December 2, 2008

E-portfolio Reflection on My Blog Posts

Interestingly enough, in my very first entry, I wrote what I had expected to get from this course (to learn about the tools that are available for teaching technical communication and how these tools can be used), and all other entries answered these questions. The entries did not only demonstrate which tools were available, but also provided detailed explanations of how I could apply them to the course I am teaching now.

Also, the blog is a nice “storage� space. Even if I do not use all of these ideas next semester, I can always come back to my blog for some suggestions later. The entries discuss not only the end result, but the process of working on the assignments, so I now have some information about what worked and what did not.

I could ask my WRIT 3562 students to create blogs that would include all the assignments related to their final project (most of the assignments in that class are somehow connected with the final project) and the final project itself with all the supporting documentation. This product-based portfolio would contain examples of their “best work� (the final drafts of everything) and would be useful for the job search because the students could demonstrate their skills in professional writing.

Next, I would ask my students to reflect on their e-portfolios and focus on the difference in writing quality in terms of audience, purpose, knowledge of topic, etc. This information could be included in their last memo that would be addressed to me. Because the portfolio will actually be a blog, the students could create links in their final memo to the writing samples discussed.

November 25, 2008

Giving Feedback to Writing

One of the assignments in my class is a memo in which the students state the problem or issue that they wish to solve by creating one/two technical documents. Below are the criteria that I will use for this assignment.

I will be evaluating this memo according to the following criteria:
• Provides some background information;
• Defines a problem that can be solved through the creation of workplace documents;
• Discusses the type of documents that could solve this problem;
• Explains how these documents could actually solve the problem;
• Follows the genre of the memo;
• Makes use of spatial design of verbal language;
• Shows evidence that the memo was designed and written with the audience (ME) in mind;
• Uses a writing style that is as clear, as transparent, and as grammatically correct as possible;
• Demonstrates interactivity, namely, the feedback from two peers.

For both formative and summative feedback, I will use Moodle and, in particular, Word comments (the students will submit their memos as Word files). The students will also have to comment on at least two other memos using the same evaluation criteria.

November 22, 2008

Presentation

Here is my presentation. The students (my audience) will have read the chapter on directions, so this will not be entirely new for them. SlideBoom did change some of the formatting; I will have to experiment and figure out how that can be avoided.

November 18, 2008

Reflections on Video Production

I really enjoyed making my video and had fun both shooting and editing. The person I was filming did not want the video on YouTube, so I have it on Media Mill, but it would be easy to move it to YouTube. The only problem that I encountered is similar to the one Amy had: I used Movie Maker because I have a PC at home, and after I was done editing, I could not figure out how to save my movie in a format that would be supported by Media Mill. What worked for me was “Publish to this computer� → “More settings� → “DV-AVI (NTSC).� It all makes sense in the end because you do get an .avi file, but the path is not very obvious.

As far as teaching activities go, I would use video production in a class on technical and professional communication (currently, we focus on writing in WRIT 3562 because it is listed as a Technical and Professional Writing course). However, in the future, I would like to broaden the focus of our class and have my students make videos as well as produce texts. For example, creating short commercials would certainly help teach audience awareness because the students would need to produce a video that would be rhetorically effective in persuading the viewers.

Video

Here is a link to my "Dating" video. The person I was filming asked me not to put this on YouTube, so the video is on Media Mill.

http://mediamill.cla.umn.edu/mediamill/embedqt/21738

November 4, 2008

Podcasts

Research Strategies for Professional and Technical Writing Course at the U of M Podcast










Here is the RSS for the podcast:
http://mediamill.cla.umn.edu/mediamill/generateRSS.php?podcast_id=180


For my podcast, I interviewed Kate Paterson, my blog partner, about the research strategies that could be useful for students taking Professional and Technical Writing course at the U of M. I am thinking of creating a series of podcasts connected with the subject matter of my course; these podcasts would be interviews with a number of specialists in the field, and the audience would be my WRIT 3562 students.

I really enjoyed working on this podcast even though not everything went well. Because I travel a lot and my family and friends live in different countries, I have been using Skype since 2004, so video conferencing via Skype was not new for me. However, I never knew I could record our conversations! I have a PC at home, so I tried all three PC applications for recording (PowerGramo, MX Skype Recorder, and Call Graph) that were recommended on our Ning site. Even though it took me a while to get PowerGramo to work (I had to restart my computer several times), it still turned out to be the best option because of its usability and the quality of sound. MX Skype Recorder did record, but the quality was terrible: my voice sounded fine, but the voice of the person on the other end was very “metallic,� and I did not know how to improve that. Call Graph simply did not start no matter how hard I tried. The conclusion: I will continue to use PowerGramo in the future.

