Saturday, February 18, 2017

Choosing Moodle

Guest Blogger: Brenda Snider

Four years ago, Lincoln University implemented a new learning management system, MOODLE (Module Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment).  The vendor we currently use is Moodlerooms, which is owned by BlackBoard.  In this blog, I want to discuss personal and professional change and some reasons to use Moodle for your courses.
Have you heard of ADKAR?  ADKAR is used by businesses and for personal use to change habits. The acronym is Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.  So, as the New Year has begun, I have been thinking about applying this model to some of my personal issues as well as learning more about Moodle. I noticed that I did not want to learn Gradebook and was having a difficult time picking up all of the concepts. I only wanted to learn one aspect of the tool. After looking at the ADKAR model, I realized that I am aware of the features, I know where to obtain the knowledge, I have the ability, but I did not have the desire to learn all of the features. It seemed overwhelming. In my position, I need to know all aspects of Gradebook since each instructor has their own grading scheme. I had to force myself to change my attitude.
Let’s consider applying the ADKAR model to our usage of Moodle. Think about your awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and where you can obtain reinforcement. What is prevents you from using Moodle?  Or, if you are using the learning management system, why do you continue to use it?

Awareness:  Are all of Lincoln’s Professors and Adjunct Professors aware that we have a learning management system?  Are you aware of the many features of Moodle?

Desire:  Do you have the desire to change or add to your method of sharing information and communicating with your students?

Knowledge:  Do you have the knowledge or do you know how to use Moodle?  If you are not aware or you do not have the desire to use Moodle, then participating in Moodle training and workshops will probably not connect with you and the training will be futile.

Ability:  Do you feel you do not have the ability to use Moodle?  ATS staff can help with this. We can offer one-on-one training and give you the opportunity to practice Moodle in the Faculty Lab, Library Room 116.  I am a firm believer in chunking. I break learning down and learn one tool at a time. If you think Moodle is overwhelming, you can use this method, too.

Reinforcement: Nancy Evans, Director of ATS, offers LU-MUGS meetings (Lincoln University-Moodle User Groups). The group meets frequently to discuss Moodle issues, which reinforces your learning.  In addition, ATS offers workshops and recently started teaming up with CETL Director, Anna Hull, to offer workshops that demonstrate Moodle features along with Anna’s perspective and pedagogical benefits.

So, what are some reasons to use Moodle?
·     Course enhancement
·     Students always have their course materials available if they have access to their computer or phone. Consider the students who miss class, for whatever reason, i.e. athletics, band, illness, or if the university is closed for some reason, the students can still access their courses and even participate in a forum.
·     Transparent grading (students do not have to ask you about every grade, they can see all of their grades)
·     Easier quiz grading
·     Attendance
·     Ability for students to take their quizzes wherever they have access to the Internet
·     Students can no longer use the excuse, I lost the assignment or I was not in class to get the assignment
·     Reports (i.e., logs: do the student access the class as stated, student engagement)
·     Export data for other uses
Are you ready or are you already using Moodle?  We would appreciate your comments. Why are you using Moodle?  Would you encourage others to use Moodle? Are you ready to start using Moodle?  If not, what are your hesitations?

Respectfully,
Brenda Snider
Instructional Support Specialist
ATS

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Countering ‘Social Curriculum’ and ‘Alternative Truths’

