Ignite 2013

The Broadcast Education Association put a call out for innovative teaching ideas, which would be showcased in a session titled Ignite. Mine was one of ten to be chosen this time around. I recorded the audio with my iPhone and added it to my slides.


Course redesign

I am revamping my courses for the next semester. First up is media interpretation and criticism. I just submitted a course redesign grant (fingers crossed), and here it is, in all its glory


Media Interpretation and Criticism is offered by the Department of Communication. It is listed in the common curriculum within “Understanding the Arts and Literature – Visual Arts, Music, Performance and Aesthetic Production.” It is also one of the foundational courses for the major in communication. Students who complete the course should:

  1. Understand how media texts are constructed.
  2. Interpret media texts, applying communication theories regarding aesthetics, interpretation, and criticism.
  3. Understand the role of ideology in shaping the creation and interpretation of messages, and the role of messages in shaping ideology
  4. Use visual, rhetorical, and technological means to produce media texts.
  5. Recognize the role of active audiences in using media messages to construct meaning and personal identity.

The course redesign incorporates Media Interpretation and Criticism into the Trinity Food Project, “a coalition of students, faculty, support staff, and administrators at Trinity University, provides an inter- and multi-disciplinary lens through which to explore the numerous issues surrounding food” (Trinity Food Project, 2012). Media Interpretation and Criticism supports the TFP’s goals through its combination of theory and practical experience.

Proposed changes

Media Interpretation and Criticism covers two areas: (1) Visual storytelling and graphic design, and (2) theoretical approaches to media interpretation. These components support the goals of the course, and will remain in place. The proposed changes address the following: (1) exploring theories of media interpretation through the lens of food, (2) providing practical experience in graphic design, data visualization, and visual storytelling.

Food as an exploration of theory

For the purposes of this course, media interpretation is a purposeful activity, which is informed by theory.  This includes semiotics, rhetorical analysis, queer theory and other approaches that students can use to examine media content.  In the redesigned course, students will be exposed to a key text (for example, Hall’s The Work of Representation), and will be given additional readings that illustrate the concept(s) through food. The following table provides some examples (see bibliography for full citation):

Topic Primary readings Additional readings
Graphic design/visual storytelling Dick – Selection from “Film, space and image” Kaufman, Debbie does Salad.
Meaning making (representation) Stuart Hall, The work of representation Kniazeva, M., & Belk, R. W.Retzinger, J
Ideology Mittell, Screening America Mohrfeld, J., & Leverette, M
Gender Trujillo (hegemonic masculinity)Ott & Mack, feminist theory SwensonParkin
Queer theory Ott & Mack, Queer analysis To be determined
Race / ethnicity Ewen & Ewen Deck
Postmodernism O’Donnell Miles

Assessment will be take place through two types of activities.

1. Low stakes assignments: Two pass-fail assignments will assess student mastery of the material. First, students are expected to contribute regularly to an online discussion group, where they can share insights and examples that illustrate core concepts, or add to ongoing discussions. They will also complete a series of guided reading responses, whereby they receive two to three questions about the reading, or are asked to deconstruct a media text applying a concept they have read about. These assignments are to be completed outside of class.

2. Theory rage comics: Rage comics are web comics that can be generated easily online. They are commonly used to tell stories. However, comics can also support other learning goals in this course. In this assignment, students will create rage comics to illustrate key concepts within theories covered in class (e.g., encoding/decoding). Students will deliver a 10-minute presentation explaining the concept through the comic. A short 3-to-5-page essay will also be required.  The essay explains the concept, and review contemporary examples of its application in scholarly work.  This assignment will be further developed in Deconstructing Food Advertisements, as it lays the basis for a literature review.

Food as a practical introduction to graphic design and storytelling

One of the goals of the course is to introduce principles, tools and techniques of graphic design and visual storytelling. These activities help students become more aware of the constructed nature of media messages, by creating their own content. Students will complete the following activities:

1. My food poster

Students will document their eating habits for a period of seven days. They will then create an 11 x 17 inch poster illustrating their food/beverage consumption, including information about the nutritional value of food and/or its origin. A short essay detailing their creative decision-making process will accompany the poster. This activity assesses student grasp of graphic design principles (e.g., rule of thirds, contrast, affinity, repetition). An additional benefit might be greater self-awareness about food consumption, nutrition, eating habits, or food sources.

