Skip to content

Recent Articles

17
Mar

Remote Teaching. We Can All Learn Something New

This week many of my colleagues are frantically working to accommodate a district mandate to move to remote teaching. For many who have never taught online before, this is a daunting task. Even if they are not being asked to teach online per se, essentially a similar skill set is needed. The number one skill is being fearless. You can’t be afraid or nothing will go right and nothing will happen. You have to have a “F it” attitude and say I’m just going to try it. If it doesn’t work, oh well. At least I tried. Nine times out of 10 it will work well enough (not always perfectly).

I already teach mostly online, and my two hybrid courses are already designed to be taught completely online. So this transition is a simple process for me. But I feel for my colleagues and I’ve volunteered my expertise to help others. So far it’s been surprisingly quiet. I’ll go through a few of the questions I’ve received and my suggested solutions in my next few posts. Let’s start with this one.

I’m still learning new things during this process too. I got a question about how I teach my students to “do the stuff” online. It was a little vague, but I think I understood. The hardest part for me about teaching online is not being able to experience the course and materials the way my students might. I can’t see what they see, but I can show them the way I see it. So I make videos using the student view in Canvas and videos on my phone showing them the mobile version. I use either SnagIt or Camtasia to record my screen, and I show them how I want them to do something. Both are not free tools, but you can do the same thing with Screencast-o-matic, which is free. Snagit is $30 and Camtasia is $170, but GCC may have a few licenses available that you could use, and I hear TechSmith is making Snagit free to use through the end of June 2020 to any organization that needs it. Visit: https://discover.techsmith.com/remote-techsmith/

Clearly I take advantage of working from home by not getting all “dolled up.”

The reason I use Snagit and Camtasia over the free tools is the ease of saving and sharing. TechSmith Screencast® online hosting services allow you to share video, screen captures and multimedia content with others. They make it so simple to record and share. I made a video of how I use this service here.

Stay tuned for more questions I’ve gotten about teaching online or remotely in my next post.

26
Feb

A Blog Post About Nothing

I seriously can’t think of a damn thing to write about, so this is a blog post about nothing. This could be a sign of burn out or maybe I’ve lost my motivation. Motivation to write that is. I still want to live. 🙂 I’ve seemingly written about everything already over the past 20 years. That’s how long I’ve been blogging. My freshmancomp.com self-hosted blog was started in 2006 when I transferred over to GCC from SMCC, but I blogged on Blogger before that. It’s fun to go back and read what was so important to me back then in old posts. The very first post to this blog was about whiteboards in October of 2006, thirteen years ago. I wrote:

I’m teaching a developmental writing course here at GCC, and unfortunately I have no access to technology in the class itself besides my shiny white boards, overhead projector from 1950, and a vcr/dvd combo and television. This of course is no reflection on the college; it’s just a this is what’s left situation.

Ha! I remember this vividly. I was a temporary one-semester transfer, and I got stuck in a classroom in the CL building. I really didn’t know what to do with myself in that room. Luckily I was able to sneak over into HT1 often enough to salvage the semester.

As I reflect back and peruse other posts, one thing stands out about my posts. They are always about technology and teaching. In 2007 I blogged about using del.icio.us, Ning social network, Bedford Bibliographer and podcasting. Wow! Does anyone remember any of those things? Well, I guess podcasting is still around, but the rest are dead and gone. Good thing I’m not dead and gone although I do feel pretty old sometimes. Podcasting is still around, but the technology we used “back in the day” has definitely changed. Check this out.

I’ve been experimenting with flash players for my weekly podcasts in my freshman composition courses. This one from MyFlashFetish.com was pretty cool. I’ll paste the code into the course blog and see how students like it.

I wish I could say they liked it, but to be honest they probably couldn’t care less. Anyway, that website is certainly gone. I still podcast or create audio for my student, but today I use Soundcloud to host my podcasts. Anywho, I’ll end this rambling with a shoutout to two of my favorite podcasts on Soundcloud.

Shoutout to my girls in the CTLE – Two Profs in a Pod
This is my JRN203 Students’ Podcast: The Weekly Gauchos. Some are better than others.
New-season starts Friday.
18
Feb

Is There Value in Having Students Do Collaborative Group Projects?

