revision of that quotation. In this, he avoids the problem of lecturing with slides and an inattentive audience. The way he uses powerpoint encourages his students to engage. We also want to mention Prezi here because it is an alternative to Microsoft's powerpoint. It is a unique program to construct presentations, and you can open a free educator's account with them. So check it out here.
4) Alternative Course Management System - You may feel that Blackboard is simply too limiting to manage your course (many of us are in agreement). So one of our speakers addressed an alternative system which allows him to use technology creatively in his classes. This particular system relies on a website called Wordpress (one of many blog/web page options, but this does not require that you know html). Setting up the course here allows him to do many of the traditional Blackboard functions such as post documents (which he grabs from his dropbox files), post external links, and moderate a discussion forum. It also allows him to use technology creatively for his course. For example, he blogs after each class what the main discussion points were, any questions for future readings, or any announcements such as changes to the syllabus or assignment deadlines. He also utilizes the blog function as a writing assignment tool - requiring his students to post in-depth blog posts (including embedded art or music and close reading), and for students to respond to each other's posts. Even though this takes a bit of work to build and maintain, it seemed to be a great alternative to blackboard course management. Check out the Chronicle for articles which detail ACM systems and how to start one of your own.
5) Social Media - We also discussed how various social media can be employed as a teaching tool. Twitter, for example, has been featured on The Chronicle as a potential tool for teaching (click here for an example of this), although it is debatable how handy it actually is. We also discussed Facebook as an option. One of our speakers uses Facebook a few ways to engage students - creating a group for the class which allows the professor to post class updates or links. Students can also create fan pages for certain authors, allowing for some creative research opportunities. Using this, as our speaker pointed out, integrates academic work into their normal lives (social networks).
6) Digital Humanities - We also briefly discussed the growing field of Digital Humanities. While this subject is too involved for this small blog post, I do want to mention the specific focus of digital archives coming out of the field of Digital Humanities. Our speaker mentioned the Mark Twain Project as a great example of how digital humanities can be useful not only in research, but in teaching text. Another example is the Global Shakespeares Project which provides open access to film adaptations of Shakespeare, as well as an opportunity to see how scholarship can develop in a Digital Humanities context. If you are interested in exploring this further, check out this text The Youtube Reader recommended by our speaker.
7) Online Presence - As professionals, we need to be aware of what is out there online for our students, colleagues, and prospective bosses to see. I regularly google myself just to see what comes up. However, it is not enough to prevent embarrassing things from ending up on the internet. One of our speakers suggested that we take some time to cultivate our online presence as part of being a professional. Join LinkedIn or Academia.edu (a professional social network for those in Academia) to collate your professional information. Create your own webpage and purchase the URL (for an example, click here).
This concludes the information from our Fall 2011 Teaching Seminar. We are contemplating a spring Teaching Seminar as well, and we want your ideas and feedback! Was there a topic not covered in this series that you would like to see in the Spring? Please email us or leave a comment below. Also, please take a minute "Like" us on Facebook to see upcoming events, advice, and links. Finally, remember that you can now subscribe to this blog via email using the bar at the right (if you have trouble with this, delete your cookies and try multiple browsers until it works). Thanks, and stay tuned for upcoming Spring professional development events, including EGSA's Symposium (February 10 - see our Facebook page for details).