Postings in the ‘Emerging Technologies’ Category

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Google Apps: So Much More Than Just Email!

November 29th, 2010 by donniesendelbach
Contributed by: Donnie Sendelbach, Director of Instructional and Learning Services and Director of ITAP

icebergBy now the switch from GroupWise to Google Apps Mail may be a distant memory. You may be comfortable using Google Apps Mail and have started to learn some of its tricks, such as turning off the threading messages feature (called “Conversation View” in the mail settings on the general tab). Google Apps Mail, however, is just the tip of the Google Apps iceberg!

In addition to the Calendar and Contacts features promoted with the email transition, Google Apps provides a number of ways for the campus–faculty and students, faculty and faculty, faculty and staff–to collaborate and communicate. With Google Apps, multiple contributors can type in content at the same time and make changes that others will see immediately. Contributors in different locations can use the chat feature to discuss content changes while collaborating. Although contributors can see changes in real time, they can also view the revision history (under the File menu) to compare consecutive versions. Access to a particular file can be limited to individuals or wide open to the world. Collaboration and communication features in Google Apps are accessible anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Along with FITS, faculty members at DePauw are beginning to explore ways to leverage Google Apps for more active student learning in addition to managing communication. Faculty Development Coordinator Dave Guinee sees that Google Apps could be useful for helping students create and revise shared documents as well as group presentations, common bibliographies, and data sets along with conducting peer reviews. If you are interested in learning more about what Google Apps has to offer, please plan on attending the FITS Winter Term Workshop or contact an instructional technologist. FITS Director Donnie Sendelbach is especially interested in exploring ways to leverage Google Apps and other technologies for developing writing skills. FITS can meet with you one-on-one as well as conduct workshops geared toward a department’s needs.

Let’s collaborate to discover what is underneath the tip of the iceberg!

Printer/Copier Replacement Project

November 29th, 2010 by
Contributed by Lynda S. LaRoche, Assistant Director of Instructional & Learning Services

The campus-wide Printer/Copier Replacement Project is rolling along with only a few non-public printer/copiers left to deliver. After finals, Information Services (IS) will begin delivering the student public printer/copiers.

Included in this newsletter article:

  1. Rationale & strategy for printer/copier replacement across campus
  2. Student public printer/copier rollout
  3. Special print/copy card requests
  4. What to do when a printer/copier isn’t working properly

1. Rationale & strategy for printer/copier replacement across campus

There were several factors considered in the selection of the Canon printer/copiers as a replacement for the Savins on campus. The key factor was the devices’ sustainability features: ability to scan directly to digital, duplex (double-sided) printing capabilities, and secure swipe-to-release printing. Other factors included ease of use, ability to work with both Macs and Windows, and overall device reliability.

The general strategy used was to replace the Savin units with similarly equipped Canon printer/copiers in the same locations. While studying these locations, IS naturally looked for areas that had duplicate coverage, were underutilized, or where users indicated a unit was no longer needed. In addition, IS tried to make color printing accessible to as many areas as possible by locating color printer/copiers in most major buildings and areas where there was a special need for color. When the delivery process is completed, there will be 24 color printer/copiers distributed throughout 17 different buildings on campus.

2. Student public printer/copier rollout

Student public printer/copier deliveries will begin after finals to alleviate any concerns DePauw students may have so they can concentrate on their end-of-semester responsibilities. IS plans to have all deliveries completed before the start of Spring Semester at which time students will have access to the Canon printer/copiers.

Currently, IS is working on the student public printer/copier delivery schedule and will post it to the Printer/Copier Help Site as soon as possible. After the first of the year, students will have the opportunity to learn about the new printer/copiers by visiting the Digital Media Lab on the lower level of the Roy O. West Library to consult with a Student Technology Support staff member. Available consultation times will be provided in January.

3. Special print/copy card requests

Those who have submitted special print/copy card requests will be contacted by the HelpDesk to pick up their card(s) soon. IS appreciates your patience during the processing of these requests.