2. Delicious peanut butter & jelly sandwich commercial

Media interpretation and criticism introduces visual storytelling. In the past, the course’s final editing project has been the creation of parody trailers of popular films. In the re-designed course, students will be working in groups to create a 30-to-60 second video that applies a theory and/or concept from the course to an advertisement for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. An alternative version of this assignment would have students create a slide show using power point or keynote. This version will be used in the event of scheduling conflicts and/or equipment availability issues.

Deliverables include: (1) A complete storyboard detailing various shot sizes, locations, sound design, and camera movement, (2) the video itself, and (3) An individual paper detailing the creative process (decisions, technical requirements, difficulties, and suggestions for dealing with common problems). This paper must also explain how theory informed the video. The PB&J project assesses students’ grasp of theory, and their ability to apply principles of graphic design and visual storytelling, including shot composition, basic editing techniques, including the rudiments of sound design. For communication majors, this lays the groundwork for more advanced production courses. For non-majors, it reinforces an awareness of the constructed nature of media.

3. Deconstructing food advertisements

This assignment introduces students to textual analysis, which is a common method of media interpretation. In textual analysis, we are asked to look at the media from a theory-informed perspective, in order to uncover the dominant reading of a text.  Textual analysis also considers the contexts of production and distribution of a text. The textual analysis will assess the following: (1) grasp of theory and ability to produce theory-informed criticism, (2) critical thinking and argumentation, as students must provide evidence as to why they believe their interpretation represents a dominant reading, (3) information literacy, as students must expand their understanding of theories discussed in class through their own research, which will be presented as a short literature review.


Jan 16 – Class starts
Feb 8 – You are what you eat project
Feb 28 – Theory rage comic
March 8 – Delicious PB&J project pitches
March 28 – Deconstructing food advertisements
April 10 – Delicious PB&J Storyboards
May 10 – Delicious PB&J videos and papers
Low stakes assignments are ongoing.

Selected bibliography

Deck, A.A. (2001). “Now then – who said biscuits?” The black woman cook as fetish in American advertising.  In S. A. Inness (Ed.) Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race, pp. 69-93. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ewen, S & Ewen, E. (2008). Tablier Rasa. In S. Ewen & E. Ewen, Typecasting: On the arts and sciences of human inequality (rev. ed). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press

Hall, Stuart. The work of representation

Kaufman, Debbie does Salad. The Food Network at the Frontiers of Pornography

Kniazeva, M., & Belk, R. W. (2007). Packaging as Vehicle for Mythologizing the Brand. Consumption, Markets & Culture,10(1), 51-69. doi:10.1080/10253860601164627

Miles, E. (1993). Adventures in the Postmodernist Kitchen: The Cuisine of Wolfgang Puck. Journal Of Popular Culture, 27(3), 191-203.

Mohrfeld, J., & Leverette, M. (2008). Imbibo Ergo Sum: New Belgium Brewery and the Myths of McEmpire (Joint Top Paper). Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1.

Retzinger, J. (2010). Spectacles of Labor: Viewing Food Production through a Television Screen. Environmental Communication, 4(4), 441-460. doi:10.1080/17524032.2010.520020

O’Donnell, V (2007). Postmodernism. In V. O’Donnell, Television Criticism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Ott, B.L & Mack, R.L (2010). Queer Analysis. In B.L. Ott & R.L Mack, Critical media studies: An introduction.

Ott, B.L & Mack, R.L (2010). Feminist theory. In B.L. Ott & R.L Mack, Critical media studies: An introduction.

