Technology Coordinator: ISUWriting.com

Fall 2012-Spring 2014
As the Technology Coordinator for the Writing Program here at Illinois State, I helped fellow instructors adapt digital technologies to their classroom needs. This included a good number of one-on-one tutorials, organizing seminars, and putting together an online guide.

The ISUWriting.com website has been through some amazing revisions since my time there (nice work, Francesco!), but I’m excited that some of the resources I put together are still posted:

Let’s CHAT Podcast Series

Overview of Classroom Technologies
A discussion of the wide varieties of technologies available, from paper to e-mail to Google Docs. (And yes, paper is a technology – the ability to lay out 8.5×11 sheets into a 42″ tabletop flatscreen with real-time markup capability should not be overlooked.)

ReggieNet Guide
Recently, ISU introduced our new Sakai-based Classroom Management System (CMS) to replace Blackboard. Our Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) provided how-to videos for the new system, and I organized the videos on the Writing Program homepage to better address the specific needs of writing instructors.

Issues: Adapting Technology to the Writing Classroom
However, online resources only help so much. Instructors who are proficient with digital technologies often don’t need extra help – those who need the help often don’t benefit from online guides. So we also held Tech Time programs and a Technology Summit. But I still favor the one-on-one conversation. You can’t help an instructor with a new technology unless you understand what exactly the instructor values within the classroom space. Teachers who use portfolio grading have very different needs from those who favor weekly revisions. No two instructors will use the exact same Gradebook settings.

Complicating this are the definite differences between the print and the digital. Certain types of methods that I long took for granted (such as margin comments) don’t work as well with digital assignments – either the technology doesn’t provide that functionality, or students aren’t willing to scroll through an entire screen just to see the little notes on the right. And many students now aren’t comfortable reading cursive handwriting – the ubiquity of digital technologies changes the effectiveness of non-digital pedagogies.

Although I’m not currently a technology coordinator, these are issues I still see all the time, either in my teaching or in conversations with other instructors. (I’d like to write a textbook on this sometime…but I may well be obsolete before that happens…)

Deletions (a.k.a. “Bloopers”)
Ever tried typing up a nice little webpage describing how awesome you are? Ever find yourself including way too much information? Yeah – that happens to me a lot. So rather than trash all those excess words, I put them down here. May they serve as a lesson: never take your own work too seriously. Because serious work might suck the marrow from your reader’s soul.

Helping instructors introduce new technologies into the classroom is hard. The technologies themselves are difficult, particularly those technologies geared toward the classroom.

There are very, very few fully-developed digital technologies designed to foster collaborative writing within the classroom. Google Docs comes close, but only for those who are proficient at creating, formatting, and sharing documents within that ecosystem. There are additional software options that are pay-per-use (Scribophile offers a particularly good social community for writers to share and comment on each other’s work, but you need the monthly subscription if you want to share more than two works at at time.)

One of the challenges of adopting ReggieNet in the Writing Program was helping instructors use a different set of digital tools to provide students with the same level of feedback seen with printed paper or from saving Word documents to a shared drive. Although ReggieNet is a good CMS for many disciplines, it isn’t necessarily intuitive. Many of the best functions (such as being able to comment directly on a file submitted by a student, and then return that marked-up file directly to the student) require several steps that few instructors were aware. To address this, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology prepared a series of how-to videos. I can’t take credit for much here – all I did was take someone else’s how-to videos and embed them on a webpage with some introductory comments.

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