Saturday, September 22, 2012

Turning Plagiarism into a Learning Experience

After reading the article by Karon (2012), A Positive Solution for Plagiarism, I began thinking about how I can turn incidents of plagiarism into a learning experience for the students involved. Karon suggests that the first paper students write in lower level writing courses should be about plagiarism. This is based on the assumption that in many cases students do not understand what constitutes plagiarism. I am not sure this is true, but it begins with a positive approach that we need to teach students what plagiarism is before we can punish them for engaging in it. For the purposes of this discussion I am only using plagiarism to refer to using large portions of text or online materials without citations. And while citations might not be in correct APA style, if the student attributed the work to another, I do not consider that plagiarism. Such students need to learn to APA citation style. On the other hand, using another student’s paper or purchasing a paper is clearly academic dishonesty and does not allow for the student to use the defense that they did not know that what they were doing was wrong. This behavior requires appropriate academic discipline.

But I am not a teacher of writing and most of my students are in upper level courses. So while I can hope that others have taught students not only about plagiarism, but also strategies to avoid it, each year Turnitin finds multiple cases of plagiarism in the papers I review. This occurs even when I tell students what Turnitn will do and I allow them to submit their papers multiple times before the due date so that they can see their own originality reports and correct potential plagiarism.

Historically, the first time a student plagiarizes in my course, I have told them that I will not grade their paper and that they must fix their errors and resubmit the paper. Until they do so, they have earned “0” for the assignment because an “F” indicates they have tried to do the assignment and did it poorly, but such papers do not have extensive plagiarism. But aside from highlighting the plagiarism in Turnitin, I have not taught them how to fix their papers. Does such a student know how to fix their papers? The cynic might say yes, but maybe the student does not understand plagiarism or how to fix it. Many times students say “but I used the textbook”, “I did all the readings” and “I worked hard on this paper”.  They almost never say “What is Plagiarism?”

So maybe I have to be prepared to help students learn what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. I can turn their acts of plagiarism into a learning experience. So based on the suggestion of Karon, I have developed an assignment with resources to help students learn about plagiarism and fix their papers. Using, I put together some web resources on plagiarism and how to avoid it, which can be viewed by all students. I plan to add a link into all my Moodle courses. The Storify page offers students the opportunity to understand plagiarism before they write papers. I have included the plagiarism paper  requirements to for those who need them. I hope that the publication of the additional work may also act as a deterrent. Of course these papers must be submitted through Turnitin.

After reviewing the materials, students who have been found to plagiarize are required to write a 3-5 page paper on plagiarism with relevant references in proper APA style. Each paper must include:

·      a definition of plagiarism,
·      identification of the kinds of plagiarism found in the student paper that was submitted and the means for correcting it
·      discussion of three strategies that could be used to avoid plagiarism in the future.

Since I use Turnitin for grading student papers, I have created a grademark that I can place on plagiarized papers that directs the student to complete the paper on plagiarism and the Storify resources. 

The writing of this paper is no guarantee that the student will be allowed to rewrite the paper, because I want them to understand the gravity of the their behavior and want them to take the written assignment seriously. After this paper is submitted, I will inform students whether they will be allowed to fix their plagiarized paper and resubmit it for review. Not only does this assignment require the student to demonstrate that they understand plagiarism and what portions of their writing are plagiarized, but it also asks them to show that they have some understanding of how to fix the paper. If they are unable to do so, I will refer them to the Learning Enhancement Center for additional work.

What to do about patterns of plagiarism? I indicate to students that a second incident of plagiarism with result in academic review and possible discipline. While writing this paper, I began thinking about students who have multiple episodes in different classes with different faculty. While we might not wish to initiate academic sanctions against a student with one incident, we might want to track events in some way to determine if students have multiple incidents. For example, while I may use Turnitin, others may not so do not know a student is plagiarizing. Or the student tries to plagiarize in every class to see if they can get away with it. Since we do not have faculty meetings to discuss students or their progress, maybe we need to report all instances of plagiarism to department chairs, who can decide if further academic discipline is needed.

