Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing Relief Blog

“Business as usual” after Hurricane Sandy quickly became an oxymoron.  Campus was closed; Moodle was down.  Entire communities:  gone.  Neighborhoods ravished.  There was need everywhere.  I, like many others, volunteered.  The tasks were overwhelming.  But I knew I could not continue on with the semester without acknowledging, and attempting to do something about, the many communities that were ravished. 
I "did something" both in my own practice and in my classes.  I designed a creative writing assignment to help make up some missed class time, an assignment I used in three of my classes.  I assigned my Creative Writing class to do Hurricane Relief work, and asked students to reflect on their experiences on a public blog.  They could have posted the assignment in Moodle, but I was hoping to create a resource that could extend outside of our classroom walls. 
To help achive this goal, I created a Tumblr Blog which allows outsiders to post without requiring them to have an account.  As the semester progressed, I asked those Creative Writing students to create lesson plans, using the power of writing and the arts more broadly to help facilitate service learning to affected communities.  I shared the blog and resources with faculty, encouraging them to use any of the material, and inviting them to share their lesson plans, make up classes, writings, etc.  I offered the blog as a space for their students to post, too, and as possible resource of makeup work needed due to college closure.
The site never went viral.  But the students created some stellar work.  Furthermore, students told me that publishing their writing in a public forum felt like it had higher stakes.  They knew the world was looking, not just me.

Update (2/13).  I have decided to extend the concept of the Hurricane Sandy Relief blog to Creative Writing Relief more generally, and to continue the use of that blog to archive exceptional student work, as well as to provide a space for students and faculty alike to think and write about Service Learning.  I am thinking about a few things:  how can technology promote service learning?   And how can we teach the use of social media to bring about social change?  Can you be a change agent through technology, or does activism still require face to face collaborations?  What would an all "E-learning" (including M-Learning and U-Learning) "internship" look like?  As the focus of the blog has changed slightly, so has the title and the text.  What you see in the link above is the result of this new shift  I invite comments and suggestions.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Free Online Texts with Boundless

For the Spring semester, I worked with Boundless ( to create a FREE, online text for the HS6 Systems "Social, Political & Economic Dimensions of Community" course. This course currently uses three text books, two online and one paperbound. One of the online texts had been a free open source text from Flatworld Knowledge, for which they are now charging $19.99 or $34.99, depending on the package of tools the student purchases. I am not sure how students who receive book vouchers can purchase these resources.

Boundless uses open source material (including wikipedia) which it curates using experts (many of whom are graduate and doctoral students) to ensure the accuracy of the content. Usually a student goes to them, tells them the text assigned by the faculty and receives a customized boundless book that covers the same content. Many standardized texts are in their system. In this case, I went to boundless with the three texts for this course and the course outline. With a staff person from boundless, I looked through their content in political science, sociology and economics and indicated the text that I needed and they placed it in a easily accessible online packet, that matches the course outline, for the students. If you want to look at it go to: You will have to set up a free account. Students will also be able to highlight, take notes, create study guides.

While it currently is designed to work only online, I have discovered that on a mac I can print to pdf to get pages in printed form. I have also recommended to boundless staff that they develop a means of downloading so that students can read when offline. Some of the student tools can be mailed to them as pdf files.

Some more traditional courses may be able to use Boundless content out of the box. You can check out the subjects and content available on the educators page:

Now I have to go and update the syllabus and the moodle shell for Monday's class.

I will be soliciting feedback from students throughout the semester about their use of this tool and would like to hear from others about their experience with this tool.

(Please note, this content was previously sent as an email to faculty and administrators on 1/5/13)