Time for a midterm evaluation of how the course is going and what type of job I’m doing as a teacher. Credit where due: Nirmal Trivedi hepped me to this last spring. He’s very wise. And yes, I wrote “hepped.” On purpose.
Deep breath. Here goes.
I went into this course feeling confident that I could teach digital rhetoric and interaction design. After all, I think about interaction and modes of visual and digital rhetoric all the time. I was thinking about them before I even knew they had names. Hell – my secondary comps were even on “Multimedia Theory and Design.” And my dissertation is full of references to Hodges, Kress, Van Leeuwen, Tufte, Shapiro, Bolger .. Guess what I forgot: the Vulcan mind meld has yet to be perfected. And while I assumed that I would have a tacit form of communication with Georgia Tech students who also think about this stuff, but in different ways, it turns out that tacit doesn’t cut it.
What does this mean? I’m having to spend more time figuring out how to articulate these concepts than I thought I would. On balance, this is a good thing. It’s important to focus on my own communication skills while I teach students to focus on theirs.
The initial in class quick write assignments gave me an idea of what the students identified as technology that interested them. But I made the mistake of plugging those technologies into easy buckets: students balked at the categories I imposed. They did not want to differentiate software from social media from gaming. And why split hardware and mobility apart? Fair enough. It stopped me in my tracks, and we’ve had a series of discussions about how to better reflect their experiences with technology. So blog assignments have shifted from categorical to experiential. This week they’re interviewing friends and colleagues about how they define social media – I’m trying to get the students to do exactly what I’m doing (although I think they might not see it this way) and find ways to be objective about media perceptions.
What does this mean? I’m thinking harder about how I see and define and engage with media and technology. I’ve already decided to change the last blog topic from “mobility” to “access” and use the opportunity to encourage them to think in terms of universal, financial, and infrastructural access to the tools and communication modes that GT students are able to take for granted. That might be the most challenging thing they do all semester. And will definitely require me to focus on how I position the assignment. Which leads me to:
This group of students – especially the special computer science/engineering section – has been particularly demanding about assignment instructions. It’s not that they they’re being lazy and want me to spoon feed them. My hunch is that because the subject matter is closer to their academic and personal interests (poor Shakespeare) they feel that the stakes are higher. If I’m going to push them to wrestle with their assumptions about technology, then I should be specific about the parameters. Fair enough.
What does this mean? I’m spending more time on assignment objectives and instructions. I’ve also committed all of these documents to dynamic writing environments (Google sites, docs, and blog posts). This allows me to make changes on the fly as we have discussions and they ask for clarification. I’ve become more aware of prompts as I write them, and then again as the students process them.
They’ve embraced service learning approach that I embedded in the group project (they’ve been working with library staff on enhancing online resources from the science fiction collection to the importance of help on the library website). We’ve spent the last two weeks going back and forth about why this is important to them. On Friday each group did a shakedown version of the presentations they’re going to give to their clients this week. Some of their recommendations – even about something as abstruse as SmartTech – are incredibly mature and fine.
What does this mean? Finding ways to get students to invest in their work enhances their commitment to that work. Identifying themselves as (sometimes dissatisfied) audiences for the library resources and understanding that the work they are doing could very well be implemented on live sites has upped their game. Their research is more thoughtful, and their group work sessions are more lively (one group struggling with what *help* means got really heated last week.)
Teaching this course in a hybrid format has forced me to be much more organized. By necessity I’ve had to be away at least one class in four. The time I would normally spend lecturing and discussing in class just isn’t possible. I’m not ready to teach this course as a MOOC (that’s a discussion for another post) but I am testing the boundaries of virtual class sessions. Last week each group met with me via Skype or Google Hangout (their preference)
What does this mean? While it isn’t always ideal, finding ways to communicate with them meaningfully from a distance has made me think about tech-win and tech-fail in news ways.