Teaching with WordPress (TWP15) is an open, collaborative online course on using WordPress for teaching and learning in higher education. But choosing WordPress as a platform for teaching is only one part of the process in developing an rich, thoughtful, open learning environment.
We created this site with the goal of supporting graduate students with a basic toolkit of knowledge tools for first-time online teaching. [P.S. We do not focus on institutional support that teachers must have to be effective online teachers.]
This resource is a work-in-progress. We have opened up this site as a shared learning resource so that we may learn from others how to better improve this resource. We welcome your feedback!
It's all over but the reflection for the professors and for the CTL organizing staff, and I have finished sitting in on three classes during Faculty Bulldog Days* for spring 2015. Here are some thoughts about that.
Before I talk about the teaching, I can't thank enough the professors who volunteered to have someone come observe their class. We don't have a strong and pervasive culture of openness at Yale, so I thank the professors for standing up and making their teaching work more visible. In the same breath, I want to thank the students in the classes for having a stranger (two, in one of the classes I attended) in their midst. The largest of the class sessions I attended maxed out at 20 students, making interlopers noticeable. Naturally, the five-student class had discussed opening up beforehand, but even the others accommodated visitors seamlessly.
So what about that teaching? Because the sign-up form didn't have a box on it to check for "Yes, I would like any minor mistake or idiosyncrasy made in my class to be splashed across a low-traffic instructional technology blog", I'll only mention things I noticed and liked. (Try not to chafe too much at the vagaries, because even revealing the discipline of a class would pull back the curtain a little too much.)
- A particularly nice technique I saw was using an un-articulated motif in the class but then at some point in the session raising the motif to a conscious level. If activating prior knowledge contributes to learning, working with this idea at varying scales of "prior" — even within one class — makes sense.
- Another teacher, in an effort that seemed effective, very noticeably phased in participation over the course of the class. Students engaged in heavier lifting at the beginning, with the professor only nudging along; as the discussion got denser and more challenge-laden (in a good academic way, I thought), the professor increasingly helped portage.
- In a final example, and at the risk of being banal, one teacher engaged very personally with the work under discussion. Fortunately, the work was comedic, so laughter demonstrated their** engagement, but that personal commitment can make the difference for some students.
Taking on affective filters is a fine line, of course: Are you giving students a glimpse into personal meaning or risking scaring them off something they don't connect with in the same way? My bias is for not hiding how you feel about what you're teaching, for not pretending that scholars hold absolutely everything at arm's-length. By the same token, of course, you have to model critical engagement with the topic and critical engagement with how you feel about it.
I pepper my thoughts with conditionals and hedging, because this was drive-by observation. Some classes gave me prep work, some didn't. Even so, all the people involved in these classes had worked with and through scores of ideas, hundreds of pages of reading, and hours of lecture and/or discussion before I got there and without which I can't form any strong conclusions. This highlights one of the difficulties in mounting this sort of event. While there's no explicit pressure to participate, the implicit social expectations don't go away. If you're an untenured faculty member teaching in front of a high-ranking admin, who may be from a radically different field's teaching traditions, how do you keep it together? There's enough potential benefit (and actual benefit for me) in this event that I hope we do it again, but I hope we never stop trying to make sure it's a scaffolding exercise for the participating faculty rather than an unrewarding chore.
* Honestly, I wish we'd called it something like Classroom Open House or Sharing Our Teaching, or similar, as I don't make the same associations with a prospective student event that I do with this. I do hope, though, that prospective faculty hires are indeed able to sit in on a class or three, and not just in their department of recruitment, during their visits here.
** Gender-obscuring pronouns. Live it, love it.
[Aleh] Tsyvinski said that as a professor, he rarely gets feedback during the term. He added that he wishes there were an anonymous board, similar to Yik Yak, dedicated to continuous feedback.
I prepared this brief for a pair-taught course on monasticism, in which the professors wanted to explore using chronological, locative, and narrative data from historical, ethnographic, archaeological, literary, and visual sources to facilitate sophisticated comparative analysis. In particular, they hoped students would make connections and distinctions between phenomena that were non-obviously juxtaposable. They wanted to present this data visually on a website, using both a timeline and a map, with some navigational latitude available to site visitors.
I've bolded the most salient items for each option.
- Allows points, lines, and polygons for representing locative data.
- Date ambiguity representation
- Sophisticated object metadata
- Baselayer choices
- Active development, at an academic institution
- Nontrivial learning curve
- Sophistication accompanied by sophisticated interface that can be distracting/annoying for students. Requires solid explanation and clearly defined metadata requirements
- Interface impermanence
- Standalone, no embedding
Representative Example:Ibn Jubayr
- Google spreadsheet for data store (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions)
- Data decoupled from presentation
- Wide range of media embedding
- Responsive design
- Embeddable in other sites, such as WordPress
- Good with BCE dates
- Simple setup and use
- Interface impermanence
- Limited customizability, though can be deployed to Heroku
- Uncertain development, sponsored by not-for-profit
Representative Example: Panhellenic Competition at Delphi
- Multiple options for data, including both Google spreadsheet (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions) and local
- Data potentially decoupled from presentation
- High level of GUI customizability
- Baselayer choices (though more limited than Neatline)
- Old code
- Interface impermanence
- Mobile interface unknown
- Embeddable as an IFRAME only, usability unclear
Representative Examples: Google spreadsheet with additional arbitrary data points, Themed data
- Entries commentable
- Dedicated iOS application for mobile use
- Clear data export to CSV, KML, and PDF
- Easy to use points, lines, polygons
- Variable placemark colors
- Can 'play' the timeline like a slideshow
- Semi-automatic semi-multilinguality
- Tightly coupled data and presentation
- Privileges linear reading, though not a requirement
- Unsophisticated design
- BCE dates don't seem to get calculated and stored accurately
Representative Example: Early Mesopotamia
In all cases, you'll have to identify distinct start and end dates rather than using century-level notation. The individual dates don't have to be more precise than a year. BCE dates are often added by prepending a negation sign before the date (e.g. -200 is 200 BCE).