Guest Blogger: Abbes Maazaoui

In this era of rising xenophobia, ethnocentrism and “alternative truths”, the question that may be raised, particularly during and after the US elections, is whether schools and universities are doing enough to educate students and prepare them for what might be called “ le vivre ensemble” (= living together) or global citizenship. For it is academia where students are expected to learn how to think critically, make ethical choices and develop an inclusive global mindset.
One quick way to appraise what higher education institutions teach students and what types of curriculum, courses and experiences they offer is to examine actual course schedules.
For instance, a quick glance at Lincoln University‘s fall and spring courses, as listed on the Registrar’s website for 2016-17 academic year, reveal a glaring lack of diversity in course offerings. Major regions of the world and notably those marginalized and/or demonized in today’s polarized world are inexistent. Our students, like most Americans, are left with what Carlos Cortés calls “social curriculum.” Their education about other cultures, countries and religions is mainly fed through media of all kinds (TV, film, Facebook, Tweeter, etc.).
The question is to consider what can be done to strengthen student learning with regard to multicultural/international education and help confront the illiberal forces of political, social and religious extremism. Here are a few areas where these forces can be resisted:
1.     A globally-rooted curriculum. In most cases, this implies revising the curriculum and developing strategies for incorporating multicultural education in all academic majors, not just foreign language programs. Courses targeting marginalized cultures, religions and regions should be developed with specific assessable outcomes in all majors.
2.     The liberal arts component of the curriculum. Students should be provided with ample opportunities to explore multiple perspectives, the clash of truths instead of the “clash of civilizations,” to make judgments based on facts and not opinions, and counter the effects of ethnocentrism. Truly multidisciplinary (team-taught) courses should be implemented. For instance, developing team-taught courses has been a Lincoln’s dream for a long time, but as far as I know, was never really carried out with any coherence or consistency.
3.     Faculty development grants should include money for developing international/multicultural courses.
4.     Study abroad activities and exchange programs. Cross-cultural contacts have the potential of increasing student tolerance, broadening their horizons, and lessening the harmful effects of “social curriculum.” “Currently, less than 10% of U.S. students graduating with associates or baccalaureate degrees each year study abroad” (Institute of International Education).  But we should do more, and aim at reaching 25%, 50% of students going abroad. This is true of Lincoln University too. Around 3-4% of students study abroad annually at Lincoln. As the chair of the Committee on International/Global Initiatives, I must acknowledge here the efforts of the current Lincoln’s president who made study abroad a cornerstone of his educational leadership, as well as the growing number of colleagues who have been accompanying (or are planning to accompany) students abroad.
 These four areas, in my view, must be strengthened in all U.S. institutions, particularly liberal arts colleges, if we are concerned about true diversity, tolerance and democracy in this country.  I hope these random thoughts will trigger serious reflection and discussion, and better yet, be followed by action. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Are tweets literature?

Last year, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in literature and Donald Trump tweeted his way to become leader-elect of the free world. While these events have little to nothing in common, they both make me ponder the future of literature. In the past century, when I attended college at Suffolk University in Boston, we studied Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in the entry level English literature class. Even as a newbie to this country, I could engage with those words, the subtleties, the passionate art of trying to unify a nation. Lincoln rocked! While I don’t personally object to the selection of Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize, I know that it raised a few eyebrows around the world. I’m fairly certain that Trump’s tweets are raising more eyebrows – both because of the content and the grammar. So, what are we to do?
As teachers and faculty members we are obligated to keep up with the latest trends in our respective subject areas. This means that professors in Political Science, English, and even Philosophy and History, will need to consider how to handle the White House’s latest mode of communication. But writing and communication cuts across disciplines. When you can become president of the US and put your name by sentences like “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad!” what are we to do with general writing instruction? Is it really necessary to clarify that a good thing is not a bad thing and that stupid people equal fools, especially when you only have 140 characters to get your point across? I would try to use some of those characters to back up my arguments. But research, scientific facts and good arguments seem to be a thing of the past.
140 characters do limit you, and it may make sense to try to simplify your language, use the shortest words possible (e.g. sad), and leave out obvious arguments, but why all the quotation marks? I am not a writing teacher and my first language isn’t English, but even I know that quotation marks are supposed to be used when you quote somebody else, or possibly to indicate that you question or blatantly discredit the word in quotation marks. As in, “according to the administration’s ‘alternative facts’ more people attended the current president’s inauguration than any other inauguration”.  For more about the US president’s use of quotation marks you may want to explore Trump’s ‘Use’ of ‘Quotation Marks’ an article found in the February 1, 2017 edition of the Chronical of Higher education by Ben Yagoda: http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2017/02/01/trumps-use-of-quotation-marks/?cid=trend_right_a

Where does all of this leave college writing instruction? I’m curious to find out if students are using Trump language as arguments in their own writing – and if they do, do you accept it? How are you navigating this ‘brave’ new world? 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Plagiarism Confession