Parkin, K (2001). Campbell’s soup and the long shelf life of traditional gender roles. In S. A. Inness (Ed.) Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race, pp. 50-67. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Swenson, R. (2009). Domestic Divo? Televised Treatments of Masculinity, Femininity and Food. Critical Studies In Media Communication,26(1), 36-53. doi:10.1080/15295030802684034

Mentoring with blogs

I began experimenting with blogs in 2005, as a way to promote collaborative writing in the classroom. I have to say that my first experience was a case of unbridled enthusiasm for technology, but I was utterly unprepared for what would happen. I had bought into the notion of the digital native, that mythical creature that is practically born with a silver keyboard in his or her hand, and that can seamlessly float from one technology to the next. Needless to say that this experience taught me a lot about how people think about and use technology. It’s not as simple as people like Marc Prensky make it sound.

My first attempt was in a remedial writing class. I was an adjunct, teaching at Ave Maria College of the Americas (now Ave Maria University – Latin American Campus) in San Marcos, Nicaragua. I wanted a way for students to post quick responses to simple questions, so that they could practice their grammar and spelling. What I did not expect was that my students would get bogged down by the technology, which became a distraction that took attention away from the true goal of the assignment. I never tried it again with that course, even though I taught it every semester I was at AMCA.

My next foray went slightly better. In fact, I started this blog because of it. I modeled my blogging assignment after Danielle Stern’s portfolio assignment, a version of which can be found here.  I also decided that if I was going to use a blog to mentor students as they made sense of course content, I should be writing as well. I started producing mini-essays, which used multi-media examples to illustrate course content. All of them are filed in the “class notes” category of this blog.

There are problems with this approach, though. You have to be very selective with the videos you include, because even though blogs make it possible for us to write with multimedia, we have no control over YouTube. Copyrighted content might be perfect to illustrate a point, but it is also likely to disappear. So now, I’m actually thinking about going back and cleaning house. The other issue to think about is the public nature of blogs. I may choose to make my writing public, but my students’ privacy needs to be protected. At a minimum, they should have a choice in the matter. That said, it is easier to protect student privacy when everyone is contributing a “centralized class blog,” rather than using the “hub-and-spoke” model (see Mark Semple’s post). I can create the blog as a private space when it’s centralized, but I can’t guarantee that in the “hub-and-spoke.”

That leads me to my current thinking about blogs. Part of it was inspired by Mark Semple’s entry on Professor Hacker. The other part came from reading about research diaries. First, I really liked the idea of creating different roles for students, which is something that Semple discusses. I find that it is a good way of giving them experience in different types of writing.  I adopted Semple’s roles (first reader, respondent, searcher), divided the class into teams, and created a posting schedule for them. I also created a rubric for the assignment, all of which can be accessed here.

I also became interested in using a research diary . The benefits diaries have been extensively documented, especially in terms of their value for the professional development of teachers (e.g., Jarvis, 1992). However, diaries can fulfill similar functions for researchers. They are a tool for reflection (Borg, 2001; Janesick, 1998). Borg specifically discusses several advantages of research diaries. They establish a record of project development, document past ideas and their subsequent evolution, help organize procedures, and document decision-making (p. 171). As I envisioned it, the diaries would also support collaboration among students.  They were expected to read and comment on their peers entries, and were encouraged to share sources, insights, and tips.

In terms of classroom management, the diaries helped me keep track of what students were doing, which allowed me to step in at the appropriate times, rather than waiting for their project’s conclusion.  The assignment description is available here. Since the assignment is still ongoing, I can only offer some preliminary thoughts as to its assessment:

1. Making the diaries into a relatively low-stakes assignment made a difference. Students contributed very detailed entries.

2. Modeling portions of the research process and sharing my own experiences as a researcher may have also been beneficial. It set the tone for the blog, and it may have reduced the level of stress that comes with assignments in general.

3. Students used the comments feature of the blog to brainstorm, provide feedback, and share resources. Peer reviewing has been ongoing, judging from what they have documented on the blog, and also by what they have expressed to me during office hours.

I am still trying to find ways to improve these blogging assignments, and I am thinking of adding some kind of an exit interview  if I decide to repeat this project. As it stands, their final reflection is a built-in tangible assessment of the experience, but I feel short interviews would be very beneficial for me, as the person who designed this assignment.

Anyway… work in progress.


