Teaching Journal: After Teaching English 160 (2nd attempt)

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On October 16, 2008

Today, I taught a section of English 160 on behalf of Dr. Northcut, the regular instructor. The topic of the day was progress reports, which all of the students have to create for their semester-long project. Dr. Northcut supplied some sample progress reports and a grading rubric.

My original goal was to have the students access the sample progress reports through Blackboard, then, in groups, write a memo analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of one of the reports. I had hoped that I could somehow get them to articulate their thoughts more effectively by forcing them to write collaborative. A noble goal, to be sure. I created a folder in Blackboard to house the sample progress reports and included an extra bonus of an online conversation I recently had with a computer science professor. It was another example of an informal progress report.

This all sounds like a good plan, right? Well, like any good plan, it fell apart as soon as I had to actually rely on the technology. We have had an extensive outage of the network file storage system on campus. The end result is that students can’t properly login to campus machines (mostly CLC systems–which is what CSF 114 is equipped with). I called in the EdTech technical support guru for assistance. He logged me into the instructor station as an Admin. From there, I could access Blackboard and access the files I needed for class.

I printed out enough copies of each of the files so every student had 1 copy of each file. They also had a copy of Dr. Northcut’s grading rubric. Since the students were having extreme difficulty accessing the machines, I decided to simply have them collaborate together to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the different progress reports. They could then present to the class their findings, using the copy I had on Blackboard as a visual aid, if necessary.

Overall, that seemed to work. The students had a good understanding of what the “best” progress report looked like (it’s pretty easy to tell, really). I just wish the network had been available so they could actually write a memo summarizing their findings and sending it as an attachment via email. This would more accurately reflect the transactional writing they will encounter in the work place. I added the email exchange between myself and a faculty member specifically to demonstrate a real-world example of an informal progress report.

All in all, it didn’t go too badly, but not as well as I might have hoped.

Moral of the story: Technology will ALWAYS be unavailable when you need it most.

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On October 16, 2008. Posted in Blackboard, Malcolm's Teaching Journal