Guest Blogger: Bill Donohue

I have a confession to make. I have plagiarized. On Friday, January 20, 2017, at approximately 11:23 a.m., I committed an act of plagiarism—right in front of my composition students. I am a plagiarist. Turnitin told me that my writing submission was 80% similar, to use Turnitin’s term, to resources that that Turnitin used to check against my writing. As a matter of fact, all my students plagiarized that day.
Before you go snitching on us to the plagiarism police, the act of plagiarism was a demonstration. For the first time in my teaching career, I am using the Turnitin software as a component of the teaching of writing. And thanks to the Turnitin workshop sponsored by CETL and ATS (Thanks Anna and Nancy ;-), I have a solid understanding of how the program works, and I how I can avoid the pitfalls that kept me from using Turnitin in the past.
 This post is going to get long; so if you have had enough reading for a Saturday morning, here are a few discussion questions:
 What is your experience with plagiarism in your courses?
How have you handled plagiarism?
How do you teach students to engage with sources?
What advice do you have for a teacher who has not used Turnitin?
 To be clear, my aim has always been to teach students how to write; how to gather, understand, and use information; and how to use information responsibly. My courses have defined plagiarism, discussed plagiarism, reviewed examples of plagiarism, focused on citation conventions, and generally expanded the student’s knowledge about plagiarism. (Students are always surprised by the issues of minimal citations for paraphrases and self-plagiarism). I create assignments that limit the opportunities to plagiarize. I try to reason with the students by telling them that to become better writers, they need to do the work and receive feedback on that work. If I am giving feedback to work that someone else did or that was copied and pasted from an internet source, then the students are not becoming better writers. I also develop grading systems so that students are not focused on the grade but the writing itself. Finally, I do give the penalty lecture. I talk about how a professor’s job isn’t just to teach, but to create new knowledge. If someone steals those ideas as their own, they are stealing from me. And I review the sanctions for someone caught plagiarizing that can lead to expulsion!
 The notion of plagiarism as theft, and using detection software to police that crime, has never sat well with me as it puts the teacher and student in an adversarial position that does not aid in the teaching of writing. When I have caught someone plagiarizing, the most egregious examples are intentional plagiarism, which is not difficult for me to detect. A google search provides the evidence for me to confront the student. This is never a pleasant experience for both the student and myself. It can provide a teachable moment, and I do my best to work with the student.
Unintentional plagiarism, if it is considered plagiarism at all or rather the misuse of sources, is easier to contend with, although more difficult to detect and labor intensive in some cases. Most often, the citation convention is not employed correctly and the feedback mechanism can indicate to the student the issue without having to be adversarial. The adversarial positioning is one reason why The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) passed a resolution denouncing the use of plagiarism detection software (http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resolutions/2013). Other issues with the use of the software are undermining student agency, threating privacy and intellectual property, ineffectiveness of detection, and distraction from teaching students how to write from sources.
Research, such as the Citation Project (http://site.citationproject.net/), has shown that instances of intentional plagiarism are quite low and that the larger issue is how students are engaging with the source material they are trying to use. Students need to be taught how to use source material. A focus on reading skills, especially when the subject is unfamiliar or complex as in upper division major courses, can aid students in synthesizing sourced ideas into their own arguments in deep and meaningful ways. Better understanding of the topic being written about and what the research says about those topics leads to better integration of ideas and less patch-writing. This approach is more labor intensive as class time, written feedback, and individual conferences may be needed to provide the proper amount of instruction. (Writing Centers are also useful for this instruction.)
 So why am I using Turnitin this semester? Partly, I am doing so because other professors are using the software. As a composition teacher teaching a subject that has a heavy burden of service, I want to make sure students have an awareness and an understanding of the tool so they can use it effectively to aid in their writing. Similar to my warning that plagiarism can have consequences, the use of Turnitin may dissuade a student from intentional plagiarism and compel them to give a more honest, if flawed, attempt at the writing assignment that creates a space for learning.
I use many of the best practices for teaching writing in regards to source work as outlined by CCCC and the Writing Program Administrators (http://wpacouncil.org/positions/WPAplagiarism.pdf). One of those is the creation of assignments that resist plagiarism. An example is from the Integrated Writing and Reading course. Students read A Lesson Before Dying, and an assignment is to write a characterization of five main characters. The intention is for students to use their reading skills to gain an understanding of who those characters are in the narrative. The characterization assignment has students use writing-to-learn in order to examine the characters and use the information for the essay they will write about the transformation of a dynamic character in the novel. In the past, students have copied and pasted from internet resources such as SparkNotes to complete the characterization. While some students realize this is intentional plagiarism, others think that the information is so basic and common that it is fine to copy it.
A way to change the assignment to resist plagiarism is to change the nature of the assignment. Instead of a straightforward assignment that calls for summary of a character’s position, the assignment could engage in higher level thinking such as asking students to write from the perspective of each character. They may write a brief letter from one character to another about an issue in narrative. A reflection assignment would focus on why the writer made the choices that they did in the letter. The problem with this assignment maybe that students struggle to complete it and miss the opportunity to gain a base understanding of one or multiple characters in narrative that are important for the essay they will write. Using Turnitin with the straightforward characterization version of the assignment may help students engage in the true intention of the assignment, which is the application of their ability to read and understand the narrative.
We shall see. And I will write a blog post later in the semester to update you on what happened.