Category Archives: MOOCMOOC

Preparing to Teach: Thinking Through My First Survey Course

Now that I have passed my exams and am hard at work on my dissertation prospectus, teaching my own course is not too far on the horizon. In fact, one of the reasons why I chose to Purdue is that nearly every PhD student is given the opportunity to teach their own course once they’re ABD. I was recently informed that I am teaching this fall.

I’ve been assigned a section of HIST 152 – U.S. since 1877 – the second half of the U.S. history survey. It’ll be my first time teaching my own class. I’m excited about the opportunity for a variety of reasons. First, teaching and interacting with students is one of the big reasons why I got in this business. I spent 3 years in the education school during my undergrad days, and always knew that teaching was something I wanted to do. I spent over 80 hours in junior high and high school classrooms teaching lessons and tutoring students; I feel comfortable with them. I’ve been a TA for the past four years working closely with professors on tests, quizzes, Powerpoint presentations, and of course holding office hours and grading. During this time I published a companion teacher’s manual for a sports history textbook. I also coached track and field at the high school and college level for three years. There are so many overlaps between coaching and teaching and I feel that having done both will really shape my approach to this course. And I can’t forget all the conversations I’ve had about pedagogy and technology with the MOOCMOOC crowd two years ago. All of these experiences have prepared me to teach. But at the end of the days, this is still my first time. I’m still nervous.

Though it’s a little ways off, my textbook orders are due March 21st, so I’ve been forced to start thinking through how I want to teach the course. I think it’s probably a good thing for me to take time to conceptualize what I want to do this far out. One of the first questions I’ve had to ask myself is what book(s) do I assign? Do I use a standard textbook? What about a primary source reader? Should I use a monograph or novel too? As I think through these questions, I’m also forced to consider what type of assignments I want to give and what I envision my tests looking like.

There are also questions about technology. The class is capped at 50 students. That’s large enough where discussions can be tricky. Should I attempt to use Blackboard to facilitate out-of-class discussion, or maybe Twitter? Maybe doing flipped-classroom Fridays would better facilitate student engagement. I’m a cultural historian and so much of the twentieth century can be paired with great media clips and images, so I need to think about the best way to incorporate those into my class too. I could collect them into YouTube playlists, embed them into Powerpoints, or design a special WordPress or Tumblr site to serve as the central repository for these things. Because of my digital humanities field I’m excited about the opportunities to play around with technology and teaching, I just don’t want to use too much and have it become a crutch.

I feel fairly confident in the content, after all that’s what I’ve been working to master throughout my grad school career. Most of my concerns and questions as a first time teacher revolved around how innovative to be. I’m aware of debates about technology, textbooks, primary source readings, online history labs, etc., but how do I know what will work best for me? I guess the answer is you never really know until you try something and play around with it. My gut is telling me to be more traditional the first time around. I’ll probably assign a traditional textbook and maybe reader. I know for sure that I’m going to do at least one monograph, but then I think I want to pair that with some sort of multimedia review (most likely film). There will be the fairly standard three tests, plus the short writing assignments on the book and film. And maybe a handful of quizzes.

I’m not married to any of these ideas just yet. I still need to decide on my books and construct a course outline. But I think asking these questions will help me shape the contours of the class. I feel really lucky to have had all the experience I outlined in the second paragraph above to draw from. I’ve TA’d for some really amazing professors with distinct teaching styles and pedagogical techniques. I’ve been waiting a long time for my chance to teach and implement my own ideas. Now that it’s here, I just hope that I can make them proud this fall and live up to the high standard of educational excellence that my students deserve.

If you have any thoughts, tips, suggestions, or general advice for me as I prepare my class, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments or over email.

Twitter vs Zombies — the game

There is an epic battle of humanity taking place on Twitter. The Zombie apocalypse has arrived. Essentially, the Twitter vs Zombies game (#TvsZ) is a giant game of tag. It’s been pretty organic and the rules have emerged and changed a bit since it started. They’re mostly collaborative with very little administrator intervention. It’s pretty fun and neat to see.