I would like to hear how others deal with plagiarism in their classes. Please feel free to use my storify page - What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It and/or my assignment in your classes. Let me know if you have other links or resources that could be added and shared.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Teaching Purpose Centered Education

Last week I posted to faculty a link to the Audrey Cohen Archive, and mentioned I was developing a lesson plan to include Cohen’s writing in the first day of class.  The formula for a first day of class seems straight forward:  introduce yourself, get to know the students, go over the syllabus and course expectations, perhaps develop class rules collectively, get writing samples from the students, etc.  I rarely get into actual material on that first day, i.e. look at a text (discursive or visual) together with students.  Here’s a copy of the email I sent:
I have begun posting a link on all of my Moodle accounts to the Audrey Cohen Archive, available at the school's library website:  The first day of class seems like an ideal opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) students to Audrey Cohen's concept of "Purpose-Centered Education."  We will look at excerpts of "Audrey Cohen College System of Education:  Purpose-Centered Education," asking students to contextualize her theory into the "real world" of their studies at MCNY.  Particularly with the adaptation of Cohen's methodology to other majors or programs, this can spur a fruitful conversation about how Cohen's vision applies to 21st century learners and education.  As we discuss on an institutional level the future of Purpose-Centered Education, it may be useful to pose these same questions in the classroom.
One professor responded that if “Purpose Seminar professors are not doing this by now, they should not have been teaching this course.”  She is right.  But I was curious to know if, indeed, that was being done in the classroom across the board.
I did an “unofficial” (i.e. verbal) poll the next day in a Common Curriculum course.  There were 19 students from three different majors representing 5 different purposes.  Here are my findings, though obviously this is not a ‘proper’ quantitative study:
  1.  100% of the students knew the founder and the founder’s name, Audrey Cohen.
  2.  100% of the students had heard of “Purpose-Centered Education” and “Constructive Action.”  When I asked “Who can define it?”, not one student raised his or her hand.  This very well may be a case of first day trepidation, but when pushed, the students said they “had a sense of what it was but didn’t know how to define it.”  This led to a discussion about a lack of teaching what these terms mean.  One student said she did not learn about this in orientation; another said as a transfer student, she was not given guidance and didn’t know what a “Constructive Action” was until a particular professor worked with her personally. 
  3. I asked students if they think their classes are integrated, and there was general disagreement on this issue.  Some agreed, others diddn't.  They understood in principle that their dimensions are supposed to tie into their Constructive Actions, but they said it didn’t always work that way, especially when courses are taken out of sequence.
  4. I asked students if they thought their assignments in class had “meaning” or “purpose,” and 100% of them said yes.  This may suggest that Purpose can come in different forms, as this (#4) in a “strict” adherence to the Cohen Model could not exist without #3.
  5. Though 100% of the students had heard of Audrey Cohen, only two out of 19 had read her writing.
With this unofficial data in my pocket, the next day I decided to bring Cohen into the classroom for a first semester course in the American Urban Studies Program  entitled “Self Assessment through Writing and Technology.”  After general introductions, I passed out a copy of Cohen’s article, “Audrey Cohen College System of Education: Purpose-Centered Education.”  I had students read it, making note of passages that stood out to them.  We then did close textual readings of a few passages, and discussed how Cohen’s model of education was different from a traditional model of education.  We looked at the charts in the text (pages 31 & 32) that demonstrate traditional education and how “knowledge is isolated in separate compartments” and then how that model is transformed when that knowledge is geared towards a “purpose.”  I mapped the main terms on the board:  Purpose-Centered Education, Constructive Action, Dimensions, Plan of Action, and then used the reading to fill those out, as well as to lead into a discussion of the course material.  I returned to the mapping of the terms throughout the introduction to the course.
Particularly as there continues to be discussion about what “Purpose Centered Education” looks likes or means, returning to Cohen’s original text seems integral to that conversation.  She happened to apply her concept of Purpose-Centered Education and Constructive Action to Human Services, but it is clear when you read Cohen’s writings that she believed it could be applied to different contexts.  As Cohen states, “When we learn most effectively, it is because we want to fulfill a vision or solve a problem:  finding the cure for a disease, creating a mode of transportation that will accommodate mass urbanization, helping people deal with loss, fostering artistic creativity, etc.” (Cohen, 28)  Reading Cohen in class on the first day helped students concretize the course material and the mission of the college overall.  It led to fruitful class discussion and a content-driven first day of class.  In short, I think it modeled for the students what Cohen herself envisioned as “Purpose-Centered Education.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Finding Online Videos

