Thursday, April 07, 2005

New territory here on Campus

The teaching term is coming quickly to an end. As I write this I am furiously planning my next course, starting May 1. On our particular campus, there are two divergent groups of faculty using technology. The hegemonic group use a courseware package called WebCT. I've dubbed it WebJail. It a web based interface which allows professors to create online tests, collate and submit grades, host discussion boards and chat. I am sure it has other bells and whistles. I never go there so I am recalling WebJail from my initial exploration in September. Why does WebJail irk me so ? Noone can access any of the information from a particular WebCT site unless they are enrolled, or teaching that class. I suppose some of you may find that sort of enclosed virtual space to be safe and comforting. I find it extremely frustrating. If I want to learn how another professor is using technology in the classroom, I'd have to ask her to explain it to me, rather than just e-mail me a link. I also think there is an inherent danger of having a hidden and secret messageboard. Sure it eliminates trolling, but there is no opportunity for other interested faculty and students to participate in a healthy academic discussion. If a student is thinking about taking a course from Professor X, why can't they check it out? So that is my WebJail rant. I don't lock my students up. I have them create simple websites using Mozilla and they post all their work on the web. I am part of the marginalized group of professors who are interested in redesigning and rethinking classroom boundaries.

I am not so sure I want my personal blog to officially coincide with the professional website. I am not all that concerned about what you may think of my "other" work, but I do not want my blog associated with the insitution I work for. Since my position at said university is often tenuous, I feel I don't need to add any more reasons to not hire me back each year. In addition, I like being able to say what I want on my personal blog . I have all kinds of student related issues that I'd love to ruminate over, but I am still undecided about the ethical implications of processing them here. Even though I don't name names, I feel that I am consciously being careful.
So, its official, I am dancing around a couple of issues.

Blogs about blogging and technology can be dry as toast. I officially reached nerd status yesterday. I spoke with the resident renegade at the IT dept at said insititution yesterday (who has access to everything, and weilds some power, albeit silently). I explained my interest in developing a blog for my course that I will start at the beginning of May. He was keen on helping me usurp the domination of WebJail. First, I had to decide on some Blogging softeware that he could establish on the University's system. Now that I am writing about this - I feel like I am "going where no academic has gone before" . Waaay cool.

So I narrowed my choice (inset link later) to Moveable Type and B2Evolution. Some of the choices were rather random. I don't need many bells and whistles. The simpler the better infact. I also felt that it was important to be able to create categories - which is something that Blogger does not do easily.

Thats the technical angle of blogging in the classroom. Tay tuned for the next phase - how am I going to make this course work?


Kim said...

Way cool. I can't wait to see where it all goes. I'm curious!

Jay said...

I have definitely seen classroom blogs before, from elementary school to university, and it seems like a great way to get students more involved in the coursework if you can swing it. And it's great if a teacher is willing to break out of the box and do something different; many are too scared to try something new.

kthrne said...

Eww, WebCT. I feel your pain.