Twitpic as Writing Prompt

I uploaded one picture to Twitpic just to see how it works. I’m no expert, but I have been wondering about easy ways to have students do their own version of the kind of photo-blogging I’ve been doing lately over on my other blog.

I had a colleague once who would send her students out across the campus once a semester or so armed with Polaroid cameras. Oh, how I miss the Polaroid. Unfortunately, I don’t actually know what was going on with those cameras. I only know what I always assumed. I think she was sending them on a visual scavenger hunt and then using whatever pictures they came back with as writing prompts. Pre-blog blogging and an excellent plan

In the pre-digi age, I once read about a teacher that got a grant to send disposable cameras home with her students. They took pictures in their neighborhoods. The teacher had them developed. The class made a scrapbook, and each student contributed writing assignments to go with the pictures. I thought at the time it was a great way to infuse some real meaning and real enthusiasm into the writing. I still think so.

I also think that paying for film is a bit on the absurd side when most of the students are walking around with digital camera phones in their pockets. So in the spirit of everything old is new again I suggest Twitpic as a way to gather photographs that students collect. They can then be projected in class to be used as writing prompts, linked to blogs for photo-blogging, or used as part of a class Twitter stream.

Writing About Digital Ethics

I’ve decided to use the theme “digital ethics” in my Composition II class this semester. I like to use themes in the research writing classes because they give us a way to bond as a class around discussable issues rather than just MLA procedures, which quite frankly are not the deal they once were to me.

I’m working on putting together a blog for that mainly for me to introduce them to ideas from which they then might brainstorm their own research projects. I have my own list of ideas I still haven’t added to the class blog, but I’d really like to get some feedback from others as well.

What topics based around the idea of digital ethics would you like to see your own students researching and writing about? What resources would you point them to?

I’d love to hear…

Student Videos

These videos were created by students enrolled in my ENG 1113 (English Composition I) at JCJC in the Fall 2009 semester. Their assignment was to make a video that communicated a point or a message. It was their first time and my first time to try video composition. They had a great deal of choice in how they went about it. You can see here three very different approaches. I’m very happy with all of them, especially considering this was a case of the blind leading the blind. Next time, I’ll give more direction on including credits and so forth, but they really came up to the task when I just let them put their own creativity to it.

Sherry Amacker

Colby England

Khyle Elvir

How to Have a Professional Blog on the Cheap and Easy

I’m paying for the privilege of keeping up this blog along with others. I don’t even want to talk about what I’m paying. I started out on Blogger in the ancient days of 2005. I flitted around from there mainly because I wanted to make my blogs look and feel like professional sites. I envied people who had unique designs and custom domains. Blogger was somewhat primitive then, just an entry-level approach.

My desire to move beyond entry-level brought me here, to a self-hosted WordPress site, and I love it. If you want to put a little extra time into your blog setup without having to be too terribly tech-proficient, WordPress might also be for you.

If you want something easier, cheaper, and still customizable, take another look at Blogger. It’s come a long way. To set up your own custom site on Blogger, just follow these steps:

(1) Go to www.blogger.com and set up an account.
(2) Follow Blogger’s prompts to create your blog.
(3) Go to a site like Blogger Templates to search for and download a template that appeals to you. This will provide far more template choices than the automatic Blogger setup, and your blog will look more unique than 90% of the Blogger blogs because most people just use the built in options.
(4) You’ve probably just downloaded something that comes in zip form. You’ll want to unzip it and find the xml file inside.
(5) Go to Layout and Edit HTML in your blog’s settings. At the upload template prompt, upload the xml file for the template you’ve selected.
(6) Go to Publishing under your blog’s settings. Click on Custom Domain. For $10 a year, you can purchase a unique domain name from Google.
(7) Go to Layout and Page Elements. If you click on Add a Gadget, you’ll see lots of options for sidebar widgets that can be added to your site. You might want to look at some other blogs to decide which ones you want.
(8) Start adding posts. You’re done.

This is very easy and very customizable. You can appear to have installed your own custom site without spending much money at all. If only I’d known before…

Remember, though, it’s about the content in the end. People will come to your blog no matter how it looks if they like what you have to say. Appearances help, but they don’t make up for nothing worth reading.

Is Facebook Irrelevant to Schools?

Joshua Kim writes about the irrelevancy of Facebook for Inside Higher Ed, bringing up some salient points. Twitter is typically more useful for discovering information, he says, and students don’t really want their teachers in their Facebook business.

That may be true. I tried creating a Facebook account just for communicating with students this past semester, and it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, but that was entirely my own doing. I ran out of steam. I couldn’t keep up with multiple Facebook accounts, plus Blackboard, plus everything else. I did encounter some students who said they preferred not to friend a teacher or classmates on Facebook. I had others who used the Facebook chat function to ask me questions about class.

