The Perks of NeTWERKing

This semester, the Networkers have studied digital collaboration tools, specifically Our goal was help other English Professors to implement WordPress blogging into their classrooms, and then to serve as resources to help improve their experience using the tool. Throughout that process, we created our own WordPress help page and used other tools such as Google Docs, Forms on Google Docs, and Doodle. We also researched other means for collaboration such as Prezi, Commons in a Box and Comment Press. We learned a lot this semester about the typical problems and fears English professors face in implementing blogging into their classrooms, and how to improve upon and enhance this experience.

Google Docs and blogging are two online tools that we used consistently in this class throughout the semester. Google Docs was incredibly useful in collaborating with group members on our projects. Not only were we able to collaborate with our own group members, but we were also able to collaborate with the rest of the class as well as Dr. Schacht. Dr. Schacht was able to post readings and assignments that he wanted us to do, and we could go on in class or outside of class and have access to them. Dr. Schacht was also able to go onto the Google Doc on his own time and check on the progress each group was making in their projects. Google Docs is a very useful tool for online communication in a class, or if trying to put together a project or presentation in a group. However, there are elements that other sites like WordPress are more suited for, for example blogging.

Blogging is something that is now being used in many classroom settings, as it is easily accessible to students. One positive aspect of blogging is that it gives students a chance to express their ideas in a place for others to read them. Another positive of blogging is that you can share things, like articles and media that connect with class discussions and enhance the material being taught in class. Blogging is an especially good tool for people who might be less outgoing and not likely to share their ideas in class. Blogs give them a place to feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions. One negative aspect of blogging is that it can be used as a substitute to face to face conversations and discussions. Blogging is a great form of communication as long as it is used in conjunction with class discussion, and used as a way to spark new ideas or reinforce what was taught and discussed in the classroom.

In order to come up with our manual for the class blog, our group explored many different avenues. At first we thought a PowerPoint or a Prezi would be an easy way of showing the general set up of the site, but we soon figured that that wasn’t beneficial for everyone. We also toyed with the idea of having a running document where anyone would have access to view, but again this seemed too large and messy. Users would have to go through so many different posts to get to their question and that could get too confusing and convoluted. To keep with the theme of the class a website seemed like the best idea as it would allow us to tag posts so that the users can use this with ease to find a specific post. Once we realized that wordpress was the best avenue as it looks and feels much like the SUNYGeneseoEnglish wordpress, we had to decide between a .com or a .org platform. As the school uses a .org we really wanted to use this, but in order to set up a blog we would have to pay for a subscription, and we didn’t feel like that was necessary when the .com was free for use to use for the small amount of posts we would have.
After setting up the page, we had to make it work for our purposes. We hit some roadblocks here. We originally each created posts about different topics (adding media, turning off email setting, etc) and then put them into different categories. Some of the posts also included information about who we were and how to contact us. It quickly became clear that those important posts were getting lost in a set-up in which most recent posts were first. So, we created 4 static pages: Home, Posts, Who We Are/How to Contact Us, and About English @ SUNY Geneseo. We also had to rearrange our widgets in the Posts Page to make “Categories” appear above “Recent Posts.” This made the site easier to navigate. We switched the theme to Hemingway Rewritten and put an image at the top of the trees in front of Welles in the Spring. The page now looks very aesthetically pleasing. Now we’ve decided to switch the site over to a page connected to To do this, we’ll probably have to change the page to xml and upload it to the .org page.

Throughout the journey of creating a help center we have faced various challenges that have encouraged us to re-route our plan of attack.  We originally thought that sending a mass email out to our classmates, asking for further information on what they wanted to know more about, would be a good idea.  We were not suspecting to have zero feedback.  This had set us back slightly.  We had created a wordpress filled with general information on blogging, although this idea was structured around feedback. Having that lack of feedback kept our idea from aiding specific information that was sought upon.  This challenge of not being able to reach out to others enforced our small group to put ourselves in other student’s shoes in trying to meet the suspected needs we believe they would ask.  This was the most troubling challenge we had to face. Although slight challenges have set our project back at times, the strength of our group had helped to overcome the difficulties and restructure our plan to better meet the needs of our website and the students using it.

