Research Project Sites

It’s that time of year when most eyes are on Santa, but mine are on next semester’s handouts. I’m working on practicing what I’ve been preaching. We need more web writing in writing classes, I told you. We need more multimedia. We need more variety. We need more creativity. All that need requires a whole lot of work and thought. And a lot of popcorn for supper too if you happen to live at my house and you aren’t a cat on a special diet.

My biggest concern is in reworking ENG 1123, or Comp 2. At my school, this is a research class. You know, the one people who don’t like to write and don’t feel confident about documentation put off until the last possible semester due to the sheer dread of it. Making a class where they know they have to write an academic research paper interesting and innovative is a challenge. Honestly, I find bibliographies tedious. I don’t know how to make them anything else for students. That’s why I just send them to EasyBib for the quick path to success with MLA.

The past few years I’ve had sequences of related assignments and a semester theme for that class. The theme gives us something to talk about in class (or on the discussion board for online classes) other than where to put the parenthetical citation and where to put the punctuation on the works cited page. The sequenced assignments give the students time to develop their ideas over time and to understand aspects of research in steps rather than having to take it all on at once. That just makes everyone’s life better.

Still, it’s the class people dread. They already have to do more hands on work than in that class than in most others at the same level. How could I ask them to do even more work by adding multimedia/web assignments to an already full load? I couldn’t. They’d all drop, leaving me with an easy grading load and shaky job security. This isn’t the time for that kind of risk.

What I can do, however, is to transform some of what they are already doing into web-based forms.

This is the thinking that lead me to my Google Sites Project idea. Essentially, I’m having them create a website out of all of their research assignments, nearly all of which they are already doing in my class.

I have added one thing to the web assignment–the creative work. The addition of that assignment makes the number of pages on the website add up to eleven. This is a number that sounds like bonus points are involved to me. English teachers are not mathematicians. They need nice even numbers to work with. Thus my plan is to divvy out ten points per page to add up to a possible 110 points.

I might prefer a more holistic approach to grading, but I need those points so that I can go ahead and award some grades while the site is still a work-in-progress. That’s my compromise. I want the whole research portfolio to receive one grade, and I want the students to have nearly the whole semester to work on it. At a two-year college with open admissions, I can’t assume they understand whether they are on track or not with a semester-long project without giving out some grades along the way. Thus, I’ll have periodic check-points at which I’ll award “as-is” grades to individual pages.

I’m still working out the details. I’m sure I’ll share more ideas along the way, and I would certainly welcome feedback.

This is just one possible way to go about using Google Sites for research projects. In another class, I’d be more likely to assign group projects with GS. It is, after all, a tool designed for collaboration.

I chose Google Sites because my campus went to Gmail for all faculty and students. My students already have access to this without having to register on their own. It is a free tool, though, and easy enough to set up even if everyone has to register for a new email account.

Had the opportunity not been so readily at hand for me, I might not have gone to Google Sites first (I’m more of a WordPress girl), but I think I’m going to be very happy with it. The sites are very easy to work with, and they are more versatile than I’d realized with features like blogs and file storage as optional pages.

So here we go. It seems like a good idea right now. I’ll let you know around next April how I feel about it then.

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