After a handful of glitches and access issues, the students in my composition courses are all finally participating on our course blog. First, I had them do a practice post in which they responded to one of the readings for the week by choosing one quote they believed to be the heart of the essay and analyzing it. While this sort of writing isn’t the most thrilling to read, it’s crucial for students in the early stages of critical analysis to practice. So, I knew I would have 32 posts of similar length and with similar claims. However, having them do this kind of post first, taught me two valuable lessons that will affect how I approach everything from now on.
1) They don’t read each others’ writing.
2) They think there is one “right” answer.
Many of the students chose the same essay, and most of these analyzed the same passage from that essay. This indicates that they weren’t looking at what their classmates had said in the posts that appeared before theirs or that they figured that what she or he said before had to be the thing the teacher was looking for. One of the reasons I decided to move off of Blackboard for discussions was to provide a more attractive and user friendly interface that I hoped would encourage more browsing and skimming through content. Now that I can tell that either they aren’t reading each others’ work or they are hesitant to offer a unique perspective, I’m asking them to go back and comment on at least 3 posts from the current batch.
The current batch’s prompt asked them to write a review of Tom Hooper’s 2010 film The King’s Speech in which they engaged with an online film review from any source. In addition to using another reviewer as a reference, they had to hyperlink to that piece in a way that made sense to the flow of their analysis. While I would imagine many people know how to insert a hyperlink into text, I am learning that not even the smallest aspects of digital literacy should be assumed as known. My first year composition students were born on or about 1995 (my junior year of High School!), and even though they have grown up with screens in front of their eyes, being a strong digital citizen requires learning all the little building blocks…like how to hyperlink.
While some instructors would have set restrictions on such an assignment, like asking students to find a “reputable source,” I gave them freedom to choose any review as long as it could be hyperlinked. One of the strongest benefits I believe came out of such freedom was that their writing engages directly with the reviewer and his or her work; thus, my students are becoming aware of audience by the knowledge that this other person could very well read their work and respond to it. Removing the notion that they’re writing for their teacher creates a key difference in the outcomes and allows for them to begin to develop the voice that goes with their online presence. Secondly, they were responsible for evaluating the validity of their source acknowledging that within their own writing without my imposition. By assessing internet material in this way, they are learning that one needs to be conscientiously fact-checking as one reads all the time. For example, one student cited a review that confused Nick Nolte for Geoffrey Rush (shocking!), which brought to our attention that we shouldn’t take the digital word for truth.
With all this in mind, I am participating in our course’s online community too. While it is, of course, important that I remain in front of them in the physical classroom as an authority figure, I believe it’s valuable to contribute to the conversations they’re having online…something that was just too wonky in Blackboard. So, off I go to comment on more reviews!