The game serves multiple purposes too. It is both an easy going fun activity (or procrastination tool) to occupy a weekend, and a networking activity. According to the scoreboard, there are almost 150 players, and because the game requires personal interaction to bite, swipe, dodge, etc. you build relationships and gain followers. I could see future iterations of this game, or something similar, be use for program orientations to get know people, marketing strategies of a “last man standing” sort. Of course, because so much of the game follows the honor code, this could be difficult for them to keep in check. But the fact is, I’m not aware of any other type of games being played on Twitter. We’ve all likely experienced the dreaded Facebook game requests, but to this point Twitter has avoided that stuff. It’s really a credit to Twitter. Games, however, make it fun and interesting. People build networks, collaborate, become friends, etc. though games/sports.

The role of social media in sports has often focused on athletes and the crazy stuff they say. Reporters and bloggers also have taken over with trade rumors, etc. Hashtags have played a key role. Half the reason I’m on Twitter is to follow the Royals and interact with the fan community that I’ve become a member of. But now, Twitter is evolving into a venue for games itself. Will this change how people use Twitter? Maybe not. But its make you think about how artificial games/events can be created (such at #TvsZ) to foster networking, fun, and collaboration. I’m diggin’ it.

#MOOCMOOCbar Google+ Hangout Notes & Thoughts

I love that we are still staying in touch and keeping the dialogue going after MOOCMOOC ended. I tweet with several people pretty regularly and have G-chatted with Rosemary several times. They Google+ hang outs — we have become known as the #MOOCMOOCbar– are the best though. We had our second one on Friday and here are some thoughts and notes that I wrote down (strangely, on actual paper). You can also see some other stuff from the hangout on this Google Doc. 


What is learning? Who defines it? Is it students/teachers/institutions?
Does what we “learn” versus what we “teach” matter?
There sometimes seems to be more concern for jumping hurdles than indulging in a learning atmosphere, why? Does this come from the institution, society’s use/value of education, or the students? Perhaps jumping hurdles is an important skill to learn?
Are we innately born as learners? Is learning a social construct? Can/are both true? How/why does this affect our methods?

What is the difference between critical thinking and skepticism? Can radical skepticism (conspiracy theorist types) also be considered as critical thinkers? Does too much skepticism cause everything to fall apart (e.g. the social trust of knowledge/veracity)? Is causing this trust to fall apart good or bad? What role does digital publishing, the internet, and easier access to information play in this?

There seems to be an epistemological shift with digital culture that the above questions sort of hint at. This leads to more questions about memory and the nature of knowledge as well as teaching and sharing knowledge. There are three or four different terms that are distinct but very interrelated: knowledge of; information; knowledge about; and content. The very etymology of “information” implies that it forms us and changes us. How does this happen? We need more research into these things from a variety of perspectives including the psychological, physiological, and, of course, the pedagogical — especially with the rise of digital culture. Here we have questions about the relativity and physicality of knowledge. Do we have more knowledge than people can can handle or process?

We got a little bit more in-depth on the question of “is knowledge physical.” We agreed that it is, both in spatial terms as far as books/texts/etc but also temporally. To a certain extent knowledge is “what we can remember at a certain time” more than what we can reference or research. Thus, knowledge is, to a large degree, relative (answering the question above). This is an important sort of pedagogical reminder, perhaps tests/quizzes/conversations are important for this reason because they show the internalizing and forming of the information/lessons/knowledge. This is why ultimately teaching methods really do matter. We sometimes need a guide or curator as we explore the vast expanses of information. This must be more than just posting a bunch of links or assigning texts. At the same time, we must return to our first questions about learning and recall that our choice of texts/links/lessons/content become a construct of our own. How/why we construct things is a part of our position and is imbued with power to a certain extent. Does the digital world change or alter this power? I think so, but I’m not sure how. This is something I’d like to explore in the future because I think it is at the heart of a lot of contention within various definitions of the word “open” in setting such at MOOCs and publishing.

