Instructional Technology

This page links to many of the course sites and innovative assignments I constructed as an Instructional Technology Fellow (ITF) at Macaulay Honors College. All of this material was developed in collaboration with the professors and students in each course, and with the brilliant support of Joe Ugoretz and the ITF team.

Seminar 1: Arts and New York City

Seminar 2: The People of New York City

Seminar 3: Science and Technology in New York City

Create a Social Media Newspaper

Recently in my Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Core II course at the Graduate Center, the class showed off their many gadgets – including many microphones and video cameras – but also new-to-me tech such as Jack Power’s fly pen and my Jennifer Jacob’s arduino. My professors, Chris Stein and Joe Ugoretz, also demonstrated the capabilities of their iPads. I was instantly fascinated by an app that aggregates information from your social media networks into a daily newspaper. While an iPad is still on my wish list, I was determined to find a similar product for PC users. Luckily something came through my Goggle Reader that linked to . Essentially, the program searches for twitter hastags or facebook mentions and organizes the results into the familiar aesthetic of an online newspaper. My first experiment, albeit unoriginal, was to create a newspaper for #edtech via my twitter account. Here it is:

I consider this to be very successful. The information is relevant, interesting, and easy to read. In fact, the first issue led me to this article on “The Future of Higher Ed” that is relevant to at least two projects I am currently working on in my courses.  However, even though it is free to use, it is ad supported, and the ads are less-than-desirable.  For a student like myself who is interested in a topic that is very current, this is an excellent research tool. It is similar to using Google Alerts or RSS feeds, but streamlined with a greater readability. I am wondering how this could be used in a my English and composition classrooms, or as a feature of an LMS/VLE…? If  you have some ideas or are already using a similar application please share your thoughts!


MLA 2012 in Seattle

It is official friends! I will be presenting at MLA 2012. For those of you who are interested, I am including the panel information and my abstract:

What Works? Integrating Literature and Culture

Innovative strategies for integrating literary and cultural studies in English and Foreign Language lower division and continuing education courses. Roundtable with George Louis Scheper ( and Stacey Donohue (


My students are often blissfully unaware of the power of their words and potency of the mediums through which they communicate. I have designed a composition course that aims expose my students to the riots and revolutions that have drastically changed our world throughout the last quarter century, and invite them to analyze the rhetoric and situation conveyed through the use of new media. I model this work with Anna Deavere Smith’s one-women play Twilight Los Angeles,1992 which brings forth questions of dialect, authenticity, and representation. Students weigh the book, movie, and news coverage with first hand accounts of the story and the critical responses of scholars such as Cornel West. The next phase of my interdisciplinary assignment sequence asks students to examine the 2009 Iran elections, using social media outlets as their primary research material. Students must first narrow their thesis to a particular perspective: an individual “Tweeter” or blogger, a specific reporter or photographer, an American or Iranian politician, etc. and examine the motivations and desired outcomes from this point of view. Part of the essay must focus on the use of technology in politics by showing how the individual used technology to influence the riots. Ultimately, students create final projects by investigating a riot or revolution of their choice, using both traditional and digital research methods to create annotated bibliographies, research papers and multimedia presentations. The research project leads to discoveries about the nature of freedom in our current political climate and the power of social media. The creation process helps them develop critical skills that enhances their academic and professional practices as they move forward in their careers. For this panel I plan to present examples of these final projects and discuss the value of their findings.

Since I have almost a year to prepare for this presentation, I would really like feedback. Please feel free to post comments, but more importantly I would like my followers to offer ideas and further reading for me to explore before MLA in January. Thank you so much! Hope to see you in Seattle!