I had used Audacity and Media Mill for a different class before, so I was relatively familiar with them and had no trouble editing and putting the final product on Media Mill. What Audacity lacks in comparison with GarageBand is the option of choosing between different music files that are already built into the application and the automatic adjustment of the music to the interview soundtrack. In Audacity, I had to adjust the volume of the music manually and to use my own music files, which allowed me to be more creative, of course, but ate up a lot of time. It still went well, but was definitely more time consuming than working in GarageBand would be. I will need to get a Mac one of these days…

In my class, the students have to make weekly “group presentations� on some of the chapters from the textbook. I usually ask them to use PowerPoint and to spend 10 minutes going over the major points of the chapter, 10 minutes explaining some of the examples they found on their own, and 10 minutes leading an activity that involves the rest of the class. Even though I emphasize that the first part is not the main point of the presentation, they still tend to focus on that, which makes the presentation boring and ineffective. Podcasting would help us enhance these presentations. Namely, the presenters would make the podcast using the “theoretical� material they are responsible for and, rather than simply going over the chapter, could “interview� each other and talk about the things they found interesting, surprising, and/or difficult to grasp. The rest of the class would then listen to the podcast at home and come prepared for the presentation that would include the examples and the in-class activity. Because these are weekly presentations, podcasts would be produced regularly and archived on our website.

November 2, 2008

Ideas about Podcasting

For my podcast, I am thinking of interviewing my blog partner, Kate Peterson, who is the Information Literacy Librarian at the U of M libraries, about some research strategies that the students in my Professional and Technical Writing class might find useful. Here are the questions I was thinking of asking her.

1. What are the most common problems that junior or senior students usually encounter when they conduct research at the U of M libraries?

2. Our course (WRIT 3562W Professional and Technical Writing) is structured around the final project. The students need to identify a workplace problem that can be solved (at least partly) through the creation of workplace documents. Then they have to conduct some research on the topic and create the final document. Naturally, a large part of research will be connected with the organizations the students are dealing with. However, some information will come from other sources. Which sources/search engines would you recommend for the students in my class? Where is it better to start?

3. Would you agree with the statement that nowadays everything can be found online, so there is not need to search for the printed sources that are physically located at the library?

4. Would you recommend using Wikipedia?

5. Are there any other encyclopedias that are less known, but can be useful?

6. What are some of the strategies of working with key words?

I am thinking about using this particular podcast in my teaching, but I could also create weekly podcasts on my students’ final projects and tell them what they need to be working on each week, address the problems that came up the week before, and answer any general questions my students have had. Such podcasts would help them be productive and stay on track.

October 26, 2008

The Online Role-Play

From my participation in the role-play, I have learned several things. First, a role-play gives a variety of perspectives on the issue being discussed and is a very useful strategy for teaching (and learning about) argumentative writing. For example, in this role-play, I tried to show what a pro-student position would be by giving specific examples from student life and making my position more persuasive and believable by using the language a student would use. Apparently, my position did not turn out to be strong enough because the other side won, but I still think our side made a good argument.

Second, role-plays are extremely interesting in terms of language styles used by different characters. I have mentioned that I tried to imitate the language that my character would use in real life, and it was a very enriching experience. What made this even more exciting for me was that I do not interact with US teenagers that much and it has been a while since I was a high school exchange student in the US, so perhaps, I did not do a very good job imitating a student’s language, but it was definitely worth trying. It also made me think of the styles used by other characters, for example, I kept thinking whether a student would understand the experts’ writing.

I believe the most powerful roles were those of experts and teachers. However, I also thought Christine Nevelson’s role was powerful (Christine was the girl who transferred from a catholic high school). That reply was extremely rhetorically effective because the writer appealed to the reader’s emotions using her own experience in both types of schools. In her first paragraph, Christine even pointed out that she can speak “with some real credibility� and gave her reasons.

My character was also a student, and it made me think of power in terms of communicating on different levels. Several times, I wanted to comment on something an expert has said, but I stopped myself because I was not sure a student would feel comfortable entering a conversation between the experts in the field. On the other hand, when an expert commented on my posting, it felt natural to reply. Also, talking to other “students� was not a problem at all. Was the “European model� of student behavior? How would a US student behave in a situation like this?

I chose a role that did not support my personal beliefs because I wanted to experiment. Advocating “the other side� was an interesting experience, and I did get attached to my character as I was trying to adjust to her way of thinking. Because of this, role-plays are great for teaching counterargument! However, the arguments made by the “con� side still spoke to me and I did not change my initial beliefs.