I  have been collecting a list of resources for locating on-line videos that can be used in class or viewed by students outside of class.  On-line films/videos can also serve as the basis of an on-line class when in-person classes have been canceled because of weather, rescheduled around holidays, or the professor is unavailable in-person. Links to the video can be placed in the learning management system (moodle) or embedded in the discussion forum, with discussion topics or questions. I always have one or two video assignments available on moodle just in case I need them. 

Educational Video and Documentaries
News (All the major TV and cable news networks have on-line video resources)
Broadcast Television
Internet Videos  
Miro is a free open-source video and music player. There is also a Miro Video Converter, a simple way to convert almost any video to MP4, WebM (vp8), Ogg Theora, or for Android, iPhone, and more.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the resources available. Please feel free to share your video resources.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Getting Students to Create Their Own Blogs (Critical Thinking and Signature Assignments)

Last semester, I taught ENG 110 -- Critical Thinking. When I first heard of the ideas and practices of the "Signature Assignment," I was demonstrably concerned with what I thought would be the slight repetitiveness between the journal assignment (Logs) and the signature assignment. So, instead, I decided to request that the students create their own blogs in order to do centrifugally-critical things:  (1) increase their positive web presence, and, (2) learn a new piece of internet software on their own.

So, I offered that, once a week, they should find a piece of media on the internet (picture, video, link, article, etc...) that dealt with that week's reading and discussion in a critically-synthesizing manner. This could be done on either blogger, blogspot, wordpress or tumblr. I also made a blog while the students were making theirs in order to match their work. An example might be that a photograph of a family watching television compares visually and ideologically with Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." And, as a sidenote, this photograph, let's say, also acts as documentation of American racism, which then recreates the discussion on what it means to think critically as well as what it means to "read" in the sense that we should deconstruct all images and videos in order to rebuild them and learn from them.

We made proper use of APA citation where necessary and, as well, committed to mild professional research from sources like NPR, BBC,, and National Geographic. I have done this before at other schools (Brooklyn College, NYU, and Mercy College) and feel that a blog is a great tool because the static feeling of who-is-the-audience increases as does the grammatical correctness and presentation since it is a public venue, technically and not a diary. We also get to make use of multimedia (New Media) and comment/follow on each other's blogs. This also brings up great discussions, like what does it mean to be private and public (especially in lieu of Plato's cave and Dante's hell. We also were able to discuss what kind of rhetoric is conversational, professional, explanatory, etc. And, perhaps most importantly, we discussed the timeliness of accurate revision processes because you don't want something to be victim of the public eye (errors on a blog) for too long. So, in that case, pre-writing becomes absolutely necessary. 

In a world where some job interviewers ask for credit reports, website addresses and Facebook passwords, we are slowly seeing the normal binary of public and private life interweave into a mesh of gray. It is seemingly growing more impossible to discern that your personal history is your public present. And, I think many in the MCNY community need to understand the pertinent imperative that having a positive web-presence is. 

The link to my course below is HERE.

You all can read it from the end of the semester (top of the site) to the beginning (bottom).

Ken L. Walker

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Resources for Teaching with Technology

Reposted from an email sent to all MCNY faculty on 5/8/12.

A couple of summers ago I developed a Faculty Development Workshop on creativity to help faculty incorporate online resources into their classes and Moodle shells. As we move forward with our Strategic Plan and our efforts to provide significant course content online, this becomes more important.

At that time I collected a list of web resources that could be used across the MCNY curriculum and placed them in a Moodle shell that was available to all the workshop participants. I still use many of these resources and have added others over the years. Of course some of them have morphed into something different than they were, totally disappeared, or been replaced. New ones have been developed. But I keep finding myself going back to that old Moodle shell to find something.

