WordPress v.3 has now been released and I'm intrigued. This spring I ran two course websites in WordPress. Previously, I had always built sites in Dreamweaver. The WP approach makes it much easier to build in RSS, and to add Web 2.0 functionality right in my single course site. I no longer had to build the course site, and the blog as a separate site.
My success this past term got me thinking to the next 5 years, and to installing WordPress Multi-user (WPMU) on my server space. This would enable me to build multiple course sites in a single WP installation.
With WordPress 3, it seems, I can simply upgrade to 3.0 and get multi-site functionality. The WPMU community that has grown up over the years may not be so happy about WP pulling multi-user functionality right into the core, and I can understand the sentiment given all the work in WPMU Dev, and elsewhere.
For me, this might be just the ticket. I wasn't looking forward to getting WPMU running on my server, though I don't expect it can be that difficult. WordPress's "5-minute installation" just reduces all that worry - or so that's the hope.
I was blown away at our last department meeting when it concluded with a farewell cake and much well-wishing as I prepare to leave York College for a new position at the University of New England in the fall. The cake was beautiful and delicious, and the card everyone signed left me sad to leave my colleagues. They're just wonderful.
Deep took some pictures and sent them to me, and I'm posting them here so I'm reminded of my soon-to-be-former colleagues with each posting.
On March 3, I presented an assessment-based picture of writing at York College/CUNY. This talk was something I had been looking forward to for more than four months, and is a much more elaborated version of a talk I gave at the Provost's 2010 Academic Leadership Retreat in late January. Following the talk, it was suggested that I make the talk available. So here it is.
I just learned that The Jump (Journal of Undergraduate Multimedia Projects out of UT-Austin) has accepted one of Anna Charles' projects for publication in its upcoming issue. Anna is one of the Communications Technology majors at York College, and I couldn't be more excited for her. I'm also excited for the CT program, and for Daniel Phelps, the Television Studio Director at York and Anna's teacher for the project that will be published.
Her project is a great, short public service announcement-type film. I blogged about it a couple months back, as soon as I saw the film.Anna works as a studio consultant in the E-Writing Studio on campus, and assists students with their ePortfolio projects.
The work Anna has done in this film is actually work that is well within the range of our CT majors. I see this acceptance as a good sign that more CT majors can find publication venues for their work, perhaps even in The Jump.
Writing Across the Curriculum often purports to promote and develop a "culture of writing" on a campus. I've never really been sure what that sort of culture would look like on the ground.
More students writing in more classes?
The number of courses with some designation as writing intensive?
Widespread faculty involvement in writing instruction in courses throughout an institution?
Healthy submissions to on-campus student publication venues?
Something else, or a combination of evidence?
I've always been somewhat uncertain about what I'd accept as signs that a campus has developed such a culture. At least until recently.
In 2008 I advocated for my school to participate in the 2009 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the 27 supplemental writing questions developed with the Consortium for the Study of Writing in College. My aim was to get some comparative perspective on what our students do with writing in classes. Accustomed to seeing data showing that York is "not yet" on par with her sister institutions, I was not confident we'd find signs of a writing culture on campus. This despite a robust set of writing requirements for graduation, a decade of WAC, several student publication venues on campus, and more. Call it skepticism, I suppose.
In the words of Richard Dawson from Family Feud, "Survey Shows"
These are impressive mean score differences in some of the most important elements of the writing process, with most of them highly significant and all of them pointing in the desirable direction. On a potentially less upbeat note, York students seem to proofread their work at the same rate as freshmen across the country. (But I'll take that finding any day of the week, and twice on Sunday!) The day I saw these data I started saying that York has a culture of writing.
When I looked at another set of responses, those having to do with good writing instructional practices, I really had no choice but to "feel" like the faculty teaching freshmen also participate in this culture of writing!
These mean scores are less dramatically different from the national mean than are the first set of scores. But there is no denying that York freshmen report that their instructors employ best practice writing instructional techniques that meet or exceed the use of such practices nationally.
The strength and directionality of these mean score differences blew me away, and I'm paid to be a cheerleader for writing and for writing instruction. Live and learn.
