Rolling, student-generated curriculum creation

August 11th, 2010

Many of our faculty here at UMW have experimented with student-generated curriculum. For example Jeff McClurken and Tim O’Donnell have begun classes with a wiki, and on the first day the class as a whole fills out what the semester will look like — with guidance from the teacher as needed. We have also seen teachers build student work into the content for class discussion, making a particular day’s discussion material derive from the work that students have done in the past week or two.

Anthologize offers some pretty nifty possibilities for expanding on that idea, and developing the already-existing practices in UMWBlogs of having student write about the course content, reflect on it, explore ideas, etc. One quite interesting example of that taking place in a course is Krystyn Moon’s “Immigrants in America” course. There, you can see students reflecting on the course content as they go along.

As a former writing teacher, I’m delighted with the idea of students using the blog to write reflectively on the course. However, I’ve often wished to push that idea a bit more. It would be nice to look back at those reflections later on, and perhaps with more of the course members adding their thoughts. That’s consistently the theory behind having open comments on course blogs, but results have varied considerably.

So, here’s an idea for how to use Anthologize to bring those innovating teaching approaches together, and maybe even get more out of them.

Imagine setting up a course, with writing online about reflections, ideas, commentary about course material as an important component. Plus, build into the syllabus that on a regular basis, maybe every other week, the reading for class and discussion will be based on a selected set of posts from the past week or two. That set could be chosen by the instructor, or built in-class during the last ten or fifteen minutes of a meeting. Export the Anthologize project, and it’s available in a variety of formats for students to use as they will.

Some parts of this idea are, of course, currently possible. A list of posts to read for class can certainly be made now, and could even be tagged for easy reference. However, I think that Anthologize introduces some important differences.

Collaboratively create the next class's reading assignment from existing posts.

First, if the reading collection is created in class, the interface itself conveys as much more unified sense of the purpose and importance of those posts for reading. It marks out a different status for them, which might increase students’ sense of engagement with them. Hopefully, that will address the sparsity of online comments that teachers sometimes struggle with.

Second, by giving students the document in a format that they can put in their hands — whether that is a printout of the PDF or the ePub format for their mobile device — It might be that they will similarly have a different engagement with the text. At the very least, it removes a possible reason that hinders engagement, needing to go to their computers and read the assignment online. (I know from past experience that many students prefer to have an offline version of readings that I had made available online.)

An approach like this could do some neat things, pedagogically. First, it valorizes the importance of their reflection on course material by very pointedly making it the regular topic for discussion. Again if the selection is done collaboratively, it leads students into thinking about what the most interesting thoughts from the class have been. On the flip-side of that coin, it will likely encourage each student to do quality work, since they know that there will be a moment when their writing might be selected by the class as meriting additional class discussion.

When it comes to the actual discussion of that material, it produces a regular review of the past few weeks’ material, and does so in a way that is, by design, through the lens of the interests of the class, rather than as a simple restatement of the content. It makes it a review in a much truer and pedagogically important sense of the word. And, as an end-of-semester tool, having that collection available as yet another form of review.

Anthologize Launch!

August 3rd, 2010

After an amazing week (plus a little. so we cheated.) at CHNM, the Anthologize WordPress plugin was officially launched Tuesday at 2:30. It was, needless to say, an intense experience, in which twelve people from different backgrounds and approaches to digital humanities met, developed an idea for a new tool for digital humanities, then built it. All in one week.

A can’t thank enough all of the people who came together to make the event, and the tool itself, possible. You’re all amazing.

The next steps, for me at least, will be to start putting it through its paces in real-life scenarios in the teaching and learning here at University of Mary Washington in UMWBlogs. There is no shortage of ideas. The interesting part will be to see how faculty and students want to think about publishing their online work in different formats, and especially in developing the templates for those publications. I’m sure I will learn a lot about things none of us predicted. For me, it will be wonderful to work to develop the templates for the output, in order to learn what content and metadata ends up being most important in different publishing contexts, and how best to make it easy to get at that information through the deep-down code of the plugin.

It will be quite an adventure.