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Instructor Seminar Series: Collaborative Sites interview

March 20, 2012 by Theresa Pesavento

LSS Learning Technology Teaching Assistant Theresa Pesavento interviewed Collaborative Sites users Nancy Buenger (Fellow at the Institute for Legal Studies and Visiting Assistant Professor in the College of Letters & Science), Katy Prantil (Teaching Assistant for Italian courses in the Department of French and Italian), and Mary Fiorenza (Assistant Faculty Associate in the Department of English and Associate Director for English 100). Here are some excerpts from Theresa's email interview:

Theresa: Can you briefly give me some details about your course?

Nancy Buenger: I am using collaborative sites for two upper-level lecture/discussion courses: Legal Studies 450 and Design Studies 355

Katy Prantil: I am teaching fourth-semester Italian (204), I have a group of 20 very enthusiastic students.

Mary Fiorenza: I'm using [Collaborative Sites] this semester in English 318, Writing Internship, a course typically taken by junior/senior English or other liberal arts majors.

Theresa: What tools or features in Collaborative Sites are you using?

Nancy: Students have been posting entries to both the blog and library features in my classes. The course info page provides students with resources and a guide to blog-writing.

Katy: I am using the Blog and Status features of the Collaborative Sites, and students were given a detailed schedule so they are well informed about my expectations regarding the use of the site.

Mary: Blog, course info (as an instructor blog), glossary

Theresa: How are you and your students using these features (for what

Nancy: Students develop individual blogs in response to weekly reading response questions (some weeks I ask for traditional writing assignments). They are also required to collaboratively develop, post, and present one group project on an assigned topic.

Katy: Depending on the topic and where we are in the semester, students should be either writing a Blog post about something of interest to them or their reflections on a film we viewed as a class. They are then asked to write at least two comments about others' posts. On weeks when they have a formal written composition due, I ask that they instead post two statuses and make two comments on our CS, a considerably "lighter" task but a task that still helps them maintain ties in their virtual and real classroom community.

Mary: I decided to offer 318 in a "hybrid" style for the first time. 318 in the past has been more of a studio course, with students working on projects and workshopping during part of class time. This year we are instead "meeting" on the CS for part of our class time, and physically meeting only for an hour each week in a classroom to continue discussions started on CS, to do some technology training aimed toward projects, and then to present the projects.

Theresa: What are your objectives for these activities?

Nancy: My objective is to develop my students' digital literacy and writing skills, broaden their appreciation of the range of evidentiary resources, emphasize the value of collaborative scholarship, and spark creativity. 

Katy: My objective is to have students interact with one another outside the classroom in the target language. This allows students to continue dialogues started in class and express themselves in a less formal setting. I also do follow-up activities in class in which I ask the students to speak with others about either the posts they wrote (their own research) or the posts they read (research posted by other students) and this brings the CS activity back into the classroom. I also use the CS to share cultural information I find with the students and provide some personal feedback.

Mary: Writing practice, beginning and furthering course discussions, providing a space for the course to "take place" when we're not in a classroom together, and building community through on-line conversations

Theresa: What is one interesting thing that has come of your instructional use
of Collaborative Sites, or what do you like most about using Collaborative
Sites in your teaching?

Nancy: I believe that intellectual growth is greatly enhanced by creating a comfortable social space in class. I found collaborative sites a great way to break the ice. It also helps me become better acquainted with my students, which can be very difficult when teaching a 60-student class. CS has greatly promoted creativity among my students, and I am using it far more than originally planned. Students enjoy incorporating images, videos, etc. and often exceed the requirements for assignments. It certainly makes grading more fun. It has been easier for me to develop creative assignments, and new types of assignments, such as having students respond to each other's work. One of the most unexpected benefits has been in-class student presentations of collaborative blog projects, which are often better than the digital texts. These presentations create an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning in which students can share their Internet explorations--including images, videos, humor--in a very effective manner. I can't imagine teaching without collaborative sites!

Katy: I would say that in every class in which I've used a CS, the students are less apprehensive to speak in class. The CS really aids in building a virtual community, and the students seem to be more connected to the course.

Mary: The opportunity for students to practice writing online and writing to each other. This semester, I am appreciating that CS makes it possible for me to teach a hybrid course.

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