Looking back at the academic term, I feel positive about the last four months. Sure, I have had a mountain of marking to do and lots of meetings to attend. But, overall this term was an amazing one. I had the chance to meet new students and colleagues, but what was really great about this term was my use of our Online Academic Community (OAC) at the University.
I had used the OAC this Summer term, but this fall term was the first regular term in which I used the OAC. Essentially, this is our internal WordPress site. What makes it better than the regular WordPress site is that the cloud is on our campus. We only use themes, widgets, and plugins that comply with the provincial privacy regulations that keep my students' data and all information in Canada. While I encourage my students to occasionally Google themselves and mind their digital footprint, it is important in the learning environment that any education technology tools I ask them to use as part of their evaluation maintains the integrity of their information. The other advantage of the OAC is that WordPress is my preferred blogging platform and I am quite comfortable with it. Plus, how can I say no to technical support from colleagues on campus? They are a tweet, email or phone call away from helping resolve a student query or the occasional odd troubleshooting.
What are we doing with the OAC? My students are blogging, vlogging, and uploading Wikipedia entries into the OAC. We are also using the OAC environment as portfolios for all of their work. Their blogs are academic research assignments that require the same care of an assignment that is submitted as a hard copy. Some of the students opt to make a particular post or vlog private, and this is acceptable. Given that the nature of my courses focus on issues of gender, politics, and sexuality, it is not uncommon that the students are blogging or vlogging about sensitive issues. The last major assignment is a research paper related to the course materials, and this also is uploaded into the OAC.
During this time, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing their writing and analysis improve on their sites. Many of the students have been in my office working on their sites and discussing their work. In the beginning there were growing pains for some of the students as they figured out the technology and I helped them figure out the themes, widgets or overall set up of their blog site, but...
The students are getting their fair share of writing opportunities, but they are thinking critically and learning transferable skills at the same time. The transferable skill really is the ability to use the OAC, publish on Wikipedia, and use Vimeo or YouTube for their vlogs. In previous terms, when we have used the regular WordPress site or other blogging platforms, I usually hear from a few students that using the technology was lots of work, but others note that the skills they learned were useful with their current job or their search for work.
I am hopeful that the OAC site and technical support continues to make these assignments dynamic for my students. I am optimizing technology in the classroom in a way that works for most of them. While I have offered blogging assignments during the last six or seven years, I am more cognizant of protecting my students' privacy and more familiar with effective social media platform use in the classroom.
Janni Aragon, Ph.D. is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. She is an ex-pat from Southern California, who enjoys teaching courses related to Gender and Politics, American Politics, Feminist Theory, and Popular Culture. You can find her on Twitter @janniaragon or http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/.