Academic Integrity 2.0

On Thursday, November 18th, I attended “How Should the University Evolve?: A Conversation About the Future of Higher Education” at Baruch College. Anya Kamenetz and Siva Vaidhyanathan debated the deterioration of higher education, and the conversation centered around economics. The inflated cost of both private and public universities, along with the emergence of for-profit colleges and online programs, sends students a strong message: You must pay for your education.  The economic structure of higher education leaves faculty members in a tenuous position. We are the gatekeepers of this prize, and we implement rigorous obstacles that our students must conquer to attain their goal. However, society rewards the result, not the process. This leads students to seek out ways to surmount these obstacles without meeting the demands of the coursework. They cheat. The digitization of the university has increased access to new modes of academic dishonesty, yet, as John Purdy discusses in “Calling Off the Hounds: Technology and the Visibility of Plagiarism,” it also provides faculty members with tools to detect plagiarism. However, academic dishonestly is not a result of technology, nor can technology solve the problem of plagiarism. It is our responsibility as teachers to foster an appreciation for the hard work it takes to attain knowledge, and to advocate for the widespread change that needs to take place at all levels of education to ensure that the next generation values learning.

Kamenetz and Vaidhyanathan argued over whether the digitization of the university is alleviating or inflaming the economic pressures facing both students and institutions of higher education. Kamenetz, the author of Generation Debt and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, was quick to suggest that online collaborative learning decenters the role of the instructor, eliminates the need for the institution, and eradicates the need for formal assessment, potentially fostering the desire to learn for the sake of knowledge, instead of a degree. Conversely, Vaidhyanathan, author of The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System, and The Googlization of Everything — And Why We Should Worry, rightfully defended the “sacred ground” of the university and praised its effectiveness throughout history. Both authors agreed that the cost of education in this country has changed the politics of matriculation and accreditation in our society. Everyone in the audience agreed that problems arise when students become consumers in the system of higher education. While many questions were posed by audience members, no one addressed issues of academic integrity in the new consumer driven education marketplace.  In my experience, it is clear that both students and their parents feel entitled to get what they paid for, and administrators are blithely facilitating the transactions even in cases where acts of academic dishonesty have occurred.

I have used both and Blackboard’s SafeAssign to intimidate students who may be inclined to engage in acts of plagiarism. In support of Purdy’s conclusions, I have found that these programs palliate potential plagiarism, but they do not prevent it. More importantly however, these programs can be a powerful pedagogical tool. First of all, they elicit a reaction and as a result, a conversation about cheating in the classroom. When I explain how these programs work, I am met with faces full of shock, disappointment, and sometimes anger. Unlike the example of Jesse Rosenfeld in Purdy’s article (309), my students do not consider the retention of their work to be a threat to their privacy (a subject of continued debate among faculties).  Instead, my students worry about getting caught for something the majority of them freely admit to doing on a regular basis; cheat. I have my composition students write exemplification essays addressing the need to restrict teenage technology use, and suggest using “cheating” as a topic to narrow their focus. In these essays student reveal stunning acts of academic dishonesty, and many of them admit to cheating at every level of education. One student described a group of fifth graders who cheated by writing answers in invisible ink and shining black lights on their notes during the test, while another divulged that they knew precisely how many words to change when cutting and pasting from Internet sources so that his essay would could not be detected by a Google search. Many students mention the use of cell phones to exchange answers, and most claim teachers do not care enough to monitor these actions. The most shocking example comes from this recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students’ papers” tells his story. In this article Ed Dante, the author’s pseudonym, reveals his extensive experience writing academic essays for “dispirit” students willing to pay thousands of dollars for a custom made paper. This harsh reality makes me sick to my stomach. I honestly believe that some students feel that by purchasing papers, they can claim ownership of that work. After all, they did pay for it, and as the author of this article claims, he provides more guidance and reassurance than their instructors. The three groups Dante mentions in his article, “the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid,” are the marginalized members of higher education. If what he says is true, and I cannot deny his validity, teachers do need to accept responsibility for the desperation of these students.

No detection program will ever be able to combat this type of academic dishonesty.  The only way to recognize that a student has not turned in original work is to get to know the student personally. This was my main argument against Anya Kamenetz’s online learning communities. I need to see my students physically putting words on the page. I not only ask them to write revealing narratives, but I request that they discuss their personal lives with me on a regular basis. I demand that all of my students learn each other’s names, engage in collaborative projects and peer review, and they read aloud in class. Some of these activities can be administered through the use of new social media sites and educational technology, but nothing can replace the power of human interaction These activities help me assess their communication skills, so that when a Whitman-esque musing on the fleeting beauty of a leaf in fall graces my Blackboard assignment dropbox, I know without a doubt the name attached did not compose those metaphors.

