Asynchronous Collaborations: Using Google Docs to Facilitate Working in Community

This semester Ariella Rotramel and I are engaging in community-based teaching and research. In order to work efficiently in our collaborations with community partners, we have both turned to Google Docs as an important tool. This post describes how each of us use use Google Docs in this work.

Joyce

IASC LogoMy course, ANT/LAS 431 Globalization, Transborderism, and Migration, is partnered with an organization I have a longstanding relationship with, the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center (IASC) in New London. Students are working on two projects: creating bilingual Know Your Rights materials for our local community and  interviewing immigrants that IASC has supported through the legal system. Students will write synopses with selected quotes for IASC’s newsletter to highlight success stories. The interviews also provide data that IASC can use in grant applications. Finally, these interviews will provide me with research materials for my long-term research project on the local migrant community and the non-profits they interact with.  

Google Docs has been essential to creating and editing the materials that are at the core of these projects. First, IASC members logged into Docs and commented on the course syllabus as it was being designed. IASC’s direct input into the syllabus follows best practice guidelines for community learning courses. Google Docs allowed IASC collaborators to comment and co-design at times that were convenient for them, enabling us to make progress without meeting in person. While in-person collaboration is key, many of the challenges our partnership faces is finding times to work together given that we exist in two rather distinct work-cultures: academia and nonprofit service sector. This kind of collaboration and co-designing never would have been possible without Google Docs technology.

Most recently, students have used Google Docs to create Know Your Rights materials for our local migrant community. Google Docs has allowed us as a group to share materials already created (such as materials from the ACLU). We were then able to adapt pre-existing materials to the needs of IASC. Collaborating on Google Docs allowed students to share the responsibilities of formatting issues, and it allowed IASC to comment on our work as we went along. That kind of valuable feedback saved us time, as IASC was able to guide our work effectively and quickly.  

Finally, students will be using Google Docs to share their interview transcripts and field notes. Students are completing interviews in pairs, which means using Google Docs facilitates their collaboration. More importantly is that using Google Docs is a convenient way for me to archive the data produced by this class from year to year. A word of caution: be sure to own all of the documents, because if students own the documents and graduate, one could lose access. Barring this particular issue, using Google Docs to archive the data has been convenient  because I cannot misplace it and, more importantly, IASC always has access to the Drive. This means they can access all the data our partnership has produced whenever they need it, which again, is in line with best-practices for community partnerships.

Ariella

Fresh LogoI have been engaged with FRESH New London over the past year as a volunteer and board member. As FRESH began to explore the possibility of a youth participatory research project (YPAR) to tell New London food stories (related to questions of access, inequality, and culture), it became clear that I could help develop this idea into a collaborative research project that would address FRESH’s goals and draw on my experience with community-based research. Over last fall, I worked with FRESH staff to develop an IRB for the initial stage of the project, mapping New London’s food resources using Google Maps. This semester we are working together with youth as co-researchers, meeting weekly to design, collect, analyze, and map information related to New London and food.

I used Google Docs to share initial academic articles on YPAR and food stories, and FRESH reciprocated by sharing existing grants and other materials. Together, we were able to mix in-person meetings with Google Doc work to develop the IRB proposal and all of the related documents. As we received feedback from each other and then the Connecticut College IRB committee, we used Google Doc to make changes, give comments, and  track this work easily through the “see revision history” function. After the project was initiated, we continue to use Google Docs to share materials including brainstorming notes, research links and PDFS, as well as using Google Spreadsheets to track  research findings.

Final Thoughts

Overall, using Google Docs for our community collaborations allows us to follow best practices for community engaged learning because it facilitates input from community partners and community partner’s access to the data we produce. If planned, using Google Docs can also cut down on the amount of coordinating and administrative work the instructor has to do in community learning courses, which can be a barrier to engaging in this important and fulfilling work.  

Deconstructing out-of-class discussions

This post will be an expansion on my earlier thoughts on developing a platform for out-of-class, discussion-based assignments. To quickly review, my goal is to “snow-day-proof” my classes and also create a framework for online discussion that I can use for planned or impromptu out-of-class assignments. I envision a three-step process for these assignments: (1) initial reading, (2) on-line reflection through GChat, and (3) collaborative responses to questions on a Google Doc. My goal with this post is to deconstruct the assignment’s various components (listed below), and raise questions to force myself to confront the scope of what it will take to prepare this assignment for actual use.

