NCTE and Food for Thought


“Cultivating Engagement in Online” the description read in the National Council of Teachers of English program, but as the professors from Salt Lake Community College in Utah began, they quickly explained that the focus of their talk had shifted due to a recent decision by their administration to restructure the first-year writing courses.  In light of the readings we had been assigned concerning the quality of online education, this switch in emphasis could not have been better timed.

Maenhardt and Bogle, the presenters, have been teaching at the college for over a decade and both have been teaching fully online for at least six years.  The decision to create courses as collaborative teams came as a directive that, while not totally unexpected, demanded much of the professors who had previously worked autonomously within the boundaries of guidelines determined by the English department in face-to-face courses.  As the readings indicate to ensure quality, the restructuring was aligned with the college’s mission to engage and support all students, reinforce the values of collaboration, community, and learning, as well as exemplify the vision of an inclusive and transformative experience for every student.

In addition, the teams remained subject to department norming, moved from textbook to OER adoption, (thereby addressing the cost issues that had been cited overwhelmingly as prohibitive during end-of-course student surveys), and utilized a Writing Workshop model, meaning that the students would be required to meet synchronously with their professors through Google Docs collaboration and Adobe Connect to discuss writing projects as they drafted.

Both professors touted the collaborative model as a way to support one another as teachers though they admitted that there need to be some changes made as students were not quite sure who was in charge of their grades with the overlapping of professors to cover the wide variety of “sign-up” sessions online.  Furthermore, they felt that some autonomy needed to be returned to the professors.  For example, if one professor wanted more choice in topic selection (freshman composition generally covers rhetoric and research to support an argument), he or she should be allowed that.  Dr. Maenhardt, for instance, had structured the entire semester around FOOD, but Dr. Bogle had decided that she wanted to allow her students to choose from three topics.

In the final analysis, and as the Salt Lake Community College moves forward, they are making adjustments within the team approach, keeping what works, modifying what doesn’t, based upon students’ commentary and their own observations.  The post to the our discussion thread emphasized what emerged loud and clear: the technology infrastructure is a key to success!  (As I have found in my own experience with freshmen surveys, often the “likes” and “dislikes” reveal contradictions, the very same activity eliciting “yays” and “nays,” as was the case for these teachers.)  This session gives me food for though as I consider my upcoming composition class at Ocean County College in the spring.

Wikipedia and Potential for Research

Who knew that Wikipedia was so extensive and provided such vital resources for anyone interested in participating in knowledge construction?  Truthfully, my knowledge of Wikipedia has been limited to the admonition I, and the library orientation staff at my college, give:  Wikipedia is an okay place to start obtaining background knowledge, but it should never be listed as a source on a final paper.  I do know that as a beacon of all things popular culture, it is the premier encyclopedic reference.  What I didn’t know is almost everything else that the tutorials for educators and students contain.

Wikipedia has many different types of involved participants.  I do not think I can use this with my eighth graders although showing them that the tutorials exist might be intriguing and engaging for some of them.  The novel that many of them read (made into a movie which always spurs them) Paper Towns by John Green creates “Radar,” a character who is actively engaged throughout in content creation on the Omnictionary, modeled on Wikipedia.  For college students, however, the thought of using Wikipedia as a tool for developing audience awareness and expertise in subject matter is a possibility.

Just last week, Faculty Focus discussed the use of Wikipedia with students.  (The article was earlier published in Online Classroom in 2015.)  The article explores some of the possible ways Wikipedia could be used, for example as a course-long project, or as a repository for a syllabus and students’ projects as part of the Wikiversity (examples of projects are provided), or as a way for students to add content to already existing articles.  Furthermore, it discusses the definite benefits of additional academic “eyes” on student work as a source of motivation for revision and the grading scale that could be used, and that the author used, with students.

I have a new, and justified respect for Wikipedia.

Please BADGEr Me!

class-badges2016-10-30-at-3-20-51-pmI am excited as can be about discovering class badges.  (The video, short, promotional, explains everything.) The link Erica provided to the edudemic article hit the spot!  I love how cleverly and clearly it is presented.  I have signed up and created my first badge.