Additionally, it always needs to be said that at any moment, development on any of these might cease or changes in browsers and student browser usage might render the code unusable. Even on the options being actively developed, the development team might make a material change in the interface, altering substantially how it looks and works. Other technological or cultural changes can't be ruled out.
Most other choices focus on locative storytelling, constraining a visitor to moving along a linear path:
We're glad to see Professor Elihu Rubin’s thoughtful use of technology in his pedagogy getting some notice. Late in the spring, Professor Rubin's work on Interactive Crown Street caught some news, and a couple weeks back (don't ask us how we missed it) there an item appeared in Yale News about his investigation with students into New Haven's infrastructure. Professor Rubin and the students in the cross-listed Architecture and Political Science course created an online guide by using Yale's Academic Commons, an instance of WordPress founded and managed by the Instructional Technology Group. Pam Patterson of ITG as well as Ed Kairiss and Edward O'Neill of Educational Technologies supported the course.
We're thrilled to recommend to you an installation this weekend that we've worked on in various parts:
INTERACTIVE CROWN STREET
A "Pop-Up" Urban Research Field Office
@ 200 Crown Street
Friday, May 2 — Sunday, May 4
Opening Reception is Friday, May 2, 6.00 pm. Events are scheduled but participants may come and go as they please. Please distribute — Interactive Crown Street is Free and Open to All!
Congratulations to Professor Elihu Rubin, to Florian Koenigsberger, and to the whole Interactive Crown Street crew!
Pulled from ITS Monday Morning News, written by Gary Kidney, Deputy CIO, Academic IT Services
On the afternoon of April 22, I took the opportunity to accompany Dr. Marta Wells and students from her Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 223L class on a nature walk to visit trees the students adopted at the semester’s start.
Tom introduced me to a 150-year-old White Oak and acorn candy. Austin showed me a flying-dragon orange tree with inch long thorns. Kelly told the story of the discovery of a presumed-extinct sequoia discovered in China that led to a 1940’s repopulation of the species. Natalie showed me how to make perfume; we couldn’t use the flowers of her epaulette tree because it was too early in the spring. Samuel screened a music video of a stately beech near the planetarium.
What amazed me was the engagement in learning demonstrated by the students and how that learning ranged from science, forestry, biology, and horticulture to story, music, video, poetry, and history. It was truly a multidisciplinary learning approach that rooted students from far away to a place in Yale’s lawn. Austin told of visiting the nursery where his orange tree began its life in Southern Oregon. Years from now, when Kelly returns to Yale as an Alumna, I suspect her sons and daughters will climb in her redwood. I witnessed some of the great teaching and learning that makes Yale such a fantastic place.
You can learn of the work of Marta and her students by visiting the Yale Nature Walk website. Go visit the students’ trees on a sunny spring day. A GPS map will take you to each location. Take along your mobile device to snap the QR codes to learn the science, read the stories, enjoy the poems, and watch the videos.
Academic ITS helped with the project, thanks to the work of Alina Nevins and Matt Regan. A loaner set of iPads, some support with the website, and a creative faculty member made a learning environment for this class in which you can share (but you missed the acorn candy). In my afternoon with this class, it was easy to see that their leaning was also fun.
A large Thank You goes out to Heather Klemann of English for alerting us to a bug in WordPress's handling of certain characters in filenames when you upload files to the Media Gallery. In short, there are certain characters that won't get handled properly by WordPress, leaving you with a file unreachable from the web browser. WordPress developers are aware of the bug but can't agree whether it's WordPress's problem or a system administrator's problem. For the time being, you are, unfortunately, the best source for the workaround.
Broadly speaking, you have two nonexclusive options:
- Avoid having any of the characters below in a filename you upload to Academic Commons.
- When you upload a file to the Media Gallery, verify that it has uploaded successfully by going to its entry in Media Gallery and accessing the View link you get when hovering over the entry. (On a mobile device you may need to tap the filename, then find and tap the View Attachment Page button.) For non-image files, you may need to click/tap the link in the post that then appears to check it.
We'll follow this one with WordPress and let you know when it's fixed or that it won't be fixed. (For what it's worth, the same roughly goes for Classes*v2.)
Some new things on this site or in progress:
We're not the most active tweeters in the world, and we RT as much as we tweet (possibly more than we tweet), but we do think that the things we mention or pass along in that stream are of interest. As of this post, it's in the righthand sidebar. Of course, you could just follow our account.
We were pretty respectable Delicious users once upon a time, back when it was del.icio.us and then some. But we fell off as time went on. Now that we can and do find and share links in many ways, it's gotten easier again to tie those ways together (in part provided RSS sticks around). I've brought the Delicious link feed back — to the righthand sidebar as of this post — and hope it will be of use. Other feeds that we have out there may get brought back as and if we reactivate our work with the backing sites.
Broken Links and Other Cleanup
Every now and then, we run Integrity, a linkchecker, on the site to make sure we're keeping content accurate where we have control over it. Our rule of thumb is that when we link out, we're depending on the target to provide a permalink or reasonable facsimile thereof. We've sometimes got to dig to find it, but that's the goal. Site we have read/write access to, however, we need to check on every now and then. We hope you'll benefit from these, even though we know it's small-margin work. But trying to keep our corner of the open web free-flowing is work worth doing.