New media and the Open enrollment administrator
There are many implications of teaching writing using new media across the curriculum. As Director of College Writing, I encouraged faculty who were already teaching papers to begin to use technology to support that writing—as I do with my sweded video project. Baker College already is fully invested in participating in Writing Across the Curriculum. During orientation, students are regularly warned that they will have to write papers in all their classes, “Even math.” The curriculum of many departments has mandatory essays, while other instructors are simply encouraged to assign “a paper” in one form or another during the course of the term. On the Allen Park campus, we were at the end of a year-long initiative to also use new media (to be fair, the official word for this is “computers” or “technology”) with writing, both in English classes and in other departments as well. We offered professional development sessions on advanced PowerPoint techniques, Prezi, and using video to support writing, and have others planned in using games and technology to support writing as well. This initiative continues, as instructors are encouraged to make use of all of the technology at their disposal not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end to get the sort of work from students that they wish to see.
In general, new media is used to encourage participatory culture and convergence in the writing classes in two ways: 1) as end of the term projects designed as a “capstone” for the course and 2) as “new media” to learn, often occurring before writing. Some teachers in a wide variety of fields are choosing to adopt the technology. I would like to explore how we can support open enrollment instructors to engage with new media more effectively as well as more often.
How can a Writing Program Administrator begin to encourage Maker mindedness and new media or digital humanities projects within an open enrollment institution? The biggest challenge to overcome is people’s misconception of what certain students need. It is difficult to fight against a “back to basics” mentality when many of your students really do still need to learn grammar, spelling, and how to use computers. However, students’ fear of the same is rarely overcome by reviewing those basics in class. This is true nowhere more than when teaching how to use technology in order to complete a project.
Students’ fear of using software like Word, PowerPoint, and Dreamweaver is not easily overcome by teaching and demonstrating those. Watching an expert use a tool that is still unfamiliar to you is sometimes seen as terrifying to students. If Word is the hardest software package you have ever used, it will probably seem difficult to you. On the other hand, if you’ve used a wide variety of software to do a wide variety of tasks, you probably have gained a reasonable level of comfort with “where” to find various tools in any piece of software you pick up. Doing projects using new media helps students discover this while they have fun as well. I also present projects as a way of opening up those abilities while supporting oral, written, and visual communication skills. Presenting these projects as a way of learning the basics while building other skills (group work, leadership, critical thinking) is one way of attracting more faculty to them. One of my favorite examples of a new media project that called on students’ critical thinking and Maker-skills happened while students were filming Caddyshack. The students wanted to film the infamous “doody!” scene, but discovered that 1) Baby Ruth bars don’t float and 2) Chlorinated water makes them fall apart (it was summer term and one group member had a pool). No one called me in a panic. Instead, they figured out a way to balance the bar on a pool thermometer that just breached the surface of the water then angled the camera in such a way to hide the rest of it. I explain this as the sort of critical thinking and Maker-ness that we want to engender in general in our students—why not start with "Doody?"
While commuter students tend to loathe group work (especially involving software or hardware that they don’t have at home), instructors have also been encouraged to allow students to work in class on their group projects. My own students could be found running around campus filming, surveying, and even painting sets from time to time. Although the quarters were short and the required assignment lists long, this creates a fun classroom atmosphere where students are making and doing in classes where they normally would not be. James Paul Gee (2003) has noted that students learn best when immersed in a semiotic domain. When learning to write this is difficult to do well. After all, by writing you are immersed, but most students don’t find that immersion very useful as they don’t claim mastery of the topic yet or feel comfortable in that immersion. On the other hand, they can immerse themselves in the video project, or in talking on the blog, or illustrating a book, or just figuring out how to float a Baby Ruth bar—and that feeling of immersion and mastery can carry over to other parts of the course. That is, of course, the magic of Making.
Around campus, one health sciences instructor now has her students make videos featuring incidents that might occur while working. In the past, skits were done for much the same purpose, but videos provide a lasting record and allow students to view themselves doing the procedure. As in my own class, students often choose to insert humor as well (usually in funny patient names). A Physical Therapy Assistant professor also has students create videos demonstrating proper technique. I admittedly know less about this project, but I do know that there is video of a skeleton using a physical therapy machine on one of the cameras I loan to students because of it. Both of these assignments occur before writing on the same topics.
