Software, Teamwork, & Collaboration

Google DocsThis week in Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim asserts, “The world is divided into two types of people: those who prefer Track Changes in Word and those who prefer to write collaboratively in Google Docs.” Kim’s explanation of the two ways of working with text sparked conversation on the TechRhet discussion list. Some spoke to Kim’s explicit question: “Which one are you?” while others extended the focus to consider different ways to write HTML texts.

Naturally, there’s no correct answer to Kim’s question, and the situation is not as binary as it is presented in his article. That ambiguous quality makes the article and its overarching question perfect for a class discussion of collaboration and teamwork. Students can share their own alignment, and then move on to talk about how Kim’s article is defining writing and collaboration. They can widen the discussion of writing and collaboration to include more tools and kinds of composing. With that groundwork in place, they can then talk about their own teamwork in class. Focus their conversation on how different kinds of collaboration suit different projects and ask them to brainstorm strategies for working together when you have different preferences.

Kim’s article is short, but it touches on how software, teamwork, and how people collaborate—all valuable topics for the classroom.

This post is the introduction from the Bits Flashback for July 3. Read the rest of the post on Facebook.


[Photo: Google Docs by BobChao, on Flickr]

Community Building Classroom Activities: A Round-Up

Community managers by luc legayHow do you take a group of individual, unrelated people and connect them in a supportive community quickly?

It’s a question teacher face at the beginning of every term. Here are some answers.

Begin by establishing reasons for students to connect. You can’t wave a magic wand and build community. It takes work. What’s the Trick to Building Community in the Classroom? outlines four lessons that lay the ground work for connections, no matter what class you teach or what other community building activities you use.

In the writing classroom, personal stories can be the best way to build quick connections. The writing task can make the connection, as explained in Building Community in 15 Minutes a Day. As students embark on a writing experience, they can build fast connections by talking about their challenges and successes together.

In a similar way, ask students to talk about their work as writers—their best work, their pet peeves, and their biggest challenges. Five Ways to Learn about Students This Fall outlines specific activities that ask students to share their history as writers in this way. Lesson plans for Weekly Writer’s Blogs, Technology Autobiographies, and Extended Metaphors about Writing encourage students to build a community of writers as they reflect on their own experiences.

Tend the fledgling connections writers make with activities that talk explicitly about community. Whether they look at communities outside the classroom or those at school, such discussions can ensure you students continue to Build Community After the First Day.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by luc legay]

What’s the Trick to Building Community in the Classroom?

Barn raising photo by Mangrove MikeOnline or off, getting students to talk to each other is a tricky task. I’ve had my happy share of classes where discussion took off, but I’ve also had my quota of classes where not even bribery with cookies and candy could get students chatting.

The FeverBee Primer About Successful Online Communities can help. While meant more for corporate and public community building, the lessons apply to the classroom just as well.

Lesson One: Establish a reason to connect

FeverBee Blogger Richard Millington explains that the key to a successful community is “connecting a group of people online and making them feel a part of something special.” Students aren’t going to launch into discussion just because we throw them together. We have to give them reasons to connect.

Themed classes (e.g., classes focused on a specific topic like “rhetoric of war” or “gender images”) can have a real advantage here. Students are already in the classroom because of their shared interest, so you’re one step closer to community.

In other classes, you have to work a little harder. Try tying current events on your campus or in the news to the pedagogical goals of the course to make connections and give students a reason to start talking.

For instance, almost everyone has an opinion on the Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux debate. Share the Fast Company article, “Analyzing Steve Jobs’ Language at D8: He’s a "People" Person!” to tie discussion of personal opinions to rhetorical analysis.

Lesson Two: Focus on group bonding

With so much we need to accomplish in the classroom, group bonding may seem off-task. Millington’s advice is important here:

The better you get to know and like your fellow members, and the more you care about their opinion of you, the more you participate and thus work towards a successful goal.

Give students time to bond and make connections. Even simple icebreakers can help students get to know each other and ultimately increase participation.

Lesson Three: Do things together

You have gathered your students and they have some common interests, but that still may not be enough to build a thriving community. Millington explains:

Bonding a community means doing things together. Like challenges for your community, milestones to reach or problems to overcome. It also means having a high level of interactions per member and ensuring members are happy to disclose their thoughts, feelings and other information.

Simply put, the class needs to do things together. You don’t have to layer on another set of tasks to make this happen. Look at what students are doing and try strategies like these:

  • Recognize students with the most posts (just simply by the number).
  • Identify students whose questions lead to the most follow-up discussion.
  • Point out posts with great ideas that may have been overlooked.
  • Mark group milestones (like reaching 1000 posts as a class).

As Millington mentions, community challenges can also be effective. As a simple challenge, you might ask students to reach a certain number of posts on a specific topic. If students work in small groups, challenge groups to have each member participate five times, for example.

Consider community participation projects as well. You might challenge students to post photos of language use from the local area (e.g., misspellings, grammar errors, ironic images). Start class collections of great resources, like links to websites that relate to the class focus. If your technology resources allow, you can even add some simple voting for the favorite photos or links.

Lesson Four: Encourage authentic discussion

To ensure things move in the right direction, do all you can to encourage authentic conversation. Allow students to discuss topics freely and without fear of criticism.

Free discussion doesn’t mean anything goes however. Millington suggests that

Allowing self-disclosure also means accepting negative comments. Not personal attacks, they’re nearly always worth removing (as our [sic] racist, bigoted and sexist remarks) . . . .. [Allow] heated debates and open disagreement to take place. It’s tough to let this happen, it feels like you should jump in and break it up. But don’t. Let people get their opinions out into the open.

Be sure the boundaries for safe and appropriate discussion are clear. Talk about the ad hominem fallacy, and explain how it applies to class discussion. Work together to create some class guidelines to help things run smoothly if you like.