4. What to do when a printer/copier isn’t working properly

Please contact the HelpDesk (helpdesk@depauw.edu or 765-658-4294) with the DPU # found on the unit if you are having issues with the Canon printer/copiers. In addition, if you are having issues with any of the printer/copier features (e.g. scanning, stapling, etc.), let IS know by contacting the HelpDesk.

IS will share additional information with you as it becomes available.

Defining Digital Storytelling

October 7th, 2010 by
Contributed by: Matt Bethune, Instructional Technology Graduate Intern

Digital storytelling is an emerging media field which is gaining a lot of momentum, but what exactly is it? The answer doesn’t lie in a single example, or a single definition. Rather, digital storytelling is a hybrid of traditional storytelling devices with new media approaches.

One example of digital storytelling is the work being facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling. The Center is based out of Berkley, California, with regional offices in Denver, Pasadena, Washington DC, Toronto and London. Their primarily focus is teaching people with no prior training in media creation how to turn their personal stories into videos. These stories are told through the eyes of a narrator, speaking over music or other audio while still and moving images float across the screen. An example of the type of story typically created by the workshop attendees of the Center can be found below or by browsing to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEoTKxr9EyY.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/LEoTKxr9EyY" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The Center defines their style of digital storytelling as “A short, first-person video narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images and music or other sounds.” Other organizations have adopted this definition and set about creating digital stories in the same vein. One notable example is the Culture Shock project from the United Kingdom. The project, facilitated by Tyne and Wear Museum in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, collected 1,000 digital stories from citizens across northeast England. The stories were collected, uploaded to an online archive and are accessible to the world at http://www.cultureshock.org.uk. To see a digital story through the eyes of a child participating in the Culture Shock project, browse to: http://www.cultureshock.org.uk/stories/poland.html.

Moving away from the Center for Digital Storytelling’s definition opens up other perspectives, many of which are digital spins on old classics. Gamebooks such as the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series hit their height of popularity during the 1980s, but have now been digitally resurrected on the web. Sites like chooseyourstory.com and infinite-story.com take this classic motif and apply it to web-based stories. Instead of choosing to go to page 8 or 12 depending on how the reader wishes to continue the story, the reader is now given a list of links to follow depending on what he or she wants the characters to do next.  The site Chooseyourstory.com in particular views their submissions as storygames instead of just stories. Some games allow users to collect items to an inventory for use later in the storygame, much like certain video games.

Digital Storytelling is also becoming a hot topic of discussion among academics. Single courses in digital storytelling are now offered on college campuses, including the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Houston and The University of Albany–SUNY. For those who prefer more than a single course on the topic, Ball State University offers a two-year Master of Arts degree in digital storytelling. Students in the program complete a core foundation of theoretical-based approaches to studying digital storytelling and then decide between a thesis and a creative project for their capstone requirement. A large part of the program’s concentration lies in how digital technologies are influencing traditional storytelling techniques with special emphasis placed on studying the rise in interactive and non-linear stories.

DePauw University is playing its part in shaping the digital storytelling landscape through its innovative Media Fellows program and by embracing VoiceThread. An in-depth look at Media Fellows’ use of digital storytelling is available in this newsletter. VoiceThread is an online collaboration tool which allows multiple users to view an image or video and then comment through text, voice, video or drawing. Faculty and students are currently using VoiceThread to create and give feedback on topics and presentations.

While all of these examples have aspects which make them unique, they all showcase how traditional storytelling methods are combined with new digital technologies and techniques. That is, at least for now, what makes them digital stories. As with any emerging media field, new storytellers are constantly applying their own creative perspectives on the question of what is digital storytelling. It is their work that will push the field forward and shape the definition.

Media Fellows Practice Media Convergence with WordPress

October 7th, 2010 by
Contributed by: Chris Newton, Assistant Director of the Eugene S. Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media and WGRE Operations Support Coordinator

Evolving digital technologies have been a real “game-changer” in the mass media industries. TV, radio and print media have benefited in numerous ways from the advances in computer technology and the switch to digital creation and transmission tools. Perhaps the biggest change for media companies, however, has been the speed with which they have had to learn to effectively use the Internet, both as a secondary transmission tool (repurposing original content) and as a primary, stand-alone media outlet. They have discovered that they can carry all the elements of “old” media on the Internet without the overhead of additional expensive equipment, buildings or people.

