Since my last blog post I’ve found an app with which I can manage my class completely. I take attendance, record grades, assign groups using a random student generator, and make notes about class period goals all in one easy to navigate app called AndroClass. It’s available in a tablet app for $9.99 and a tablet compatible phone app for $5.
The catch? The set up takes some time, patience, and willingness to play around with the interface. I was up to the challenge one afternoon and set the whole thing up in just a few hours. As long as you follow the well-explained format, you can import an entire class from a .csv file. You can include the students’ ID numbers, birthdays, special needs, etc. all at once. This is a major plus. Manually entering each student would be exhausting, but I simply downloaded a .csv file from my university’s course management website, made some adjustments to fit the program’s requirements, and voila! I had my class ready to go.
I spent the beginning of a class period playing photo booth so I could have each of my students’ photos attached to their names in AndroClass. Now I can quiz myself on my students’ names and take attendance without yelling names and interrupting their work time. This is the quickest that I’ve learned a class’s names. Now when students come in for conferences early in the semester I will be able to pull up an overview of their progress with out asking “And what’s your name again?”
The very best thing about this app is its developer. German developer Andreas Schilling and I have exchanged quite a few emails with my ill-informed questions. He responds very quickly with thorough and helpful answers. For a developer who has to answer questions in multiple languages from frantic instructors worldwide, I am very impressed. This is top-rate customer service.
As part of my technologies series I would like to discuss the apps I use on my Android tablet to make my life as a teacher easier and more enjoyable. I won’t mention apps for iPad users because I have no experience with Apple products. Plenty of more useful and extensive guides exist for iPad users. I will make a note of the applications that are cross-platform (available for iOS and Android devices) by marking them with an asterisk (*). What I look for in a good application:
Cost (preferably free)
Compatibility (with Word and other common programs)
As a graduate student, I don’ t have the luxury of buying extra programs on a whim, especially if I might find that they don’t serve my purposes. The multitude of free, high-quality apps to choose from in the Google Play store makes owning an Android tablet a dream for me. I will say that I usually download 3-6 apps that all do essentially the same thing, try them each out, and then uninstall the ones that were not up to par.
This application has been a game changer for me. My students submit all of their papers electronically into the cloud. From there I download their file onto my computer at home and then provide feedback through margin comments. Until recently, I was unable to do this on my tablet because it doesn’t support Microsoft Word. I tried Splashtop Streamer 2 as a remote desktop to solve this issue (see below) but this is an even easier to use and smoother option.
Splashtop Streamer is a remote desktop app. It allows me to access my home computer from my tablet on any wireless connection! This features costs around $10/year but if you primarily use your tablet and computer in the same place/same wireless connection you can use the free version.
I’ve spent the last few days focusing on online resources for teaching ENGL 101. My course this semester uses Colorado State’s Writing Studio for their course management site and although I like many of the features of this website (including their fantastic guides) I feel like I could be doing more with technology to make my class accessible, engaging, and multimodal. Some of my colleagues use WordPress as their course website and because I have years of experience with WordPress, I figured I might give it a try.
Available in the widgets menu, this tool allows you to display a countdown to an important date or deadline (mine is the due date of their first assignment) in the side column of your blog. This can offer a little visual reminder of how much time they have to work on their papers before the due date without me verbally nagging them every day.
I explored Box because it too has been added as a standard WordPress widget. Because I know that WordPress is selective in which widgets they add, I decided to check this service out. Much to my delight, I found that Box offers many of the features we’re used to with Dropbox, but with 5 GB of free storage and tons of apps to make the service more usable. These apps include not only the standard Windows/Mac/Android/iOS applications, but also multiple apps to allow you to annotate PDFs, apps that allow you to print directly from Box, and above all, InstallFree Nexus. This app works in the Box platform and allows any user with a web browser to utilize the full capabilities of Microsoft Word . . . for free! This is a game changer for teachers who often run into the issue of students not owning a copy of Word and therefore finding it hard to get to a computer lab to write. Now they can read our comments and even compose directly from this web-based app! Above all, WordPress had the insight to add it as a widget where students can directly access files or click on the Box link to upload their assignments to a class folder.
Scribd is a fantastic service that allows you upload files and then integrate them into your website or blog. If you click on my CV link, you will find that Scribd is hosting my CV and allowing this aesthetically pleasing alternative to download links right on WordPress. After you upload a file, you simply choose how you want to embed it, in this case you select “WordPress” and they provide you with a WordPress-ready code. Voila!
I’ve long been a fan of Google Calendar (and all Google services) but only recently tried implementing it into a blog. This is another simple process in which you locate the embed link on your Google Calendar page, copy and paste it into the page you choose, and WordPress does the rest for you. I plan to keep a Google Calendar updated with all of the assignment deadlines for my upcoming ENGL 101 course.
