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.

In Smiley’s World

As preparation for my most-anticipated film for 2011, based on one of my favorite novels of all time, I’m currently listening to the recent Radio 4 adaptation. (Later, I plan to re-watch the television adaptation and to re-read the book, of course.)

I’ve just finished listening to the second of its three parts this morning, which means I’m as fully immersed as work and the rest of my life allows, which led to several misadventures this morning (and no, this is by no means an attempt at a Le Carre pastiche; I doubt I’ll ever have that man’s facility with language).

I arrived at the office and immediately opened the briefcase handcuffed to my wrist my bag, which contained a highly-sensitive dossier recommendation letter I wrote for an agent a student who was picking it up that morning from my local runner the Department secretary. The student requested for this letter by dropping me a note in a dead-letter drop my pigeonhole last week. He arrived as I was encoding preparing the document for his pick-up this morning. I was momentarily startled, as if he broke cover, but I simply handed him the letter and wished him luck in his mission application.

The next bit is a little funnier since I virtually sound like I’m in the intelligence business here, with minimal moments of sous rature:

One of my research assistants handed me the highly-confidential (it really was, as indicated by the stamp on the sealed envelope I was given) mission briefing project appointment from HR. (Come to think of it, it IS a mission briefing, since it details a special and somewhat secret project I’ve been tasked to do.) It was a vital document that needed to go to my contact in Personnel, who had been calling me about it for the past two weeks, so I immediately went out and headed over there to pass it on.

Since I’ve been quite absent-minded these days, it took me a while to notice the envelope had my name on it as a receiver: I was so overwhelmed by the importance of the document, which up until this morning I didn’t even know existed, that I thought it was something for Personnel’s eyes only. Realizing my mistake, I opened it, clumsily tearing the envelope in my haste, certainly looking as if I was about to read something I wasn’t supposed to. I signed the document, but realized at the last minute that I needed to take note of details (like my salary) I needed to tell Control my wife.

So I took photographs of the document with the camera on my mobile phone.

I also picked up my paycheck today, and of course, I had to show my papers faculty ID first before signing a release form that had me leaving Accounting with a smile on my face and Smiley on my head heart head heart END TRANSMISSION.

Which Dark Tome?

DISCLAIMER: These aren’t really dark tomes, but that’s a popular horror cliche trope, after all.

I’m not absolutely certain, but I think this semester will mark my fourth time to teach the Horror Film course (officially called COM105.9: Film Seminar – The Horror Film). While warnings abound about fixing something that isn’t broken, I believe every course can be improved, even without needing actual fixing.

My most immediate concern is the course text, i.e., the book from which I will assign readings for my students. I’ve always used Mark Jancovich (ed.)’s Horror, The Film Reader (the leftmost cover with Kurt Russell from The Thing on it), but I’m now wondering if I should change to Brigid Cherry’s Horror or Ken Gelder (ed.)’s The Horror Reader:

From left to right: Mark Jancovich, Brigid Cherry, Ken Gelder.

From left to right: Mark Jancovich, Brigid Cherry, Ken Gelder.

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