Do you or your students share their writing, or comment on other students’ drafts, with Google Documents? Or do you or your students publish your ideas on a WordPress platform? If you’re looking for illustrated tutorials on key steps in the process, see these newly-updated chapters in the back of our open-access Web Writing book, published by University of Michigan Press in 2015, and freely available (with occasional updates, like this one) at http://webwriting.trincoll.edu
Now you can point students to specific sections by adding a hashtag for the header keyword to the end of the web address. For example, to show my students how to prepare their Google Docs for a peer editing exercise, I point them to the “Advanced” Share section of that tutorial by appending the #advanced hashtag, like this: http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/how-to-google-docs/#advanced
In Spring 2015, Nancy Beadie and Joy Williamson-Lott, as incoming editors of the History of Education Quarterly, invited me and eight other colleagues to contribute essays for one of their new formats: a teaching forum. Their goal is to spark deeper reflections about our pedagogical thinking in the pages of this scholarly journal, which in past years has published mostly conventional research articles. The editors prompted us with a question — how do we teach history with case studies? — and pushed us to think about it as broadly as possible.
It wasn’t hard to persuade me to participate. I consider teaching to be central to my work, an intellectual exercise in pairing insightful questions with historical sources, closely watching and listening to how students learn, and continually rethinking the process for the next semester. But this group essay assignment also provided an opportunity to rethink how faculty engage in our work as writers. In the traditional mode, we submit our individual essays to editors, without necessarily see or having an opportunity to respond to what other authors are crafting for the same section. Yet this time, the HEQ editors accepted a suggested alternative: to encourage all of the contributors to share our drafts-in-progress in a Google Documents digital folder. This arrangement allowed each of our individual essays to benefit with constructive comments by our peers, and it also created more coherent conversation across our collective works. The key was to insert peer commentary into the middle of our writing process, rather than a traditional review of polished pieces at the end stage, to maximize the value of our feedback to one another.
The best way to understand this HEQ draft commentary process is to reveal the behind-the-scenes process, months before we arrived at the finished product. The examples pictured below feature comments that peers posted on different stages of my writing, because I am the “owner” of these digital drafts, and changed the sharing settings from private to public. I emailed my peers to ask if any wished to delete their comments on my public essay, and no one did. But I do not link to other drafts written by my peers, where many more comments appear, because they own their drafts, not me. If other forum participants wish to do so, they also can make their drafts public, share links and/or screenshots online, or ask me to include them in this essay.
The first draft I shared with the group appeared in this June 2015 Google Document. Looking back, my writing was still in the discovery process. I began by describing a case study comparison in my class — an old one that I had written about elsewhere — but was still searching for the best way to express a new idea that had popped into my head. A few paragraphs into the essay, I rhetorically asked, “Do we ever not use case studies in our history teaching?” My inner skeptic had begun to challenge the writing prompt given to us by the editors, by questioning whether it was impossible to teach history without cases of some type. When we began to comment on each other’s drafts in early July, I noted my temptation to develop this theme further. Three other authors — Heather Lewis, Michael Bowman, and Karen Leroux — offered encouragement and constructive feedback, which shifted my approach. If they thought this half-baked idea had merit, perhaps I should frame it into a thesis and restructure the entire essay. Midway through the writing process, my peers inspired me to rethink and revise.
A week later I rewrote the essay and shared it with the group in this July 2015 Google Document. This newer version began with a stronger introductory argument and framework for four sections that followed about different types of cases in history teaching. But in this second round of commentary, my colleagues drew attention to some of my uncertain wording in the body of the essay, particularly the fourth section. When historians teach with role-playing scenarios, such as the highly-praised and widely popular “Reacting to the Past” series, does it favor conflict and competition over empathy and understanding? But that question wasn’t fully developed at the time. In this draft, authors Jon Hale, Ansley Erickson, and Isaac Gottesman posted comments that nudged me to clarify my not-yet-formed internal thoughts into clearer prose that others would understand. For authors who are stuck inside our own heads — something that happens to me quite often — their feedback allowed me to re-read my essay through their eyes, and re-word sentences to communicate more clearly.
No doubt, the last draft that I submitted in this final August 2015 Google Document is much stronger than what initially appeared months earlier on my computer screen. But the difference is that I received substantive peer feedback during my writing process, rather than solely at the end, when it’s often too late to significantly restructure and revise. Moreover, my essay became more refined and interconnected with the thinking of other authors because they shared their drafts and welcomed comments at the same time when I was writing and revising mine.
Memo to academic journal editors: If you want scholars to break out of our individual silos and communicate beyond our areas of specialization, then create more interdependent writing and commenting forums such as this one. Also, a memo to historians and other scholars: If the idea of sharing your drafts-in-progress with many colleagues sounds strange to you, then you need to get out of your office more often. Visit more classrooms, from kindergarten through college, that emphasize collaborative writing and peer editing. Read some of the ideas, examples, and tutorials featured in an open-access volume of essays I co-edited with Tennyson O’Donnell, Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning (University of Michigan Press, 2015), or a related volume Writing History in the Digital Age, co-edited with Kristen Nawrotzki (University of Michigan Press, 2013). Try teaching by assigning short essays where students have compelling reasons to share drafts and peer edit one another. Remember that technology is not the end goal, but rather, a tool that can help to restructure our traditionally isolated ways of writing in both teaching and scholarship.
If you want to read the full set of Teaching Forum essays, you’ll need to go to the February 2016 issue of the History of Education Quarterly. Unfortunately, HEQ is published through a proprietary press with a subscriber-only site. At my campus, readers may need to log in through this HEQ ezproxy.trincoll.edu link, which requires a Trinity College username and password. Alas, HEQ does not yet belong to the growing number of open-access scholarly journals. Although my colleagues and I performed the bulk of the labor by writing and commenting on each other’s essays, the proprietary press makes a profit by selling our words, primarily back to our own non-profit academic institutions and our financially struggling libraries. But that’s a different rant, which I’ll save for another time . . .
