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2018

            As a Masters student in an English department, I have taken my fair share of discussion-based classes on campus. In fact, my university refuses to give a Masters degree in Literature to a student who hasn't taken a required number of these classes. Most of them are night classes, and as a full-time student, TA, and mother, taking theseRosie the Riveter  at night can be rather stressful. I found myself longing for the freedom of an online class. As an undergraduate, I had taken many online classes---mostly so I didn't have to be on campus.

 

Ah, the thinking process of a twenty-year-old. 

 

              However, as a 32-year-old wife and mother, being able to take an online class or two is important to be able to accomplish the large amount of work that I am tasked with every semester. My first one in graduate school will be "Language and Gender," taught in the Fall of 2018. It is being taught by a male professor whom I've never had before at this university, and I must say, I'm a little nervous. Online classes are a tricky business. Some professors have a very laid-back attitude, while others couldn't care less if you signed in or not. One-on-one interaction and group discussion is a crucial part of a degree in Literature, and I can't help but wonder how this class is going to be. Will there be males in the class? How will the professor handle the sensitive topics? How will we do class discussions? As I think about these things, I'm reminded of one of the most informative classes I've ever taken as a graduate student: Instruction of Composition. This campus class was taught by a female expert in composition pedagogy, and although the class met in an actual classroom, the professor found interesting ways to incorporate online elements into the daily activities. My favorite of these activities was what I called "Skype Speakers." Every few weeks, a different expert in the field of composition would Skype into our classroom and give an interesting lecture and answer questions. It was an amazing learning experience, and the entire class was engaged and focused on the material. This is, however, not the case with many classes, including those taught online. But how can we get there? How can we take an online forum and make it informative, interesting, engaging, and memorable? The answer might lie in feminist pedagogy. 

 

            Feminist pedagogy is an all-encompassing way of teaching material to a class. It is more learning-centered, more democratic in execution, and redefines the power dynamics that are usually present in most online classes. In Nancy Chick and Holly Hassel's article "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual": Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom," the authors attempt to clear up the misconceptions of feminist pedagogy and argue that this specific type of teaching can help students in every class they take throughout their college careers. Chick and Hassel point out that  "This framing of [these] questions also puts the emphasis on how to use the technology, but we don’t want the technology to dictate our pedagogy" (197). Unlike a regular classroom, technology can hinder the teacher-student dynamics and can create a sterile, name-less environment. So how can we use feminist pedagogy to create a more welcoming, informative learning environment? Well, for starters, teachers must reevaluate the power dynamics in the virtual classroom. The learning process must be more democratic in nature; the professor should not assume that he/she is all-knowing and the students are the subjects of that knowledge. A discussion must be a two-sided entity, and both parties must teach and receive. Chick and Hassel also suggest smaller group size when doing online discussions. This makes the discussion more personal and relatable. They even suggest that the class use teamwork to build a wiki page together, something that would enable students to work together and to maintain an open dialogue with their peers. 

 

         Overall, feminist pedagogy attempts to restructure not only campus classes, but online ones as well. By adopting these characteristics, online classes can begin to have a more engaging and informative learning experience. I, for one, would love to think that feminist pedagogy could become the norm for online classes. Imagine the discussions! Imagine the freedom!

 

      I hope my Language and Gender professor knows about this.......

 

 

For more information on online feminist pedagogy, see Chick and Hassel's article, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual: Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom."

https://julierenszer.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/chickandhassel.pdf 

   Over my course of being a TA, I've learned a number of things about college coursework. One of the biggest areas of debate at the moment is online class pedagogy and for good reason. Online classes or discussions tend to viewed by many people the same as a trip to the dentist: you either love them, or they're the bane of your existence. The logic behind this is pretty simple. As a student, you've either had a good experience or you've had a bad one. To be honest, teaching an online class or discussion can be the same way. 