So I thought about updating this resource list to make it more accessible and since I wanted to try out my new Pinterest account (the fastest growing new social media network), I set up a Pinterest board on "Resources for Teaching with Technology". Piniterest boards are like bulletin boards where you can "pin" pictures from all over the web and add some descriptive text. When a visitor clicks on the picture, they are taken to the original source of the picture. I have also set up some other boards that can be used in my teaching ("Human Services Interest Board", "Documentary Films - Society and Human Services" and "Books Worth Reading"). The film and book boards are in response to questions that students often ask about seeing additional films or recommendations for books.

Please feel free to check out the Resources for Teaching with Technology board at:

You can like items, "repin" them to your own boards, follow a board, or write comments. I would be interested in hearing about the creative ways you are using some of these resources. Please let me know about other resources you find useful. Unfortunately not every resource can be pined since some of the web sites do no have usable photographs, which is the main element of a pin. Groups can develop boards since the owner of a board can add others who also have the ability to pin to that board.

We can also talk about how to use Pinterest itself as a teaching tool. Happy pinning.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Are You Tired of Powerpoint?

PowerPoint is a necessary evil for teaching in a technology enabled classroom. And if you don't believe me, read Tufte. E. (2009). PowerPoint Is Evil. Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.( Ever since Adobe Persuasion was discontinued I have been forced to use Powerpoint. I have even tried using Pages on my Macintosh and iPad. 

For the last couple of years, I have been making Quicktime videos of my lecture slides and placing them in the Blackboard or Moodle shell so that students can review them. I am often asked why don't I just create handouts. I don't for several reasons. I believe that....
  • students are responsible for their own learning.
  • the ability to identify and conceptualize is important for students to develop and a tool for doing this is note taking
  • active learning involves "activity" such as writing notes, hi-lighting, typing, etc.
Students are able to stop and review slides as many times as they want. And in fact this makes for more interesting interaction in the classroom, since students are not trying to be human xerox machines, copying every word on every slide. Many no longer take notes in class and are fully engaged in listening and discussing.

But it is a long process to make the original PowerPoint slides, turn them into Quicktime videos and upload them to Moodle. Every time I make a change in a slide set used in class, I have to make a new movie, remove the old file from Moodle, and upload the new file, and then make sure that it works.

So what if some presentation software came along that was could be edited online so that you only need to place a link or embed it in a Moodle shell. Well it does exist, meet Prezi (  If I make a change in my Prezi slides, all I have to do is save it in my Prezi account. (Which it does automatically while I am editing.) When the student clicks on the link or the embeded Prezi, they see the most recent version. No need to upload, download or redo movies. Not only that I can import my large collection of PowerPoint slides into Prezi, which also easily imports resources such as images and videos from the web. Prezi also allows collaboration through shared editing so that students could work on a presentation together. Purpose Faculty might jointly create a Prezi that could be used by all.

And best of all, it is free to students and faculty with .edu email accounts. Prezi also has an iPad app. It is easy to learn and comes with some very suitable templates. A full series of tutorials and cheat sheets can be found at

I gave my Purpose 8  Constructive Action students the opportunity to use Prezi instead of PowerPoint for their final in-class presentations and the Prezi presentations did seem more interesting and dynamic. Prezi also has the potential of allowing students to make online presentations without the difficultly of creating, uploading and downloading slide shows. All they have to do is post their link or embed their Prezi into a Moodle forum and the other members of the class can review the presentation and comment.

To learn more about Prezi...

Have You Discovered TED?

I have been using TED Talks Videos in many of my classes ( Many are short and can easily be used as discussion starters and to encourage reflective thinking. The tagline for TED is "Ideas Worth Spreading".

Now they have a new resource for teachers, TED ED (, Lessons Worth Sharing.  They developed some pre-made lessons, using animators and the TED Talks Videos that can easily be linked or embedded into Moodle. Lessons come with a video, quick quiz, thinking questions and additional resources.