  1. Content
    While my goal is to develop this assignment in a content-free way, I still have to consider the types of content that I can use. Since I plan to use this activity both for discussions of assigned readings (which will tend to be more challenging and complex, and require advanced reading on students’ own time) and for impromptu snow days that arise unexpectedly (for which readings must be short and easily digestible), I must structure the activity with both of these readings in mind. But will any of the questions that I consider here have different answers depending on which of these two types of readings will be discussed? I must keep this question in mind as I proceed through the rest of the list.
  1. Group formation
    I have recently begun to think more and more about how to optimally put together groups for discussions in class, so I am wondering whether similar (or different) questions have to be asked when it comes to forming groups for online discussion out of class. Should I use the same degree of caution when attempting to achieve gender balance or aptitude balance? Should I use stable groups across multiple meetings or reconfigure groups each time? Specifically, if I want to get the most out of online discussion, would it be problematic, or helpful, to put people together who have never worked together? What are the advantages and disadvantages associated with the tradeoff between familiarity and novelty?
  1. Length of time for the assignment
    To facilitate communication across students in groups, the assignment must have a finite time to be completed. For snow-day-replacement classes, the length of time would naturally be one class period. For discussions of external readings, longer periods of time (but probably not much longer given coordination challenges) might be desirable. But how long is too long? And how will the construction of specific assignments change depending on how long I set aside for the discussion?
  1. Instructions
    The instructions will play a critical role in setting expectations, motivating students and setting the ground rules. What needs to be included in them in order to make the assignment meaningful and facilitate learning? What ground rules need to be established? How can I model successful GChat transcripts and answers to discussion questions?What do students need to be told in order to get them to take the assignment seriously and interact thoughtfully and respectfully with their group members? What do I need to tell them about what I expect the final product to look like, and how should I convey information with respect to how I will be grading it?
  1. Grading
    Speaking of grading, how can I assess the quality of the group’s overall work? What criteria can I use to judge both the final product (the ultimate answers to discussion questions) and the intermediate inputs that lead up to it (the chat dialogue that preceded the ultimate answers)? How can I assess the quality of relative contributions, both in terms of making my own judgment of the work and having students rate their own and their group members’ contributions? I envision a rubric that makes my approach to grading explicit, which will be provided to students along with the assignment’s instructions.
  1. Providing feedback to students
    After collecting the assignments, what feedback should I provide, both with respect to the work produced and the quality of the discussion? Should I spend class time debriefing? Should I provide written feedback and, if so, should it be specific to each group or general? Should I share specific responses to the entire class? Will the answers to these questions depend on specific readings?
  1. Learning and adjusting
    Once the work is collected and graded, how can I assess the quality of the assignment? How will I know whether learning goals were achieved? How will I know whether changes need to be made? Given successful and unsuccessful experiences, what should I be looking for in terms of readings that I can use for this assignment in the future? Reflecting on all of the questions, from all of the topics in this list, how will I know if there are things I can do to improve across all of these areas?


In future posts, I will turn my attention toward answering these questions. But this preliminary exercise has made me realize that I have my work cut out for me, and that I could benefit immensely from other tech fellows’ perspectives on these questions. So any help would be much appreciated!

“Clear Vision” flickr photo by C.P.Storm https://flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/167418602 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Filling in the Gaps Together: International Women’s Day Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon

Rose Olivera introducing the edit-a-thon

By Lyndsay Bratton, Rose Oliveira, Becky Parmer, and Ariella Rotramel

On Wednesday, March 8, we hosted the first annual International Women’s Day Wiki-Edit-A-Thon in Shain Library’s Advanced Technology Lab (ATL). International Women’s Day is observed throughout the world on March 8 and in some countries it is a public holiday. While celebrations in some countries include bringing women flowers or celebrating with a women’s night out, the day has a political history that resulted in this year’s call for a women’s strike in the United States.  International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity to reflect on ongoing gender inequality and the ability of women and allies to act to make change. Editing Wikipedia collectively provides one platform for responding to issues of gender inequality.