Works cited:

Borg, S. (2001). The research journal: A tool for promoting and understanding researcher development. Language Teaching Research. 5(2), pp 156-177.

Janesick, V. (1998). Journal writing as a qualitative research technique: History, issues, and reflections. Qualitative Inquiry. 5(4), pp. 505-524.

Jarvis, J. (1992). Using diaries for teacher reflection on in-service courses. ELT Journal . 46(2), pp. 133-143

Pecha Kucha 20×20.

This summer, a group of faculty members at Trinity University are experimenting with the Pecha Kucha presentation format. If you have never heard of Pecha Kucha, it “is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images forward automatically and you talk along to the images.” The format was originally created by architecs, and it made its debut in Japan. The rationale behind it is very simple: Presenters often talk waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much, and the 20×20 format forces one into succinctness.

I presented my Pecha Kucha today, and I was surprised by how much it helped me focus and narrow down my topic to the bare essentials. Usually, I’m used to either blabbing on and on for an hour, in lectures to my students, or figuring out how to keep an audience interested for 15 minutes during a conference. With the Pecha Kucha format, though, I really struggled to get those 20 images down, and to time them correctly.

Of course, not being a graphic designer, my images were actually keynote slides, and my topic was television (it’s what I do). Here is what I came up with:

I put this together on Keynote, which also allowed me to record the audio from one of my practice runs. Both things were a first for me, and I found that it was very easy to do. Now, I’m pondering how to incorporate this presentation format into my fall courses. The format lends itself for brainstorming about ongoing projects. An added benefit, at least for my media students, is that putting one of these together challenges your creativity, and can teach you a thing or two about how to best use presentation tools, such as PowerPoint and Keynote. Thoughts? Please feel free to comment.

If you are interested in Pecha Kucha presentations, the Pecha Kucha 20×20 website has interesting ones you might want to check out. There may also be links to Pecha Kucha events in your city.

Teaching Media Literacy with Googledocs

Today, I tried something new with googledocs. It’s probably not really new, but it was new to me, and I felt like I had discovered it.

Well, I had not, but it was exciting, and it all started with this video.

This spreadsheet was posted in February of 2011. It shows us real-time crowd sourcing. The collaborators are thousands of volunteers. Their task: to translate  hundreds of voice messages coming out of Egypt during the uprisings that pushed out Hosni Mubarak from Arabic into English. These messages were then re-posted as tweets. You can read more about this project, and the Speak2Tweet technology that made it possible here.

What does any of this have to do with my intro to media class?

No, we did not contribute to the spreadsheet. What actually happened is that we used Googledocs to collaborate in the classroom. The topic was advertising, and my students went on a youtube scavenger hunt.

I have been teaching a session on advertising techniques for a few years now, and I use a hand-out developed by the Media Awareness Network, which describes 15 such techniques. I like it because it is clear, and it gets the job done, at least as far as an introductory course is concerned. Until now, my modus operandi had been to look for suitable examples on my own, but I realize that this sidelines my students. I wanted to put them at the forefront. So, I gave them the handout, asked them to get in groups, and instructed them to find examples. I created a googledoc, and shared it to the entire class. They copied and pasted the urls, and now we have a document that they created, as opposed to something I came up with. Here is the result. Unfortunately, I was unable to create a screencast as the students were compiling their lists (it was sooooooo cool, just to see the document coming together in real time). I will try again later on.

We did have a lively discussion, which went beyond the advertising strategies listed on the handout. This Volkswagen commercial, for example, prompted an exchange about portrayals of “ideal families” on commercial advertising. We detected quite a bit of nostalgia, as this ad reflects an upper middle class household, where only one parent works outside the home.

This ad, on the other hand, initiated another discussion about limits. How far can you go in an ad before you cross a line?

As an instructor, I am beginning to play around with interactivity.  Googledocs certainly allowed us to share insights about content that I would probably have missed, had I been solely relying on my own resources. In fact, I probably would have never come across many of the commercials that my students shared with the class. This is because recall definitely played a role in how my class looked for examples. Indeed, several students selected commercials they remember watching as children, which also provided a good opportunity to talk about what makes commercials stand out.

