This course is scheduled to be designed in the summer and taught and evaluated in Fall 2006.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Alternative" Unit Plans

One of the main problems which I have had is with the UDL principle which recommends that students be given alternative ways to fulfill requirements but that still demonstrate that they have met the objectives of the course/assignment.

I found a course designed by Dr. Engelhardt's out of Texas A & M Univ. Corpus Christi. The college has a FYWP which is designed around learning communities. The Engelhardt course is designed around civic duties and responsibilities. What I have done is adapted it to the topic which we are concentrating which is Learning and College.

I think that as I have designed the course, my concept of the topic and where it is going has really gotten focused.

What I like about the course and the program is that the students produce a multi-media presentation as one of their portfolios. I thought that was neat idea but wondered if is was still within the scope of the course objectives and requirements. This late in the semester, I cannot change the requirements.

So I looked at the design carefully, I think that it will fit with what I have set up as the objectives and the requirements. The students will be required to produce two or three (not sure yet) pieces which come from the pieces which they have written throughout the term. They will need to focus on a topic, an audience, a purpose, etc. The pieces which they work on will have to be different but meeting the same specifications of topic, audience, purpose. I think this will allow the students to think critically about what they have written, to connect the different ideas which they have been writing about.

The requirement for the Unit is an essay. So their essay will be a reflective piece in which they explain what their rationale is for those pieces and why they think they would be effective. The reflective piece will be graded as a major component of the portfolio 4.

In Unit 2, I am using a powerpoint presentation which presents an argument about the causes for lack of achievement of some populations. The ppt fits in with the topic of college success: causes and effects. I also wanted to show them that argumenative pieces are not necessarily written in essay form and that the research they turn to does not necessarily have to be written in essay format. I will also incorporate some multi-media type of text for the next unit.

I have never tried something like this in a Comp I course so I'm excited to try it and see how students respond to it.

I tried something similar in a Tech Writing class in the spring and was extremely satisfied with what the students produced.

This unit will also allow me to use that UDL principle which I have been having problems incorporating into the activities required for class.

Unit 4

Writing(s) out of the classroom

Using the research and writing you have done in Units 2 and 3, you will now produce several pieces of writing that are meant to go out of the classroom, writing that is meant to encourage / persuade readers to ACT. You can think of this assignment as an action plan, with examples of texts; as a campaign, with different kinds of texts; as a multi media presentation.

This is the creative arm of Units 2 and 3, where you translate the research and solutions from your research essay into materials for public preview. You will produce two pieces of collateral/visual/aural material--brochures, posters, power point presentations, documentaries, puppet shows, advertising jingles, building models....your imagination is the limit--which you will then exhibit. You can think of this assignment as an action plan, as an advertising campaign and/or as a multi media presentation.

Your goal is to translate your academic work into writing that reaches a popular audience and to augment the work you've done and are doing in Units 2 and 3 with visuals/audios/others (any other sensory stuff) that will gain your audience's attention and give them *more* to think about.

For this assignment you will produce at least three different pieces, choosing different genre, different modes (fiction / non-fiction), or different media. Each piece will be addressing the same issue or problem, and each piece will be attempting to persuade readers to act.

Your reflective overview will, among other things, tell me what audience these presentations are likely to reach, how you could make sure your audience is exposed to your material, and what you hope will be the effects of this connection between your material and your audience (what might be the consequences of them reading/seeing your work?)

For the final, students in our classroom will view the presentations and choose two presentations to evaluate for audience/purpose/forum. These evaluations must be turned in with your 4th portfolio.

Week 8—Rethinking Written work
Discussion—most important ideas
Students write research proposal
Video—consider audience, purpose, ideas
Weekly Report

Week9—Synthesis and Critical Thinking
Revisions—Concentrate on Audience/purpose/forum
Revisions Video
Weekly report

Unit 3

Multiple solutions, choices, consequences

Based on the work you have done for Unit 2, write an essay in which you explore different solutions to the problem you identified. Consider how the framing of the problem affects the possible solutions. Consider the consequences of the various solutions and consider how readers might choose among the possible solutions. Offer one solution--or combination of solutions--that you think is most likely to persuade people to act on the problem.

You will continue to take account of perspectives of the sources you work with. Why do they propose this particular solution? What's in it for them? You will use an additional five to six sources in your essay.

After considering various solutions from three different perspectives you will offer one of your own (it might be a combination of solutions included in your essay) that you think is most likely to persuade people to act on the problem. You will analyze why this solution is the best one, taking into consideration the consequences of the various solutions you discuss and how readers might respond to them. Your objective is to persuade your readers that this is an important issue and encourage them to ACT (by that I mean get involved, pay attention, help the cause if necessary).