   Online coursework provides a number of advantages to today's college student, but the work goes both ways. The instructor must make sure to provide a well-rounded online discussion that facilitates learning and fosters involvement with the class material. Sure, the students need to do the work and post their findings, but the instructor's role in an online class discussion is equally as important. By facilitating the discussion around specific lessons, the instructor has the power to be able to serve as a model for how they want the class to engage in the activity. 

   In David Baker's article, "Improving Pedagogy for Online Discussions," Baker gives practical, detailed tips for instructors in how to set up these discussions and the parameters they need to follow. He is also very blunt about the role of the instructor in these discussions when he observes, "Organizing instructor-facilitated online discussions is fundamental and demanding...teachers are expected to serve as a planner, role model, coach, facilitator, and communicator" (26) To state the obvious, these are big shoes to fill. Instructors can get bogged down in the amount of work to teach and can forget the details concerning their online discussions. It is no longer fine for the students to just talk--there must be a reason behind it, a learning objective to follow. Teachers need to be participatory as well. 

   Baker goes on to explain that small groups in an online setting can reduce "social loafing," which "refers to the tendency to minimize one's group involvement" (27). This idea helps solve the problem of student's who use online discussions as a way to avoid the weight of the assignment. Smaller groups and assignments promote more participation. It is up to the instructor, however, to assure that these assignments and discussions are well-organized and well-prepared. 

   Online discussions can flourish or flounder, but the responsibility lies not only with the student but with the instructor. From syllabus design to facilitating specific learning-centered discussions, instructors must be role models and should design the course around what benefits the student. 

 

For more information on online pedagogy, see David Baker's article, "Improving Pedagogy for Online Discussions."

http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.una.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=a4113313-3146-4b81-91c9-798dcfb246fb%40sess… 

Lee Hall

Beyond the Formula

Posted by Lee Hall Mar 1, 2018

Beyond the Formula: Encouraging College Freshmen to Think Outside the Box

 

            As college instructors, we’ve all seen it. The look of dread on student’s faces when we approach the research paper, the argumentative essay, or the exploratory paper. For the most part, this can’t be helped. As college freshmen, their job is to learn the foundational skills that will not only help them succeed in their college career, but hopefully into their professional one as well. However, most students enter college having learned certain “rules of thumb” that helped them survive the writing process in high school. What do I mean by “rules of thumb?” Certain tried and true tactics such as the five-paragraph essay, the thesis-at-the-beginning-rule, or revising the paper the night before the due date. Students used these methods successfully in high school and assume it works for college as well.

            As a TA, I have a unique perspective into the freshman composition class, and let me tell you, I’ve seen a lot of students who are blindsided by the fact that these “rules of thumb” must evolve in college. Since I am closer to their age than their professors, I have had students confide in me their fears about these new types of writing that college expects of them. In “Rediscovering the Kernels of Truth in the Urban Legends of the Freshman Composition Classroom” Thomas Lovoy examines some of these “rules of thumb” and what we as college instructors must do to encourage our students to adventure beyond the formulaic writing steps that these students have come to know and trust.

            Admittedly, some of the blame is on ourselves. Lovoy writes, “As we teach the same key concepts, year after year, it can be too easy to allow our lessons to fall into a lethargic routine of tips, almost like advertising slogans” (Lavoy 11). Freshmen composition teachers can fall prey to rehashing the same material from high school without thinking of new ways to engage the students in the writing process. So what kinds of help can we give? We can encourage students to write beyond the standard five paragraphs, and instead, we can show them how to adventure into writing without putting a set limit on the ways to get their information across in an interesting, relevant way. We can also give them ways in which they can revise their paper by being more invested in the process. These ideas are just a few of the ways that we, as composition teachers, need to revitalize our teaching methods and truly engage with what the student needs to learn. That is our job, after all.

            What do we have to lose? We might just teach them something.

 

For more information on encouraging students and specific tips on writing, see Thomas Lovoy’s article “Rediscovering the Kernels of Truth in the Urban Legends of the Freshman Composition Classroom.”

http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.una.edu/stable/27559167