Over the summer, I spent some time and energy exploring Classcraft.  I don’t know if any of you are familiar with it.  To be honest, I wished I could try it, but the extent of the endeavor was too much for me.  Furthermore, it is much about controlling behavior, and that is not a real issue in my classes. What I do like about the game system is that motivation becomes a primary goal; engagement matters.  This same invitation to engage is what I see with Class Badges on a more manageable scale.  We have read articles about the importance of motivation, and mindset, particularly among the younger students. Badges may be a way to encourage this.

In exploring further, I came across this updated post, dealing with using badges for motivating professional learning.  Kasey Bell’s blog makes is clear that youth aren’t the only ones who benefit from the incentive of earning badges.  It is clear that any age loves games.  “Gamification with badges can be a great motivator for teachers and students.”  She includes advice from Michelle Phillips, an IT Specialist, “Start with the badges you really want everyone to have experience with, then add more as you go.  Competitions are a great way to get teachers engaged in the program.”  These are words I will take to heart.

Here is how I envision using class badges in the upcoming months. One of the ways badges can be used is to mark progress during a long project.  The upcoming Book Clubs project is just such a project.  I can see structuring the required assignments, and building in Challenges (or “extraordinary targets” as the edudemic article explains).  The very first task the students must do is create their own Google Site to use a Book Club Central and link it to their Google Classroom account..  I will create a badge for that accomplishment.

One of the discoveries I have made in researching this platform is that the badges cannot be assigned in Classroom.  What I will do, as was recommended in the forum, is make a Class Badges folder in the “About” stream in Classroom, so students can easily check their badge progress.  This is a bit of a drawback, but not prohibitive.  The motivation will outweigh the inconvenience.  When I told my colleague my plans, she said,” They’ll [the eighth graders] do anything for a sticker.  I guess we’ll see how effective this turns out to be.

I’m completing a screencast and going over how to create a site next week, on Monday (11/7).  I’m introducing the idea of badges on Friday when the students set new marking period goals for their independent reading.  The Site badge will be up for grabs after Monday when I show the screencast and the students try their luck.  I’ll keep you posted on how the new addition is received.





Bill’s question prompted me to acknowledge the role that interested professors and a forward-thinking administration can have in planning for greater student success, even if the methodologies are not mandated.  I also loved the practical examples provided in the Shaw article of professors working with UDI principles to make practices maximize learning for ALL the students.

In another vein, I fully intend to access some examples of readiness surveys and offer them to students when I teach an online or hybrid course after reading the article about DEARS.  This is a no-brainer, a “getting-to-know-you” activity that, at the very least, should help communicate interest in finding out where students are, and causing the students to be meta-cognitive about their own status.

INFOGRAPHICS: Data of All Types Visualized


Okay, I’m officially an convert!  I did not create this easily, but I bet my students will.  I love the possibilities and the shared resources.  This is an infographic representing part of my reading for presentation, Chapter 4 in Digital Habitats.  In looking at it, anyone with a flair for design, (Sorry, professor, even after our design foray together, I am unduly impressed with my simplest success!), would find multiple flaws.  I’m happy because, in doing this, I have become more confident with the material and am more prepared to complete my screencast.  I needed that.

I can see this tool, despite my use of Canva in the past, as one that will serve my students well.  I know that during our book clubs, as one of the options for representing theme, students could create an infographic in and upload it to their blogs…love the embed code option.  Look how well it worked for me.

Youth Radio, a division of npr, features terrific resources.  One is devoted to visualizing data.  I will be using this with my students to discuss an aspect of human impact.

Considering the E-Learning Project: Early Musings

As I understand this project, and based on some of the examples provided, the project should be useful to us and utilize principles we have explored in this course.  It is early, however, so I’m sure that, as did my MMP, the following idea will need serious revision.  As a writer, this comes as no surprise; the best writing is re-writing!

Last spring, I presented for the first time at the New Jersey Teachers of English (NJCTE) conference.  Using the project I developed in the “Using Digital Tools” course, I shared my work with book clubs and reader response —how technology could enhance both.  We worked with a social justice theme, and the presentation had Poll Everywhere and many links that, once shared, the audience members could use in their classrooms.  (Several contacted me and actually did so or are doing so this year.)  I want to present again this spring, and that is what my e-learning project will be geared toward this audience, a community of like-minded professionals.