Week 6—Solution Proposal
Discussion—what do you think are some solutions to the problems discussed in the previous essay
Students research using databases and internet (2 additional articles)
Students write research proposal
Weekly Report

Week 7—Synthesis and Critical Thinking
Draft outline of essay
rough draft/peer reviews
Revisions—Concentrate on ___________________
Revisions Video
Portfolio selections
Final draft
Weekly report

Unit 2

College Success: Complex causes and effects

As part of Unit 1, you identified your learning style, the impact they have had on you as a student and evaluated the strategies which you use.

In this unit, we will turn to the causes and effects of college success. In consultation with your teacher and classmates, you will choose one aspect of the issue and write an essay in which you explore the various causes and effects of the problem. This will require you to conduct research on the problem and to account for multiple perspectives (3 or more), for the different ways that writers frame and present the causes and effects of the problem.

Week 3—Research and Research Proposal
provide initial readings
Discussion—what do you think are the causes and effects of college success
Students research using databases and internet
Video—Research and Internet
Video—How to research using online databases
Students write research proposal
Weekly Report

Week 4—Research/documentation and Critical Thinking
student write biblio
student write annotated biblio article--summary/evaluation/application
video instructions for annotated biblio
Cause and effect lecture (video?)
Synthesizing Ideas (video?)
Drafting outline (video?)
Draft outline of essay
Weekly report

Week 5--Collaboration/Reading/Discussion
rough draft
peer reviews
Revisions—Concentrate on ___________________
Revisions Video
Portfolio selections
Final draft
Weekly report

Problems and Frustrations

I am going to begin with the different problems and frustrations which I have been experiencing with the course design.

Most of the problems which the students have been having are concerning technology. Unfortunately, students are not too adept at changing their computer setting so that everything works exactly as it should with Vista. Even when different strategies are suggested, students seem not to be able to "fix" their computers so that they minimize their problems

I know some students do not have much control. They have checked out laptops from school and they need to submit a work order to get anything changed or installed on the computers. The work orders take about 2 weeks to get completed. This delay is a real frustration for students.

Many are wising up and using the "technology issues" as reasons to not meet deadlines. I have been flexible with those students who I know are consistenly having the same issues because of their computers. But there is not way to make one student accountable and not another. Also, because the students share the computers in the lab, I have no idea who exactly is using the "broken" computer.

It is making life much harder for me. I have to keep track of where students turn in assignments. I have asked students to use email as a backup when something happens with the system. It is not being used as much this week as it has in the previous two but it still makes it confusing for me and for the students to keep track of where they submitted their materials.

I'm hoping a couple more weeks and most of these problems will be solved.

The problems that the high school students are having with the computers really makes me worry that the students in the full online class will have similar difficulties. The DE director said that the course has the technology specifications listed, so students should be held accountable. Still, the situation makes me worry.

Having the two sites, the external content site and the Vista submission site, has also caused complication. I decided to keep instructions on the external site but in an effort to keep it simple, I wonder if the instructions should not be migrated back into Vista. I worry though that if I do that, then the external site will become useless. It was useful when the system was not working, but repeating information in the sites seems inefficient and confusing for students.

I have decided to keep most of the content in the external site and point the students to the relevant pages for each particular activity. I will try that for this unit and see how it works out.

After looking at the organization of assignments in the Vista site, I had to reconsider how I pointed to those assignments in the external site. I decided on a numerical list and similar titles to guide the student from one activity to another.

The high school students seem to getting used to the rhythm of the course. Because we meet everyday, designing the course has been quite a feat. I have to work at redesigning both the Vista and the external site so that both are consistent and up-to-date. As I decide on the specific format, this part of the workload should decrease.

All these design and logistical issues have left me little time to concentrate on the development of the videos for instruction. I am keenly aware that I do much of the instruction via video for the high school classes and am considering how that instruction will be translated for the full online class.

I am maintaining a log of the lessons which I present to the students, both those that are planned and those which arise from student confusion. I realize that much of the instruction will be difficult to translate to the distance students. The main difficulty, of course, comes from the time-intensive activity needed to create the instruction in text, video or audio format.

Also, since I have no control over whether a student actually views an instructional video, I am not sure how valuable those that I have produced have been to the students.

I sent out an email asking for feedback but received very little since it was not a requirement. I am creating a survey in vista and all students will have to complete it. Since it will be done during class and I think students will feel self-conscious, I am not sure how valid the information will be. Still, I am sure I will get some preliminary information about the videos from the survey.

My online class began yesterday and I am worried that not all students have logged in to the class. I have sent multiple emails giving them information about the course login page and external course site. Of course, they may have gone to the external site but I have no way to keep track of that. The only thing I can keep track of is if they log in to the Vista site.

I know it is a little early to get worried. One student commented that she is not used to working in an online class which has deadlines. I am not sure exactly what she means since all of the classes which I have found do use deadlines. I did email the students today asking them if they had questions or problems and reinterating the login information. I figure the next step will be to telephone them if they have not loggin in within the next couple of days. Have to seek some feedback on this one.