But it gets better, faculty can "flip" the lessons to individualize them for their classes. To Learn more about flipping a video got to

This platform also allows users to take any useful educational video, not just TED's, and easily create a customized lesson around the video. Users can distribute the lessons, publicly or privately, and track their impact on the world, a class, or an individual student.

Try it out. I think we might be able to create some interesting transdisciplinary lessons that we can share and used in support of our unique PCE curriculum.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Using Social Media for Project Publication

I’m eager to share the success and hurdles I’ve experienced using technology in new ways this semester. I am experimenting with social media as a teaching tool in my Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature class. While launching this social media element was daunting to me, I was impressed with the successes reported from other institutions, as well as our own Lynn Sally. 

Most of my class readings and resources explore how great writers across time use literary devices and insight to speak out as critics of corrupted leadership and narrow thinking. That is a tall order for any student, and quite a new practice for many of our students. As this is a course I regularly teach, I am always keen to explore how the delivery of content and expectations for engagement radically shape the depth of critical inquiry around a topic or reading.  

This is best illustrated through our “Signature Assignment” (self-directed learning project), which focuses on social justice issues. In the past, these culminated in class discussion and PowerPoint presentations.
I have grown more and more frustrated with the “dead-end” feeling of this presentation format. For all of their great probing and creation of meaningful testimonies to individuals who are boldly “speaking truth to power,” the final product was limited to those in the room and a PowerPoint file… now collecting dust at the bottom of my desk drawer. This format fanned their inspirations only to become yet another project that died at the classroom door.

Enter Social Media. This spring term, for our Truth to Power projects, students
  • chose one individual or small group that they think played a significant part in 2011/2012 in helping to “re-write” how we think about power, institutions of power and inequality
  • used Bloom’s Taxonomy- Levels of Learner Knowledge to fuel their critical inquiry.
  • were required to use Twitter to engage with class material outside of class and gradually to engage with their topic through Twitter.
The final for this project was a multimedia analysis of their projects distributed back into the world via another social media, i.e. YouTube, Blog, Storify, Tumblr, Prezi,, etc.

Resistance was strong at the beginning, as students could not grasp the relevance of the social media component and/or were intimidated by the new online platforms. But truly, in week 4, when 15 students posted on Twitter their deep reflections to our Plato reading, my jaw dropped with a “holy shizzle, this works.” Of course, our next class session was totally radicalized by the dynamic on-line feed that proceeded our meeting.

The most incredible shift, however, came just this week, when students presented their published analysis of their topics to the class. Not only were we already invested in one another’s topics, but the testimonies were beautifully crafted, the writing was (mostly) very strong, and the class was amazingly empowered by becoming directly involved with a movement because of their online publication. (In fact, tears were shed.)
Here are links to two projects:
(This work was made accessible to general public by the students)

They got it. They got that the potential impact of their writing is powerful, that it creates ripple effects around the world and can influence someone (or a movement) without them even knowing. They are taking new-found responsibility for their writing. Never before in my teaching have I seen my students grasp the immediacy and far-reaching impact of their writing and language so well. 

Here is one success story of a course- students- being transformed by paying attention to relevance of course material, pushing comfort levels, bridging unforeseen connections and building peer community outside of the classroom. In an email today, a student wrote:
I found the Signature Assignment to be an eye opening experience. After I fully understood what the project was about, I realized how this assignment was truly innovative. Never did I think Twitter would be an integral part of my college studies. I especially enjoyed using social media at the completion of the project by sharing with the online community. It was interesting to research a group who was making a change in the world. During the time of the Arab Spring, I followed the coverage and thought I fully understood its purpose. Little did I know what was shown on television was a one-sided filtered agenda of what was happening. Your project exposed me to a grassroots revolution from the ground up. It brought to my awareness that true change can really happen if one is determined enough to speak up and speak out. And it is a sign of our times that social media can facilitate the mission statement of any cause. This class component enriched my learning experience and I'm sure it will do the same for future students.