Looking for more?

You’ll find some more suggestions in the FeverBee Primer. For some additional ways to highlight class members, check out 10 Excellent Rewards You Can Offer Members That Don’t Cost A Penny.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Mangrove Mike]

CCCC 2006: Day One

Ahh. Day one, and how do I spend it? Fiddling about for a while in my room. I didn’t go to a morning workshop, so there seemed no reason to rush. I did go downstairs to make myself a nametag and check on all my NCTE coworkers, to make sure that no one needed help. I decided to go ahead and lug my heavy laptop to the workshop so that I could take notes on the session. I was fortunate enough to get a seat near a plug, so I didn’t run out of battery power. The battery on this thing seems to only last about an hour :-/ Perhaps I should see if I can buy an extra battery for it, or maybe this is another excuse to get that baby Mac that I want.

There is no wireless in the meeting rooms so all I could do was take notes. No live blogging from CCCC it appears. Delayed blogging will have to do, so here goes:

I’ve broken in on an afternoon workshop, Fostering and Sustaining a Community and Culture of Digital Writing, with Doug Eyman, Dànielle DeVoss, Joy Durding, Angela Haas, Stephanie Sheffield, Martine Rife, and Suzanne Rumsey. The room is relatively full of people, but I managed to get here early enough to get one of the outlets in the room. The group has introduced themselves, and Danielle even introduced the handouts and CD of resources (and an excellent parallel Web site with copies of the resources).

After a brief introduction, we’ve been set to work as a group to think about
quuestions sent to folks in advance–basically defining the genre of digital
writing and exploring the pedagogical and professional issues and goals involved.
Issues that came up include:

  • Lack of professional development
  • Challenge of working in a completely paper-based classroom and meeting
    students current literacy demands
  • How to build community and programs, at the beginning of the process
  • Conception of literacy in general, not just decoding words on a page
  • Distinguishing between technology as a media and technology as a mode of
  • Goals: using tech because we can, or because students really need this
  • How does it shape community
  • Not just techne of it but also critical analysis
    of the media

There was lots of discussion of the term digital rhetoric, with one definition that focused on “anything you can transmit by the Internet”—an oddly limiting definition. Also focusing on word and image, none of the other modalities. Someone mentioned CAPTology (computer aided persuasive technology). Most visual assignments focus on image as argument/persuasion. Need to consider other modes of discourse.

Sharing of group goals for the workshop, and for exploration of digital rhetoric at home institutions. Importance of sharing, fact-finding. There was discussion of whether the word digital was necessary. If rhetoric is communication by any available means, isn’t the word rhetoric enough? And that exchange led to a crowd favorite question: “What is the opposite of digital rhetoric—analog rhetoric?”

Throughout the session, there were many video clips and Web site examples of
writing and pieces for students to discuss and explore. All were excellent,
but my favorite has to be the World of Warcraft video—”Grab your dick, and double click for porn.”

There were a number of specific assignments described, and I didn’t begin to
get them all written down. Here are a few:

  • List the different digital communities you belong to and think of the ways that you interact in those communities. An idea that was somewhat a combination of things included in the ReadWriteThink lesson Defining Literacy in a Digital World and Paying Attention to Technology: Writing Technology Autobiographies.
  • Focus on an exploration of the Variety of ways that we represent themselves in those different communities, including analyzing current representations and creating creating new ones. Doug Eyman described a variation where students began by investigating themselves online. Another example was to have students create a profile for a group or organization that they belong to. Parts of the conversation overlapped with the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Naming in a Digital World: Creating a Safe Persona on the Internet.
  • Analyze various Web sites and then apply what you learned to designing your own Web site, an idea shared by Joy Durding, which she used with 9th graders. I rushed up to ask her to submit it to ReadWriteThink. She had the resources. She just needs to make it fit our format. And it’s definitely a lesson that we could use on the site.
  • In discussion, ask students to consider what you need to know to compose
    the various digital texts that they interact with. While mentioned as a simple
    point of discussion with students, the idea seemed like a possible lesson plan
    idea to me. It could be a sort of variation of Defining Literacy in a Digital World, which really focuses on reading. What we need is a parallel Composing Texts in a Digital World lesson plan that focuses on the ways that people create these various texts. I’m thinking not of something that teaches all composing skills so much as asking students to look at available texts and analyze the composing skills behind the texts.
  • As discussion swirled, another lesson plan idea came to me, and since I had
    my laptop, I just began writing. I tentatively named the lesson Exploring
    the Digital Divide: A Social Action Project
    . It seemed to me that perhaps an important project was to ask students to do some actual exploration of the issues of
    access around them. The working overview that I came up with is “Students define
    issues of digital access and the resources necessary to take advantage of digital
    resources. With their definitions in hand, small groups complete an environmental
    scan of the digital resources available to them in a specific setting (e.g., the classroom, the school or local library, the workplace) and determine how
    they are effected by the digital divide in a local community. Inspired by this
    field research, group members propose and complete a social action project
    appropriate for their findings.” It may be too much, so I may end up focusing
    it more; but it’s a start and I think it could be a useful lesson plan.
  • Dànielle described a postcard assignment. She has students get postcards
    of the university and then analyze them: how does this represent the university?
    After exploring, they create their own postcards that represents how you
    feel about your school? Might be able to create a ReadWriteThink lesson plan
    that does similar things with postcards from their state or region, or they
    could use other documents on their location (e.g., pamphlets and resources
    from the chamber of commerce or visitor’s bureau). Another variation might
    be to ask students to look at historical postcards to determine what they can
    tell about the place and time as it is communicated in the text of the card.
    Juniors and seniors might get postcards from college visits and complete the
    assignment as Dànielle described it.