ScreenHunter_03 Sep. 16 09.04

As the Internet has become more agile in transmitting video, audio, still-photos and text in interesting ways, it has aggressively encroached on traditional media. It is quickly becoming the only source for a growing class of consumers who access their favorite content on their own schedules on computers or cell-phone screens instead of TV’s or radios. Newspapers find themselves teaming with radio and television stations on the Internet to provide more than just simple text and photo archives of their printed product. TV and radio stations offer new, exclusive Internet content in addition to archiving popular programming. Some pundits have coined the term “media stations” to replace “radio stations” or “television stations” reflecting how the Internet has changed how we consume our media. No need to turn on the TV or radio and open a newspaper; you can do all three on just one website!

For a University that teaches contemporary mass-media theory and practice, this means continuously adjusting what we do to encompass this evolving reality. We go beyond teaching electronic acquisition, editing, writing and producing skills to include multimedia “convergence” skills. It’s not enough for our students simply to learn how to write for entertainment or journalism, or how to acquire and produce standard audio and video packages. Our students must also understand that “digital storytelling” includes tailoring content from any media for the web, and learning to choose the best media element to tell a story online. Students also need experience with stories that are conceived specifically for the web, necessitating a different workflow.

In the Media Fellows Program, the second semester of the First-Year Colloquium was chosen as the class in the program where this need would be directly addressed. This is normally a hands-on class focusing on practical media ethics, techniques of audio and video production, writing skills and photojournalism. The decision was made to teach a more aggressive “convergence” model of commercial media with the idea that student projects would end up on the web as a way of better understanding what it takes to create and maintain a media portal on the Internet. Rather than teaching skills in each media area separately, it was decided that it made sense to teach within the context of “digital storytelling.” The goal was for each student to create a media blog with news articles, blog posts, audio, video and photojournalistic assignments, to get a feel for the practice of contemporary journalism.

ScreenHunter_05-Sep.-16-09.06

Example of a Media Fellows student's WordPress blog.

After working with Michael Gough in FITS and debating the best way to get student projects to the Web, the teaching team decided that WordPress would be a good compromise, mirroring in many ways what media outlets are using commercially. The team also decided to use our local WordPress server, so that we would have better access to IT personnel and local training resources.

The class was introduced to the concept of digital storytelling with small group training on the different software and hardware tools they would be learning to use for the class. From the beginning, they were encouraged to use all the resources of the PCCM and immediately were introduced to SoundSlides – professional Flash slideshow software – and WordPress. This was a lot of different software and hardware to teach, but to properly reflect the skills of online storytellers, the teaching team felt it was necessary.

Students then concentrated on their writing skills, interviewing skills and class presentations on digital storytelling by current journalists from TV, newspaper and Internet-only media. Along with various writing and blogging assignments, students were eventually assigned two major audio/visual assignments which were to end up on their blogs.

Instructors were available to the students outside of class throughout the course. The most effort was given to teaching SoundSlides and fine tuning how they used WordPress. The students were pushed to strengthen their storytelling skills in each of the media and to learn when to use one media over another. Their overall storytelling ability and their technology skills improved from the beginning to the end of the course. It was interesting to note that the majority of the students had the hardest time telling stories with video. Even with today’s technology, video is still a labor-intensive medium to teach and quickly be successful.

In summary, through discussion, assignments and a class survey we ascertained that the class was generally successful teaching students about media convergence concepts. WordPress was an integral part of that. The majority of students thought it was a valid tool when used in this way. WordPress efficiently handled uploading everything but the SoundSlides Flash files, which were easily linked from another location online. Having a local FAQ file updated with current best-practice strategies was also helpful. Students were able to experience first hand what it was like to maintain their own online media portals. They also got a good sense of the time commitment and “real world” work flow necessary to successfully get a good digital story in front of an audience.

Understanding how to communicate effectively in different digital media is a powerful key to success for students in any major, and this Media Fellows course is one way the University has worked to address this concept.

eBooks and eReaders, It’s Complicated.

