Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Web 2.0 for teaching -- my first experiment (3)

So, to take stock. How do I feel my first use of Web 2.00 for teaching worked out? Would I do it again? If so, what would I do differently?

Despite the shaky start and the relatively poor participation figures, I felt very encouraged by this Web 2.0 exercise. Week 10 -- as I'd always realised -- was rather late in the semester to be trying something new with the students. Many of them, by that stage of term, had already decided to write their essays on texts and topics we had addressed in earlier weeks, and so had little incentive to try anything new. On the other hand, I was very impressed by the commitment of those students who, despite not intending to write on either Behn or editing, did take the trouble to participate in the exercise. We saw the beginning of some very interesting discussions within the Google doc itself, and these helped to stimulate a very well-informed debate in the seminar. And the student who chose to write on editing issues got the opportunity to try out some of her ideas, to benefit from feedback, and to ask questions.

If the course runs again next year, I do intend to try a version of this exercise again. I will avoid the email address problem by setting up a new Googlemail account exclusively for teaching purposes. More importantly, I will introduce Web 2.0 exercises much earlier in the semester: possibly as early as week 2. I am also toying with the idea of spending three weeks on Aphra Behn next year, planning separate seminars on her poetry, prose and drama, and using a version of this year's Web 2.0 task in the preparations for the poetry week. Revised in the light of this year's experience, it should work better a second time.

So I am heartily encouraged by my first experience of using Web 2.0 for teaching, and fully intend to try again.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Web 2.0 for teaching -- my first experiment (2)

So what did happen?

Within seconds of sending my invitation to the students, I became aware of my first mistake. Because I'd never previously included myself in the invitees' list for a Google doc, I hadn't realised -- obvious though it now seems -- that the invitation which arrived in my addressees' inboxes would have come from my own Googlemail address. I now use my Googlemail account exclusively for personal correspondence, so although students' getting access to it wasn't really a problem, it was something I would have preferred to avoid.

It took a few days for anyone to post to the Google doc, and responses, when the came, were less plentiful than I might have hoped. Out of a seminar group of twelve students, five responded to the Google doc. One of the first postings was rather disappointing: the student had some useful comments about certain aspects of the poetry, but seemed to have forgotten all the issues of textual authority we'd so painstakingly discussed in the seminar itself. At that point, I began to wonder whether this Web 2.0 exercise had been any use at all.

I wrote back to this post, without commenting on the textual issues but asking a few questions about the content of the texts. To my surprise another student posted later in the same day, raising exactly the issues of authority, accessibility and the visibility of the editing process that I'd hoped our discussion would highlight. A third student raised some biographical issues, while a fourth discussed the problems involved in preserving original features of the text and the role of the editor in shaping readers' responses. Yet another student added further biographical information about Wharton and Rochester, and even linked to a document of her own in which she'd produced a sample edition of the poem to Wharton.

At the seminar itself, we had such an animated discussion of Behn's poetry that it all but squeezed out discussion of Oroonoko. And one student subsequently wrote her assessed essay on the issue of editing women's writing. This was the first time in all the years I'd taught the course that anyone had chosen to answer the 'editing' question.