I'll be sharing these data with a group of campus leaders early next year. I hope they're as encouraged and impressed as I am. Faculty on campus are doing great things!
York College E-Writing Consultant Anna Charles has posted a great film short on homelessness that she directed. This film includes shots from Manhattan and from the Ely Ave subway station. It's work done as part of a class this term, and it's really a nice proto-public service announcement.
Friday's WAC Professional Education event at City College was another great success. The writing in the disciplines theme was perfect, and we had some very strong workshops.
The panel featuring four second-year Writing Fellows really illustrated just how much Fellows grow in their time with WAC. We saw some great examples of assignments that include "disciplinary writing" in sociology, psychology, history, and even comic book illustration.
I especially liked the way the Fellows did not present the standard "analytic" academic (or research) paper as disciplinary writing. While not quite Alt/Dis in the sense that compositionists might imagine, these were nice assignments/activities that worked a little out of the traditional box.
The WAC Coordinators meeting that preceded the day's event was perhaps less successful. We're working hard, and from behind the 8-ball, to reimagine the Writing Fellow roles in response to the Graduate Center's decision to reconfigure the fellowships from a 2-year gig to a 1-year appointment that serves as the capstone for the 5-year funding package known as the Chancellor's Fellowship.
Perhaps the high point of that meeting was the work done by the committee imagining ways to front load writing pedagogies in the early years of the fellowship. While perhaps something of a pipe dream, such a reimagining holds the potential to enable CUNY graduate students to have a sustained, multi-year engagement with pedagogical theory and practice. In my own group it was nice to hear that some of the other schools are adopting a model like the one we've moved to, a kind of project-based conception of Writing Fellow work. It's a great group of colleagues, and we're all committed to the work.
WordCampNYC 2009, held at Baruch College/CUNY this weekend (November 14-15) was a HUGE success, though I did find it to be something of a WordPress lovefest. I guess that's to be expected when hundreds of folks who have chosen WordPress as their web publishing platform come from hundreds of miles to hang out and talk shop.
As an academic involved in advancing WordPress as an ePortfolio platform on campus, I stuck to the Academic Track in the program. The academics at WordCamp appeared to me to be dwarfed by the developers, newbies, and others. The audience in the panels I attended hovered around 25 folks, and I got to meet some interesting faculty doing pedagogically valuable things with technology. The entry point for discussions was WordPress, but we didn't stay there. As an academic, I often find that panels can get boring because they run on too long. The opposite was true at WordCamp. I regularly wished there had been more time for Q&A, though this was due to short sessions and an engaged audience, not rambling by the presenters.
Here's a run down of some of the panels I attended, and some of the issues discussed.
It's all about the FRO, man! Luke talked about how the Baruch freshman year experience folks got into the idea of blogs in the Freshman Seminar, about how 1600 Baruch freshmen are now blogging this fall, and about how their using what he called a "mother blog" to aggregate the individual posts in each seminar. What a cool potential model for the York freshman seminar! Diffusion of innovation, anyone? That's so cool!
Jeremy focused on ways to use WordPress for research and search management, and explored the possibilities that WordPress could become a vehicle to manage and aggregate online research. He also observed the ways that CommentPress, a WordPress plugin, might be used to encourage paragraph-by-paragraph critical reflection. CitationAggregator apparently makes it possible to aggregate cites from one's various accounts around the web. And while I do not know the plugin Headup, Boggs explained that this tool reads your post as you write and can pull in relevant content from the web.
Tom's presentation on WordPress in K-12 contexts was a real eye-opener. This was a presentation that got me thinking about publishing and elementary students, particularly my own children and their school. Hmm. I'll be talking with fellow PTA members.
Dave Lester's presentation focused on ScholarPress, a plugin that he and Jeremy Boggs collaborated on. ScholarPress essentially turns course website development into a matter of completing form fields. I didn't find it particularly interesting for my own purposes, with the notable exception of the potential for the importing of bibliographic material into a 15-week schedule. Mostly, I'd just make my course website so that it looks the way I want it to look.