According to the 2011 Editor Survey, 91% of Wikipedians are men. Not only does such a homogenous editor force yield a body of work that reflects a limited scope of perspectives, but the survey also found that the relatively few women editors each make far fewer edits than men editors. Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons are staged periodically around the world, and often focus on reversing such trends by bringing women editors on board to fill in gaps in content related to women’s issues and women in history. A great example of one such initiative is the Art + Feminism Edit-a-Thon.

To address these issues of gender bias, we held an International Women’s Day Wikipedia-Edit-A-Thon. Edit-a-thons are events where newcomers and experienced Wikipedians alike come together to learn and participate in editing. Everyone was welcome and no prior editing experience was needed to participate. We had 13 people attend the evening’s event to create or improve articles on women and related topics.

Faculty, staff, students, and community members at the edit-a-thon

Rose Oliveira, Becky Parmer, and Ariella Rotramel started the event by talking about the the gender issues that face Wikipedia and how Ariella has used Wikipedia in her feminist theory class. Becky and Rose then reviewed the Five Pillars of Wikipedia to ensure that editors understood how to carry out their work effectively. Rose demonstrated how to create content on Wikipedia and the basics of editing. Andrew Lopez and Ashley Hanson shared a set of library resources they curated to help participants get started in their work. We also linked many resources on our Wikipedia libguide to assist editors in moving into editing.

Articles edited or created during the edit-a-thon

For the remainder of the time, we dove into the work. People chose to either collaborate in teams or work by themselves to research, create or improve a variety of articles. They contributed citations; rephrased poorly written sections; added new content to existing entries; and began work on developing new entries. All of these actions help improve Wikipedia by creating or strengthening content that relates to women and other underrepresented groups. In the last 10 minutes, everyone added their entries that they worked on a whiteboard: Lois Gibbs; Mary Foulke Morrisson; 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence; Trans Day of Action; Caroline Black; Avtar Brah; Beatrice Cuming; and Marie Hoppe-Teinitzerová. We concluded the evening by taking turns sharing the woman, organization, or event that they worked on. It was rewarding to see what we were collectively able to do in a short amount of time.

As a result, on the third Wednesday of every month, we have decided to hold an informal Wiki Meetup or “Wiki Wednesday” at The Social at 5:15pm. We welcome new and experienced editors! To check in about the meetup, please contact Rose Oliveira (roliveir@conncoll.edu). For more information about working with Wikipedia in the classroom, please contact your instructional technologist or library liaison.

Building an Italian Virtual City

One of the main challenges that I face in my second semester of elementary Italian is to strike a balance between meeting the needs of the students who want to continue studying the language and the needs of those who are not interested in continuing any further. How do I keep the former motivated and challenged and the latter engaged? Can I use technology to  break up the tediousness of language learning with something that is fun and engaging, that ties all language skills together, and that teaches the students about Italian society and lifestyle?

In the past five years I have fully embraced the concept of blended learning and used a number of different digital tools to accomplish my pedagogical goals. However, every semester, I keep searching for new and fun ways to enrich my courses. This semester, I am experimenting with conversations with native speakers through TalkAbroad. Next spring semester  I want my students to build a virtual Italian city.  I was intrigued by prof. Kronenberg’s similar project at Rhodes College. I want my students to create, explore, and possibly interact in a virtual Italian city by completing a number of tasks that will include writing texts, recording audio and videos, creating cartoons and more, all embedded into an interactive website. For example, some students will be responsible for creating a virtual restaurant, in doing so, they will be responsible for a number of tasks where they can see their language in action. Here is just an example of what these tasks might involve:


Some of these tasks will use familiar technologies, whereas some others will be new to the students and to me, like for example using Powtoon to create animated videos and presentations, or Voki to create speaking characters. Ideas are still floating and open to new possibilities as I explore new tools and technologies. I look forward to sharing my progress in this blog.

I’ve Been Searching for Prezi for 40 Years

prezi

When I was a 1st year student in graduate school I took a course from a development economist Alain de Janvry. It was probably the best course I ever took after high school. He was, of course, brilliant and a great theorist of economic development, especially Latin American economic development. But what made the course really great for me was that he put a picture of the entire course on the blackboard in the first lecture. The picture was a series of connected bubbles and each bubble contained a piece of the story of economic development. Over the next 14 weeks, each bubble was essentially blown up and filled with rich detailed content. But you never forgot how it connected to all the other bubbles. I learned more in that class than any class I took because I could visualize how all the different pieces of a unified picture fit together. I am a visual learner and when I am at my best teaching, it is by drawing pictures of the big ideas I want my students to link together.

