EdTech Top Five

‘Tis the season for thanksgiving and gratitude.  This year I’m feeling especially grateful for the educational technologies that are changing the way I work and learn. And so, without further ado, I present my EdTech Top Five. Cheers to you, bright shiny new things!

Chromebook-logo  

I love the affordability of these trusty little machines and the ease of administration and connection they provide. But, my favorite thing about the Chromebook is really Google Docs. This tool allows for collaboration between my writing students that I think highlights the role community plays in writing and discourse. Plus, it allows me to edit and share documents with my own colleagues on campuses around the globe and is making this upcoming conference season and its associated panels and roundtables just a bit more bearable. How did we ever survive a world where we circulated our revisions via email?

blackboard-logo  

This platform has changed my life, and I’m not kidding. Through Blackboard, I teach students across the world and interact with them in a way that does not simply mimic a brick and mortar classroom, but that reimagines it and creates a learning environment that I have to believe even Socrates would envy. I could go on about the features I’m craziest about like embedded rubrics, learning insights, and mobile access, but I’d rather talk about Chris (name changed). Chris is in his early twenties and incarcerated in a federal prison. Although he has limited computer access, Chris is able to continue his education in spite of his circumstances. To my mind, education is our greatest weapon against recidivism, violence, and poverty and I’m honored to be a part of it. Chris wrote me a letter earlier this year thanking me for the work I do that allows students like him to gain a college education and to use “the time that I have to further my education to position myself to be more successful.” Now, there is a chance that our studying the Aeneid, Sir Gawain, or Henry IV is all part of his plan to become a more successful criminal, but I doubt it, and the truth is that we wouldn’t be able to study any of these texts together without Blackboard and for that I am supremely grateful.

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I’ve been a fan of Early English Books Online (EEBO) for many years, but my relationship with it as a teaching tool is still evolving in ways that make me love it more every day. This incredible database allows users to access every work published in English from 1473 to 1700. I use this resource to help my students expand their contextual understanding of the historical texts we study in courses on Renaissance and Restoration literature. While our literature anthologies have limited examples of non-literary texts, EEBO provides a rich archive of pamphlets, tracts, sermons, and other important cultural artifacts, including their title pages, illustrations, and the occasional hand-written marginalia. And coming soon, EEBO will have searchable text. I can hardly contain myself.

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This intuitive online platform for reading and responding to student writing has some incredible features. I love the variety of ways that GradeMark allows me to respond to students, including in-line and general comments, voice comments, and rubrics. However, I think my favorite feature is QuickMark sets. These save me time and help me provide consistent feedback by creating standard or custom marks and comments that I can insert directly into the student’s work. This is an especially handy feature for composition teachers who find themselves writing the same notes about commonly confused words like their/they’re/there, your/you’re, or its/it’s until our hands cramp up. Not only can I insert the same comment with a simple click of the mouse, I can include within the comment a link to the resources a student needs to revise their work and really take advantage of these important learning opportunities.

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It’s probably bit redundant to write about WordPress on WordPress, but I’m too excited about the web writing pedagogy I’m implementing in a new, online composition course to care. Based on the postpedagogy asserted by Marc Santos and Mark Leahy, I’ll be teaching a composition course next semester that will engage students with real and relevant discourse communities, making their writing part of the actual, larger conversations we’ve been trying to get them to “pretend” to participate in for generations. I’m excited about this experimental course and know it wouldn’t be possible without an accessible blogging platform like this one.

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*Picking favorites has never been an easy task for me, and I hate to think of all the great, educational technologies that didn’t get mentioned here. I love you guys too. Happy Thanksgiving.

Ferguson Syllabus

Yesterday’s Grand Jury decision not to charge Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown is hard for me to wrap my head around. Watching the announcement last night, I felt shaken, frustrated, and afraid. I felt insignificant and helpless in the midst of a culture that doesn’t seem to value its young, black men. On Twitter, I saw the protests in cities across our nation, I saw support from the oppressed overseas, but when I saw this simple drawing of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, I wept.

Drawing of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin

Even this morning, I can’t look at this image without my chest tightening and my eyes filling up with tears. While my emotional response is a testimony to the power of art, this drawing speaks volumes to me about the message our courts are sending to young people. The boys in this picture have their backs turned to us, walking away and into the light. Seeing only their backs, we are forever in the wake of their history. Their faces are no longer accessible to us, only their names and their memory. I love that they have their arms around each other. It sickens me that there is more than one, and that this could be a drawing of far more than two, but to me this reflects the solidarity and community that we have left and that we must cling to in the wake of this tragedy. We can’t put our arms around these boys anymore, and our nation’s failure to them cuts me like a knife. Gazing after their backs, I want them to turn around, to smile, and to tell us all that they’re okay and that we’ll be okay too.

But they can’t.

The only faces that look back at me are the ones in my classroom, and when I felt lost in the letdown of last night’s decision, I found solace in the Ferguson Syllabus hashtag on Twitter. Real change is sitting in those desks. And while I can’t reach out and touch Mike and Trayvon, I can impact their peers through my thoughtful and critical approach to teaching this historical moment in my classroom. Inspired by the resources and responses from the teaching community, I’ve done what my little academic heart knows best: run to the books.

Among them, I’ve found a sonnet by Claude McKay that resonates with the courage and tenacity that desperate times like these call for.

If We Must Die

I love the sonnet and focused my own dissertation research on this poetic form. I love its turns and its ambiguities, its constraints and its potentials. But today I’m thinking of its name. Derived from the Italian sonnetto, the sonnet is a “little sound or song.” In the aftermath of tragedy, in the face of violence and prejudice, when our voices seem drowned out, forgotten, and lost, the sonnet gives us sound. The sonnet is a sign of agency.

My post-Ferguson pedagogy will seek to enable the agency of my students. It will encourage them to find their voice and to produce a sound, however small, in the clamor of our culture. I’ll open the dialogue with an image and encourage my students to think critically about its rhetoric. We’ll push our reading further by focusing on a poem and unpacking its language, its rhythms, and the images that make it sing. I’ll let my students voice their responses. I’ll let them shape our discourse because it is their voices that I care most about. And in the meantime, I’ll stop my weeping and be bold when I look at Mike and Trayvon, walking ahead of us and leading the way.