Unit 1--Redone

Unit 1

Week 1--Intro to Course/Introduce Yourself

  • syllabus (text and video intro)
  • Class documents (class structure, units, portfolio, weekly reports)
  • Introduce Yourself memo--will also serve as diagnostic
  • provide initial readings
  • Weekly Report

Week 2--Reading and Research

  • Discussion--how does the article affect the way you think about yourself?
  • Discussion assessment criteria—live instruction
  • Learning Styles Diagnostics—web based
  • students research for one article
  • student write annotated biblio for their chosen article--summary/recommendation
  • video instructions for annotated biblio
  • students read summaries of articles peers selected/choose two articles based on summaries to read and comment on/what similar and/or different ideas do these articles provide
  • begin essay 1
  • Peer review guidelines--text
  • students do two peer reviews
  • MLA format text/video instructions (live instruction on camera)
  • Review Thesis/Topic Sentence—video?
  • Review Introduction/Conclusion Strategies—video?
  • Weekly report/Reflect on Week 2 activities and learning

Week 3--Collaboration/Peer Review/Revision

  • Essay Due
  • Revisions/live instruction
  • Revisions
  • Varied Sentence structure
    Word Choice/Repetition
    Informal/formal language
    Weak sentence beginnings
    Consistent POV
    Number rules
    Parenthetical Citations
    Works Cited
  • Weekly report/Reflect on Week 3

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What's Working...Maybe?

After completing the first unit with the system mostly working, I have to document those design details which I like (now are they effective? that's for another class... ;)
  • Scaffolding lessons--lessons especially those dealing with MLA formatting and the rhetorical expectations for an essay seem to benefit from scaffolding. I have been doing this for a while, so I'm not sure that it is something that I am adding new from what I have learned from UDL principles, but I think that they are effective. Using the scaffolding in a systematic and consistent way may be able to give me some evidence as to if it works or not.

Currently, I am using the scaffolding both for MLA and for the essay process. I am concerned that most students will think that the activities are just work designed to keep them busy. To counter that, I am using the peer feedback so they can see how their peers are doing with the lessons, to offer corrections to their peers and so that students can self-correct when they see errors. I think that it is working. I gave them a short one source annotated bibliography quiz to test that assertion. They practiced and peer reviewed last week. This week they had to do it on their own.

The scaffolding of the essay process also seems to be having some effect on the student writing. I have read research which says that students are going to concentrate on only what is required, rather than worrying about the process (have to find that article again) and everything that they already know they should do to produce good writing. So I am including the different parts of the process as part of the scaffolding. Many of them mentioned in their introductions that when they write, they just sit at the computer and "let it come out." So I let them do that when we began last week.

We started with an essay answering the question/prompt which was given about their learning strategies. Then we followed that with research, both a learning styles inventory, an academic article and some research (one internet article). After summarizing their findings, they were asked to rewrite or begin again, using more specific prompting questions. We discussed purpose and audience and incorporating their research findings into their essays. We covered thesis and topic sentences, beginnings and endings. They turned in the draft. Then we did some peer reveiw. Most students did not submit lengthly comments but the suggestions they gave did give their peers something to revise. Then they turned in their essay. Finally, we focused on a revision exercise. We looked at sentence structure, pov, informal/formal language, word choice/repetition, weak sentence beginnings. Then they revised and turned in their essay again.

I also decided to keep the idea of the mini-portfolio for each unit. I am having the students reflect on their work each week in the weekly reports and I am having them select two pieces which they think are representative of their learning and discuss how those pieces show their learning and growth.

One thing that I have not had much opportunity to do is to give individual feedback. I have decided that I have designed the activities so that the students get feedback from each other, I look at their posts and give them feedback which is relevant to most of them on camera. I know that I will not be able to do that in the online course but so far it has been working well with the students. Many of them are becoming much more responsible with the feedback which they give their peers and I have to give them more specific "requirements" for the discussion; otherwise, they will just write "it was good."

The scaffolding is also reflected in the titles for each of the sections of the unit. We begin with "what you know" then move to "research", then to "share new Knowledge" then to "incorporate old and new" and finally to the "mini-portfolio" which is finalizing, selection and reflection. Each part of the writing process is incorporated into one of the sections. I am also trying to make the sections as "recursive" as possible so they can hopefully internalize that concept about writing.

I am working on a survey to assess the videos. I am not sure how effective they have been up to this point.

One thing that I did not include in my planning of the design of the course is the goal-setting. I am thinking that when I teach it again, I will incorporate that into the beginning and connect it with the weekly reports. How effective is student being about setting goals which they meet? I also think that by the end of the course they may be setting goals which include the process rather than just getting the assignment completed. I wonder if the goal setting can show that the scaffolding of the process works to help the student internalize the process. Big question mark here. This is something which I want to work on maybe in the Spring delivery of this course.