That brings me to Prezi. I first met Prezi when we were doing a search in Economics three years ago. All the candidates did their presentations using Prezi instead of Power Point. I immediately saw the visual power (and the limitations) of the presentation tool. Power Point is linear and verbal. Prezi is visual. It was exactly the tool I needed to replicate the kind of course diagram that de Janvry had created.

During the Tempel Summer Institute last summer, Instructional Technology staff trained us to use Prezi. Sort of. We were told that our final presentation about what we had learned would be done with Prezi, then immersed us for about two frustrating hours. I thought I would go crazy and then suddenly it clicked. Because Prezi lives in the cloud and can be shared with others, it is also a great tool for collaboration. But one drawback, as we learned in Tempel, is that when many people work on the same presentation, someone can suddenly show up on the document and make a mess of what you were doing. Not on purpose of course.

I am teaching Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow in my first year seminar, and by the end of this section I created a Prezi that captures the essence of the book. Each bubble will be a topic for a class session the next time I teach the course. I can already see how it helps students understand the big picture – for their final paper of the section, they used the Prezi to help structure their arguments.

I now have students creating collaborative Prezi’s for their final group presentations. I’ll write more about this in a later post.

Design A Better Assignment – Workshop It!

Chopping onions

Where do I position the camera? Why do I have to do a voiceover? What is line 2 of the instructions asking me to do? Is time lapse video really the best choice here? These were a few of the practical and didactic questions I received from colleagues as they worked through the activity that I designed as part of Technology Fellows Program. The workshop experience is one of the invaluable opportunities that this program offers. Colleagues encouraged me to push my thinking about this specific assignment and my approach to course design more generally. The Technology Fellows Program focuses on the use of technology for teaching, but it is also a place to hone one’s teaching skills.

For my workshop, I proposed to try out an assignment that I am calling mise en place, after the culinary practice of preparing ingredients before cooking. This assignment will be part of my Food and the Senses course in the Spring semester. The objectives of the assignment are to have students explore concepts of embodied knowledge and apprenticeship through the activity of mise en place. The first step is to teach students to chop onions in a variety of ways (live demonstration, video and no instruction). Next, students chop onions in teams. They take turns chopping and recording. Initially, I believed that time lapse video would be the best technology for this job.  Outside of class time, students have time to view their videos and reflect on the experience through a voice over. Finally, students share their video documents in class or online.

Leading up to the big day of the workshop, I had a small group meeting with other Tech fellows and instructional designers. They read over the assignment, we discussed the objectives of the activity, they suggested a variety of technology options, and made concrete suggestions for how I could continue to develop the assignment to sharpen the connections between the activity and the learning objectives. Using these suggestions, I prepared the materials for the workshop, where the other Tech Fellows would have a chance to try out and critique my assignment.

The big day came, and, to my surprise, no one balked at the idea of using large knives and the possibility of crying over onions. My colleagues started setting up a variety of recording devices on all sorts of tripods. They immediately began asking important questions, “What part of the body should the recording capture? Just the hands?” This got me thinking about a series of theoretical issues connected with the disembodiment of knowledge and objectification of culinary skill. This is just one example of the sorts of feedback that led me sharpen my assignment and consider the utility of the data that my students would be collecting. Thanks to my colleagues, I began to see connections to visual anthropology and how I could use this assignment to engage with an additional set of methodological questions.

Although I had initially been concerned about finding the right technology for my assignment. The workshop experience helped me to think more deeply about learning objectives and how to bring more intention to the methods and technology I want to use. I like to try new techniques and activities in the classroom and, for the most part, I usually have to wing it. Being able to workshop an assignment that pushes into new pedagogical territory will certainly lead to a better thought out assignment and hopefully a better learning experience for my students.