October 14, 2008

Digital Storytelling

What I really like about “digital storytelling,� in general, and creating videos in Animoto, in particular, is how persuasive the final “story� is. Because I study rhetoric in all its forms, this is one of the aspects I look for in practically every type of communication.

Even though the class I am teaching now has traditionally focused on “technical writing,� I would like to take it further to “technical communication� and ask my students to create a video in Animoto. At the end of the semester, each student usually presents the final project, which is a document that solves a certain problem in an organization. I was thinking of asking them to create a short Animoto video about the problem their documents will solve (this will only be part of their final presentation). It will also be a great opportunity to talk about persuasion.

For this assignment, I chose to create a short video about Midsommar Festival in Sweden that my family went to last year. I used my own pictures and a very popular traditional Swedish song about “the little frogs that are fun to look at,� which is probably the most important part of this festival. I tried to communicate the festive mood of the event and to appeal to the view’s emotions by using the “funny� music, which happens to be traditional for this festival, the pictures that capture movement, and the dynamic changes between the images.

October 7, 2008

Wiki Site

I have been thinking about using a wiki site for a collaborative assignment for my WRIT 3562 class. The students need to write one set of instructions that describes how to assemble a particular shape or object using Lego Blocks. I usually divide the class into 5-6 groups for this project. Even though I give the students some time to work on this in class, they usually use e-mail to finish creating the final document, which can become a mess if they forget to exchange their e-mail addresses, start asking me for help, and I cannot send out some e-mail addresses because of the FERPA regulations. Also, peer review is a very important part of the project: the groups need to “test� the instructions of several other groups for usability (they try to follow the instructions and assemble the shapes). A wiki site would make working on this project more exciting and much easier in terms of the planning, writing, and peer reviewing.

Because all of the theoretical information needed for the project is in the textbook, I was thinking of explaining the assignment on the FrontPage and using “Lego Links� and “Group 1,� “Group 2,� etc. as the categories for organizing my wiki. The problem that I have encountered is connected with “locking� particular pages so that only the group members could make changes to them. However, when I tried to change “Page Security,� I was asked to “upgrade� my wiki for $10 a month, so it appears that you can change the security settings for the entire wiki for free, but if you need to do that for separate pages, you need to pay extra. I think it will still be “safe� to use a wiki site for this project even though the “group� pages theoretically could be edited by other groups because we will be able to see who made the changes.

Having students engage in collaborative writings can be challenging because some student tend to do more work than others, but on a wiki site, it is possible to see how much each student has contributed, which might keep the students motivated.

Here is a link to my wiki site: http://writ3562.pbwiki.com/

September 30, 2008

Flickr Slideshow and VoiceThread

For the slideshow, I tried to find good pictures of Stockholm, my hometown. For me, Stockholm is all about age (the city is quite old: it was founded in the 11th century and has a lot of really old buildings) and water (Stockholm stands on several islands in the Baltic Sea and Lake Malaren, which is the third largest lake in Sweden), so I tried to use the pictures that would reflect these two notions. I found all of the pictures on Flickr and did not use any of mine because I wanted to practice searching for good images.

For my VoiceThread, I used my own pictures. I tried to show what a relaxing weekend in Stockholm could be like. I enjoyed making the thread, but was slightly disappointed by the background noise that I got in the recordings (because I used a built-in microphone, the noise must have come from my laptop).

I am planning to use both Flickr and VoiceThread in my teaching. Flickr slideshows can be helpful when we talk about visual design and I ask my students to find examples of interesting pages. They can find these images online, create slideshows, and share them with the rest of the class. This can be done in VoiceThread too with my students’ commenting on the page layout. Also, I am thinking of using VoiceThread for the explanation of the structure of the documents my students have to write; it would be nice to put it online once and for all, so the students can come back to it whenever they need to.

September 23, 2008

Blogs and Digital Mapping in WRIT 3562

I was thinking of using blogs in WRIT 3562 to help my students work on their final projects. Namely, they could create personal blogs (I will have to learn how it can be done on Moodle) and write weekly postings about their work on the final project. Also, I will assign blog partners and will ask them to comment on each other’s postings, which is similar to what we are doing in our Digital Writing class. The links to everybody’s blogs will be on Moodle, so anyone from our class will be able to comment on any blog if he/she wishes to do so. This will keep my students on track in terms of their final projects, allow them to share ideas, and help them work on audience awareness.

Another assignment that I had in mind earlier would be blogging about our readings, but this might be a problem as the textbook we are working with is rather “technical,� so it could be difficult to come up with a response.