Trinity’s Individual Degree Program (IDP) for adult undergraduates has invited me back to speak with incoming students. My advice focuses on enriching your learning by searching for what liberal arts colleges do best: creating knowledge collaboratively.
Today I updated a data exercise for my introductory Educ 200: Analyzing Schools course at Trinity College, and designed it so that others may easily adapt the lesson and materials for other settings. The goal was to prepare my undergraduate students for our next unit on educational inequalities, where we will compare and contrast eight different theoretical explanations for differences in learning outcomes. To springboard us into this unit, I compiled a Google Document with charts on standardized test scores by ethnicity, family income, parental education, and gender. The exercise draws on data from the SAT (very familiar to my students, though not statistically representative) and the NAEP long-term trends (the “gold standard” for educational researchers, though most of my students had never heard of it until today). After introducing the exercise and cautioning the class about standardized test data, pairs of students dug into these parts of the exercise:
Part 1: What are key differences between tests such as the SAT versus NAEP?
Part 2: Describe what you observe in each of the data tables.
Part 3: List different types of plausible reasons that might explain the causes of the data patterns above.
Part 4: Together, we will create broad categories, and sort explanations into related groups.
Students were highly engaged in this activity. Some were surprised to find strong relationships (such as family income), or puzzled about patterns that varied across tests (the math gender gap was less pronounced in the NAEP versus the SAT). We concluded the exercise by sorting some of their plausible explanations into three categories: in-school, out-of-school, and in-between factors. More questions were raised than answered in this exercise, but that’s why it’s an excellent springboard into this inequality unit.
Join us for a screening of Tested, on Thursday October 1st, 2015 at 6:30pm, followed by a Q&A with director Curtis Chin at 7:45pm, in the Washington Room, Mather Hall, Trinity College. This documentary follows students who prepare for a high-stakes test to gain entrance to one of New York City’s prestigious public high schools, and explores topics such as equal access, affirmative action, and the model minority myth. Sponsored by Multicultural Affairs, American Studies, Educational Studies, Political Science, Sociology, and Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College. Watch the trailer at http://www.testedfilm.com/.
When teaching our introductory Educ 200 Analyzing Schools course, we draw on the community-learning model and place Trinity students in nearby Hartford schools as participant-observers. They partner with teachers to support younger learners and become involved in the life of their classrooms, and draw on their observations to evaluate different theories of education and inequality in their academic writing. But adding thoughtful community-learning experiences requires time and energy to develop relationships with our school partners and to schedule orientation sessions and weekly placements for our students. I am fortunate that Robert Cotto, Trinity’s Director of Urban Education Initiatives, now organizes all of these details, and has extended our partnerships with more schools. He set up six orientation sessions at four different schools this week, and I accompanied the groups to meet coordinating teachers who are old friends (and in some cases, former students), as well as new partners who I met for the first time.
Today I learned more about City Year, an urban school partnership and mentoring program, by meeting Tiesha Nieves, the organization’s Northeast regional recruiter, during her visit to Trinity College. We talked about former Trinity students who participated in City Year (such as Jessica Wanger ’07), and how the program has shifted over time to place its volunteers inside urban schools to collaborate with teachers and tutor youth individually or in small groups. As an AmeriCorps program, City Year participants also receive a living stipend ($564 bi-weekly), health insurance, and a $5,730 education award at the conclusion of their service to repay student loans or pursue more schooling. To learn more, reach out to Tiesha via email or tweet @TNieves_CY.
Today was a wonderful day. Students did good work in my two classes, my daughter baked a batch of chocolate cupcakes, and the sun was shining. But the extra special part of today that put the biggest smile on my face was the unexpected delivery of reliable wifi to my office, located in the third-floor corner of McCook Hall. Built in 1963, McCook exemplifies the “thick cinderblock” period of American architecture, designed to stand up to whatever bombs our Cold War enemies might have considered dropping on us. But this solid construction seems to interfere with twenty-first century wifi technology. Although the router was less than a hundred feet around the corner and down the hallway, the wifi signal in my office would connect, then drop, then connect, then drop again. I learned to live with an Ethernet cable adapter for my MacBook Air, but students who came to my office to work with me quickly became frustrated with the lack of reliable wifi. Until today! In response to my request to look into the problem, Trinity’s wonderful IT network crew showed up and installed a new router on my office ceiling. So come on over and share the bandwidth. There’s plenty to go around.
Today I came back to full-time teaching at Trinity College, and what made this day extra special was working with Jasmine Gentry ’17, the mentor for our first-year seminar on Color & Money: Race and Social Class at Trinity and Beyond. While students read the first book (Mitchell Steven’s Creating a Class, an ethnography of the college admissions and financial aid process at a liberal arts college), they engage in a role-playing simulation as admissions officers who must accept or reject 15 applicants to their hypothetical college. During the simulation, Jasmine’s role is the Associate Dean of Admissions, and I’m her administrative assistant. Today she stepped up to the plate to engage our crew with their first assignment. It’s always a thrill to see younger people take charge of their learning. So I kept my mouth shut for a few minutes and took this photo. Follow our simulation — and watch out for some interesting plot twists to come — at http://commons.trincoll.edu/colorandmoney.
For the incoming class of the Individualized Degree Program (IDP) for adult students at Trinity College, Jen Schackner ’15 and I co-presented on the theme of collaboratively creating knowledge in the liberal arts. Here’s a link to my presentation and also to Jen’s presentation.