Our focus this year is environmental justice.  I have linked my class webpage here, so you can see the essential questions that guide our inquiry in the navigation.  This year I will be tackling an inter-disciplinary unit with the eighth grade science teacher.  For those unfamiliar with the Next Generation Science Standards, it is important to note that inter-disciplinary projects (cross-curricular work), becomes even more important with the NGSS.  The students will be working with the crosscutting concepts delineated in this Teaching Channel video.  All seven of the concepts, particularly, cause/effect, stability and change, structure and function, and system and system models can be explored through this literature approach.  Our class Google site captures the essence of this with the questions about human impact and our ability to be agents of change.

I see the e-learning project exploring the genre of dystopia, the analysis of the literature, as well as the science issues such as over-population, sustainability, waste management, energy conservation, pollution, as well as accommodating the 2016 ISTE Standards in terms of the students’ independent work based on their understandings.  By the time I present in May, I will also have student samples and design projects that the students will have completed (in science and ELA classes) to address a specific environmental concern (NGSS: human impact) to share with my audience.  Hopefully, this project will demonstrate the marriage of science, reading, and language arts, as well as the affordances of technology in facilitating creation.

I have embedded several of my resources above.  In addition, studying dystopian literature provides a lens to explore this topic. I apologize for the inchoate explanation of this project; I am still sorting it out.

Looking Back…Thinking Ahead


This, my favorite semester so far, is coming to an end, and as I will ask my students to do a reflection, a practice I value and embrace, for once I decided to share my own.  I’ll confess that I cannot escape reflecting on my practice, that it sometimes keeps me up at night, or more likely, forces me from bed in the small hours of the morning.  “How could I have done that more effectively?” is the question that haunts me and makes me “whoever had the light on.”

Here’s my take:

  • the interview–  Caitlyn Cook (Thank you again, Caitlyn; see you next semester!) set us on the right trajectory with her library presentation about using an interview as a primary source, emphasizing both what it can do for research as well as its limitations as a single perspective in a larger discussion.  I love the interview as a way to find a research topic, but students need to understand early on its usefulness.  If the interview fails to serve as a springboard to a topic, I hope to add the use of a survey as a way to add “immediate voices” to the researched argument.
  •  the rhetorical analysis-I will never abandon this task, both because it teaches the “holy trinity” of argument: ethos, pathos, and logos, but also because it gives students an opportunity for purposeful collaboration and practice, and an awareness of the way an argument is constructed.  I will introduce it differently, making sure we work on an argument together in diigo, (another goal: to teach the affordances of diigo, so students will realize its usefulness as a research and personal library tool), correctly annotating and labeling argument strategies before I ask the students to do the same.  I will have an in-class, low-stakes rhetorical analysis assignment again; getting a first draft with substance done in an hour is a measure of preparation and a formative assessment.  As long as it doesn’t weigh too much, it’s fine.
  • blogging–  Okay, I’m a serious fan!  I love that the students read and respond to others.  I will not abandon this, especially since it worked better than ever this semester and, I’d like to think, fostered a bit more community among class members.  The height of success was in the assignment that the college students wrote about their research process to a specific audience—my eighth grade students.  It was wonderful to see the awareness of audience, one of the trickiest aspects of writing, manifest itself.  My eighth graders LOVED it, and have a new respect both for blogging and for research; I have terrific models to show the next semester’s students.  I hope to expand this blogging interaction along research lines.  I also intend to weight the exploratory blog posts more heavily and explicitly teach about hyperlinks and comments.
  • class discussion– This is always the toughest part of class for me.  Some students consistently don’t do the assigned readings.  I had hoped the blogging would help, and it may have, but I need to work on this—more circles,  more real-world based, start-with-experience introductions to the articles and essays we read.  I am glad we spent time on censorship and micro-aggressions, and in light of all that has been happening lately on college campuses, I will address this topic again, but I’m thinking that the “purpose of college” narrative with references may be the best place to start.
  • Office 365 ( and a digression)-I am not a fan of the Class Notebook for collaboration and will probably exclusively use “Shared Folders” in OneDrive or switch back to Google Drive which also affords hang-outs and easy collaboration.  I am awaiting the students’ evaluation of this experiment before I make my final decision.  What I do know is that asking students to get drafts in front of me before class, and on my schedule, no matter which vehicle I use, is still problematic.  Life interferes with plans.  To that end, I have relaxed a bit about my role in students’ success.  (When an eighth grader while reading the college students’ blogs said, “Ms. Emerson, this student doesn’t have any blog posts,” I answered that some students don’t do their work, just as some of them don’t do their work.  She quickly, and sincerely, asked, “Do you call their parents?”)  I am working with adults and am not wholly responsible.
  • researched argument and annotated bibliography–  I know that MLA is the citation format used in this class, and in English classes generally, though working on a certfiicate in Educational Technology, I have had to use APA, and realize the arbitrary nature of citation.  Without deriding the necessity of giving credit to sources, I have been less than comprehensive in teaching in-text citation and will need to improve on that next semester.  I need to teach defining boundaries within the researched argument and generally need to improve instruction, using more of Gerald Graff and Robert Harris for practice.  I will continue to emphasize the importance of the annotated bibliography as a way to “write inside” the paper (Graff).  I also have some excellent examples to show students next semester from this class.  The weight of this assignment will change, however, and allow me to give more emphasis on blogging.
  • visual rhetoric– I want to make sure I build in time for infographics and visual information, photos, and political cartoons, as well as the ability to analyze and assess them.  The Little Seagull provides a decent set of walk-through exercises with their online component linked to this blog.  I want to make sure that I use visual data alongside each topic we discuss.  An article from The Chronicle makes it clear how easily I could do this.  Planning ahead is key.