October 6th, 2010 by
Contributed by: Caroline Gilson, Associate Director of Libraries and Coordinator of the Science Library with rank of Associate Professor

It’s complicated. That phrase can be applied to many things, I realize (issues related to faith, relationships, what to wear on any given day), but in preparing this column on the broad spectrum of eReaders and eBooks in the higher education environment, it seems particularly appropriate. The idea of an eBook seems simple enough. But it gets more complex when one delves in deeper: issues of access, ownership, cost, availability, ease of use and delivery methods/platforms creep in and muddy the waters. How do librarians, information technology staff, faculty and students sort it out and “make it work?”

As an academic librarian, I take pride in keeping up with technology that will deliver content to campus users. I bought a first-generation iPhone on the day it came out at my neighborhood AT&T store, feeling that was a watershed moment. Something inside me said this was a game changer. The iPhone has gone from novelty to a measuring stick of sorts in a few short years. It broadened the scope of mobile access, and set a standard (I think) for devices yet to be developed.

The iPhone has led libraries to create mobile access to collections. For instance, some libraries have an app or mobile friendly access to the library catalog, subscription databases, (we can show you the mobile version of EBSCO databases if you are interested) and even snazzy building tours via QR codes or augmented reality. Becoming more of a digital, mobile, handheld library also means rethinking access to collections: books and multimedia. Are you streaming or downloading movies from your NetFlix account? What is the future of the eBook in libraries? They’ve been available for over ten years, yet still haven’t caught on like I would have predicted. How will access to digital textbook evolve? Why don’t libraries buy more eBooks? (Kindles for everyone!…?) Are our users ready for eBooks? Are you?

Yet there isn’t yet (or I haven’t found it yet) an easy answer to eBook accessibility for our academic users. The Kindle/Nook/Sony eReader seems to focus mostly on the recreational reading crowd. One service I’ve found to be worth investigating is called OverDrive. OverDrive provides eBook access via multiple formats to libraries, where users can download content to a laptop or iPhone or mp3. This model seems to work with users that have multiple devices. Yet, OverDrive only seems to offer fiction, non-fiction, general topic sources and not so much scholarly or textbook offerings. So I keep searching, as a librarian, for the next best thing for access to eBooks. I pay attention to the ever-changing technology market. I watch the current development of the Notion Ink Adam tablet. I get excited about a SixthSense glove-like device and lanyard (watch Pranav Mistry’s TED talk from November 2009), where one can project digital images onto a book, a wall, a newspaper, a hand or arm. I listen to people in the know about technology, like Bryan Alexander at NITLE (he blogs at http://blogs.nitle.org), or Walter Mossberg, writer of the All Things Digital column for the Wall Street Journal (http://walt.allthingsd.com). I wonder what cool new device is going to come out next week, next month, next year. As great as I think the iPhone is, I don’t think it is It. I don’t think the iPad is It. I don’t think Kindle is It.

I watch our academic community interact with technology. I watch my five-year-old son interact with apps on my iPhone. I talk to and email library colleagues about eBooks and mobile devices. What are they seeing and using? eBooks seem to still be a novel idea, but get low use (or no use). How to solve that? I wait and watch with everyone else. I talk to colleagues and database vendors. I think that access models (readers) will need to change and publishers will need to rethink how they market and present their offerings. Academic libraries and campuses are in an evolving environment when it comes to eBooks and eReaders, and in short, it’s complicated. Feel free to continue the conversation with me anytime (cgilson@depauw.edu)!

The Moodle Glossary – More than a Dictionary

October 4th, 2010 by
Contributed by:  Lynda S. LaRoche, Assistant Director of Instructional & Learning Services and Moodle Support Coordinator
clip_image002.jpg

Figure 1: Moodle Glossary Entry Example

The Moodle Glossary is a robust activity that can be used in many ways. It can be a collaborative activity that you assign to your students or you can create it for your students to use as a reference point. The entries can be searched or browsed, commented on, rated and there’s even an “auto-linking” feature that you can setup in which words are highlighted and linked if they are contained in the glossary.  Figure 1:  Moodle Glossary Entry Example shows some of the capabilities of a glossary entry, such as text, images, links or many of the other capabilities found in the Moodle text editor. View the Moodle 101 for faculty glossary as another example.