This semester, I (Michael) have been immersed in the world of blogging. My SUNYGeneseoEnglish WordPress account is not only connected with the Digital Humanities, but also with The Practice of Writing with Dr. Paku, and Film Talk with Professor Ed Gillin. The three courses are all fundamentally different, and because of this, each class’ use of the blog is also different. Being in the Networker group has forced me to consider how the blog is used in other classes, and actually being in those classes makes me an expert. Dr. Paku’s class, The Practice of Writing, is composed of nine English Adolescent Education majors. This intimate group focuses on the basics of writing and how to teach writing to students. The class contains a service learning component, and the students spend time actually practicing what they learn in the classroom. At first, Dr. Paku would post a prompt as a blog post, and ask students to post their answers in the comments. While this may keep the posts somewhat organized, people visiting the blog (which is now public), may not think to click on the comments. In order to keep the organization of this blog and make the posts more accessible, we gave the blog a bit of a facelift. We made use of the ability to categorize each post, and then we added widgets on the sidebar that show those different categories. By the end of the course, Dr. Paku would ask us to blog about a topic, and she or I would create a category that everyone was able to choose. For example, after a week of service learning, we all posted about our experiences, and those posts can be easily accessed by clicking on the “Service Learning” category.

On the other hand, Professor Gillin’s class group, Film Talk, has been very straightforward and has not really changed at all, mostly because the original way it was used fits the class perfectly. Every week the class watched a movie and two students are required to do a film review on that movie. These students do not post on the blog like Dr. Paku’s students do, but instead, create a topic in the forum and post their review there. With this format, students are easily able to comment on the review and see the posts in a collected thread. A majority of these forum topics have at least three different “voices” in each. These two classes went about using the SUNYGeneseoEnglish WordPress very differently, but were able to tailor the site to their needs. With the help of the Networkers group, I think that even more English courses will be able to figure out the best ways to take advantage of using WordPress.

We also worked throughout the semester with Dr. Doggett’s class, assisting them with using the blog for their Irish Studies class. Through our work with them, we learned about a project they’re working on in anticipation of the Alumni Summer Trip to Ireland. They were looking to create some sort of site or app that people on the trip could use to communicate and get facts about different locations in Ireland. It’s going to be an ongoing project, and we were able to help them get started.

We met with Dr. Doggett and he told us that the idea was that while visiting certain places, they should be able to open this app, find the page that corresponds to their location, and access pictures and facts. He also wanted an outlet for people going on the tour to connect and discuss flights, transportation, and other questions they might have before the trip. In addition, he said that there should be a place for the latest news announcements on the main page, and a separate page for FAQ’s. Basically it is going to be a go-to resource for travelers to connect and get information both before and during their trip.

A challenge of this project is that while many people have smartphones, not all of the places they visit will have WiFi. Because of high international data costs, we needed to create something they could download and access offline. We started designing a WordPress site, creating sections and pages for the topics that needed to be covered. The group discussion will be better suited to a forum, so we decided there should be a group on the SUNY Geneseo English page for them too. While on the trip, Dr. Doggett will be able to post about the latest information they need to know, and we got an RSS feed on the main page so it can be conveniently seen. Our hope is that there will ultimately be an app that will allow users to download the whole site to their phones, making it accessible without WiFi.

Working on this project was a nice way to take an in-depth look behind the scenes of WordPress, which we’ve been using all semester. Seeing all the different options was overwhelming at times, but this makes it possible to customize the site in a way that meets our needs. Getting the Ireland site set up was exciting because it sets a precedent for future Ireland trips and other study abroad groups. We think it’s going to be a really useful tool. If we can make it accessible in Ireland, then other courses should be encouraged to create their own sites for their trips as well. Having started off at the beginning of the semester as students who were new to WordPress, we’ve come a long way and have learned what goes into all stages of blogging.

photo (4)

Group Members: Michael Augello (jellyfish), Lindsey Gales (dolphin), Becca Miller (seal), Katelyn Baroody (jellyfish), Chrissy Stellrecht (dolphin), Lyndsay Moore (jellyfish)

Using technology to send a message

I came across this video in a class that I took last year, and then came across it again in a seminar I just took. I thought it was incredibly powerful in the way it delivered its message. I wondered if I was a student in high school sitting through an assembly on bullying prevention what I would respond to more. Would it be a motivational speaker or this video? I think technology has the power to create really strong messages that catch peoples’ attention and get them to listen. See what you think!


