Teaching and Learning in Digital Dialogue

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Teaching Panel APA 2010

This presentation was developed for a panel entitled “Engaging with New Technologies” at the 2010 Central Division of the American Philosophical Association.

The panel included Nancy Hancock, Peter Bradley, Betsy Decyk, John Immerwahr and me, all pictured here on the right.

The panel discussion ranged from the use of clickers in the classroom to the future of textbooks, to wikis and, of course, my presentation on using blogs to cultivate communities of learning.

Below is a screencast of the presentation I gave at the session.  It captures something of the structure and dynamic of my PHIL200 course.

Teaching and Learning in Digital Dialogue from Christopher Long on Vimeo; see too Teaching and Learning in Digital Dialogue on Prezi

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Quotations with links in their order of appearance

Digital Dialogue
Daniel Mininger, Student, Fall 2009

“The communal aspect of this class was something incredibly unique.”  He continues: “In
very few other classes do I even know four other people’s names. In
this class I knew almost everyone’s name and the way they approached
philosophy.”

http://cplong.org/digitaldialogue/2009/12/thanks_prof_long

The Course
Socrates in the Gorgias

I think that with few Athenians, so as not to say the only one, I attempt the political art truly and I alone of those now living do political things;” He continues: “…for it is not with a view to gratification that I speak the speeches I speak on each occasion, but with a view to the best…” (521d6-9)

Educational Objectives
Tony Arnold, Student, Fall 2009

“The blog combines the best aspects of both
the writing and speaking mediums: it allows us to formulate our
thoughts in the clear, well-structured, and concise manner intrinsic to
writing … and yet it also allows us to respond to each other
individually …”

http://cplong.org/cplportfolio/2009/11/engaged_learning_with_technolo#comment-46360

Pedagogical Principles
John Dewey

A “social environment … is truly educative in its effect in the degree to which an individual shares or participates in some  conjoint activity” (Democracy and Education, 26)

Etienne Wenger

… the learning that is most personally transformative turns out to be the learning that involves membership in … communities of practice” (Communities of Practice, 6).

Relinquish Control, Empower Engagement
Pam Dorian, Student, Fall 2009

“With this blog … and with the class in general, we don’t just go to class, we ARE the class – we are active participants.”

http://cplong.org/cplportfolio/2009/11/engaged_learning_with_technolo#comment-46444

Cultivating Dialogue
Jordan Sanford, Student, Fall 2009

“What happened on the blog shaped and directed the what we spoke about,
with relevant comments being brought up and showcased to everyone.”

“… I know a few students (myself included) who would vie for their post to
be shown.”
http://cplong.org/cplportfolio/2009/11/engaged_learning_with_technolo#comment-61333

Blurring Boundaries
Ed Mily, Student, Fall 2009

Coming from an engineering curriculum … I’ll admit I wasn’t used to the online dialogue and the
free flow of class.

The quotation continues this way: “I’m more used to a this is the answer and it will
always be the answer type of class. Just regurgitation of facts is what I
was molded to become accustomed to, and that is not what this class is.
This class has been a breath of fresh air in my academic career, albeit
challenging, it has made me think with a different perspective than I’m
used to, and this is among other reasons is why I’d recommend this
course to others.”
http://cplong.org/cplportfolio/2009/11/engaged_learning_with_technolo#comment-46570

Limits and Possibilities of Openness
Cody Yashinsky, Student, Fall 2009

“He is not interested in engaging with us in a constructive way, as made
evident by his use of language, ad hominem attacks …”
http://cplong.org/digitaldialogue/2009/12/dialogue_and_cowardice#IDComment46175856

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • I really enjoyed your presentation at the Central APA. I still have many questions. (We spoke briefly and you kindly gave me your card; I foolishly forgot mine.) I was wondering if you have a concise listing of the technologies you used. I know you used a certain technology for maintaining the blog; a certain technology for podcasting. I’d be interested in any and all technologies that were used in your class.
    Thanks again for a great presentation.