It is a combination of knowing my students on a personal level, and mastering modern technology that has enabled me to address academic dishonesty in my three years of teaching at the college level. For example, I had a transfer student in my 300-level Early American literature course at a private, four-year university turn in a paper on a philosopher we did not cover in our coursework. Because I insist that all students turn in electronic versions of their work, I was able to look up the ownership information on his Microsoft Word document, and found that the paper had last been modified by a female with the same last name. I also happened to know that he had a sister who was close in age, and through a simple Facebook search found that she was a philosophy major at a nearby university. (Thank you Mark Zuckerberg!) It is a mistake to blame technology for the rise in plagiarism. This student would have stolen his sister’s paper regardless of its physical form, and Ed Dante’s clients would find someone to write their papers even without access to online paper mills and e-mail. The important lesson here is to understand how and why students misuse technology, and to understand as teachers how to use the technology in order to teach students how to use these resources responsibly.

Yet, even that is not enough. In an online conversation concerning Ed Dante’s article, my fellow graduate student, who is in his first year of teaching composition, wrote:

Our big problem in the academy, it seems to me, is that we reprimand the students for responding quite reasonably to the economic pressures of society. We tell them to work hard according to our beliefs, and they will be rewarded. They look around and see this not to be true. So we punish them for trying to get around our process. As a result, they get better at fooling us, and we get better at fooling ourselves into believing our goals align with society’s goals. But, of course, they don’t. And students know that as well as we do. So do we change our goals and stop caring about the value of critical thought and education, or do we change society’s thoughtless valuing of quantifiable achievements? Or do we just try our best to affect the small sphere we personally influence and say everyone else–those who cheat, the world that demands cheating, so on–can fuck themselves? I’m not sure. The last option seems easiest. (Andrew Lucchesi)

To which I replied, “The last option seems to be the only attainable goal.”

Works Cited

Dante, Ed. “The Shadow Scholar.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 12 Nov. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2010.

Purdy, James P. “Calling Off the Hounds: Technology and the Visibility of Plagiarism.” Teaching Writing, ed. T. R. Johnson. 3 (2008). 305-324. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. Print.

Tales of a Freeway Flyer

My First Article for the GC Advocate:

Considering the frequency and urgency of articles across both academic publications and, although less so, public news sources warning students not to go to graduate school, it would be ignorant of me not to ask myself why I am entering my first year of a humanities doctoral program at CUNY. I do not have a trust fund or a stable supplemental income, therefore I am the prime target of these authors. However, I am not entering into this solely for the love of reading or with the naive belief that I will land the perfect tenure track job at MLA while finishing the last pages of my dissertation. My masters program prepared me and trained me for the current reality. The teaching in two year colleges internship and certificate program at DePaul University in Chicago gave me the practical knowledge, mentorship, and experience needed to enter the workforce with an M.A., and that is exactly what I did. Within two weeks of graduation I was offered classes as an adjunct instructor at seven different colleges in Pennsylvania. As perhaps some of you are aware, most colleges only allow adjuncts to teach two or three sections a semester, so I taught the maximum possible: three schools, two classes at each school, and over 120 students. Most people call this insanity. However, despite the hardships I faced as a freeway flyer, it was the best experience of my life.

To be clear, I am not supporting the abuse and exploitation of adjuncts, because it is the students who suffer from the working conditions of the contingent work force in higher education. However, for a twenty-something without a family to support, teaching a plethora of classes at multiple institutions was a rewarding and informative process that led to immense personal and professional development. The learning curve was steep. First, there was the culture shock of moving from Chicago to a middle-of-nowhere coal mining town that inspired a satirical representation as the setting of a factious paper supply company office. My quick commute on the Chicago El train was replaced with a forty-minute commute through the mountains navigating the constantly under construction highways to make class times that were barely an hour apart. This only intensified the fact that I was lost in a world of prepping and teaching three different courses.

