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Professional Writing

imagining a web 2.0 professional writing degree

I’ve been following the somewhat technical discussion regarding the development of learning management systems on eLiterate. I’m not a programmer, so my understanding of the issues is abstract to say the least. However, the main point seems to be interoperability and how to acheive it. That is, how do you create a system that will allow a wide range for the interconnection of other applications, while simultaneously meeting the needs of a variety of users from students and faculty to administrators at a variety of institutional levels.

Let me say I’m glad it’s not my problem. But it does have me thinking about what is my problem…the types of things I’d like to do in delivering an online program or a program with a great deal of online content. A couple posts back, I listed some of the things I’d want to put into an online course. That’s a starting point, but I think a course-centric view can be limiting and creates the kind of problems I have with Web CT.

First, while a course view is clearly valuable while a course is ongoing. It loses its some of its value at the end of the semester. It would be great if a student could take all the work s/he did into a student-centric perspective where it could be the basis of a portfolio. That is, a student would be able to see their discussion posts, assignments (in a variety of media), and other contributions. In the case of individual assignments, students could elect to share or not share their work on a case-by-case basis. This would integrate with a portal-function where students could maintain a blog, keep notes, subscribe to various feeds, see their e-mail and so on. This would also be the basis of portfolio creation for a range of purposes.

Second I could see many elements of a course extending from one semester to the next: wikis, blogs, social bookmarks all generally become richer over time. There is an issue here with intellectual property for the students involved that would require some consideration. I’d have to think about how to address that, but it would be part of a larger values shift that didn’t box learning into courses and really bought into the student-centric model of education by giving them an important role in the ongoing intellectual life of the community.

I would also point out the possibility of interconnection between faculty and courses. For example, I might raise the question of ethos in my technical writing course. Meanwhile, the week before my colleague was discussing ethos in his rhetoric class. If we build a folksonomic element into the system then its likely that our discussions will both be tagged with ethos and/or ethics. Perhaps I can view all the tags that are being used across the system over a week or month or year. I can get an interesting snapshot of my program that way. In addition, of course, we’d have an ongoing wiki on rhetoric that would include a discussion of ethos and a social bookmark list of sites tagged ethos, discussion posts tagged ethos, publicly-shared student projects tagged ethos, and faculty assignments and course materials tagged ethos.

As faculty, I would have a portal similar to my students that would give me a quick snapshot of all the things going on in my courses. I’d have a dropbox where I could access, comment on, and grade student assignments. I’d have a means for holding virtual office hours.

On the program level, we’d have a whole new mode of assessment. Tagging would give us access to what faculty and students believe they are discussing. We could search and surf the entire content of the program and chart changes over time.

Now I’m sure this vision would set off alarm bells with many folks. You have to remember, there are THREE of us in professional writing in Cortland. We have an excellent working relationship built up over the last five years. There is a significant trust factor that would be involved in sharing our work on this level. So much for the isolating quality of technology, huh?

That said, I would be happy to engage on a larger scale. In fact, one wonders at what point the size becomes a problem. For example, what happens when you have a couple hundred students taking the same general course (e.g. technical writing) at a dozen linked universities all using the same learning system? This could easily happen within the SUNY system. Funny, it’s not the number of students that concerns me, but the number of faculty. A dozen faculty each going about their own business in the same system, posting links, media, assignments, discussions, coming together unexpectedly or by design.

I wonder if we could really work that way?

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