Hot Spots

In my group, the Networkers, we are working with Professo Doggett on producing a website for his Alumni trip to Ireland this summer. When meeting with Professor Doggett, he was explaining to us how he wanted the people on his trip to be able to be standing in a particular place, for example, in front of the General Post Office in Dublin, and be able to pull up information on their smart phones or tablets about the history of that site, access to writings and poems about that site, old photos and documents pertaining to the site.

We agreed that it would be very beneficial for the people on his trip to have that information so readily available to them in that way while they explored Ireland. However, the problem Professor Doggett is facing is that in order to avoid astronomical phone bills, the people on his trip would have to have access to wireless internet in order to get that information, and wireless internet is not always available. When I was in Europe last summer on a study abroad trip the only time I had access to FREE wireless was when I was in my hotel, and even then it was unpredictable.

However, there are actually devices that you can buy, anywhere from $25 to upwards of $100 that allow you to access a wireless hotspot. It begs the question of how far will people go to make sure they are always “online.” I saw an article that talked about the weirdest places wifi hot spots are found on Earth that include Mount Everest, outer space, the North Pole, beaches, phone booths, and even cemeteries, among other places:

The cemetery one really threw me, but the article cited that people liked having a hot spot there to be able to research geneaology. And then it kind of made sense. We live in a world where people are constantly “googling” the answers to the most basic questions. I have not been able to watch a movie since getting a smart phone without at some point before, during, or after the movie looking through imdb on my phone to look at information on the cast and interesting facts about the film. We are living in a time where people like and expect to have access to information at the drop of a hat, or rather the click of a button, and these wifi hot spots are incredibly useful for that.

I’ll admit that for the first week I was abroad last summer I was completely lost without my 24/7 access to imessage, facebook, instagram, and email. I even cried one night when the hotel free wireless had been down for a few days and I was feeling very disconnected from home. Technology has become a tool that is hard for us to live without, and I don’t necessarily think that’s such a bad thing. While there are many arguments that we are TOO attached to our devices, I think there are also ways that these devices are improving our lives. Professor Doggett’s idea is a brilliant one that could change the way we look at study abroad, and I think in the near future it will be an idea that many have the resources to pull off, making learning in a foreign place much more efficient.


Technology IS the classroom?

I came across this article while doing research in another class, and I found it pretty interesting:

In summary, the article talks about a new classroom model that is being implemented and reviewed in some schools, where students spend half the day in a regular classroom setting with teachers, working on projects and activities to hone their skills and the second half of the day sitting at a computer, working with software that teaches them content. Each student may advance at their own pace, and can only advance once they have passed the assessment for the unit they are working on.

I see many pros to this style of learning. For one, it is more individualized for each student and allows each student to learn at his or her own pace. This eliminates students from being too bored in a classroom and being held back when they already know and understand the material, and it also eliminates students who need more time from being pushed along when they still do not have an understanding of what they are learning. Another positive aspect of this teaching model is that teachers now do not have to spend as much time teaching content and facts to their students and they have more time to focus on deeper skills and more time to get to know their students and their learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. The schools that have implemented this thus far claim to have seen great results, noting improvement in their students test scores. Another pro they claim this program has is that it gives students more individual responsibility for their learning, which better prepares them for college. My argument to that is that while I do think it better prepares them for college in that they are responsible for their own work, it does not help them prepare for college socially, and it also does not give them a sense of what college classes will be like, as many of them are lecture-based or discussion-based, where you are requires to listen or participate in class rather than just focus on your work individually.

There are other concerns and questions I had as I was reading this article. One of the concerns I had was about funding. The article claimed that this program would not increase cost overall, but originally to purchase all the software and computers and to get this program implemented that would cost schools a pretty penny. Some schools may not be able to cover these costs.

Another question I had was what about special education students? There was no discussion in the article about how to implement this program with students that have IEPs, or that need more one on one teacher instruction.

Another main concern I had was how unmotivated learners would be able to get through a learning model like this, as it requires the student to take responsibility to get their work done. The article somewhat addressed this concern by saying that students would have weekly check-ins with teachers to make sure that they were completing things and going through the program at a realistic pace, but I have met some students in my practicum and student teaching that I know would sit there on the computer and not get anything done. I know students who would fall farther behind in a classroom set up like this.