Each glossary you create can be a different format, which enables you to use the glossary activity creatively in multiple ways. For instance, the glossary can be used to assist your students in learning new words that represent new ideas and concepts specific to your field of study or it can also be used as a collaborative tool where assigned groups are responsible for contributing to different sections of the glossaries entries.

At first glance, a glossary seems to have only one function – a simple dictionary. Moodle’s Glossary enables you to creatively engage your students in the process of learning. If you are interested in using a Moodle Glossary in your course, feel free to contact me (llaroche@depauw.edu) or any other FITS Instructional Technologist.

The Virtual Burnham Initiative

September 10th, 2010 by
Contributed by:  Donnie Sendelbach, Director of Instructional and Learning Services/Director of ITAP

burnhamThe Virtual Burnham Initiative, a multimedia project creating 3-D models from a 1909 Chicago city plan by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett (Plan of Chicago often referred to as the Burnham Plan), received a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-up Grant in 2008 and currently is their featured project.  The NEH is currently accepting applications for its next round until October 5, 2010.  To learn more about applying for this next round, you can visit their web site or contact Donnie Sendelbach, who served as Co-director of the Virtual Burnham Initiative before coming to DePauw.

While components of the Burnham Plan were implemented to create modern Chicago, students using SketchUp and Google Earth brought to life other components that were not implemented in reality, including buildings in Grant Park (see photo above). The flat images from the Burnham Plan were transformed into models enabling 360º views and placed within Google Earth’s modern Chicago, which takes the Burnham Plan to another level of visualization while merging past planning with current reality. If you have Google Earth on your computer, you can download files from the VBI website to view yourself.  Through 3-D modeling, students and scholars are able to visualize how Chicago could have developed while considering the possibilities for future city planning. Through additional historical information, they can also study how city politics shaped the building of Chicago as the new field of city planning evolved.

Chicago area high schools and universities along with city administrators have contributed to the VBI, which is, to quote the grant application, “a project about the community that can become part of the community offering a heretofore impossible organization of material related to the Plan with a unique application of different virtual modeling technologies to enhance collaborative humanities scholarship.”  Students who worked on the project developed an appreciation for architectural history, city planning, and research decision-making as the Plan’s series of sketches include multiple variants for a given building.  One of the students creating these models, Michael Ojdana (Lake Forest Class of 2008), is currently working at Convergence Training creating 3-D models after he graduated from DePaul University with an M.S. with a Digital Cinema: 3-D Animation Concentration.

For more information on the project, please view this video inviting others to participate:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ru-J2MVtRM4" width="345" height="280" wmode="transparent" /]


Google Apps: What’s Next?

September 10th, 2010 by
Contributed by: Lynda S. LaRoche, Assistant Director of Instructional & Learning Services and Moodle Support Coordinator

clip_image002Last spring “Going Google” was a common phrase on the DePauw campus as we switched from GroupWise/Tigermail to Google Apps Mail, Calendar, and Contacts. With this initial transition completed, what’s next?

If you want to keep important emails from your GroupWise/Tigermail account, you have two options: copying your old email messages to Google Apps Mail or creating a local GroupWise Client and copying your email to your computer. To complete this on your own, step-by-step instructions are located online at DePauw’s online resources for faculty, staff, and students – https://sites.google.com/a/depauw.edu/depauw-google-apps/.

If you would like assistance completing this process, instructional technologists will be standing by in the FITS lab (located on the lower level of the Roy O. West Library) to support you during any of the Google Open Lab sessions listed below.  Remember you must complete this no later than September 30, 2010 because the GroupWise/Tigermail server and your old email will be gone on October 1, 2010.

Google Open Lab Sessions
FITS Center (located on the lower level of the Roy O. West Library)

  • 9/14/2010 from 9-11 a.m.
  • 9/20/2010 from 2-4 p.m.
  • 9/28/2010 from 12-2 p.m.
  • 9/30/2010 from 2-4 p.m.