A lot of ink has been spilt on why teaching your own course for the first time is terrifying. In m first semester as an adjunct I was faced with constructing three composition courses, a remedial writing course, and an Early American Literature course on three different campuses with three different sets of departmental requirements and guidelines. It was impossible to hide my performance anxiety. Dr. Laurie McMillian, the interim chair at the university where I was teaching a variety of courses, gave me some sensible advice: “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” She was right. Even though I had not taken an Early American Literature class since undergrad, and had never taught from a grammar-based workbook, I did have training in the classroom. I was not only armed with the wisdom garnered from the articles on pedagogy by Bartholomae, Murray, Lunsford, and Elbow that I devoured in my coursework at DePaul, but I also discovered brilliant blogs such as Prof.Hacker, which offer practical approaches to teaching in today’s technologically advanced classrooms. To my dismay, many tenets of the teaching philosophy I composed were replaced by realistic approaches to the limits of my students. I quickly realized that my idealistic notion of assigning dozens of novels was absurd. Not only did I need to teach from an anthology, I also needed to search for the cheapest one available. The chairs who hired me were more than willing to provide me with sample syllabi and desk copies of potential textbooks, which I enthusiastically spent the summer annotating and analyzing until I had composed my course outlines. So even though my color-coded filing system complete with traveling filing cabinet failed, I learned two key tools for success: first, most department heads want their faculty to succeed and many schools have resources for new teachers, and, second, technology can help you conquer the classroom.

As a born digital Jerome McGann groupie, my proclivity for technology informs the central doctrine of my political approach to teaching. I strongly believe we should be teaching students technological skills across the disciplines. But as many of you are aware, finding support for digital endeavors is unbelievably frustrating, if not infuriating. I needed to build six courses on three separate LMS formats, and due to the bureaucracy of human resources, I had very little time to orient myself with the systems. My inquires about faculty workshops were met by a middle-aged woman in a kitten sweatshirt and Crocs who printed out the 400 page Moodle manual and handed it to me – single sided. Clearly, I was on my own. The sink-or-swim style of survival actually benefitted me greatly. I was forced to teach myself how to build an online course and navigate various models of smart classrooms, and those skills have saved me every semester. The freedom of paperless grading is essential to my success as a freeway flyer. My wrath for the Windows operating systems aside, Track Changes can be a powerful teaching tool and an advantageous agent for managing hundreds of students’ papers.  After coming to terms with the snide responses from anti-tech colleagues, I found a community of like-minded professionals online who nurtured my desire to present students with the digital tools that are redefining the education system.

Aside from navigating virtual worlds, adapting to the office culture of three different schools was a daily challenge. At times, this was a scary and hostile world.  These encounters often made me question my desire to pursue my doctoral degree. Luckily, the faculty members who were kind, enthusiastic, and welcoming far overshadowed these ill-spirited apparitions. Three of my colleagues invited me to join a panel at CEA last spring, giving me the opportunity to present at a conference with funding from our university. One of those professors, a CUNY alumnus, encouraged me to apply to this program and advised me through the application process. Despite a significant age gap, I fostered great friendships with my fellow faculty, and these are important professional relationships that will be fruitful throughout my career. I learned to constantly contact the chairs of each department, keeping them abreast not only of my triumphs, but also my concerns in the classroom, and the result was a steady supply of courses each semester. Even when an unprecedented drop in spring enrollment devastated the region, my chairs fought to give me at least one course. I was not only a teacher to my students, but also a student to my fellow teachers. On the same note, my administrative assistants were possibly the most vital resource during my time as an adjunct. There is no possible way to manage copy quotas, departmental meetings, registrar deadlines, campus calendars and grading procedures without them. If there is one valuable piece of advice I can share, it is to respect your office managers. They can and will rescue you when all else fails.

I have to admit, there were times when I thought I was going to fail. Upon reading the writing samples of my composition students in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I thought that there was nothing I could teach them. Unlike the overtly diverse, street smart, low-income population of the urban community college in Chicago where I had interned, the students in these rural suburbs seemed privileged, homogenous, and apathetic. Their diagnostic essays were polished and organized, with clear thesis statements, and well constructed support. However, one truism echoed across the pages: the students professed their abhorrence of writing. Since the majority of the students came from the surrounding towns, they had all been educated in Pennsylvania public schools wrought with corruption (Google NEPA teacher kickbacks). They complained of inadequate teachers who only provided exercises designed to help them obtain high scores on the PSSA tests. Each of their essays was a formulaic replica of the last without any personality or creativity expressed within the well constructed lines. I did not need to teach them basic writing skills, they needed to find their voices. We worked on using critical thinking skills to develop opinions on controversial current events. We debated, defined terms, and read newspaper articles. They challenged me to change my approach to composition. I adjusted not only the course objectives, but the assignments every semester to meet the needs of that particular student population.

