Approaching The Paperless Course

(This entry by no means comes close to being a coherent statement of pedagogy. All these are really just notes to myself, URLs to save, considerations to keep in mind, etc.)

Over the past few semesters, I’ve been trying to explore new ways of providing an online component to my class. I’ve used Wikidot, WetPaint, Facebook Groups set up by my students, and WordPress three times (dot-com only, not dot-org). All of them worked well in their own ways, though Wikidot and WetPaint seem to me to have already run their course (pun unintended).

With a new school year beginning next month, all the entries I’ve been reading from the ProfHacker blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education are making me consider going even further (just one example, among others). I can’t actually go completely paperless, but I think I can approach it far more closely than I ever have before. At the very least, I can do a class where the majority of requirements will be “digital.”

THE GIVENS

I need something to replace Wikidot and WetPaint, perhaps also Facebook Groups, but I’d like to continue using WordPress. I’m looking into Google Docs too, especially for the theses I will be advising: the new Discussions function seems quite a promising feature. While I’m at it, I’d also like to do something with Google Calendar.

If I simply stick with the WordPress and Google (Docs and Calendar) configuration, I think I’ll be okay. I’ve been quite lazy dealing with WordPress, after all. I don’t think I can match the scale of the UMW aggregation of blogs (home of the wonderful Looking for Whitman), but I’d like to believe this one could be approximated had I but effort enough and time.

THE POSSIBILITIES

The thing is, though, I’m somewhat liking two new online services I’ve just discovered recently: Engrade and Canvas. I’m still working my way through the former, but the latter looks as if it sports a better interface. Whichever of these two works better, the question will still revolve around integration with WordPress and Google. I suspect both Engrade and Canvas might be superfluous, at least from the user experience of students.

It’s that which is really proving a rather formidable concern. I also used Twitter and course hashtags once, which worked for a while for a select few students, particularly those who already had Twitter accounts. The rest clamored for a Facebook Group, which we eventually set up.

MY OWN PLANS

For my Horror film course, all film journal entries will be online as usual, but I need better venues for quick and snappy sharing of information (Corkboard.me or Droplr are my simplest options) as well as threaded discussions. I’ll figure out a way for students to have a place to submit their essays, which everybody else can read. I’ll also ask them to do a presentation one of the films screened in class. I’m sure I can think of more requirements (maybe quizzes, which I’ve never given before in ten years of teaching, maybe a return to wiki work in the form of collaborative class notes), but this is good enough for now.

For the theses I’m advising, everything can be done online, except for the requirements which require consultation and collaboration with the rest of the thesis committee. Thesis proposals, defense drafts, and final copies will still have to be “physical,” but I’m sure Google Docs will be good for submitting the other parts.

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Ian Bogost

Great interview with Ian Bogost, who I think I’ll concisely refer to as someone engaged, in the broadest and fullest sense of the term, with videogaming. (He’s also appeared on The Colbert Report.)

His background in philosophy and literary studies is married to his work as a videogame developer; married is the operative term, as these interests are brought together in the spirit of not interdisciplinarity but love*.

He’s written about reading online and Facebook, and his recent reflections on an as-yet hypothetical metaphysics videogame are so insightful that they almost read like pieces on the metaphysics of videogames.

I wish I could have more to say about these things I’ve been coming across lately, instead of just sharing links here and there. But I really need to do some mental reshuffling these days, with the help of these things I turn up here and there.

 

* Different context, but Marjorie Perloff also has an interesting article that, among other things, criticizes the unthinking manner in which the term “interdisciplinary” is often used these days.

Ballard Across the Universe (NSFW)

The universe of different arts and media, that is. Some examples, all from Ballardian, some NSFW:

  1. “Crouching Pervert, Hidden Meisel” and “Fantasy Kits: Steven Meisel’s State of Emergency”
    (NSFW commercial photography)
  2. “The Ballardian Primer: Surveillance Cameras”
    (surveillance technology…and screensavers!)
  3. “Architectures of the Near Future: An Interview with Nic Clear”
    (architecture and multimedia exhibitions)
  4. “Cousin Silas: Another Flask of Ballard”
    (music as ambient soundscape)
  5. “The fusion of science and pornography”
    (totally NSFW x-ray artporn from Wim Delvoye)

Bonus:
“You are Hochhaus!: Ballard in Berlin”
tells you how to screen a radio play. Brilliant.