Back, after a bit of a break!

Hello everyone! Our posts slowed down leading up to our presentation at CCCC (the Conference on College Composition and Communication), which not only landed in the same week as our spring break, but also right after midterm exams and between MA thesis and comprehensive exam due-dates. Needless to say, things have been busy on our campus, and especially for our blogging team.

CCCC in Pittsburg was great! We had a really good turn-out for our 8:00 a.m. Friday session—seriously, a big thank-you to everyone who showed up! We heard a lot of positive feedback and got to field a lot of questions. It was fun to talk about our work in a public setting, and gratifying to show off some of our students’ work, both from this semester and semesters past. I’ve been really proud of the work my ENG345: Cinema Anime class has been putting into their course blog this semester—the blog is public, so feel free to check it out! Every student in the class of 19 is an author, and they each have their own column. As I shared at our CCCC panel, at midterm the blog had 90 posts (all written by students) and over 400 comments! As of today (just three weeks later), we’re up to 135 posts and 561 comments—I’ll have to share that new stat with the class when we meet on Monday. For all of us—Maggie, Frank, and me—helping students develop a stronger sense of audience awareness and giving them chances to put their writing out there, to see the power of their own words, is really important. While in most of our classes that we use blogs in, students only share their work with their peers (but with the option to open up their projects to the public at the end of the semester), my anime class has really thrived with having the site open to the public from the start.

In other news, our proposal to present at the 2019 Pedagogicon: Transparency in Teaching and Learning conference has been accepted, and so has a panel put together by several of our students! The three of us will present about our use of grade contracts, an approach to grading we find is really helpful for supporting students in class like ours that ask them to take a lot of risks with their writing and to try out new genres and modes. The contract approach—as well as our use of ePortfolios—has started attracting interest at our university, so we’re excited to share our experiences and to help others get started with planning and implementing their own contracts. As we shared at CCCC, we know that neither grade contracts nor ePortfolios are anything new—they’ve both been in use for a while, and grade contracts especially have waxed and waned in popularity. Rather, what sets our work apart is how we’re using the two approaches together, and the results that leads to. On a related note, I was happy to see a recent article on grade contracts in College Composition and Communication: “In the Absence of Grades: Dissonance and Desire in Course-Contract Classrooms,” by Joyce Olewski Inman and Rebecca A. Powell. Not only is the article really smart and informative, it also re-affirms that contract grading in writing classes is not just a thing of the past. (I’m planning to write more about Inman and Powell’s article later as part of our site’s bibliography, but I’m behind on that).

Our students also got in on the act and submitted their own proposal to Pedagogicon. Theirs will be a roundtable discussion of what it was like, from a student perspective, being in a class that uses a grade contract. They’ve got some great talking points planned out already, including their thoughts about how the contract impacted both what and the how they wrote. As several commented during the conference proposal drafting session, for many the contract both helped them to worry less about their grade and to care more about their writing. Of course, these are all volunteers who joined the panel group because they’re enthusiastic about the contract model, so they were focusing a lot on the positives. However, their perceptions and enthusiasm affirm for us that this approach works and is doing something meaningfully different from what most of these students’ classes are doing—enough so that these students have taken extra time to get together and commit to this presentation. I’m really looking forward to hearing them present, and I’m already really proud of them!

To make sure that we are getting a balanced representation of student perceptions about grade contracts, Maggie, Frank, and I will be including results from an attitudinal survey in our panel. We’re opening the survey to all of our students who have been in contract sections, so three semesters of courses. We’re just waiting on IRB approval, and once we receive it we’ll launch the survey (we’re using Google Forms as our platform, if you’re interested—our university uses G Suite for Education). As the data come in, we’ll share some here on the site, so you can get a bit of a preview before our full presentation! We’ll continue to survey our students in future semesters, so our body of data will continue to grow.

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