Collaborative group projects in online and hybrid classes – Is there value in having students do them?

I go back and forth with whether I should dump it or keep it. Students hate it, but I think there is value, and it’s a lesson students need to experience. Things don’t always go the way they should, and students can learn a lot from having to deal with this adversity.

I’ve been using a group project in my ENG102 hybrid course for about two years now, and I think it teaches students a lot about collaborating, working in a team, and sharing in the learning process with others. In the video below, I’ll share my process with you, as well as a few tools in Canvas that you may or may not be familiar with: Collaborations, Groups, Perusall and NoodleTools. 

Purpose: The purpose of the project is to teach students the process of writing an argumentative research paper. In groups of four the work through the whole process in four weeks. The only thing they don’t do is the actual research. I provide that for them. Let’s take a look, and I’ll show the tools as they are integrated into the process. 

Collaborative Group Projects in Canvas
3
Feb

Is It Our Job to Teach Students Responsibility in College?

I spend a lot of time each semester revising and updating my syllabus. Some say “a syllabus functions as a contract between you and your students.” So I feel it’s best to have my policies in place and make them clear for students upfront, so there’s no misunderstanding down the road once we’ve started. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty generous late work policy to help alleviate much of the stress that comes along with the unexpected emergencies that pop up during a semester, yet I truly believe that part of what I’m teaching my students is responsibility and how to properly deal with such situations. Having a strict no late work policy only teaches students that life truly does suck sometimes, and there’s not much you can do about it. My motto for students is “no one late assignment is going to kill your grade.” So suck it up, deal with your emergency, get your late assignment in, and accept the responsibility for it all and the late penalty. Move on. Emergencies don’t happen weekly.

My late policy for assignments and essays is 10% off for each day it is late, up to a week late. After 5 days it’s just a straight 50% off. After a week, the assignment or essay can not be submitted for credit. This policy does not apply to discussions or peer-review assignments, as they both require students to engage with one another, and you can’t really do that after the discussion has ended, so no late work for those. I give students several reminders about this policy and missing work. The day after the assignment is due, the assignment is given a 0, and I send a notification to students reminding them that they missed an assignment and what the late policy is. I encourage them to submit the missing work right away. Let’s go! You got this.

Generally this process and policy work out well; however, there are times when it just doesn’t. If students don’t understand or value the importance of being on time or submitting work on time, they make little effort to do so, especially if there are no consequences. If an assignment deadline is merely a suggestion, very few will submit it at that time. I gave students an option once. They could submit their essay drafts by Thursday, and if they did so, I would provide full feedback on the draft with which they could then revise the draft and submit the final draft by Mondy night. If they didn’t want that option, the final draft was just due on Sunday night. No feedback. No extra day. I got two papers submitted on Thursday, two surprisingly submitted on Friday (wasn’t an option), 10 submitted on Sunday, one submitted late on Monday, and two not submitted at all. All 15 papers submitted could have benefited from another round of revision, but only two got that opportunity.

The only way I can see to teach students responsibility is to provide clear expectations and consequences, hold them accountable for those class policies, and reward and praise them when they are being responsible. In the scenario above, the two students who took advantage of the opportunity to revise with feedback obviously did well on their final essays. Students don’t get that option anymore; it’s all built into the process, like a forced acquiescence so to speak. If drafts are submitted, feedback is provided and time to revise and edit is given. If they are not, points are deducted, minimal feedback is provided, and there is less time to revise and edit. Essay grades clearly reflect which path is chosen and hopefully, students are learning what it takes to write good essays as well as how to be responsible for their part in the learning process.

3
Apr

Do You Ever Dream of Candy Coated Raindrops?


“My love, do you ever dream of
Candy coated raindrops?
You’re the same, my candy rain”

Soul for Real
Tweet from @937RhythmFM

Do you ever dream of candy coated raindrops? No? Well, me neither. However, when I think of dreams it always reminds me of that Soul for Real song from the 90’s, “Candy Rain.” I used to love that group. I loved them so much I named my online persona after them. For the longest time, I was soul4real on everything social media account available. I’ve cut back over the years, but my Twitter handle is still @soul4real. As a result, every time someone wants to share that they are listening to a song from this group, they always tweet it like the one to the right. I get a few tweets a week like this.

