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I got my assignment for teaching courses next semester. I’m teaching four sections of a course that I have not taught in two years: the research essay. I’ve composed my themes (two, because I’m an overachiever): Conservation and the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, two of my research and teaching loves. This next semester is particularly rough because right now I’m teaching the course just before the research paper course, and those students who choose to take my course again are going to call me on my every move and complain that I “did that last semester.” I need to shake things up, and LaunchPad can help with this.

 

When I was teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, two librarians, Vicky Lebbin and Dave Brier, taught a 50-minute class to first-year composition students on the research question. In that workshop, they asked students to draw (artistically) their research question or thesis (depending). The theory, Dave explained to me, is that if the student can’t draw it, it isn’t concrete or specific enough.  I’m taking that one step further and having them storyboard their research essay.

 

A storyboard is frequently used in the film industry as a planning tool to describe or demonstrate a television episode or film. It is also used in larger graphic novels. These storyboards set the tone for what is to come. Unlike the film storyboards, however, the storyboards I assign are not complex and not drawn or pasted on some type of sturdy material. They do, however, serve the same function.  I will have students post up their storyboards on LaunchPad in Powerpoint form, allowing other students to view them. Viewing other people’s work helps students to increase their self-efficacy because viewing success in others can lead to a student saying, “I can do that!”

 

In the way I’m describing, the storyboard acts as an outline to the research essay. The PowerPoint slides can be arranged any way a student wants, allowing a student to play with organizing an essay in different forms, giving him or her the opportunity to branch out of tried and true ways (think five-paragraph essay, which while having its place, really won’t work for every type of writing students will encounter while in college). Having peers review the storyboard helps a student to refine what he or she wants to present to a reader and provide him or her with yet another tool to help piece together a fully fleshed-out idea of what that final research product will look like. Yet another benefit to the storyboard is that a student can then self-identify what areas of the essay need more support or to tighten the focus and to eliminate some sections of the proposed essay altogether.

 

One of the things that I love about LaunchPad is that I can use it as an archival database. If I start to notice trends or want to check to see if a method or modality works, everything is contained in one place. I can go back to test my theory to see if it has merit. Because I teach using multimodality and digital tools, my students ultimately benefit from LaunchPad, too. Through the use of LaunchPad to upload the assignments on to a discussion post, the students then have an archive to turn to, to view different ideas of presenting material--it’s another tool in the proverbial toolbox, and it’s a tool with many examples. Keeping the storyboards in one place also allows me to demonstrate previous successes to a new group of students every semester that I teach this course. I can access previous courses easily and quickly through LaunchPad’s dashboard, and those storyboards I show to students can create a new generation of storyboards that are even better than when I first created this assignment.

 

For me, having easy access to digital assignments is helpful in multiple ways. College freshmen need to see successful examples, and LaunchPad can provide me with the digital archive that helps me to not only teach courses, but to keep previous assignments, refine those assignments, and ultimately (if I choose to go down this route) to write a publication on the assignments and trends that I’ve noticed. It all adds up to a more robust classroom that I can access any time to help me design, refine, and demonstrate.

When I first started working with LaunchPad, I took one look at that Instructor’s console and shivered. “What could possibly be in there that I would need?” I thought to myself. I didn’t exactly vow to never open it, but I certainly avoided it. My energy was turned toward populating the course I was scheduled to teach. As a result, I knew what I wanted to do with LaunchPad, but I was unable to make it work within the grade book. I became frustrated. Assignments were not in the order I wanted them; there had to be a way to organize the grade book to suit my need for order.


Knowing that the current line-up was not what I had envisioned, the second semester I decided to populate Launchpad by simply putting in each assignment as it appeared on my syllabus. For certain, I thought, anyway, that this way my assignments would be in date order. In other words, I opted to follow the schedule on my syllabus to populate LaunchPad. This method worked a little bit better, and I found myself not needing to rearrange my grade book--or wishing I could. However, as I insert new assignments, the same problem arose: the assignments would be out of order.

 


I finally got brave. Enter the instructor console. I overcame my aversion to the console and learned that this little button could help so much. The general navigation and Launchpad settings is pretty self-explanatory. Click on that and the title of the course can be changed as well as what timezone the class is located, which is important because I teach in two different time zones, Hawaii and the Pacific Time Zone. From here, I can arrange the home page on LaunchPad. Since many of my students were requesting to have the most recent assignment on top of the screen rather than sorted by the default settings in LaunchPad, I discovered that I could change this section to suit their needs.


The batch due date update is really important if you're going to be teaching the same class the following semester. In this place you can easily plug in the previous semester’s start and end date, the new start date, and all of the assignments will fall into line (assuming, of course, that you’ve copied your previous course instead of starting fresh). In other words, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. All of the due dates will be adjusted accordingly. The only downfall to this is if you are changing your syllabus for the coming semester, keeping some items and eliminating others. If that's the case, it appears as if your new assignments will be out of order from the previously included assignments, but that is simply not the case. There is a place to go to reorder all of your assignments to accommodate changes in the syllabus.

 

   


The grade book preferences really is the Holy Grail of the instructor console. In this spot, you can easily put in the percentage for passing the class (even though the universities I work for state that 60% is passing, I put it as 70% so that the students strive for that “C” grade), ask LaunchPad to put in zero grades for any assignment that has not been completed on time, and re-arrange each of your assignments so that they line up according to your syllabus and sensibilities. A word of caution here with respect to the automatic “0” grades: if you have assignments to be graded manually, on the day after the manual assignment is collected, “0” grades go through. My students didn’t panic here--I told them what was going on, and they seemed to accept it as if it were a part of daily life.

 


To re-order the assignments, click on the blue “Show Assignments” toggle. There, your categories will appear. You can then open up the categories to show everything that is contained under each category. You can not only re-number the categories here, but you can also re-number the assignments within each category. You can also remove categories that you may have accidently set up. This is now your customized grade book that reflects your own sensibilities and your own preference for order.


One other fast note: You don’t have to go back out to the assignments page to go to another section on the Instructor Console. Just click on the blue button on the top that says, “Instructor Console” and you will arrive back at the main navigation for the Instructor Console.


I hope this blog on using the Instructor Console is helpful for everyone! I can assure you that I was frightened of this spot--I didn’t want to break anything. But now that I have figured out how this can help me and make my life easier, I’m happy to share my findings with you! As always, email me if you have questions. My email is jilldahlman@yahoo.com, and I am happy to answer questions, share course materials, or even help you to come up with ideas to make your classroom LaunchPad friendly.