I will be updating this assignment by
  • giving more directed prompts for Twitter posts
  •  giving more demonstrations for using Bloom’s for guiding critical inquiry
  • assigning project benchmarks that link directly to in-class learning objectives
  •  share examples of past student publications to help make a rather abstract assignment more concrete and inspiring
I’d love to hear any feedback and suggestions for moving forward!

Parker Pracjek, Academic Coordinator, Learning Enhancement Center

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Incorporating Tech into the Classroom

Dedicated adjunct faculty member and good sport Glenda Perreira shares her experiences incorporating technology into the classroom.

Perreira teaches and developed the curriculum for one of the common classes at MCNY: MIS CC 130 - Computer Applications. If your students have strong power point skills, she may be the one to thank.

In this podcast, Perreira shares with faculty some of the benefits of using tech in the classroom, her perspective on how to introduce it, and how to guide those new users.

Audio quality is a little rough for our first take, but hopefully this will be the first of many guest voices from faculty!

If you're having trouble with the embedded player, you may try this link directly:

Thank you, Glenda.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Using Social Media for Social Change

At the regional PCA/ACA this week, I presented a paper on my experiment with using Twitter in a Common Curriculum Course, Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature, and a BAUS first semester course, Self-Assessment through Writing and Technology.  I presented my paper, “Writing & Thinking in 140 Characters or Less:  Twitter as Purpose-Centered Education,” on a panel with a Carol Bernard who presented on a study she did using a Facebook teacher page and Lindsay Illich who presented on using Word Clouds to help teach composition. 

You can create a word cloud out of a text through the website, and the image that is produced will show you the primary words used in a particular text.  This could be an interesting exercise for analyzing the differences between two political speeches, for example, and it made me think that Word Clouds would be a great inclusion in the Public Speaking common curriculum course which is currently being developed at my college.  It is exciting to see other educators’ use of technology to enhance the classroom experience, and I was interested in the ways that colleagues have thought so deeply about how to teach students to think and write through these technologies.  It also got me to thinking about whether I practice what I preach.

As MCNY promotes Purpose-Centered Education that fosters students to become socially engaged change agents, this seemed a logical extension to move towards using Twitter and social media more broadly for productive ends.  Social activism does not have to happen simply in the traditional “internship” model on which the college – in the past – has been based.  As a cursory glance at revolutions around the world indicate, social media has been central to many – if not most – of our modern movements for change. 
This semester, I assigned Twitter for the Critical Thinking Signature Assignment, and asked the students to create a project called “Using Social Media for Social Change.”  They were asked to research a topic that was either 1) connected to their Constructive Action or 2) of political or personal interest to them.  They were then asked to follow that topic through their involvement with Twitter, by following leaders and organizations, retweeting, and generally getting involved in a topic through social media sight.  As they researched, read, and got involved, at the end of the semester they are asked to use social media to sum up their findings, and to recirculate that through a social media sight such as YouTube, Tumblr, Prezi, or a host of other options.  The idea is that their research would then be recirculated through the social media that they did their project.

I realized, perhaps too late, that asking students to bring about some type of social change – despite the medium – is daunting.  It’s not that using Twitter or using Twitter for productive ends is beyond students, but rather that I don’t know if I succeeded in breaking that down – just like one would break down a research paper in a composition class – into steps.  Some of the questions that have arisen include:  how do we get students to use social media critically?  What type of additive assignments can be given to help students establish, research, and develop their topics? In short, how do we get students to “start a revolution” or movement online?
Here are some ideas of how I will update this assignment in the future:

1)       Suggest Topics.  Though it may seem limiting, I realized that giving students possible topics may be useful for some.  “If you could change the world, what would you change?” question is admittedly both daunting and seemingly impossible.  Suggesting topics will give options to those students who find difficulties coming up with their own.  It also allows us to connect to what is happening politically and socially both locally and globally, and to place our conversations in class in a larger context.  The topics can give students options, and can help them brainstorm their own take on the suggested topics.
2)      Show Examples.  I tried to model in class how I was using social media for productive ends by showing students who I was following, and what I had learned about current events or topics of interest to me through Twitter.  But a don’t know if this was entirely successful.  In hindsight, I think a list of concrete examples of others using social media for social change would have helped students understand the concept.  These concrete examples could include
a.       celebrities who use Twitter to support causes;
b.      individual or organization who use  their Twitter feeds for activism;
c.       examples of viral videos, etc. that have helped broadast social issues;
d.      online “boycotts” and “buycotts” as strategies for supporting issues important to students as consumers;  
e.      examples of revolutions and movements around the globe broadcast on social media 
This list could, in turn, be placed on a collaborative editing cloud such as Google Docs, so that students and instructors could contribute examples that they come across.