So I wrote all of that because for some strange reason I can’t think of anything I dream of. I’m sure that has everything to do with me being on sabbatical. Maybe I should dream of having another sabbatical, but I’d have to wait 7 years for that and I hope to be retired by then. And when I return in the fall, I’ll already be going through a bit of a job change, transitioning back to teaching composition full time. It’s been four years, so I don’t have the barely hidden disdain for grading hundreds of essays every 3 weeks in me. I’m actually looking forward to it. Hopefully that feeling will last a few semesters. I guess I could dream that my students will be the best students to ever take a freshman comp class at GCC, and we all enjoy every minute of our time together. A girl can dream, right?

In the mean time, while I get back to enjoying my sabbatical and trying to think of things to dream of, you should enjoy the soulful stylings of a great group – Soul for Real singing “Candy Rain.”

28
Mar

Pain & Suffering or Just Assessment & Evaluation?

That’s how many instructors and students feel about assessment and evaluation. It’s a lot of needless pain and suffering. It always seems so punitive to students who struggle. But assessment doesn’t have to be that way. Many instructors have found ways to teach and use assessments in a way that encourage students to do better the next time. The key is that there is a next time, and that can be the challenge.

In writing courses, instructors can get overloaded with grading. The more a student writes the better that writing becomes, but who has time to grade all that writing. Apparently writing instructors do. However, there are ways to break down the concepts and skills needed to write well and have students practice those concepts and skills without the need of instructor grading. For instance, much of the bad writing that I see, stems from poor sentence structure. Students love a good run-on sentence, with a few fragments thrown in for good measure. It drive me crazy. “Use a comma or a period somewhere, please,” I beg.

Lucky for us at GCC, we’ve found an adaptive learning tool to help us teach students the grammar and mechanics skills, including sentence structure that they struggle with. If you’re not familiar with adaptive learning, it “is an educational method which uses computer algorithms to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and deliver customized resources and learning activities to address the unique needs of each learner” (Wikipedia). The tool we adopted from McGraw-Hill is called Connect, which includes LearnSmart Achieve. LSA provides an adaptive learning system designed to identify students’ areas of weakness. It uses supplementary content, such as videos, interactive activities, additional readings, and even a time management feature, all intended to guide students through content and resources at an appropriate pace. You can see an example below.

The beauty of this type of tool is students are being assessed all through out the process, and the system is adapting to their needs. If they’re struggling with the content they get more resources and more practice. If a student clearly understands, they hit mastery sooner and complete the lesson. So instead of a lot of pain and suffering, students get what they need. Missing a question doesn’t seem like a punishment. It becomes and opportunity to learn why and try again until they get it right. And as an instructor, I don’t have to grade any of that work. That’s the real beauty. My assessment comes when they put those skills to the test on an essay assignment.

Unfortunately, we can’t eliminate all the pain and suffering. At some point students have to write an essay, and instructors have to grade it. Well, more like grade 100+ of them (24 students x 5 classes). And we assign 3-4 essays in each course, so it’s still a lot of grading. But I digress. Once a student submits a finished essay, eager with anticipation of a passing grade, it takes some time to get that feedback back to students. During that span (1-2 weeks on occasion), students forget all about that paper and the effort or lack of effort they put into it. And when the paper is return, the process often ends there. There’s no motivation to do better. We teach that writing is a process, yet we make the process end when we’re ready. I believe with a C paper and especially an F paper, the process is not over yet. The student needs to continue to work on that essay, not the next one, in order to improve his/her writing.

So my assessment technique involves giving students an opportunity of a rewrite. Yep, more pain essays for me to grade. But it works because students have to tell me what it is they did to improve the essay. What skills did they work on? What help did you seek? Did you work in LearnSmart Achieve? Did you visit the Writing Center? Did you schedule a conference with your instructor? So the process doesn’t have to end with an F paper crumpled and thrown in the trashcan as the student walks out the door (clearly that’s an old reference to times gone by). Writing is a process and the only way to get students to write better is to keep the process going for as long as they need.