I did find both Courseware and WPBook to be intriguing tools, and I'll definitely implement WPBook for my Spring 2010 course if I decide to go with a Blog-based course website. I still haven't decided if I'm moving from my 3 year exploration of CSS style switching, with a steady accumulation of themes as each semester comes around.
Serena Epstein and Shannon Hauser
These two former students from the University of Mary Washington, current stomping grounds of Jim Groom, gave a wonderful interactive presentation that cast WordPress as an addictive drug. Their presentation totally fit into the general WordPress lovefestiness of WordCampNYC. I even found myself participating, though I don't have a problem with WordPress. Hmm.
Roundtable: Future of WordPress in Education
The engaging discussion in the roundtable just went too quickly. Privacy, choice, the possibilities for integration, the future of Blackboard, and more.
Joe Ugoretz and Lisa Brundage
Joe and Lisa showcased the great work with eportfolios under way at the Macaulay Honors College. What can one say? Truly exceptional students with wonderful financial and technological support, taught by some of the most engaging faculty CUNY has to offer. There are some outstanding portfolios happening in their platform, and it's really nice to see what they're up to. Intriguingly, I learned that faculty are actually using the blog platform to focus course projects. This is something I WILL use in Spring 2010. I'm thinking of a synthesis of Boggs' ideas and Ugoretz's ideas in my Writing for Electronic Media course. Now I just need the project!
Stepping Out of the Ivory Tower
I had a nice lunch with a couple web developers from DC. We had some interesting discussions about open source CMS platforms. I was intrigued because they were working to move clients to WordPress as an alternative to static, Dreamweaver-based sites or other CMS platforms available. Very pragmatic web developers coming to WordPress because of ease of client use and not because of WordPress evangelism. I actually saw their presence at the conference as a sign that folks are opting for WP because it's just good, and easy. These guys were just discovering WordPress MU, and I think they had just heard of BuddyPress that day.
The second day of panels in the CUNY WAC Writing Fellows Professional Development series went very well. With 3 panel presentations and 5 concurrent sessions in the afternoon, Fellows had plenty of choice as they considered which discussions about Faculty-Writing Fellow partnerships relevant to their local campus work.
Since we were at Hostos, and since I have tremendous respect for Linda Hirsch's work as WAC Coordinator at CUNY's bi-lingual college, I opted to attend the workshop that featured Linda, some of her Writing Fellows, and faculty collaborators at Hostos Community College. I'm glad I did.
Linda packed the workshop/panel with faculty from Hostos who had worked with Fellows. It was very good for me to hear about faculty members' own anxieties in sharing their assignments and course plans with others. It really underscored the way that a Faculty-Fellow partnership is a kind of leap of faith for both parties, as well as the importance of building trust over time.
Nancy Aries, Interim University Dean for Undergraduate Education, & Cheryl Smith, Associate Professor & Faculty Coordinator of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program, Baruch College
Panel Presentations - The Faculty/Fellow Partnership: Unique Approaches and Outcomes
Facilitating Active Learning: Effective Strategies for Conducting a Staged Research Paper (David Palazzo, Writing Fellow, Bronx Community College, Janet Heller, Assistant Professor of Health, Physical Education and Wellness, Bronx Community College)
Classroom Collaborations: Creating WID Resources by and for Faculty and Fellows
(Karen Gregory, Teaching & Learning Fellow at the Office of General Education, Queens College, Thomas Meacham, Writing Fellow, LaGuardia Community College, Michele Pacht, Associate Professor of English, LaGuardia Community College)
When Your Faculty Member is an Entire Department (Lauren Jade Martin, Writing Fellow, Baruch College, David Parsons, Writing Fellow, Baruch College, Diana Rickard, Senior Communication Fellow at the Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute, Baruch College
The Potential and Peril of Faculty-Fellow Collaboration: Using the Reflective Cover Letter (Stephanie Jeanjean, Writing Fellow, Queensborough Community College, Leonard Finkelman, Writing Fellow, Queensborough Community College, Carl Lindskoog, Writing Fellow, Queensborough Community College)
Faculty/Fellow Collaboration: Making It Work (Linda Hirsch, Professor of English & WAC Co-coordinator, Hostos Community College,Andrea Fabrizio, Assistant Pr ofessor of English & WAC Co-coordinator, Hostos Community College, Nelson Nunez-Rodriguez, Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences, Hostos Community College, Eunice Flemister, Assistant Professor of Education, Hostos Community College, Jerilyn Fisher, Professor of English, Hostos Community College, Adriana Perez, Writing Fellow, Hostos Community College, Paul McBreen, Former Writing Fellow, Hostos Community College)
Building a Collaboration for the “Build-Your-Own-City” Assignment (Cindy R. Lobel, Assistant Professor of History, Lehman College, Carla Dubose, WAC Faculty Development Associate and former Writing Fellow, Lehman College)
Kathleen Blake Yancey delivered the keynote at the 2009 Georgia Conference on Information Literacy, a talk entitled "Creating and Exploring New Worlds: Web 2.0, Information Literacy, and the Uses of Knowledge."