Tech reviews: A few of my favorite things

Oprah has her favorite things, but if you want to be nit picky about it, this post is not intended to emulate her. I was actually thinking of Maria von Trapp, or rather, of Julie Andrews’ singing about a few of Maria’s favorite things. She liked kittens. I, on the other hand, like kittens on YouTube. I think of myself as a tech savvy individual. I own a MacBook, I can program a DVR, and I have several twitter accounts, which I manage somewhat efficiently using a twitter client. However, ever since I came to Trinity University, I’ve come to realize that I had overestimated my savvy. Sure, I could insert video into a PowerPoint slide, and I also had my own blog, but that was the extent of my use of technologies in the classroom, and I was fine with that.

Until I came to Trinity, that is. And it is not just because now I can afford a Blackberry with the data plan (as opposed to salivating every time I saw one of my friends updating Facebook from their Blackberry). The timing was just right, as I arrived as Trinity was transitioning to the cloud. Yup, we are one of the schools who are using Google apps.

Tmail, Trinity’s version of gmail, is probably the one app we are all using on campus. It’s just like Gmail, and very soon we’ll be able to switch between Gmail and Tmail without having to log off and on. GoogleDocs is also part of the suite available at Trinity. I have discussed some aspects of GoogleDocs  in a previous post, and I will be writing some more on the challenges I’ve encountered using it in a future entry. This time I just want to discuss my other favorite Web 2.0 technologies, and how I’m using them.

Prezi: presentations beyond powerpoint.

Prezi is definitely at the top of my list. Prezi is a presentation tool, and it is far more versatile than Power Point. Indeed, powerpoint limits you to slides, whereas Prezi gives you an entire canvas to fill up with your ideas, and you can organize your thoughts as you would do if you were creating a mind map. In terms of design, Prezi includes 10 different templates, and you can also create your own style sheet. Finally, Prezis are very dynamic, since you can add video, and create basic animations. For example, this is a Prezi that I created to discuss the future of newspapers with my intro to mass media students.

As much as I like this tool, Prezis have limitations. The main one is that you can only embed video from YouTube. Furthermore, if you want to embed audio, you have to convert your file to FLV or SWF format. Also, wordpress does not embed Prezis, unless you use the gigya shortcode. That can be really frustrating, especially if you are not familiar with coding. However, the beauty of the web is that, if you keep at it, you can always find someone who figured out the solution to your computing problem. I guess this is why one of my colleagues, Aaron Delwiche, says that we can all be programmers now.

Dropbox: File storage on the cloud

I’ve had my MacBook for a couple of years. I wrote my dissertation on it, and I use it more than any other technology that I own. Last spring, I started getting a little concerned about the age of my computer. I’ve heard the horror stories before, about people losing all their files to a hard crash of their hard drive, or God forbid, the death of their mother board. At that point, I had almost completed my dissertation, and even though I had several copies scattered around in flash drives and emails, I felt it was time to back up everything. I did what most people would do. I bought an external hard drive, formatted it for the Mac, and dragged and dropped everything to it. I’m glad I did. As it turned out, my hard drive did die. However, I have never been able to use my external hard drive on a PC. Since that is what I have at the office, that’s actually an issue.

Or it was, until I heard about Dropbox.[1]

With Dropbox, you can synch any number of computers and/or mobile devices to your dropbox, and any files you save, change, and/or delete from your dropbox folder will update automatically across devices and platforms. Dropbox offers 2GB of free cloud storage, and you can get an additional 250 MB of space by referring your friends. Moreover, if you register a .edu account, Dropbox will give you 500 MB per referral. You can invite your friends directly, or you can share your referral link with anyone. Here is mine. Feel free to use, or not.

This is my dropbox, or rather, how my dropbox looks like online. However, it is not how I use it the most. I’ve downloaded and installed the dropbox desktop client on my home and office computers. This creates a folder on my hard drive, and it automatically updates and synchs everything to the most recent version. As long as I remember to close the files, they will synch.

