Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One-on-one conferences

A couple of weeks ago, I had one-on-one conferences with my students in the Writing the Novel class, where we met individually and discussed their proposals for chapter 3 of their novels. The week prior, students signed up for a ten minute period to meet with me, in lieu of coming to class.

Now of course, one-on-one conferences are nothing new, hardly worth a blog post. Writing faculty all over the LCC campus do them every semester. We even have conferences noted in our master syllabi of the first-year composition courses. And I'm sure writing instructors all over the world do so.

But this is my first time doing a one-on-one conference with an online class. When I first started doing online classes fourteen years ago, I decided against them since requiring students to come to campus would be prohibitive for many, and the Virtual College at LCC really wanted to stress that these were to be fully online courses. Sure, I could have done phone conferences, and I know a number of professors who valiantly hold conferences with online students each semester, either asking them to come to campus, or talking on the phone.

I haven't. I do see some value in conferences, though I think there are other equally valuable ways to work with students through whole class meetings, small group interactions, and individually through text or meetings during office hours at a student's request.

But this semester, I decided that conferencing in Second Life should be as effective as f2f conferencing, and since I usually did a f2f conference with the novel writing students with a f2f class, why not in a virtual world?

Now for a f2f class, I normally print out a schedule, and students near the end of a class period gather around and sign up for a time slot. Then I will usually make copies of the schedule, put one on my office door, and one on the classroom door. Then the next week, students would wait in the hall of the classroom, during our regularly scheduled class period, and take turns meeting with me. Nothing else could take place because, well, having students do some type of activity in the hallway would be disruptive.

On Angel Learning Isle, the week prior, I also had students sign up near the end of the class session. But now, instead of a piece of paper to huddle over, students found a Google doc with the schedule on a media share screen that they could gather around and jot down their names. Worked great. I then posted the link to the Google doc in our Angel LMS course site on the announcements areas, so students could check to recall when their session was, and students who didn't come to the class meeting could still sign up.

Conference day, I had students come to the class area where we normally meet. I suggested coming a few minutes early, and told them that there would be an activity to complete before they left that evening. But they did not need to be there for the whole two hours of the class period. When I was ready for a student, I would send them a teleport invitation, and he or she would join me in a sky area, about 1200 meters in the air, where we could discuss their proposal in private.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, f2f conferences allowed for no learning activity before or after to take place in the hallway. But on Angel Learning Isle, they weren't waiting in the hall. So I was able to have them discuss with each other a quotation they brought to class from one of our novel writing rhetorics that they had included in their proposals. Here's what I had them do, which I had available in a notecard they could grab from the class mailbox when they arrived:
  1. While you are waiting for your conference with me (I’ll tp you when I’m ready) or after we’re done, paste onto the Google doc here in the class area the quotation from Stein I asked you to bring to class. Along with your name.
  2. Discuss the quotations pasted on the Google doc with class members. How well does the novel you read for novel analysis II exhibit effective writing expressed by the quotations?
  3. Before you leave, drop off a notecard into the WRIT 278 mailbox that summarizes what you discussed and with whom.
A simple assignment, but it worked well. Students weren't just hanging around waiting for their ten minutes of fame, but had something to do that would enhance their learning for the week.

And the conferences worked well. We used voice, so a lot was accomplished in the scheduled ten minutes. I answered any questions that arose, and then they went on their merry way.

Of course, I could do conferences with online students through Skype. But then I wouldn't have even considered getting students to do a real-time learning activity while waiting because there would have been no place for them to wait. But on Angel Learning Isle, having a place to congregate afforded my feeble imagination to come up with something valuable for them to do while waiting that was better than just hanging out in the hall.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Another semester begins

Composition I chat
Well, starting this post on October 1st (and adding pictures on November 1st), I can't quite say that. But it's the beginning for this blog!

This semester has been a whirlwind. All four sections that I'm teaching this semester are online and using Second Life. Creative Writing I and Writing the Novel meet as a whole class weekly. Two sections of Composition I meet weekly either in small group chats or (starting next week) in peer response groups, where they will read aloud their drafts to each other.

At Bookstacks with CW students
The ability to read drafts aloud is one of the strong points with meeting in a virtual world over working together in a 2D learning management system (LMS). Obviously, audio can be done in a 2D environment, such as Skype. But I'm still convinced the spatial placement of a 3D world adds a richness to community and connection with others that 2D tools cannot.

And that's saying something after spending 16 hours this last week (and two more to go tomorrow, Sunday) with students in world. The high points are when everything is working and students are able to tell stories about an important song in their lives with stories so touching--from the ends of relationships, to the deaths of loved ones, to first loves turning into decades-long partners--that students are crying while telling, listening, discussing.

The low points are when little works, whether because of underpowered machines, students who didn't participate early in the semester but now show up with no in-world skills, clunky search, buggy viewers (v. 2.7x on has been dodgy the last couple months), or as one student said last week, SL has been "cranky"!

SL field trip with comp students
One of those underprepared students (who I must say is coming along), mentioned today that she felt so lost in SL, like she couldn't figure out where anything was. It reminded me of overhearing brand new first-year students, with eyes wide complaining about not knowing how to get around campus the first few days. Of course, we should expect some of the same trepidation in a virtual world because, just as the downtown campus of Lansing Community College is a place, so is Angel Learning Isle in Second Life. There's a north, south, east and west, and up and down, a left and right, a forward and behind.

At the Cavern Club
Orientations and scavenger hunts help, and those who participated (most this semester) get around fine. Underpowered computers and students who don't take those first weeks' activities make the experience in world more opaque. But for all, it's new and at some level intimidating.

It has been helpful, especially in the novel class, having students who've already taken a class with me in world. I had the foresight to make sure experienced users were paired with inexperienced during the scavenger hunt.

Writing the Novel class meeting
But what really struck me in the last couple weeks--why it is worth all of this heavy lifting I do to lead students in a virtual world--is a simple comment a WRIT 121 student made. He said that he had graduated from high school in 1995. Since then, he has only taken online courses. And this is the very first time, since high school, that he's had an actual classroom experience.

OK, I'm ready for chat tomorrow. I hope everything works!