All in all, it has been a learning semester.  I cannot thank the students enough for traveling with me; they have made it all worthwhile.

A Technology Plan (Limited!)

I have so many thoughts about using technology more advantageously with my students in the upcoming year, based upon both this class and the Introduction to Digital Tools.  It seems fitting that I am using Edublogs to post this final blog for our class because the aspect of planning I wish to address that relates to occupational practice is, in fact, blogging.

For three years now, I have required blogging of my students.  When I initiate the same requirement this year, I will do so with a more nuanced and systematic approach based upon my awareness of planning.  First of all, my personal survey  will ask students to share where they are now in terms of their use of technology and their comfort-level.  Doing so should help me not only assess “where we are,” but also help find student-leaders who can assist their peers. I will share with them the affordances and rationale behind blogging in a more transparent way and spend a class (or classes—as the requirements become more demanding) showing them how edublogs works.  (Examples of this include hyperlinks and activating certain widgets—particularly the class widget to afford them easy access to their peers’ blogs.)   I have never truly instructed for its affordances to be clear.  If I expect the activity to be embraced and appreciated, I must begin here.

In addition, I need to spend time instructing in appropriate and useful comments.  Because the course specifically requires that students interact and develop ideas based upon readings, the importance of interaction outside of class in response to readings must be a focus of this plan.  In a pertinent blog post from the Macmillan online community, I read an interesting explanation, “300/100/X2Q,” which I will use with my college students.  Each response must be about 300 words; they must respond to two of their peers in approximately 100 words; and they must ask a question to further discussion of each of those posts to which they respond.  Obviously this is less about the tech, and more about the planning, but the tech, after all, should serve the learning objectives.

Furthermore, blogs will become integral to class discussions, rather than ancillary, or merely as showcases of final work.  I want the blogs to show the thinking about the readings and to be useful indicators that the readings are being done before students arrive.  If a target is that students come prepared for class, then blogs become evidence of that.  This is one of the targets I am particularly interested in addressing.

Another target is that the blogs extend the classroom walls, so I have reached out to other professors teaching the same class in hopes that they will embrace the possibilities of a widened dialogue.  This target is more difficult to attain primarily because it requires a coordinated sequence of readings in order that the students have a shared subject.  We will see if this happens.  At this point, neither of the two professors  with whom I’ve discussed this possibility has gotten back to me—which brings me to a larger point.