Even though I have used mind mapping before, going digital was absolutely wonderful! I will certainly use bubble.us in my teaching. The textbook for WRIT 3562 discusses mapping under the title “cluster sketches,� but I have discovered that my students rarely use this technique. Digital mapping will be extremely helpful in the initial brainstorming for the final project idea: I could ask the students to create a map with the organizations they are thinking of working with, the problems that exist in these organizations, and some possible types of documents that could solve those problems.

Final Project Idea

bubblus_Final_Project_Idea.jpg

For my final project, I would like to create a Moodle site for WRIT 3562 Technical and Professional Writing. The map above describes what I have in mind (the image is clickable).

September 16, 2008

Search Methods and Databases

My favorite search engine is Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/), which I use when I need to find scholarly articles on a certain topic. I discovered it a year ago when it was recommended to me by one of my professors, and it has been working very well for me both in terms of the number of relevant hits and the quality of literature.

Another “Google� search engine that I use when I am looking for more “factual� information is Google Books (http://books.google.com/). One of the advantages of Google Books is the fact that you can actually see the scanned pages, which can be important if your research is connected with books. Also, the books from this database have already gone through several “filters� in terms of validity because they had been published before scanning.

Naturally, I use the website of U of M Library for literature search and often go to MNCAT Plus (http://lib.umn.edu/) for books or to OneSearch for articles. I can probably say that OneSearch is my second favorite after Google Scholar because it searches several databases simultaneously.

In terms of identifying relevant search categories, I try to “play� with the key phrases quite a lot to narrow down the number of hits. It can also be helpful to search both “subject� and “title� categories and see what the results are. As for the validity and credibility of the information I acquire, I tend to look at the title of the journal in which the article was published. Because as a Ph.D. student, I mostly work within my field, I am familiar with the titles of the journals that can be “trusted.� I also tend to use the sources that have been referenced in other credible articles or books.

I am only discovering RSS feeds and have only subscribed to the EdTechTalk and Digital Campus podcasts. I am hoping these feeds will help me get more information about teaching digital writing and using technology in the classroom.

One of the topics that we discuss in the course I am teaching now (WRIT 3562W) is making a research plan, so our textbook (“Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach� by Paul V. Anderson) contains a chapter on effective research strategies including defining the research objectives, identifying the sources and methods that are most likely to help write effective documents (books, research journals, Internet searches, etc.), consulting general sources first, conducting preliminary research, making a schedule, studying the research methods the students are going to use, and checking each source for leads to other sources (p. 153-155). In addition, I usually talk about the search engines that I find helpful.

September 9, 2008

First Entry

Ironically, blogs have been a very large part of my life even though this is the first blog post I have ever written. I have been traveling internationally and have lived in several countries (mostly in the US, Sweden, Russia, and Japan) since 1994, and a lot of my relatives and friends ended up in different parts of the world as well. Needless to say, it used to be difficult to keep up with what everyone was doing, and e-mail was too time-consuming. Blogs solved this problem and made it easier to stay in touch. However, for some reason, I never had my own blog, but have been reading my friends’ blogs daily and commenting there. Blogs have kept us connected to a certain extent, so for me, blogs have been the substitutes of real life conversations with my friends even though I am aware of the apparent differences between these two communication genres.

I have never used blogs in my teaching before, but can certainly think of a number of ways to do that. I teach WRIT 3562W Professional and Technical Writing here at the U, and because this course focuses on audience awareness, blogging can be an excellent activity for my students. Also, the course is built around the “final research project,� which the students are working on during the entire semester. To help avoid procrastination, I ask them to write several supporting documents about the project earlier in the semester, but blogging about the project would be an excellent addition to that. It would be wonderful to see how their ideas develop as we are learning new things. Further, blogging would help them keep track of their research for the “final project� and document and better formulate the ideas that they might usually forget. They would also get more feedback from both their peers and me if I assign blog partners or if we decide to have a collaborative blog. Next, because WRIT 3562W is not a lecture-based class, it is crucial that my students read the textbook on their own and then apply it to the documents we are working on in class. A blog would allow all of them, even the shy ones, to share their reflections on what they have read in the assigned chapters. Finally, it is no secret that among undergraduate students this class has a reputation of one of the most boring classes on campus, and blogging might catch the students’ interest right from the very beginning of the course and keep them motivated.

In this class, I would like to learn about the tools that are available for teaching digital writing (scientific and technical communication, in my case) and how these tools can be used. As I said last Tuesday, I am using WebVista for WRIT 3562W and am ready for something new.