If 2GB is too little for your needs, take a look at SugarSynch. It is basically the same service, but with 5GB of space for free. I’ve installed it, but haven’t really used it yet. However, here is a review of SugarSynch, by Shep McAllister for HackCollege. He actually has used it uses it. I merely have it on my laptop, but have yet to do anything with it.

Evernote: “Have you noticed me taking pictures of the your handouts?”

When it comes to technology, I’d take cues from Shep any day. Shep writes for  HackCollege, which is a version of Lifehacker for the college crowd. Shep was a student of mine at Trinity.  Last fall, he asked me if I had noticed him taking pictures of the my handouts.

I had not noticed, and I even felt a little inept. Shouldn’t I be able to see such things going on in my classroom? I supposed that if I had a strict no-technology rule, I probably would have. It also would have helped to have X-ray vision, since I teach in an amphitheater-style lecture hall. While it isn’t ungodly large, you would have to constantly walk up and down the room if you want to keep track of what everyone is doing. I hardly ever do.

In any case, Shep was actually digitizing his notes. He’d take a quick picture of a handout, and upload it to Evernote.

Evernote is note-taking 2.0. You can type, scan, or record notes directly to your favorite device. I have since tried it on my blackberry (a little cumbersome, since I’m still getting used to the virtual keyboard on the torch, which I insist on using just because I have it), the iPad, and my laptop..

Now, I know that I could share files, if I wanted to, directly from Dropbox. However, with Evernote I can compile different materials into a single note, and then organize the notes into shared notebooks. So far, I’ve created two of these. I use them upload recordings from lectures, annotated PDFs that I use for my own class prep[2], assorted videos, and links to prezis. I think of it as my very own academic smorgasbord. This is what one of my Evernote shared notebooks looks like.

So far, the only drawback I’ve had using Evernote is that I can’t record a full lecture directly to an audio note. I tried it once, and could only capture about 10 minutes of semi-coherent rambling [3] before I exceeded the space limit for the Blackberry app. I don’t have this issue if I simply use Blackberry’s own voice notes recorder. I can tape the whole thing, and then upload to Evernote. Once up there, I can access the content from any computer, share it, and if I’m feeling especially ambitious, I can convert the audio files to MP3s, clean them up on garage band or audacity, and voila! I have a podcast.[4]

These are tools that I use daily, but they are not the only technologies that are available for instructional use. If you know of any cool tools, please let me know.


[1]I actually learned about Dropbox from Aaron Delwiche.
[2]Preview (for the Mac) now allows you to annotate PDFs. NitroPDF, on the other hand, is a good solution for the PC, as it can upload directly to Evernote. There is no NitroPDF version for the Mac.
[3] Sometimes I honestly wonder what the students think of the rambling. This was especially true when I decided to discuss encoding/decoding.
[4]This is the first semester that I’ve made recordings, with permission from the students. I decided to do it because for the first time I have several students who are entitled to special accommodations. This is one way in which I can provide that.

Teaching with new media, or how I went paperless and learned to love Google

It’s official: I’ve taken my courses fully paperless. It is a new experience for me, and even though I had used blogs in the past, this new experiment adds important changes to the mix. The first relates to the platform, which is no longer wordpress. The second change is about classroom privacy, as I have restricted access to the course blog to the students registered in the course. The third adopts a different model of group blogging, by assigning students to a critical reading community. The final change incorporates google docs to facilitate management and assessment of exams and traditional term papers.

Google sites: Our new home.

When I first incorporated blogs into my teaching, I searched for a platform that was easy to use, albeit versatile. WordPress fit that bill. It was highly customizable, and after some trial and error, I was able to communicate my expectations and set standards that student posts had to meet. Indeed, I remember introducing the assignment to my first group, and sensing their bewilderment upon being told that they could not just post whatever they wanted. “Do you mean we can’t just talk about Kanye?”

Not exactly. What I meant is that they could talk about Kanye as long as doing so illustrated at least one of the issues that were being addressed through the course readings and/or lecture. “The whole point of this assignment — I said — is for y’all to use the tools you’re learning about in class to analyze popular culture.” I shared my own work as an example of how to do this, but I never required students to actually comment on anything I wrote. I now have mixed feelings about this decision. Part of me wishes I had asked for student comments. That would have given me feedback, and it would have been another way of assessing mastery of the material.