The hundreds of students who sat in front of me each day taught me more than any textbook ever could. Unfortunately, it is from the extreme cases, the “bad” students, that I have learned the most. In my first semester of teaching I had a remedial writing class. I was privy to the scores they received on a very basic grammar test, and all of the students had missed more than 50% of the questions. When the first full length paper from one freshman football recruit came back practically perfect, I knew I was in for a fight. As he slouched back in my office chair, headphones blaring, no books or pens in tow, he mumbled something about his coach “helping” him write his paper. With his arms folded and sunglasses on, his coach declared to me, without guilt or regret, that his facilitation was acceptable because it was the student’s ideas, but he had put them on paper. I was outraged. My chair informed me that this was not unusual, and that the most I could do was fail him on that assignment. The administration did not remove him from the class, nor did they suspend him from play. This Division III school made athletics a higher priority than academic integrity. The next semester a student forged an e-mail from me and delivered it to academic services as proof that I was changing her grade from a D to a B. When the director called me with the student and her mother in her office demanding the grade change, I laughed. My outrage was replaced by confidence in my documentation of this student’s work through my online course site. Although I defended my position, this girl paid tuition, therefore she remains a student in that university despite this astonishing act of academic dishonestly. These are the realities of academia today.

The most radical realization about how the private university system works came from a student in my most recent summer composition course. Her diagnostic was at the lowest level I had ever seen in a college classroom. From what I could abstract from her remarkably poor writing was that she was a foreign student who had transferred from a large public school to take this class for the third time. Her ESL issues seemed beyond my ability to address, especially considering the high level of writing I received from the other students in the class, even those from her country of origin. I contacted my chair and international student services to assist me in providing supplemental support for her. Since this was a summer class on a compressed schedule, by the time a representative from the school had assessed her situation, the student had handed in an obviously plagiarized paper. The chair of my department said he had never seen such blatant plagiarism, and that he would fully support my decision to fail her. However, the representative wanted to speak with the student to ensure it was intentional plagiarism and not simply a misunderstanding due to cultural differences. During that conversation the student confessed that she had not taken the TOEFL exam and did not believe herself to be capable of composing a paper without outside help. Even after this stunning admission, the representative warned me that the student would not be removed from my course because the university did not want to damage its relationship with the embassy. When she failed the next assignment, she promised me that she would revise it and declared her dedication to my class, while at the same time threatening academic services that she would tell her embassy that the university treated foreign students unfairly.  Further investigation revealed that the student had falsified not only her test scores, but also her address and sponsorship information. Now it was my integrity that was being questioned, and I was forced to use every resource at my disposal to ensure that neither my standing nor the standards of my classroom would be jeopardized any further. While in the previous cases I conceded to the pressure from the administration, this time, I held my ground.

I know tenure track jobs are scarce. I have read the dozens of articles and hundreds of comments that demoralize those going into graduate studies in the humanities. To the naysayers I ask, “Who will be teaching your children some day?” I do not believe, as the cynical ABD once proclaimed, “That a monkey can teach composition.” If you are disgusted by the injustices I have described, then consider that we need highly educated, well trained professors in our universities. It is not for some lofty love of literature that I dream will manifest itself into a million dollar book deal that I am in graduate school. Despite earning under the poverty line, without benefits, as an adjunct, I refuse to retreat back to the world of public relations where I could have a high paying “real job.” I am dedicated to enacting the change necessary to ensure your children will LEARN. The students in my classroom will not be given grades in exchange for performance on the field or tuition checks paid in full. I am here at CUNY pursuing my path to a PhD because of my time as an adjunct. To my fellow students, I ask “Why are you here?” The day will come when the lack of funding demands that you adjunct, and upon graduation it is statistically proven that you will spend time outside the tenure system, so take this time and explore the world of teaching. That is why I am here. I want to teach. Do you?