Thinking of knowledge as a construct, I suggested that knowledge is a series of previous conversations — we call this historiography in history. I was taught in ed. school that we much activate prior knowledge in our students — somehow — for a lesson to connect/stick. These are essentially points of references within previous conversations. A good example of these is the Beloit College Mindset List, which tracks events/things that college freshman have either experienced or not experienced so we can better understand them. It’s usually pretty entertaining, but I think it matters. When you teach and talk about knowledge you need common thought points. It allows us as teachers to connect dots. In this way we can access and explain the series of previous conversations that lay the foundation for the present as well as answer larger epistemological questions. I think those previous conversations do matter (not everyone agrees). That’s why need to maintain knowledge and information about things even though those conversations might have ended or evolved. In some ways I see some similarity to “scaffolding” in the education literature and the previous conversations idea, but I don’t think it’s quite the same (I could be wrong and would enjoy more discussion here). Past conversations still form us and we share in their story. Thought points matter, they affect how we teach, who we are, and what we know, but at the same time just like knowledge itself, those thought points are also relative — particularly among generations. However, we must ask is the teacher a necessity in finding and connecting thought points?


I hope these notes make sense and don’t seem too confusing. They’re mostly questions. Based on them, it seems that in some places we may have spun circles around ideas/issues. We probably did (it’d be interesting to see a chart of our discussion). I admit there are no real conclusions or lessons here. Our hangout may have ended but the discussion has not. Feel free to add your thoughts/questions/reflections/links in the comments or to the linked Google doc above. Also, let me know if you want to join in the next Google+ hangout. I really enjoy these conversations because they challenge a lot of my own thoughts and make me think more critically about teaching and the digital world.

2012 Film & History Conference

I presented at the 2012 Film & History Conference this weekend in Milwaukee, WI. It was a pretty good conference. It was international with several people from Canada and a few from Europe. There was also a nice mix of graduate students and professors, and a collections of undergrads from Texas A&M Commerce too.

I presented on a panel about sports biopics.  The panel was titled: America’s Pantheon III: Debunking (and Deconstructing) the Sports Hero Biopic and Documentary. I presented first and talked about the characters and production changes that went into Running Brave (1983) and Billy Mills advised them and helped avoid the “hollywood Indian.” The next guy talked about myth making and tropes of sports heroes in Pride of the Yankees (1942) and how some of it was important for WWII and the legacy of Lou Gehrig. The third guy did a point- counterpoint deconstruction of The Hurricane (1999) and how this mistruths cost Denzel Washington an oscar but also served a public re-writing of the facts and perceptions of Rubin Carter and his murder case. The final paper was about The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and how he was almost more of a Jewish hero than a baseball hero, and someone who changed a lot of perceptions of Jews.

Each paper was really interesting and showed how films are often created to with a social/political/historical/economic motive. We were unified in the theme of sports biopics and our deconstruction of them. What emerged where questions about how/why they recreate history. Does the truth matter? The role of feature films versus documentaries. Where does the money come from and why it matters. And much more. Because we all came from different backgrounds — me from history, 2 from film studies, and one from English/communications — we all approached it in different ways. The films studies people looked more at tropes and themes in the films, representations of gender/race, and the receptions and roles they played. The English prof and myself were more interested in questions of truth/reality and deconstruction. Out of the four of us, I was probably the most interested in how/why they filmmakers chose to portray the story and people like they did. Combined all the approaches offer a lot of ideas on how to analyze, interrogate, and place films within the research and writing process.

Since I was there, I attended a few other panels. Two of my favorite papers were about Westerns. One talked about the use and role of “drinking coffee.” I never knew it served so many purposes and was so common (e.g. social filler, guy bonding, and a symbol of domesticity and home). The second was about the portrayals and perceptions of teachers from bookish spinsters, the only respectable job for women in the West, to characters imbued with sexual identities and debates about purity.