I don’t think Facebook is irrelevant. I do discover plenty of professional articles and ideas amongst the silliness. I also think there’s a way to make it work for teacher/student interactions. Like everything else, that’s probably a matter of trial and error.

What I do believe is that this isn’t a Facebook v. Twitter standoff in which one will rise clearly victorious over the other. Students use a variety of social media. Schools should too.

Everything depends on what you need the tool to do. Do you want to disseminate information? If so, you need both Facebook and Twitter. Think about using a service like Tumblr or a Twitter application like TweetDeck to simplify pushing the same information out to multiple accounts.

Do you want to help students build projects or portfolios? Think about using Twitter with a blog as I wrote about yesterday.

Do you want to hold virtual office hours? For me, Facebook works best for that, but I’ve seen it happen on Twitter.

Do you work in a situation where Facebook and Twitter are both blocked by your school? In that case, you might want to ask your IT people to unblock Ning so that you can make a social network just for your class. This way you won’t have to worry about whether you are intruding on the students’ social spaces.

We’re only just starting to think through the impact of social media on education. We’ll see a lot of shifts and turns along the way. Sometimes those turns will mean one phase is ending as another begins, but sometimes they just mean a particular phase is rearranging itself.

Facebook has not yet worked the way I wanted it to with students. I don’t think that means it doesn’t work. I just think it means I need to keep rearranging the way I approach it. I also think it means I need to see Facebook as “a” way to communicate with students, not “the” way. For the foreseeable future it seems we’re going to be broadcasting our classrooms in multiple directions at once. And that’s okay.

Teach them where you find them, I was told as a new teacher. They’re everywhere now, and that’s where we’ll reach them.

Twitter as Assignment

David Carr’s New York Times article, “Why Twitter Will Endure,” reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about classroom uses for Twitter. I found the article by way of Twitter, though by the time I read it and decided to write about it, I could no longer remember who linked to it. This memory lapse in itself brings up issues of how Twitter works, how attribution and documentation work in the digital world–all worthy of discussion in the classroom.

Because I wouldn’t accept “I don’t remember” from a student if attribution were required or even appropriate, I made myself scroll back through several pages of tweets until I found this:

For anyone interested in why Brian Williams is an idiot, here is the link to the Time article in question.

Williams’ dismissal of Twitter aside, Carr makes some great points. I don’t know if I agree that Twitter is really “plumbing” as he asserts. Something new always comes along, after all. I do think it is here for a long stretch, though, and I think Twitter represents a communications style and way of thinking about information flow that will endure for quite some time. That’s why it’s worth bringing to the classroom experience.

Daisy Pignetti, among others, has done quite a bit of research and experimenting with Twitter as a classroom tool. I’ve followed her work along with listserv discussions on the topic for as much as a couple of years. I’ve also seen some really interesting professional uses of Twitter through conference backchatter, article sharing, and real, helpful discussions of academic issues.

Still, I’ve struggled with how to make Twitter work for students. If it is nothing more than a way for me to communicate to them, I can use any of a number of other tools–Blackboard announcements, Facebook, blogs, and so forth. If it is a way for them to communicate with each other, it gets messy, difficult for me to even understand how to track and assess. As a research tool, Twitter is perhaps a little too random. It will lead you to information but not through the most direct path.

That has me thinking about why I use Twitter and why I think it is important. David Carr’s article does resonate with my own experience. Twitter is about who you follow, not about who follows you or even who responds to you. Twitter is a way to receive varied information in one place, to get a sense not only of what’s happening, but of how people are responding to it.

This morning, in addition to David Carr’s article, I read an article about dolphin intelligence (via @courosa), saw some animations of mathematical equations (via @web20classroom), and browsed through lists of iPhone apps (via @mashable) all while doing other things and only casually paying attention to Twitter. This is my equivalent of what my father has done for years in reading the morning paper over a cup of coffee. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I’m just browsing through whatever information is there.

I do know who I am following, though, in the same way my father knew why he subscribed to certain newspapers and news magazines. He prioritized based on the kind of information he most wanted to know–local, conservative, etc.

I find people to follow who are likely to tweet things I feel I need to know. Sometimes I follow people because I think they are clever, but mostly I follow for information.

This is the kind of Twitter use the classroom needs. Thus, I think the best use I could get out of Twitter in my particular classroom situation would be to assign Twitter journals. Students would find people to follow on topics of interest to them and keep a journal of the most interesting bits of news and ideas found.

The best way I think would be to do this through blogs. Then it becomes a circulatory process just as it is for many professional writers. Find information within the stream. Write about that information. Feed what you’ve written back into the stream. Watch for reactions. And so forth.

I can see teaching an entire composition class as a Twitter to blog to Twitter to blog to Twitter process. I think that would make for a truly vibrant learning experience for all. Even as just one aspect of the class or one project, though, it would be well worth doing.