Despite the fact that we know technology is available and that most of our students, at the very least, are using their phones as on-the-spot computers, we need to figure out a way to leverage that knowledge for more engagement and learning.  Edublogs, as a platform, has done everything in its power to help me do that.  It has mobile-friendly designs (yet another affordance that I must include in instruction) to capitalize on the students’ access.  I will be checking in with the students to see how they are reacting to this plan, and certainly will be revising based upon what I witness in the class, particularly regarding engagement.  Teaching demands constant revision.  Technology only adds another layer to that.

A 60-Second iMovie (That Took 6 Hours to Create!)

Taxes at Work  from Patricia Emerson on Vimeo.

This video of recycling pick-up pays homage to the bi-weekly task of public works employees who make sure our suburban streets maintain their pristine appearance.  Having just returned from a country that lacks the infrastructure and services that we so often take for granted, and even more often bemoan their cost, I can say that it is money well-spent.  I hope I say that here.  My storyboard is available with a brief description of the shots I tried to incorporate.  The scenes, their sequence,  are clear, yes?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am using a free online photo editor, REBBIT, and its options are not huge, but I did get to play enough with color and width choices, as well as shape, to understand the effect that edge treatments have on the overall impact of an image.  Here the “polaroid” effect detracts from the simplicity of the shot, but I like the blue to pick up the color in the bike seat, handlebar grips, and bricks, which lost a lot of gray with this edge treatment (new term: spontaneous contrast).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere the border frame is partial, corners only, but still trying to work with the effect of blue.  As I deepened the corners, adding more edge, less photo, the importance shifted back to the bike, a bit like a telescope.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis “museum” framing effect looks better at the site than in the transfer.  The vertical edges should be the same width as the top and the bottom.  The brown draws less attention to itself and goes well with the brown of the tires and the soft yellows and deeper gold color of the bike frame.  The entire scene, menu, pots, bike, appears more even in value in this frame.  Yes, the bike is the focal point, but it seems a part of the larger scene.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a variation on the museum framing idea.  Once again, the vertical edges are misrepresented here.  What I notice about this frame’s effect is the way the color of the bicycle frame “pops” because of the addition of the color in the border.  I really like the effect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the last paragraph of the exercise, Krause says, “And remember: a border’s role is (almost always)to enhance the image it surrounds–avoid adding a border that calls too much attention to itself” (p.197).  Obviously this is an example of a border that, in tone, bears absolutely no connection to the bicycle even though the candy corn hues aren’t jarring against the colors and hues of the photograph.  It was only after I completed the reading today about working with images, that I revisited the original photo and decided to experiment with “tight cropping.”  As White Space Is Not Your Enemy advised on page 134, “Extreme tight crops and close-ups are particularly interesting, as they force us to look at the subject in a new way”  (Golombisky &  Hagen).  When I cropped and zoomed with this idea in mind, the bike disappeared and the reason that the candy-corn frame serendipitously has some merit, emerges, as you can see below.  (I am sure that it was the sign that prodded, “Take this shot!”  What a great way to remember our day in Rome.)



The idea that a different picture emerges when one plays with framing and particularly cropping, is part of what creates thematic force.  In designing a cover for a new young adult novel, Flirting with the Bully, I had to think about my audience and how symbolically and poetically I could create a compelling cover.  I have to give a HUGE nod to the incredibly brilliant “Let the Drummer Kick” (Citizen Cope) that exhibits the power of creativity with type (and the judicious use of only three colors to attain stunning effect):

Here’s my cover:

Flirting with The Bully

For those of you who have never used Canva (thanks to Richard Byrne here), check it out.  After only four tutorials, I got the hang of it!

(I just realized, in reading my peers’ posts, that I was supposed to complete three activities this week, but did not.  What to do?  I sit here facing the iconic azure and gentle surf of the Dominican Republic…without my texts.  I decided, rather than ignore my oversight, to design a new header for my eighth grade class blog, using design principles, color, text, and images to do so.  I hope it in some way suffices.  I need to work out some glitches; the problem is mine, not Canva’s, but once again, the finished product points to a certain lack of skill that exists despite the affordances of the technology.)

Skip to toolbar