The last concern I had was about students’ social interactions. So many people are concerned about people from this new technological generation not having imperative social skills that they need to get through life because heir social interactions have always been through a screen. Much of what we learn in middle and high school is how to interact with our peers, how to treat people with respect, how to handle ourselves in different social situations, and I think having students spend half their days sitting alone on a computer might diminish some of that social learning. Going off this, one example of how technology is used in the classroom was that students were blogging online about a question the teacher posted, as an online class discussion. My question as I read this was why not just have an actual class discussion? I think it is good for students to get used to forming sentences from their thoughts and to practice speaking eloquently in front of other people. Just as it is important for students to learn how to respond to opinions they might not agree with in a respectful manner.

I do see a lot of advantages of using technology like this in a school setting, I just think that there are still a lot of kinks to work out and a lot of things to consider before fully implementing this in school districts.

The fairness of Computer Based Testing


As many of you have probably experienced, there is a push right now for computer based testing. Computer based tests are becoming the norm for taking standardized tests like the GRE and NYSTCE. As with many things there are pros and cons to these exams. But the question is do the pros outweigh the cons? Or do the cons make these tests unfair?

Some of the benefits of computer based testing include: timely feedback, more efficient monitoring and tracking of students’ results, a reduced number of resources (as they are replaced by computers), easier storing of results records, and electronic analyzing of data that can be used in spreadsheets and statistical packages. Some downfalls of computer based testing include: costly and time consuming implementation of the exams, assessors and staff implementing must have IT skills, close monitoring of the software as there are chances it could fail or malfunction during an exam, the absence of an instructor, issues to prevent cheating, and computer anxiety.

This last disadvantage is a big one for students taking the exams, and it brings up the question of fairness. I am not saying that paper exams are entirely fair, as some people are better test takers than others to begin with. However, the computer based tests may give an advantage to students who are used to using a computer and have better skills using a computer. For example, a student who has not had a lot of experience typing on a keyboard may be at a disadvantage when taking a computer based test. Or a student who struggles when looking at a computer for too long may not be able to complete a long computer based examination.

I am interested to see how far computer based testing will go. Will students soon be taking SAT exams as computer based tests? And will it go so far that using paper and pencils on exams becomes a thing of the past and all tests taken in college and high school are taken through computer software? I do see the advantage of computer based testing, but I think it would be beneficial if students had a choice, especially right now for students who have not necessarily grown up taking all exams and assessments with a keyboard and a computer screen in front of them.




Technology in Special Education Classrooms

I just finished writing a research paper for my Shakespeare class on using Shakespeare in a special education classroom, and much of the research that I came across discussed the benefits of using technology to teach literature to students in special education. I thought this was an interesting topic to share with the class, as I know many students in this class are education majors, and let’s face it regardless of if you are certified in special education or not, you WILL have special education students in your classroom!

Using technology in teaching literature is not only engaging to students and makes them more willing and excited to read, but technology also can incorporate a variety of different activities that can help improve students’ literacy. One common way of using technology in a classroom is by showing a film or video clips that enhance the lesson you are trying to teach, but there are many other options. Programs like Microsoft Publisher and Windows Movie Maker allow students to create professional looking projects that they can be excited about producing and take pride in the finished product.

In my research I came across one article by a teacher who documented her results of using different technologies to teach a Shakespeare play in her classroom. In addition to using Microsoft Publisher to have her students make pamphlets that featured a main character in the play, she also used digital cameras to take photos and Photo Shop to create scenes that were used in a PowerPoint presentation of the play. She was thrilled with the results, saying, “Technology was the vehicle that built their confidence, gave them an understanding of Shakespeare, and ultimately the willingness to take the risk reading the actual work” (Savoring Shakespeare 1).  With creative teachers and developing technology there is no saying how much will change in education and how much students can learn. Students in special education are capable of learning to the same extent of any other general education student, and technology is the tool that will help them succeed.

The article I mentioned is cited below:

“Savoring Shakespeare.” Reading Today 21.2 (2003): 10. Academic Search Alumni Edition. Web. 1 Apr. 2014