Yancey worked to open our conception of sources a bit, to broaden it from alphabetic or written to include multiple media, and consider that one's sources both come from others and are created by us. Is this new? The multiple media component is certainly a relatively new phenomenon, at least the ubiquity of it is. And most students in colleges generally experience research or engagement with source materials as the manipulation of other people's material. But much of the material we think of as "source" material has been created by someone.
Yancey argues that, as teachers, we should push students into the "stew" of information, scholarly material found in libraries and academic subscription databases, material in blogs, in more popular press publications, and more. We should then encourage students to evaluate the information found in these sources as a way for them to take charge of the information they encounter.
Information literacy practices must have content in them if students are to make meaningful use of them. Yancey claims that one key to the transference of skills from one context to another is content. In the absence of content, skills become something we may practice without really understanding the why, the reasons the skills are valuable.
Sam Wineberg and Information Ecology
Yancey notes that, for Wineberg, we establish credibility through corroboration (or fidelity), sourcing, and contextualization. When students don't engage in these practices in writing about history, they run into trouble. When confronted with a variety of texts that describe/explain a historical event, students struggle to determine which source(s) are most authoritative.
Note the role of "content" in each of the following assignments
Analyze an entry in an encyclopedia and one in wikipedia. How do the entries compare? How are the pieces written? How does one evaluate the entries? Shifting the order of filtering and publishing. Encyclopedias begin with filtering, then publish. Wikipedia publishes first, then filters.
Build a blogging map on a topic. Find blog-based material on a specific topic. What do we learn about evaluating sources by engaging with these blogs. Are .coms better than .edus? Yancey argues that when we dig into a source we can't simply "source" by looking at the URL.
Sourcing backwards. Start with an editorial in the NY Times. Then work backwards and locate the kinds of sources the editors draw from in moving to the editorial.
What is the Role of Content?
Logic of Research Practices - transform our thinking from filling in slots to citation, to thinking about the logic in citation or documentation
Identify key terms that together are Information Literacy.
Circulation - Who cites whom in an article. We can see that scholars are in conversation with each other. In the new circulation, on the web and in television news, we can see propaganda served up as information. Yancey claims that this development is possible because of changes in the position of filtering in the new information ecology.
Yancey argues that we should also use "critical incident theory" practices in the classroom. Build assignments that put students in positions to take a critical incidents approach in locating and working with sources.
I very much like the suggestion that we have students confront specific critical incidents by juxtaposing information sources as part of evaluation. What I'm not so sure about is Yancey's conception of "content" in this framework. Obviously, content matters, and I'm supportive of her point. (Absent content, information retrieval or research is merely an empty exercise with little relevance to us, or to our students.)
At the same time, I suspect that this kind of work will have the greatest impact in the context of actual courses, places were it may be least likely to find an audience. Students in a history, biology, or literature class, when asked to conduct research as part of the course, would likely be most receptive to this kind of approach. But faculty teaching these courses are more likely to be focused on the content knowledge itself. Embedding the kinds of information literacy assignments into the curriculum will be a challenge that may even be more daunting than the efforts to infuse process writing pedagogies into such courses.