Google Apps for Education offers much more than email and calendar capabilities. Through Google Docs you and your students can collaborate with others in real-time by creating, editing, and sharing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. To assist you in learning more about Google Docs, FITS will be hosting “Google Apps: Intro to Docs, Sites, Forms” workshops this semester. We will also be hosting Google Users Group sessions where you are invited to join your colleagues to share ideas, ask questions, and discuss ways that Google Apps can be used on campus – both inside and outside the classroom. For a complete list of Google Apps events, browse to DePauw’s Campus Calendar and search for #googleapps.

Finally, we’d like to invite you to share how you are using Google Apps for teaching and learning by presenting during a FITS Faculty Showcase. If you are interested in presenting, please contact Lynda LaRoche – llaroche@depauw.edu or 765-658-6600 – or another member of the FITS team – http://www.depauw.edu/univ/fits/people/staff.asp – to discuss your idea.

FITS Brown Bag Discussions

March 29th, 2010 by

Bring your lunch and join us for a conversation on how technologies can be used to enhance teaching and learning.  These sessions focus on the intersection between emerging technologies and sound pedagogy.  Topics, reading materials and event details for this spring’s sessions are listed below.  To get the most out of the discussion, you may want to review the topic reading materials.  However, you need not have read the materials to join in.  At the beginning of the session we will provide a brief overview to help bring everyone up to speed before the discussion begins.   We hope you can join us.

Online Office Hours
April 20th at 11:30, U.B. Ivy Room

Students and Faculty members alike lead busy lives and sometimes this can cause conflicts with traditional office hours.  In this discussion, we will examine how instant messaging, voice over the internet and virtual whiteboards could be used during online office hours to help students who might be off campus, or to use if unforeseen circumstances such as if foul weather occurs.

Optional Readings:

Mobile Learning and E-Readers
Rescheduled for: April 26th at 11:30, Roy O. West Instruction Room A

The Kindle, Nook, iPhone and the iPad all bring new possibilities to how students read books and consume other types of media.  These devices offer several advantages including sustainability benefits, cost savings and the ability to search text.  But how might they be used in the classroom?  We will discuss these devices’ strengths and weaknesses and gauge where and how they might be used at DePauw in the future.Optional Readings:

Old Dogs and New Tricks: Building Learning Communities through Blogging

April 22nd, 2009 by jeverage

Contributed by Kevin Howley, Associate Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Communication and Theater  (Ph. D. Indiana University, 1997)

When it comes to using new communication technologies, students often have the upper hand on teaching faculty. By the time they walk into a college classroom–ear buds in place, laptops fired up, and cell phones at the ready–our students are immersed in digital culture. The generational difference between today’s tech savvy students and teachers of, shall we say, a more mature vintage, can be daunting and not a little intimidating.

While my generation grew up with manual typewriters, vinyl records, and party-line telephones, this generation grew up in front of the computer, downloading MP3s from the Internet, and text messaging one another across the schoolyard. Without putting too fine a point on it, today’s wired students know a thing or two about connectivity that we children of the analog era could only dream of.

In saying this, I’m not being at all dismissive of technological innovation, or of the students who use these tools. Recent developments in communication and information technologies are truly astounding and their potential for enhancing teaching and learning must be harnessed, not ignored. My aim in this brief article, then, is to relate some of my impressions about using weblogs (blogs, for short) in some of my course work. This semester marks my third foray into using blogs in my classes and I daresay that I have learned a thing or two about how to maximize the effectiveness of this medium in the context of the liberal arts tradition.

Luddites Need Not Apply

The wired campus is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I appreciate the utility of students making use of the Internet for basic research while sitting at their desks. On the other hand, I’m far less sanguine about students’ tendency to do a bit of online shopping while I am conducting class. But this is not a technical problem per se. This is simply a matter of classroom management, a skill set that most faculty have mastered over the course of their teaching careers.

Conversely, the technical proficiency of individual faculty members varies considerably. Some faculty members are quite comfortable with new technologies and make excellent use of these tools in their course work. Others are less comfortable with anything beyond word processing and email.

Whether you feel intimidated by new technologies or simply don’t see the need to incorporate such tools into your teaching, I’d urge faculty to give it a go. Students take to blogging quite readily and with proper incentives–a topic I will address presently–class participants make good use of a blog to expand their knowledge of course content, extend class discussions outside of the classroom, and relate course content to their daily lives and experience.