Example of McGraw-Hill LearnSmart Achieve

13
Mar

My First Black Teacher

Do any of you remember your first black teacher? I’m guessing many can say they never had one. I can say that I only had two from elementary school all the way through grad school. If I lived my whole life in Arizona, that might be understandable given the 4% African American population in this state. But I started my education growing up in an all black neighborhood in Columbus, OH. I mean everybody was black. Except for the teachers. I didn’t think anything of it. Teachers were just white.

Then when I started junior high school, my mom thought it would be a great idea to bus me to an all white school. Guess what? There weren’t any black teachers there either. Two busloads of black kids shipped off to white suburbia to fend for ourselves. Little did I know that we were part of desegregation busing, the practice of assigning and transporting kids to schools so as to overcome the effects of residential segregation on local school demographics. All I knew was it sucked. I never felt like that was my school. We were just visitors.

In the fall of 1947, Seattle Public Schools hired its first two black teachers.
Thelma DeWitty reads to her second-grade students at Cooper Elementary School in 1950. (Josef Scaylea / The Seattle Times)

We moved to Arizona the following year, and I remember feeling relieved. In Central Phoenix I wasn’t the only minority. There were Mexican and Native American kids too. Brown people unite. But Phoenix had its own version of desegregation busing even though it probably wasn’t planned that way. I lived right across the street from North HS, but some how I found myself riding the city bus everyday to Central. My mom was crazy sneaky like that. There might have been black teachers at North, but I didn’t see a one at Central. They were all white, so clearly they were the better teachers.

When you grow up never seeing anyone who looks like you in roles of leadership and prestige, you start to believe you can never achieve that yourself. Thank goodness I NEVER wanted to be a teacher, so it never really bothered me until I left for college. After spending two years at Phoenix College, I went to a Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas. Woot woot! Certainly, there will black teachers there. Nope. Well, there were a few, but not teaching the courses I was taking. Except for my Spanish teacher. She was my first black teacher. I remember myself acknowledging that fact one day in class and thinking: my first black teacher and I can’t understand a word she’s saying. Haha!

Inclusivity

There is a point to all this reminiscing about my schooling. It reminds me that there are many individual students who find themselves in similar situations as I did growing up or even feeling marginalized. Even today we have students who are minorities, LGBTQ, physically or mentally disabled who show up in our classrooms wondering if they fit in. Many are the first in their families to go to college, so there’s no precedence. Many will look around the room and see very few faces like their own and wonder if they can do it. So for me, I feel as if I have to do more than just be their first black teacher. I have to try to be more inclusive with these students. Not because they feel they need it, but because I feel like every student should feel as if they are a part of their community and develop a sense of belonging and hopefully become better prepared for life because of that.

5
Mar

Sabbatical Data Project – Part 1

Statistics Chart Analysis –
Pixabay License

Part of my sabbatical is to do a “mini” project at GCC as a proof of concept or example of how faculty can use data to answer questions about the courses they teach. “This part (of my sabbatical) will also involve working with GCC’s SPA (IE department) to create a data project that supports my department and other departments that might have an interest in using data.” My hope was to expand upon the ideas of a Learning Grant my department had last year: Analytics for English Faculty Learning Community. The goals of this project were to make reading, writing, and English humanities faculty members, who teach online and/or hybrid courses at Glendale Community College, more knowledgeable about the types of student data available to them and the ethically and pedagogically sound methods to use said data.

So for this mini project, I plan to expand upon the ideas behind this grant into this part of my sabbatical. One question that I’ve always had is, “Is there a way to predict how well students will do in an online or hybrid class before they even begin?” If we can predict which students might be at risk, we can then design targeted interventions to help those students. I’m not talking about standard best practices that we should be doing for all students. I’m talking about interventions that are more invasive that might be disruptive to the course if an instructor tried to do them with all students. An example of an intervention might be requiring students to meet with the instructor with in the first week to discuss goals for the course. This could prove helpful, but probably impossible for an instructor with multiple online and hybrid courses.