One panel I didn’t particularly enjoy, although I am finding more useful now that I reflect on it, was a roundtable by a group of undergraduate students. They talked about their experience in a pair of classes aimed at teaching history through film. I caught about half of their roundtable. It was kind of interesting to get a student perspective but the panel was more about teaching with film, than history. They came with their film studies professor not their history professor. Personally, I would have been more interested to hear from him and about how the films contrasted with what they were reading. To be sure, they talked about it a little bit, but more in comparison with their high school teachers (because they took the class as freshman). They offered some interesting food for thought and feedback for K-12 teachers  and ways to use film, but I’m not sure how it would fit into a university classroom. I fear that I might be sounding a bit closed minded here and I don’t mean to. I missed the first half-hour to forty-five minutes of the discussion (2 hour panels). The part I caught was them talking about the films they liked and why, and what affect/aspects of the films made them more believable. They also talked about their varying high school preparation and how that affected their knowledge and analytical skills of the films. I can see ways where this last point would be helpful for me, but without having watched many of their films it was difficult for me to understand some of the more nuanced points.

The conference over all was so-so. Film & History is interdisciplinary so there’s a lot of different approaches and topics. Some of them I didn’t find all that useful/interesting, but maybe that’s because I don’t speak their “disciplinary” languages. My registration comes with a subscription to the Film & History Journal, so maybe after I read more stuff things will make better sense. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I tweeted about my sort of “loner status.” I sat alone at the banquet (by choice) and didn’t talk to too many people. Some of that was it being the first conference I’ve attended alone, I’m also not that outgoing to new people. I get anxious, so after presenting I was timid about talking too much to other people. And, they never make the name tags big enough to read, so introductions are really awkward. Anyhow, eventually I did chat with some guys after dinner about sports and our other interests. Here I discovered we really are all pretty like minded and approach film, scholarship, and teaching in similar ways. Disciplinary borders a pretty arbitrary. It really reminded me of some of the MOOCMOOC relationships. In fact, I did mention it to them and a few found it interesting. I feel like digital humanities, those interested in digiped, and film history folks would get along pretty well.

I have my next conference in two weeks — the Midwest Popular Culture Association. I’m presenting on football coaches there and don’t plan on sticking around as long. Conferences are really expensive and I’m already feeling the crunch. Also, its hard to drop all of my other work for a few days. I need to have a super productive week to crawl out of the hole I dug myself into this weekend going to Milwaukee. At the same time, I think I learned some good lessons at Film & History to take forward. I’m not sure if I will go back next year, but I might.

“I have my freedom but I don’t have much time”

Well, MOOCMOOC is over and Brutus is rejoicing. A new semester is on the horizon, too. I’ve spent the last few days in meetings, at welcome events, and (re)connecting with colleagues. And, amidst these meetings, social events, and the excitement/energy for a new (school) year, was last night’s MOOCMOOC Google Hangout. The hangout fit nicely with the energy and the theme of (re)connecting, but it also symbolized the end to a crazy week. It was bittersweet.

If you’ve read the blog this week, you know that, for me, MOOCMOOC was mostly a time of learning and reflection. It was also a time of networking. I feel like my Storify provides a nice overview of the week, but it fails to offer much of a ‘final’ reflection. Pete Rorabaugh, one of our learning leaders, provided a nice prompt for some final thoughts in a tweet on Thursday night:

My first thought, is why do we need to counter this claim? I don’t remember who told me this, I think it was one of my undergraduate advisors, but every good class (at least in history) is based on a thesis statement and argument. Us historians readily admit that there is no ‘truth.’ Everyone has multiple perspectives. And so when you are designing a class, a lecture, an assignment, you’re really taking a position. For example, if I were teaching a class on Sports in American History, I might take the position that sports reflect and offer insights into American life/history. Sure, this is a pretty easy to position for most of us to buy, but its not a cold hard fact. There are many situations where sports does not reflect American life/history.