These are just the few that excited me. If you have others, please share in the comments section!
Update: This post has been published in Truman State University’s Master’s level publication, The Wide Net!
Let me preface this review by saying that I am not anti-transparency. I do not think that the academy should keep secrets, that there should be inside information that the public cannot attain. My primary issue with this text is a small one: the misleading subtitle. Let me know if you think I am reading too much into this, or if you disagree and think that Comp Tales is a good way to introduce an “outsider” to the world of composition.
In an effort to collect some of the predominant lore of the composition academy, Richard H. Haswell and Min-Zhan Lu sent out a call for tales. They asked for diverse stories dealing with any element of the field, told to anyone involved (or not) about any and all things comp-related. In their call which was sent out to instructors and institutions in the field, they asked for “the whole range of professional tales. But they must be tales that you actually tell and pass on” (227). What was received and published was a wide-range of tales both praising and admonishing the academy, some standing up for composition and some putting it down. These tales feel authentic and heartfelt, offering some insight into the range of experiences in composition instruction. What was not included, however, was the voice of the student, the administrator, professors outside of the field, or the public. This collection is told from a singular perspective and intended for the same audience that created it: composition instructors.
This simple fact is not meant to demean the collection or its merit. It is certainly an entertaining and interesting resource for members of the field. Perhaps what I find most problematic is its misleading title, or more specifically its subtitle. No one can argue with Comp Tales, because the book contains just that. I do object, however, to the implication that this book can provide a sufficient or productive introduction to the field. If I had picked this book up in an effort to familiarize myself with the study of composition, I would be horrified. I would want nothing to do with the field as a student, administrator, or instructor. It reveals the overwhelming biases, conflicts, and injustices that dominate the field. It showcases some of the worst cases of instructor laziness and negligence (see tales 14, and 42 for prime examples) and highlights the petty disagreements and institutional misgivings that go on behind the scenes (tales 81, 91, 93, and most of the Professionalism chapter contain evidence of this.) This is information that members of the field are privy to. Few composition instructors will be surprised to hear that a department formed a boys’ club (tale 93). Fewer will read tale 92 in which a GTA treats his students with condescension and cruelty and not relate it to their own similar experience. This is what makes Comp Tales enjoyable and validating for us. But it is not the face of composition that we want to show the public.
As a newcomer to the field I have been flooded with tales of all kinds. The horror stories are always more engaging and build the teller’s ethos as a tough and capable member of the department. One must successfully deal with plagiarism, ignorance, and outright insolence before being awarded with the worthy instructor badge, and most graduate students are eager to tell you about how they’ve conquered all three. This compilation of tales includes plenty of stories along these lines, but also some disturbingly self-important tales which reveal the privileged position of the academy.
The section entitled “The Public” was particularly disturbing at times, when considering that an actual member of this “public” might pick up Comp Tales. In tale 85, for example, the conference bus driver, an often criticized member of the public who comes into contact with members of the academy is the star of this comical tale because he asks the storyteller if he uses “The Palmer Method” (a common method for teaching proper handwriting) in his classroom. Readers will guffaw at this silly man for not understanding how very important composition is and how irrelevant handwriting is to today’s classroom. This tale redeems itself in its explanation, the author stating “I sometimes tell this story to colleagues to illustrate how we need to do a better job of explaining our work to the general public” (104). Tale 83 features the patented position of superiority some teachers of composition take in order to combat the ignorance the public has about their careers. The teller of the tale responds to those outsiders who assume that composition instructors have an excess of free time and a simple, easy life by asking “How easy do you think it is to teach someone else how to think, and express their thoughts in a cohesive manner on a page?” (103). This sort of response, implying that we teach our students how to think, will not sit well with the public, especially those members of our public who see academia as a liberal propaganda machine. Tales like these reinforce the negative ideas that others hold about our profession.
What all of this really comes down to is an awareness of perceived and actual audience. Even a haphazard reading of Comp Tales will lead the reader to think that this book was intended exclusively for the academic elite*. It is a private discourse, one that might better be shared as a set of pamphlets, on a blog, or in its original form, as oral stories. Of course, this book is not a top-seller. It is not prominently sold at bookstores, nor is it something that might catch the eye of a passerby. It does, however, feature a misleading title that might intrigue someone with curiosities about the field. This discrepancy should have been at the forefront of these editors minds who clearly have quite a stake in valuing and upholding the legitimacy of their oft-chastised field of composition.
*If you can call composition the elite of the academy. Many in its ranks would argue it is far from it.