The data we would like to see are:

  • what previous classes have been attempted, including online and hybrid class history
  • how many drops and withdrawals,
  • past grades on prerequisite courses,
  • GPA,
  • placement test scores,
  • and demographic data.

I’ll post more on this “mini” project after we get the data. In the mean time I’ll be researching what interventions we might add to our suggested list to help support the students identified at risk and for colleges who have similar programs set up and what their success has been.

I’m also starting a new MOOC this week: Analytics in Course Design: Leveraging Canvas Data. The primary goal of this course is to explore Canvas data and visualization techniques that faculty and instructional designers can use to make informed decisions about Canvas course design. Finally, a course that makes sense to me. The course has four modules that each apply different aspects of Canvas data to course design. The modules cover Student Engagement, Course Design, Assignment Submissions, and Discussion Interactions.

27
Feb

Don’t Mind Me. I’m Just Breaking the Rules

I know you’re reading this, but technically this post does not exist. I love Write6x6, but since I’m on sabbatical this year, I can’t participate in any on campus activities. Hence why you are not really seeing this post.

But I could not resist posting about my inspirations for who I am today. No doubt it is those who came before me and had the responsibility to coach and/or supervise me. I was an athlete growing up; pretty much still am to this day, so I’ve had many coaches along the way. And when I started teaching, I realized that department chairs served in much the same capacity as a coach for teachers. My first teaching job was at Deer Valley HS way back in the day. My first chair’s advice to me was: “I’d rather you beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.”

Well, I took that advice and ran! I thought she was crazy, but if that is how she wanted to play it, I was game. The quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. The idea is not that you abuse the situation and just do whatever the heck you want. It’s meant to encourage others to go for things if they truly believe in it. A lot of good ideas go by the wayside because it’s too complicated to figure out how to get permission. Hopper believed “If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.” So it’s really about knowing when to push the boundaries.

In my 30 years of working in education, I’ve learned that there are a lot of naysayers, those who can’t think outside the box and just want to follow the status quo or their perceived rules. It’s a wonder we get anything done sometimes, but I think it’s those that push the boundaries and take risks, and often have to beg forgiveness, that help move things along and drive innovation. So that has pretty much been my motto and way of life for the last 30 years. Luckily I didn’t have to do a lot of begging.

So I’d say I was inspired by that first chair, and because I took her advice, I think it shaped who I am today as an educator. It opened up lots of opportunities I may have never gotten had I asked for permission first.

Cheers to Jeanne Sabrack who now teaches adjunct at Scottsdale Community College.

14
Jan

Sabbatical 2018-19: Time to Get Back to Work (Spring 2019) I’m Going to Harvard

I’m starting a new course that I was supposed to complete in the fall. It’s an edX course from Harvard: HarvardX: PH125.1x Data Science: R Basics.

In this course I hope to learn how to read, extract, and create datasets in R, how to perform a variety of operations and analyses on datasets using R, and how to write my own functions/sub-routines in R. I’m not sure what all that means yet, but I have a good idea.

“R is a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. It’s an integrated suite of software facilities for data manipulation, calculation and graphical display” (R website).

The R language is widely used among statisticians and data miners for developing statistical software and data analysis, therefore, it’s on my list of skills to learn during my sabbatical. The goal is not to become an expert at R, but to get an idea of what is involved in using this tool for data analysis.

The first section of this course is an introduction to R Basics, functions and datatypes. So I’ll start with learning to appreciate the rationale for data analysis using R, define objects and perform basic arithmetic and logical operations, use pre-defined functions to perform operations on objects, and distinguish between various data types.

Basically I’m typing in a bunch of variables and formulas into the program to get answers. Example: What is the sum of the first 20 positive integers? I’m not sure why I’d want to know this, but I would: Type in n <- 20 to define the variable and then use the formula n*(n+1)/2 to get your answer.

Keeping my fingers crossed that my love  hatred for math doesn’t show through. However, I can see how someone who is good a math would be a natural fit for coding. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.