Hindsight… sigh…

My experience with WordPress was very positive, but I have moved away. I’m now trying out google sites for the first time.

Why? part of it has to do with on-site support. The institution where I teach has subscribed to Google apps for education, and we are currently in the process of rolling out different applications. Two of these are Google sites and Google docs. Since I also wanted to keep traditional term papers and exams, integrating Google docs into the course design seemed like a logical solution. I could keep the course almost paperless, but to keep it simple, I had to abandon my home on WordPress. Why have students use two different platforms when they could manage everything from their student account?

It just made sense to move.

The Media Audiences Site

(click the image to enlarge)

I created two sites. This screen shot shows the basic setup of the one for Media Audiences. The site has evolved into its present form, as I keep adding features. The latest addition is the “featured responses” section, which is basically a collection of what I consider to be the best work produced by students in the class. Think of it as the Media Audiences wall of fame.

Wall of fame

Each week, students write a response to the course readings. This is due at the beginning of the week, and it is meant to help them prepare for discussion. Granted, it doesn’t always work because being prepared for discussion does not necessarily make people more likely to participate in the actual discussion. Shyness is still an issue in the class, but people have other ways of participating and contributing. They can comment on each other’s work, for example, and have those comments be part of the participation grade. To make this easier, and to give everyone a chance to receive feedback from their peers, we formed self-selected reading groups of four. Each student only reads the people in their groups.

Naturally, there is a disadvantage in this arrangement. Self-selection has been an issue, and the “featured responses” section is meant to correct that. Unfortunately, at this point in the semester, reading good responses is entirely voluntary. It was never part of the original grading scheme, and I can’t include it now.

Sigh… one of the issues I’ll correct in the next version of Media Audiences.

The other addition to Media Audiences is google docs. I use it as a course management service, as it allows students to share their work with me, and I can, in turn, provide feedback right on their document by adding comments.

For me, this has been one of the best features of google docs. However, the functionality is limited compared to word. In word, you can actually track changes to documents, and the markings will show up right on the screen automatically. In google docs, if I want to delete or alter anything, I have to highlight it, or strike it out manually so the student will see it.

Another way in which I use google docs is to provide feedback to the weekly responses, and to manage grades. In terms of feedback, I realized early on that I could not just post my assessments directly on the student’s website. Indeed, critiques of student work are, and should always be confidential, whether you grade on paper, or electronically. My solution was to create a separate “feedback document” like the one below. I only add to the feedback document when there is a substantial point to be made. I mean, I’m not going to write an extensive entry to correct typos, but I will write one to encourage clear writing and argumentation:

In terms of grading, I have created individual spreadsheets for each student in the class. I post the grades there, along with brief comments, if warranted.

Students can view, but cannot edit the feedback document or the grading sheet, and I only share these documents with the individual student to ensure confidentiality. The only drawback of this system is that I have to keep a separate master grade sheet, and I have to update it by hand because separate google spreadsheets will not link to each other (or at least I haven’t figured out how to link them). Google docs is not like excel, and I can’t plug in a function that will compile all my grades into a single spreadsheet, like I would on excel linking my grade master sheet with the individual grade sheets is extremely tedious and time consuming. Google provides instructions, in wonderful googlese. You can read them here. The bottom line is that you have to manually input the formula into every individual sheet. Furthermore, you have to define the linking parameters for individual cells within a sheet. If you have 70+ students, it’s just not worth the trouble.  Hence, I rather keep entering the grades manually.  It’s worked fine so far, and people can keep track of their grades. That’s all I want.

So far, the experience has been good. In terms of resources, I now only print out my attendance sheet. I share presentations (done on Prezi because I can’t stand powerpoint anymore), notes, research examples, comments and materials with the class, and I have even begun experimenting with Evernote, pdf annotation, and audio files. I’m rolling Evernote feature out tomorrow, so we’ll have to see how people react to it. More on that later.