It may be the end of the semester, but it’s never too late to think about and implement changes in the classroom.  I will run this by students this week in class, and see what they think.  I am sure they will have suggestions that will improve the classroom for all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Increasing Class Participation in Moodle Forums

As we begin to move classes online, I have been thinking about how to increase student participation in discussion in forums. In my hybrid classes, I have begun to have independent learning tasks that I want students to share and discuss before our next in-class meetings. I use the "single, simple discussion" format so that students are all in one threaded discussion each week. Each week I have a different task and a new discussion forum.

Even when I graded the student postings or raised questions about their postings, students primarily only posted their answer to the question and didn't respond to others. This pattern occurred even when it was obvious that there were differences of opinions. According to Department of Education guidelines, online course content has to be interactive and should not simply be homework. I wanted to make our online discussions look more like inclass discussions.

The Moodle forum allows faculty to grade student postings by adding up all the points earned on each posting. Only the student themselves sees the faculty ratings. So I set a weekly forum with a maximum of five points. Students earn three points for a good posting  (A or B) that is on time and two points for an adequate posting (C or D) that is on time. A late posting earns only 1 point no matter how good it is and I don't accept any posting over a week late.  So I am requiring students to focus both on the quality and timeliness of their postings. Students earn another 1 point for each relevant, reflective response to another student's posting. Since the total score is set at 5 points, a student who earns only 2 points on their original posting can earn three more for their responses to others. Even someone who does not do an original posting can earn 5 points for the week with five good reflective, thoughtful responses (although no one has figured this out yet). This system seems to have generated some very good discussions. Some students are engaging in dialog and some responding to more than two posts. The total I set in Moodle allows me to not worry that a student will earn too many points as it will not give them more than five. My syllabi identify the value of their forum participation in their final grade.

My ground rules continue to be in process.  Do I want to allow someone to earn the full five points without an original posting? I also need to adjust the time frame, which currently required postings to be submitted before the next in class session, when I usually highlight and discuss the responses for the week. Some people were posting minutes before class so that no one, including me, could read or respond to their postings. And the same individuals were chronically late every week. Some were even posting during class and with students arriving late to class. For the future I am thinking about moving up the dates for original postings to two or three days before the next class and responses to the day before class.

I would be interested in hearing how others are using discussion forums in their classes.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Twitter How To

When Twitter first came out, I thought it marked the end of Western Civilization.  No doubt many of you feel the same way.  Skepticism aside, I have been using Twitter in my classed, and to great results. 

Here's an easy tutorial I wrote for new Twitter users to log in and get going.  You will discover that the exchange of information on Twitter is boundless, practically instantaneous, and totally inspiring.  Feel fre to copy and share this if you want!

1) Go to
2) Go to Field: “New to Twitter? Join Today!” and fill out the necessary information. BE SURE TO WRITE DOWN YOUR LOGIN AND PASSWORD IN YOUR NOTEBOOK FOR THIS CLASS.
3) “Username.” Think of a creative, original, unembarrassing name for your Twitter Account. Your Username will be in your URL, so pick something that’s easy to remember and type.
4) Click on “Next Tab: Interests” and, if you want, select your interests.
5) Click on “Next Tab: Friends,” enter “CritThinkWrite” and select “Search.” Click on “Follow” to follow my Twitter account.
5) Go to your Email and activate the account via the link.
6) Click on your Twitter account icon in the upper right hand corner. In the drop down menu, select Settings.
7) Go through EACH Tab menu to update and personalize your account. Take special note of the following:
• Tweet Privacy (under “Account”). This allows ONLY those who you have approved to be able to read your Tweets.
• Twitter with Text Messaging (under “Mobile”). If you can send text messages from your phone, I STRONGLY recommend you activate this feature. This way, you can post while on the go!
• “Notifications” Tab: You may want to consider deselecting receiving texts every time you get a Twitter, though keeping it active with DM will help you stay connected. Check out the right column for other features.
• Picture (under “Profile”). Add an image or your own photo.
• Bio (under “Profile”). Enter a bio.
• Select a Theme (under “Design). Customize your Twitter account!
8) Click again on your Twitter account icon (upper right hand corner). Scroll down to “Write your First Tweet!” in the right column. Write your first tweet and post.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Faculty Sharing Resources, Connecting to Social Media for Social Change