Business instructors are also beginning to pick up video as an alternative to papers and presentations, or in addition to marketing projects and final presentations. Marketing students, especially, can benefit from thinking about how to visually and orally present a product. Others have begun to make “billboards” using the plotter intended for the architecture students as well as websites. One of the advantages of an open enrollment institution is that what materials are available are available for students from a variety of disciplines to use. For example, any student needing to use Photoshop can access the lab where it is installed. This is fairly unusual, but at a small institution with a lot of overlap in program administration, students can be given more leeway in using what technologies exist. Also, as an administrator, I encouraged this sort of interdepartmental sharing whenever possible.
One thing that makes this possible is frequent (at least once per term directly before the quarter starts) professional development sessions. While such training is expensive (adjuncts are paid hourly for attending), teachers are well supported in trying new techniques and being given new tools to work with in their classrooms. Faculty members choose from a variety (8-10) of breakout sessions on things like working with adult learners, using technology, streaming video, and so on in addition to large group sessions for information everyone needs. Inclusion of adjuncts, graduate students, and non-tenure track faculty in all such meetings and training sessions helps to develop the mentality that everyone is welcome to teach with new media, to make the most of the tools that we have, and to encourage their students to do exciting work.
My campus held a poster session before the start of Spring Term 2011 during all-faculty Professional Development. Teachers from all over campus presented the best things that were happening in their classrooms. I mention this because it seems like we are moving from top down administration (use more technology when teaching writing in your classes!) to a sort of bottom up process. This is especially exciting because for me, that’s what Maker-ism is all about. You can’t tell somebody to be a Maker—that rarely works. Instead, it has tended to be a sort of grass roots effort. By allowing faculty to train other faculty, they share best practices and gain CV lines in addition to realizing their work is important.
The poster session that we ran, which was likely to be the first of many, demonstrated that while we have planted seeds of Makerism, convergence culture, and the digital humanities in our faculty, they have taken these elements and found new ways of applying them—as anyone would hope they would. Three faculty had students publishing small books (in Composition 1, 2, and Group Dynamics). Another hopes to use a Wii to teach team building. A business instructor had her students doing service learning projects with a local business. A math teacher is immersing his students in math by having them make math videos.
In short—the energy is out there. The instructors and the students are creating. They do this without anyone really telling them to (no one in administration has, to my knowledge, suggested that a Wii would be a good classroom tool to buy!). But we also allow them the freedom to play and a place to show off the great work that they and their students are doing.
I’m sure that similiarly wonderful things are happening in similar classrooms across the country. However, one move that needs to be made is for more sessions like that poster session to occur. While most schools offer teaching awards, teachers need recognition beyond those awards (there aren’t enough of them, for one) and they need it more often than they receive it. It is easy to feel isolated when all you do is teach at a school then drive to another or return home. A true community (of Makers, preferably) is needed for instructors to share their work, their students’ work, and make them want to be a part of the school in order for new media and digital humanities work to develop and develop well in a community college or open enrollment school setting.
One of our goals as an institution is to help our teachers and students learn to work together. This lies at the heart of Maker culture as well: “People making things and sharing ideas is the heart of maker culture so if you want to run a successful business, make some friends. In the maker world, social capital can be more valuable than investment capital” (Sastri, Schultz, Melnychuk, Hazlewood, 2010, “Mind Your Business,” para. 4). Teachers need to be encouraged to share with one another. This may mean devaluing teaching evaluations when re-hiring instructors so that they are more likely to share their “best stuff.” I have heard from teachers that they don’t want to share their best projects because doing so means their class isn’t “special” anymore. It needs to be special in order to get better evaluations. But sharing is infinitely more valuable to the students. Social capital needs to be more important to our teachers and our students, as all within these types of schools can learn to make use of their connections to greater mutual benefit.
Of importance here though is the fact that many faculty who take on these projects do so completely within the “do-it-yourself” mentality—they may feel isolated in using technology in innovative ways. It is only in setting up a community of such faculty (and students for that matter) that good new media rhetoric begins to form. This is why I believe a model of “Maker-ism” for both faculty and students when new media first comes into writing classrooms can be so useful. Despite having to actually create things, try new assignments, and teach students on our own, a supportive network of faculty either in the school or outside of it (there is no reason that support could not happen online or from other institutions at conferences and so on) is the only way to encourage faculty participation in such efforts. Administrators at open enrollment institutions can then help faculty best by providing professional development in areas related to new media philosophies, encouraging faculty participation at both national and local conferences, and giving faculty space to display innovative teacher and student work via poster sessions and intra-campus media shows.