Image credit: Cutting onions, https://www.flickr.com/photos/61508583@N02/13561876493

Help Diversify the Largest Encyclopedia in the World through Wikipedia Assignments

Last week several librarians, instructional technologists, and faculty met virtually with a representative, Samantha Erickson, from the Wiki Education Foundation. This is the same organization that Ariella Rotramel and Andrea Lanoux worked with on their recent Wikipedia assignments. The meeting was inspirational!

Wikipedia is the 7th most visited site in the world with content from over 80,000 volunteer contributors. Of this number, Samantha told us, 85% of the contributors are white, male, and Western. When most content is created by a homogeneous group, you can see their interests and viewpoints reflected in the existing content and the many content gaps in the online encyclopedia. One goal of having students add content to is to help diversify the contributions.

One interesting example is the entry for Susan Band Horwitz (see below). You can see an early entry is cursory and lacking specifics. We learned this short entry is called a “stub” – there are currently over 1.9 million stubs in Wikipedia (view the current list of stubs – this is fascinating!).

"Stub" entry for Susan Band Horwitz
“Stub” entry for Susan Band Horwitz

If you saw this entry you might assume that this scientist did not contribute significantly to her field. Through the work of students in a course using Wiki Ed’s training and tools, and as part of their Year of Science, they expanded the entry significantly this past spring.

Longer entry for Susan Band Horwitz
Longer entry for Susan Band Horwitz

Contributing to Wikipedia can meet many learning goals, including conducting research, writing, and improving media and meta- literacies, communication, and technical skills. Students learn about authority (who has authority to create information, where does that authority come from), audience (who uses this information and for what purpose), debates in your field of study (highly controversial topics are often “locked,” editing wars break out), and the importance of citation practices.

Wikipedia assignments can take 5-15 weeks, depending on your goals and objectives. Wiki Ed Foundation, in addition to Connecticut College librarians and instructional technologists, are available to help you through every step. Wiki Ed creates a dashboard for you and your students to access training modules and track progress, librarians are here to help students find the best sources for their research, and instructional technologists can help with technical questions.

If you are interested in pursuing a Wikipedia editing assignment, contact your instructional technology or library liaison.

Technology Assignments When You Are Not the Expert: Part II

Fuente-Oveja student work
Cover of final student work

Perhaps because InDesign was as new to me as it was to my students, changing a course project by incorporating new software felt like a bold move. With the support of faculty and staff peers, however, I began the project confident and prepared with what I offer to you as recommended practices:

  • Make sure the assignment itself is as clear as possible before adding any kind of new technology. The software you introduce using lynda.com should facilitate the learning objectives of the project (and the course) without becoming the dominant focus.
  • With the importance of effective imagery established, enlist the help of your library or technology liaison to share visual research methods and resources. Lyndsay Bratton conducted an excellent workshop with my students and created an invaluable online research resource that also included proper citation guidelines for images.
  • Before working with your class, test out a number of introductory Lynda.com videos. Lynda sometimes offers several different videos that serve the same introductory purpose. Find the one that strikes the right tone and goes at the right pace for you. Also, sometimes “introductory” can actually mean “novice” in the world of Lynda; make sure the videos you choose are well-suited to the experience level of your class.
  • Once you’ve selected the Lynda video that’s right for your class, try a practice run with some trusted colleagues to anticipate where challenges might arise. The Advanced Technology Lab in Shain Library is a great place to do this with a small group.
  • Preparing the way for InDesign, share with your students examples that demonstrate the difference between information communicated without much attention to layout and imagery versus those that do. It can be a great opportunity to discuss the power of iconography.
  • Work through the first video as a class, stopping and starting as needed. Allow for plenty of time as it may take much longer than you think it will (this is where that earlier practice session will pay off).
  • As helpful as Lynda is, it can’t beat one-on-one instruction. This, of course, is a challenge if you’re new to the software yourself. Thankfully, the Academic Resource Center may be able to help. Student tutors with experience in InDesign and other programs from the Adobe design suite were available to help, even during the busy final weeks of classes. A tutor came to my class and scheduled meetings with students to help them to stretch the basics far enough so that they could realize their vision for the project.
  • Sometimes nothing beats a clear handout. Whether you make your own or find one online, like this tutorial from Marquette University, it might offer the extra needed perspective that can help students to navigate unfamiliar software early on.