So with this idea of each class taking a position and having a thesis statement, Pete’s tweet becomes more interesting. In some ways, it seems to be revealing his uncertainty about if the class accomplished what “some” thought it would. This suggests that he, perhaps, felt unsuccessful in keeping the focus on MOOCs and online education. Now I don’t want to read too much into the question or put words in Pete’s mouth, but you get the feeling from this question that he wanted us to ponder if we really missed the whole point of the class (MOOCs) and focused on other things, such as pedagogy and digital tools. Was the class really about MOOCs?

My answer, as I stated above, is I don’t really think it matters, at least not to the students. I do, however, think asking the question is important. It’s like when you write a paper, you have a thesis and sources materials, an outline and plan, but then you get to the end. After you read the paper, you think “did I really argue that?” The information and the tools were there to argue different things, but perhaps your interpretation or perspective shifted. You were all set to argue that Ronald Reagan was the worst President ever, but then you kept hedging yourself (he wasn’t impeached like Andrew Johnson, he capitalized on the Silent Majority, he ended the Cold War), until you realize he actually did some OK stuff and motivated an entire new generation of people (for good or for ill). I feel like MOOCMOOC was like that, for me and probably for Pete, and others.

We started out wanting to talk about MOOCs, but from the get go the conversation was pedagogical. We engaged (lightly) in the debate about cMOOCs and xMOOCs during our first activity. From there, we all tended to embrace a lot of the connectivist stuff. This included collaboration, technology, digital tools, and further engaged thoughts on assessment and teacher-centered versus student-centered instruction. Some might say the MOOC was the hook. By starting out with the MOOC debate those of us for and against them were drawn in. Once we were in we became active and were gently prodded towards experimentation and reflection about what MOOCs (and online education in general). Although for the most part we avoided criticizing online teaching, we did admit that it is flawed and looked for ways to improve it. Because most of us do not teach online, however, it then became as much about improving online courses and MOOCs as our own on-the-ground courses. The hybrid pedagogy piece was fully embraced. Certainly some of this was because of the views/experiences of our “leaders” and the readings/resources they chose to provide.

In the end, MOOCMOOC took a stance and a position. It used MOOCs and technology as a hook, but mostly talked about the lessons and skills that we can learn from MOOCs as well as those we can use to improve them (and our own classes). This was MOOCMOOC’s thesis statement and conclusion, many of us bought it. I did.

It taught me a lot about teaching and technology. I was given the opportunity (and support) to design my own course. I networked with lots of people who seem generally interested in helping me as I look to develop my digital skills and apply them to my own discipline, both in research and teaching. The focus on networking an relationships was really forged throughout the week in our activities, and isa  large part why I think most people bought the MOOCMOOC argument. We made connections, shared insights, and reinforced the ideas through our own experiences and knowledge.

And now, MOOCMOOC is over. We’re all free, but with school and other commitments racheting up, we don’t have much time. There has been lots of talk about what’s next. Will there be a post-MOOCMOOC hashtag to continue the conversation on Twitter? In the Google Hangout, Jesse Stommel mentioned the initial idea was to kill off  (deactivate) the MOOCMOOC account. If that’s the case, I suggest we hearken the words of Mick Jagger; “Let’s do some living after we die.” I know I hope to stay in touch and continue to learn from, and with, as many of you as I can, because “You know I can’t let you slide through my hands, Wild horses, couldn’t drag me away.”

MOOCMOOC Reflection Photo Assignment

ImageThis is my reflection photo about my experience in MOOCMOOC so far for Valerie’s Partipant Pedagogy lesson. 

My items are: binoculars, a key, a harddrive, and the book, The Travels of Marco Polo. I chose these items to represent my travels and discoveries related to technology and information, teaching and learning, and the keys to being a better educator.