  • Christopher P. Long says:

    Thanks for these questions Jeanine and for the good, albeit short, conversation we had after the presentation.
    At Penn State I was part of a blogging initiative that ultimately led to the adoption of Movable Type as the Blogs at Penn State platform. Even if Arkansas State does not have a University wide blogging platform, you can still sign up for a Movable Type blog or one from Word Press or even from Blogger by Google. I also like another product from Movable Type called TypePad.
    The software I recommended to produce podcasts is Garageband, which is part of the Apple iLife suite. Even if students don’t have a Mac, it is getting very easy to produce podcasts.
    Once students have the mp3 file, they can post it on the blog and the blog will serve as a distribution platform. If someone subscribes to the blog feed in iTunes, for example, they will receive any mp3 file posted to the blog. So you can instruct students to subscribe to the feed in iTunes under Advanced ==> Subscribe to Podcast.
    One key to the model I presented, however, is that there is one blog for the course, co-authored by you and the students. Another, as I mentioned, is that there are no determinate assignments. This addressed the issue I used to have when I assigned specific things on which to write: students would just agree with the first post and discussion would not develop. On my model, students are empowered to take ownership of the blog space and to shape the direction of the discussion.
    As John Immerwahr notes in his write-up about my presentation on http://www.TeachPhilosophy101.org, the blog replaces papers. And it does more, because it replaces paper assignments. A student who failed to post on the blog was considered to have failed to submit writing assignments for the course. This was clearly reflected in the first assessment period, which came early in the semester.
    The model, obviously, is not appropriate for every course, but it is great for courses in which a main goal is to encourage active student participation and social learning. One issue I have encountered is that some students are unprepared to handle the amount of responsibility for their own education I expect.
    On my model, if you don’t write consistently, thoughtfully, and substantively throughout the semester, you will not do well. Further, because there is no stated number of posts you need to write to receive an A, students sometimes feel uncertain about what precisely is expected of them. However, the rubric thoroughly clarifies the expectations of the course and I constantly point them back to it.
    Even so, not all students were prepared for this. I made the structure of the course clear at the start, emphasized that if they were not comfortable with the medium in which they were expected to write that they had alternative courses to take and that they should talk to me. A few did drop the course, others remained but were hesitant, particularly about the public nature of the writing. I offered them the opportunity to write their “blog posts” in emails to me, which I would read and edit. I would return the “posts” to them and encouraged them to post it on the blog. By the end of the semester, some of the most hesitant students had become the most sophisticated contributors to the blog.
    Finally, I can’t emphasize enough how important the in-class strategy was for the success of this course. Because I constantly referred to the blog in the class, called on people who had written excellent posts and used the blog to organize in-class discussion, the online discussion fed the classroom discussion and the classroom discussion moved seamlessly online. I would often have new posts a few minutes after the end of class from a student who wanted to post about something she or he did not have a chance to say in the class itself.
    I would love to hear more about how you are considering adopting blogs in your classes. Don’t forget, the public nature of it can be modulated, limited to those in the course, expanded slightly to those who are invited with a password, etc. If you are concerned about one element of the model, think about how the technology can be used in a slightly different way.
    What is critical from my perspective is that learning happens best in communities of shared practice in which the teacher participates fully.

  • I thought this presentation was incredibly stimulating. I’ve played with blogs as a supplementary activity and it wasn’t all that successful. The students went in, did a post or reply and left. But as the main activity of the course I think it has real potential. Anyway, I told my humanities students “no more papers for the rest of the semester, and not more of those short written assignments, from here until the end of the semester is is all blogs all the time.”

  • JORDAN SCOTT SANFORD says:

    The more classes I have that use an online element, the more I appreciate the setup this one had/has. Oftentimes students will, as mentioned, simply get on to make their post then forget about it the second the ‘submit’ button is clicked. This makes having actual dialogue nearly impossible unless you are lucky enough to have a few other people who really want to get engaged with the course.
    This is where this setup gets particularly interesting, many of the people who were in the class had no particularly urgent desire to learn about Ancient Greek philosophy, yet somehow nearly all of us became engaged. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what encouraged this, but I think much of it could be attributed to the blog format itself – comments and posts were handled in very different ways. The post itself was important, but the comments within it allowed for some serious dialogue to occur. I’ve found that when a professor sets up no difference between engagement (comments) and assignment (posts), little progress is made, because the students tend to treat the posts as mini-papers and dismiss most of the rest (because they are simply overwhelming, if everyone is doing one).
    Here, there were frequently new posts, but much of the drama, so to speak, happened within the comments. While we were still required to make new contributions to the blog through posts there was another aspect that we were graded on, response. I really think this is a key aspect of what kept the blog in an active, engaging, state.

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