Alternative Delivery Certification: Learning New Strategies to Teach Online
Hi! I'm Ryan Edel, an adjunct in the English Department!
And this is how I introduced myself to colleagues in the Alternative Delivery Certification course. Here at Heartland, it's the professional development course for learning to teach online more effectively.
Quick Warning! - when writing informally, I use a fair number of exclamation points. There's research indicating that a period indicates blunt finality that shuts down thought, while exclamation points and the death of periods are now part of text etiquette. Why does this matter for my introduction? Because exclamation points and missing periods will sometimes drive teachers nuts. And I don't want to irritate everyone without first giving some reason why, and then pointing to some research to justify myself.
Also, I teach English. All my non-academic friends and family assumes that I critique grammar or style during everyday interactions, and then they assume I'm growing hydra heads from my skull when I switch to "nonstandard" usage. I just wanna be like "dude. chill. this isn't a composition essay. trust me. i grade those things. do you have any idea how many points i take off for people you refuse to capitalize the word 'I'?" :p
- In your humble opinion, does technology make us more open- or closed-minded?
- I believe that our choices in how we use technology significantly affect whether it opens our eyes or closes our hearts. For example, I think we're all aware of the bubbles created by social media — in general, we tend to be "friended" with or follow those who share our beliefs, and then search engines customize their responses to reinforce our preconceptions. It's reached the point that some believe this is destroying democracy. On the other hand, thanks to same tools, I can keep in touch with friends I haven't seen in years, and my friends who travel tend to share cultural insights that I wouldn't likely think about on my own. The key, I think, is to ensure you keep your mind open, but it helps if you already have the personal social connections to understand a wide variety of perspectives. For me, the most stark example of this came in 2003, when the U.S. was invading Iraq. At the time, I was an army linguist studying Arabic. For our in-class activities, we'd watch Al Jazeera coverage of the invasion, and then translate the news. Later, we'd see the same stories on CNN — from media, the pace of devastation was obvious. But I didn't truly understand what it all meant until our Arabic instructors began sharing their own thoughts — three of our instructors were from Iraq, and some had family members still there. It was then that I learned that some Iraqis are Christian. Before then, I simply assumed that Middle Eastern identity was necessarily a Muslim identity — in reality, Arabs hold a variety of religious and cultural beliefs, and one of the problems with mass media is that the identities are often compressed into stereotypes in order to convey a message more quickly. But if you know where to look, you can track down stories that challenge the stereotypes, such as this video of Kurdish Iranian women who volunteered to fight ISIL in Iraq.
- Where are you in your own teaching journey? This doesn't have to be an epistle nor your resume/CV, tell us how you have progressed as an instructor - content areas, length of time teaching, informal and formal arenas you have taught, the joys and hardships you have faced, etc.
- As a teacher, I feel as if I've finally come to understand the relationship between two major perspectives in English Composition Studies: should a should we be teaching how different genres of writing work in the "real" world, or should we be teaching the expectations of the academic research paper? Ideally, we should teach both, but a semester is necessarily limited — how can assign readings that cover the basic genre considerations of resumes, texts, Twitter, etc., and then also do an in-depth review of how a research paper should look and sound? And I don't just mean MLA formatting — a "good" paper needs "proper" formatting (commas, citations, and verb tenses) to properly highlight the choices of sources (which must be thoroughly researched) and the arrangement of sections (so many decisions) without being boring (that's maybe the hardest thing to teach students — that research can be interesting and exciting, if you pick the right topic). During my MFA, the focus was creative writing — getting students to "be themselves" with "proper" grammar. For my Ph.D., the exhortation was to "teach grammar" because research papers are an "artificial genre" that has "no application in the real world" (yes, that was our program focus). Here at Heartland, I've realized that too much focus on the concept of genre can actually distract students from the difficult work of understanding the one genre they struggle with the most: research papers. And so I've revamped my lesson plans to focus on the steps for writing a research paper on topics that my student choose, and now I'm looking at how to better incorporate the concept of genre into this framework.
- What are at least five (5) things about yourself you think most of your work colleagues don't know about you?
- 1. Paratrooper Days: Although most know I served in the army, not everyone knows that I spent three years in the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper. 2. Not a Fan of Heights: I am, however, afraid of heights. Also, I got injured during Airborne school, so I couldn't actually jump from aircraft while assigned as a paratrooper. So as a paratrooper, I was pretty terrible. 3. I Snuck into Grad School as a Science Fiction Writer To get into grad school, I had to omit science fiction from my application. After arriving for my MFA, a former department chair said "It's good you never mentioned the science fiction — we never would have accepted you." 4. I'm Writing a Zombie Novel. It's sort of like a mash-up of Walking Dead, Terminator, Black Widow from Avengers, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. It's not, however, a fan fiction — as I write, I'm putting my own spin on each of those fiction tropes, showing how they could all coexist as natural extensions of each other. Also, the Jedi are under copyright. 5. My seven-year-old doesn't think I'm cool. And he's not wrong.
- What is your 'motto' or a favorite quote of yours (please include the reference :)?
- "Fake it till you make it." The "concept of acting 'as if'" does have some basis in psychology, but where I learned it was in the army. A number of the older non-commissioned officers (sergeants who had deployed previously) used "fake it till you make it" to indicate what I see as a fundamental truth: none of us are ever fully "ready" to learn a new skill, and this is especially true in writing. But to learn the skill, you have to engage with it. For a writer, you can only become a better writer by writing — or as one of my professors put it, "you have to write a million words of crap before you start writing something good." More politely, many authors believe you need to write a millions words to reach competency as a writer. That quote has real merit for novelists, but I never share it with my English 101 or 102 students because it can be interpreted as "new writers shouldn't write," which is not at all the message we should send to our students. Research writing, after all, is not the same as novel writing — and most novelists view "competency" as "worthy of being published." That is a far, far higher bar than students require to pass a college course through successful writing. So I see "fake it till you make it" as the way to keep students focused on the fact that they should continue working and writing and revising until they produce the quality they want — even if that means the entire process feels confusing and uncomfortable.
- What are you excited about as far as this course is concerned? What are your fears?
- What I'm most looking forward to is strategies for providing information in ways that will be more interesting and more engaging for my students. I do well in the classroom, and my in-class checks usually indicate that my students understand the concepts — when I ask them to echo back the lessons, they're usually able to. But I've noticed that knowledge retention is poor — I think they get distracted once they get home, or the assignments themselves don't provide enough reinforcement for concept scaffolding. So I'm looking forward to seeing how I can use quizzes, micro lectures, and additional strategies to help students retain what they need to do well. Also, I'm creating a UDL website to help me better organize my Canvas courses while also sharing my ideas on how to teach English Composition. If you'd like to visit, it's at UDL.12Writing.com. Fair warning: it's very much under construction. It's definitely not a Canvas replacement, but I've found that anything I type in Canvas keeps all the formatting when I copy it to Google Sites, so the two mesh together well. Hopefully, this will allow a way to assemble multimedia teaching materials and then easily share them with my students, other Heartland instructors, and maybe even instructors at other institutions.