A colleague forwarded me a short article about an African Chief who is using Twitter to “to help solve problems and maintain order in his Kenyan village” (  His Tweets have helped prevent crimes, offered practical resources such as job openings as well as “inspiring” messages to his community.  This came at an opportune moment as it serves as a practical example of what I am asking students to do in my Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature course.
I Retweeted the post (@CritThinkWrite), and reminded my students that they should begin following leaders, activities, and organizations either related to their Constructive Action projects or a topic of interest to them.  For this course, students are asked to maintain a Twitter account and for the first half of the semester, they are given prompts every week that relate to the course material, make connections between their courses, and/or apply what they are studying in their real world experiences. 
For the rest of the semester, they are asked to use Social Media for Social Change, and to track their progress through a Trending Topic: #socialmediasocialchange.  This includes researching initiatives and projects, communicating with leaders, and becoming involved onlines with communities.  For their final, they will create a presentation, report, or other mixed media project that is then distributed back through social media such as YouTube, Tumblr, Prezi, or any other user generated source.  This way they can distribute their findings back to the communities they have studied and worked with, while using social media to do so.
In the article, I was interested in the author’s suggestion that readers post “the most interesting or unexpected examples of social media use that you’ve heard of” in the comments section.  I am interested in this, too, and will show students this in our next class and ask them to share their projects with a larger community of interested readers by inviting them to post a comment to this article.  One reader who posted a comment mentioned she has seen cell phone usage increase even in remote areas, and that those with phones serve as “information multipliers” for the rest of the community.  While some would argue the technologic divide alienates, here is an example in which it unifies.
In this sense, social media is returning users to community-centered information exchange, and that that creation of community is something that is sorely lacking in our modern age.  In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam has (now famously) argued that social capital has declined in America since the 1960s, and continues to do so across a broad range and staggering number of categories.  While we may blame the insular nature of constantly being “plugged in” as a contributor to the decline in social capital, we can start to harness its potential for positive, real world effects.  I see others are doing this around the world, too.  Luckily, we can be friends on the World Wide Web.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Faculty Office Hours

With all the work that comes with designing innovative lesson plans, incorporating technology into your pedagogy can often feel like an added burden that requires time and expertise you think you may not have.   Beginning this semester, I will hold Faculty Office hours (for Full Time and Adjuncts) on Mondays from 4:30 to 6:30 to discuss questions, ideas, or concerns you have about incorporating technology into your classes.  I am not a technology expert, nor am I an education expert, but rather I envision these office hours as a time carved out of our days when we can meet and discuss pedagogy, how to deliver course content effectively, and, in the spirit of Purpose Centered Education, put our ideas into action.
Incorporating technology can be scary, difficult, and feel time consuming, but the more I've used it the more I realize it makes my job easier (really) and classes more dynamic.  So if you need some help or just want to talk, please come see me.  You can email me, too, and if you have questions that are outside my expertise, I will direct you to a professional.  In the meantime, here's an ongoing list of resources that faculty have used in their classes that may inspire you.  This is a Google Doc, so feel free to add your techno resources to this list!  Thanks to Adele Weiner and Diwata Fonte for contributing to this document:
Faculty Office Hours
Monday:  4:30-6:30
Office:  1246
Extension:  2439
Feel free to come by or phone!