Participant Pedagogy: Rethinking My Courses

The easiest way for me to think about some of the issues in participant pedagogy and how they might work in my classroom, is to first actually think about my classroom. For the past year I have TAed an upper-level, 200 person lecture course on the Second World War. In this course my adviser delivers lectures twice a week and the students read three books (one per test). Attendance is not required, but strongly encouraged  Note: we do not use a textbook, instead the books are either novels or monographs, so you’ll miss essential content if you miss class. It’s pretty much your standard old school approach to teaching. My job generally entails clicking through his powerpoint shows (which I think a for TA made for him) and grading tests. The tests are generally based of of ID terms. We usually have identify 5-7 terms and then write an essay (that blends ID terms and the books). My adviser delivers 90% of the content in his lectures — which are really good and very engaging. Our class does have a Blackboard companion, but it mostly just a forum for announcements.

Since I’ve been aboard as his go-to TA, we’ve added ID lists to the course. The first semester we just posted them in class on the doc-cam. If I student missed class, they had to get them from a peer. We set up a peer-to-peer exchange forum on Blackboard, but never gave the terms to anyone ourselves. Poor classroom technology intervened the second semester, forcing us to post them on Blackboard a day or two after class. My adviser was reluctant at first, but caved. As you might imagine, the grade dramatically improved.

So in my class, participant pedagogy is essentially nonexistent. Because it is fairly comparable to some MOOCs (massive size class, no attendance policy, blackboard component), I think it is valuable to think about how to mix in some participant pedagogies while working within my limitations.* Before I begin, I’ll try to note what I think those limits are: 1. lecture style must stay (b/c of the TA-adviser setting) 2. scheduling and TA workload prevent discussion sections 3. the course is a part of a grades-credit-degree system.

*I’m sure there may be some debate about these limitations, and I welcome them. Right now, however, my approach is thinking about making adaptation that I could potentially use this semester.

So what to do? My first few thoughts were about the ID terms and class notes. I feel like we could open up more dialogue and let students take their learning/evaluation more into their hands if, instead of giving them the terms, they wrote their own lists and posted them to Blackboard a day or two after class. Then once online, as part of the notes exchange, they can narrow them down and present to us a complete list a week prior to the test. Thus, the students are still required to come to class and learn, but instead of being passive receivers they are reflecting on the material as they actively decide and participate in the process of choosing what they’ll be evaluated on. A relationship is established.

Seems pretty simple. And I know my focus is more on the test than the actual ‘learning’ but I think it’s a good beginning place for experimentation. By having student tell us what they think is important about the class, we can shape the class in new ways and perhaps spend more/less time on certain topics. Because of the setting and the culturel of my department and disciple (history), it’s still hard for me to get out of the traditional knowledge-deliverer mindset. Historians pride themselves in being experts. Denying this, in some ways, seems to undermine our critical-training. Yet, no one likes to be told what matters and why. People like to form their own interpretations and opinions. At the end of the day, I think it’s our role as teachers to help put them in setting and given them the information for this process to happen. I hope my proposed tweaks begin to approach this goal.

To be sure, if I were to have my own classe, I’d be more open to other styles of peeragogy. For example, I like the idea of collaborative research for a research methods course. Something built on the idea gathering data and information that the group combines and analyzes. Whether it be in-class or online discussions, a forum of dialogue would allow students to select a topic and begin research. Once they’v begun, then they can continuously ask each other about what each document says (and not say), are there different interpretations, how does it fit in and contribute to an argument. Students can also bring in their varying secondary readings (historiographies) to the table and help situate the small scale project within a variety of current scholarly discussions. In this way, history is done as a group, but the ultimate final product (whether done individually or in groups) may still vary. It’s primary source research meets the graduate seminar.

A few final thoughts: I hope I’ve engaged enough with the topic of hybrid or participant pedagogy. Most of my discussion here has focused on more traditional courses and interests of mine, but I think the value in all of this, for me, is to see how I can adapt and shape my present situation with all the new information. It seems like most of the people in the articles gradually implemented their participant pedagogies. While technology does seem to be lacking in some of my thoughts, it doesn’t have to be absent. Tools of collaboration and sharing abound.