The thing about blogging is that you don’t need specialized technical skills to put together a fine learning resource for your classes. If you are familiar with WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editors, common to all of the popular word processing programs, then you are “good to go.” What’s more, blogging software, like the WordPress program in use on the DePauw campus, is very easy to use. In addition, you can choose from a variety of templates to give the blog a professional look and feel. That said, if you need assistance, the good folks at FITS are always available for consultation, training and technical support.

The real fun starts when students incorporate multi-media elements–audio files, still images, and embedded video–into their posts. The web really is worldwide and students are willing and able to find material that relates directly to course content. In this respect, students are, quite literally, making the sort of connections between abstract concepts and real world examples that demonstrate their ability to think critically: the very stuff of liberal arts education.

Learning Communities 2.0

My motivation for creating a class blog stems from a longstanding desire to get students engaged with course content beyond the confines of the classroom and curriculum. I have had limited success using email distribution lists for such purposes, but I have found blogging to be far superior in this regard. That said, whatever success I have had has been part of an iterative process of trial and error.

For instance, in spring 2007 I had students conduct research on various issues in media and cultural policy. Working in small groups (4-5 people), students were responsible for investigating policy debates surrounding topics such as radio payola, low power FM, commercialization, net neutrality, and the rise of so-called fake news. As part of the blog roll–a list of links to external web sites–I pointed students toward a number of online resources such as the FCC, the bipartisan media reform group Free Press, and the Canadian magazine Adbusters, to name a few. Finally, students were encouraged, but not required, to post findings and short observations to the blog.

Some students took to the blog, and the multi-media and viral capacity therein, others less so. What I found was that in the absence of strict requirements, the blog would be under-utilized. The following semester, I altered the assignments and made posting to the blog a course requirement. Specifically, I required students to post no fewer than 5 substantive posts to the blog. While this new requirement fostered greater use of the blog, the majority of students waited until the end of the semester to post their thoughts to the blog. And only a handful of students felt the need to comment on one another’s posts, despite my repeated requests that they do so.

This semester, I believe I have hit upon the right formula to get students writing and reading blog posts. In the context of a writing intensive course, I felt I had the license to require students to post one substantive (500-700 word) essay per week to the class blog. I also require students to post two short (150-200 word) comments to another student’s work per week. While I do not have 100% compliance, the majority of students are thoroughly engaged in this ongoing exercise.

For instance, this semester we are looking at the rise of infotainment, or the blurring of news and entertainment. Students have located all sorts of material that illustrates this trend in contemporary media culture. Aside from embedded video from the likes of The Daily Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, students have posted examples of “happy talk” and celebrity news from traditional news outlets. In doing so, students are engaging in a thoughtful conversation about the state of contemporary journalism and the implications of all of this on democratic values and processes.

What’s more, students are discovering for themselves the value of diversifying their news sources. Students have posted items from foreign, alternative and independent news outlets that consistently produce hard-hitting investigative reports and first-rate analysis of the sort that is becoming increasingly rare in US news media. And in a recent post, one student offered her classmates a primer on Twitter, the popular social networking service, along with an explication of how this latest technology is being used for newsgathering and dissemination.

This last instance is illustrative of the community-building capacity of blogs. Nowhere is this dynamic more visible than in the comments section of the blog. Here, students respond to one another’s posts in a civil and, more often than not, an intellectually engaged fashion. The comments section encourages readers to become writers–an especially useful dimension of blogging in the context of a writing intensive course. That said, blogging should not be limited to writing intensive courses. Any course that is designed to promote critical thinking and self-reflection would benefit from a class blog.

To be clear, blogging is only one type of writing assignment I employ in this course. Blog posts are an instance of what writing instructors refer to as “low stakes” writing. In tandem with “no stakes” writing–in-class exercises that provide the basis for class discussion–and “high stakes” writing such as term papers, blogging offers students and instructors alike an opportunity to discuss course content outside of and in addition to class time. In so doing, blogging becomes a new tool for building and nurturing learning communities that support the goals and values of liberal arts education for the 21st century.