The results were tremendous. Not only were the projects professional-looking, but two students independently commented that they were proud to add InDesign to their resume. View one example in the slideshow below. Work is shared with permission of student creators.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Technology Assignments When You Are Not the Expert: Part I

As covered previously on Engage, lynda.com can be a treasure trove for faculty looking to brush up skills in various applications (i.e. Photoshop) and even strengthen habits in life skills such as time management.

Lynda logo

For me, Lynda is like one of those old friends you don’t get to see very often but when you do, it’s like no time has passed. There’s that instant connection. You love catching up but you’re never quite able to make the time for the kinds of meaningful interactions that make the friendship so great. I tend to go to lynda.com only when I feel like I have time to explore (which isn’t very often).

When using technology in the classroom, I want to be an expert on whatever tool I’m using. This semester, I tried something new.

Through the Technology Fellows Program, I used Lynda.com to incorporate InDesign into a long-established project in a theater history course. I had no experience with the program and only one of my students had used it before, and in a limited capacity.

“Congratulations!” the assignment begins, “Gordon Edelstein, the Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, has hired you and a partner to serve as interim dramaturgs for a production in their upcoming season. [The play is not one assigned to the class as a whole; each team of dramaturgs will draw the title of their designated play at random from a selection of important works emerging from each of the historical periods covered in the course.]

For this project, sometimes spanning an entire semester or, in this experimental semester, concentrated in three weeks, students synthesize historical research in order to provide insight into a play; they illuminate the text by considering the playwright’s biography as well as the social, political, and economic contexts that would have resonated with the play’s first audiences.

Their chief responsibility was the creation of 4-5 pages of content for the production’s in-depth performance guide to enrich the audience experience. The assignment overview concludes, “the guide is intended to be entertaining as well as informative – exercise your creative freedom as you consider the most effective way to communicate your research and reflection on the play. If done well, your work will entice readers to make the trip to New Haven to see the production at the Long Wharf and your career in professional theatre will be launched!”

This kind of creative communication, modeled on examples from professional theaters, is essential to the assignment. In the past, it was often achieved with Microsoft Word or by literally cutting & pasting images before scanning a final product. During my first year at Conn, a team of students produced something so professional looking I had to ask them about their methods; they had taught themselves InDesign.

With some basic research, I found that InDesign and similar Adobe software skills are increasingly in demand, no matter the long-term career goals (and no matter the major of our students). I had a mission for the next time I taught the course.

To find out how InDesign was incorporated into the course, stay tuned to Engage!

Image credit:flickr photo shared by liberalmind1012 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

 

What are the Technology Fellows up to? Part 2

Building with legos

Last Tuesday we spent another productive day with the Technology Fellows in the Advanced Technology Lab (ATL) on the lower level of Shain Library. The first part of the day was devoted to workshopping assignments from Ginny Anderson and Emily Morash. Our theme was creation – both Ginny and Emily had us try out their assignments as student “guinea pigs.” The hands-on activities kept us engaged and allowed the group to provide focused feedback.

  • Creating compelling and educational narratives using InDesign. Ginny’s dramaturgy assignment asks students to play the role of the dramaturg for an upcoming theater performance. Students select a play; conduct research including the biographical, historical and cultural context; organize the information; and use it to create a compelling and interesting guide for audience members. This year, Ginny will require that students use InDesign for the design of the guide. She chose InDesign because previous assignments created in InDesign (instead of Word, for example) were higher quality and students will gain skills in a highly desirable software program. As her “students,” we spent class time analyzing real world examples then learning InDesign together using lynda.com to begin our own guides. We had a great discussion of the potential challenges and benefits of this project. Ginny will write more about this in an forthcoming blog post – stay tuned!
  • Understanding building structural systems using Legos. Emily is integrating a series of Lego Workshops into her Building Culture course (AHI/ARC 103) next semester and asked us to complete one of the workshops. Questions that she needed answered were: how long will the activity take? what should the group sizes be? are there enough legos? will the corresponding Moodle forum work as anticipated? See the image above showing us using Lego Architecture Studio to create three different structural systems. Aside from having a great time and learning about building systems, Emily now has a better sense of the assignment from the students’ perspective.

Our final Technology Fellows event is in December. In the meantime, all Technology Fellows will be blogging about their experiences!