Graphic Arts and Bookbinding (Mellon Project Report)

Reflections. Art and Inspiration. Edited by Justin Banks and Shannon Fox-Teichmann

In January 2016 I collaboratively taught an on-campus JanTerm class with Justin Banks, the college archivist. We split the course into two sections, “Graphic Arts” and “Bookbinding.” I taught the graphic arts section and assigned writings to create content for a book that would be the resulting class project. Justin Banks taught bookbinding and the history of books, printing, and the publishing process, including best practices in publication layout. The digital component of this course was composed of creating art through art simulation software and graphic arts/pen tablets while collaborating and communicating with the students via Moodle course modules.

During the course the students created unique digital artworks, each of which had value as a composition inviting reflection from the observer. Each student’s writings and artworks were assembled into a Blurb-published book, the result of which was beautiful. Most of the students began this class with little or no artistic experience and considered themselves to be untalented or (at best) amateurish as artists. In this course they learned that anyone can create beautiful or interesting artwork in the simple-to-learn ArtRage software. The students effectively learned how to use major art tools in a digital environment simulating natural media, specifically, how to draw and paint in different media by using a Wacom model graphic arts pen tablets.

 

“Night Flowers,” by ZsuZsa Ratliff-Johnson

By the end of the course, most of the students indicated that they would continue to use ArtRage creatively because it was a fun and fulfilling experience. In the bookbinding section, students not only learned three styles of bookbinding, but also best practices in publication layout in a digital environment, as well as the publishing process. They also learned how to marble paper; during these activities, they were taught through lecture about the history of the book.

“The Mountain Scene,” by Anna Centala

The class was mostly successful and very enjoyable to teach. From this experience I came away with the desire to teach this or a similar course again. When I saw the opportunity to apply for the last cycle of Melon Digital Pedagogy grants at Austin College, I decided to apply so that the JanTerm course could evolve to a  greater focus on digital art and graphics tools. Justin Banks and I will collaborate again, although the course format will be changed. The art of the physical book will be significantly scaled back to one short, simple one-hour project or a brief lecture overview. The time spent in class with the students will also be shortened. Our days were long, especially for the students, during JanTerm 2016. Justin spent several hours with them in lab in the morning, and I spent several hours with them in the afternoon. This time spent in class may be set at one hour each, perhaps a little more depending on labs with hands-on work.

 

“The Swing,” by Abbi Rees

In the JanTerm 2016 course, I attempted the flipped classroom style of instruction, in which students were to work on their assignments individually and then come to class prepared to discuss and collaborate with me and with each other. However, facilitating discussion was difficult and challenging. What I learned from this experience is that I need to study and learn about successful techniques that facilitate student participation and engagement. In course feedback given in the final writing assignment, which was an overall course reflection, some of the students suggested that I give more assignments in art creation. They were assigned one work of art to be featured in their chapter of the book and also were given the option to submit additional artworks that would be featured in an appendix of the book. In their feedback, the students suggested daily assignments per each tool available in ArtRage. They indicated their desire for more hands on demonstration from the instructor, working with them step–by-step. I was pleased that they provided constructive feedback and included great ideas for improving the format of the course in future offerings.

“Lost and Found,” by Chrissy Chroninger

In order to increase the use of digital pedagogical tools, in the next iteration of the course Justin and I will use a publishing software or platform, such as Scalar, to create an eBook rather than a printed book. We will teach the students how to put the book together, with a chapter for each student. Writing assignments will be given via blogging. We may incorporate other digital tools as appropriate. Subsequently, the students will develop communication skills through writing in the modern digital age; thus, a variety of supplementary digital tools will enhance digital literacy growth for the students taking this course.

 

Physics and Fun for Janterm

For the 2017 Janterm session, I advertised a class on Arduino microcontrollers by asking Austin College students: “Are you a tinkerer? Do you like building things? Would you rather use your hands than sit still through a lecture?” I promised them that they would build fun projects using Arduino microcontrollers.

Twenty students answered the call and set out to learn and have fun. The students had a variety of backgrounds: computer science majors with programming experience, physics majors familiar with electrical circuits, and students with a general interest in Arduinos. They worked in teams that benefited from their various skills.

An Arduino consists of a programmable circuit board (called a microcontroller) and software that runs on an external computer and is used to control the microcontroller. The circuit board can interact with other electronic circuits and make LEDs light up, motors turn, piezo motors buzz, LCDs display text, and so on. The software is free, and the microcontrollers are inexpensive, such that many projects cost less than $100.

The January term students built eight cool projects involving Arduinos and demonstrated them to visitors outside the Austin College cafeteria in late January.  Hopefully their projects will inspire you to try your own!

Project 1: MIDI controller (Joseph Essin, Tanner Duncan, Avery Parsons and Logan Sullivan)

The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller generates musical sounds that mimic a variety of instruments. The casing was built with an Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer. This project needed a lot of work and expertise; luckily this group of students were the right ones for this rather involved project; they got it to work and demonstrated its features by controlling the lights on their classmates’ project, “Sound Detecting LEDs.

Project 2: Sound Detecting LEDs (Aaron Thomas and Karla Villanueva)

Aaron must be the best brother ever!  For his project he wanted to build a set of LED lights that his sister can use in her room.  Aaron and Karla built a sound-reactive LED animation. They used a sound impact sensor (similar in function to a microphone) which listens to ambient sounds and detects sound pressure and changes the animation of the 5-m long LED color strip.

Project 3: Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard (Giovani Acosta, Aaron Archer, Riley Kippers, Daniel Park)

Building a wireless keyboard seems the perfect idea for a group of gamers, so they’ve set up to do just so.  A variety of keyboards were brought in and dissected, and the perfect solution is yet to be found (it turns out that one can either buy expensive keyboards that are wireless, or make one’s own, which requires some expensive software is needed).

Project 4: RC Land Rover (Christian Thomas and Miguel Rojas)

These students wanted to learn and play, so their project involved building a remotely controlled rover. The rover can be controlled easily with a smart phone via an app and we had some fun in the lab watching it go! Each wheel is controlled separately by its own motor (which we learned the hard way that can burn out when over-used!)

Project 5: Magnetic Levitation (Richard Reyes, Pedro Marquez, and Jocelyn Baiza)

Bringing together physics and computer science majors will spark an idea for a computer-controlled levitating system! This group used an electromagnet and a magnetic field sensor to detect and control the position of a magnet in mid-air.  A sophisticated code generated a magnetic force strong enough to balance gravity!

Project 6: Infrared Touch Surface (Kyle Andrle)

This aspiring physicist decided to build an Infrared (IR) touch surface. Rows of transmitting IR LEDs generate infrared light and rows of IR receivers detect the light. An object located between the rows will block some of the light, and an algorithm can pinpoint the location of the object. Kyle worked tirelessly on this project, even when it seemed impossible to keep track of all the wires involved!

Project 7: The Magic Lock Box (Johnny Duong)

Johnny had initially a different project in mind, but after some unfortunate events that led to the early death of several piezo-motors, he settled on a lock box. The box, which contained candy on demo day, will only open when the right knock is used.  Maybe it will be used on Halloween for dispensing candy, or Johnny will use this to control the lock to his dorm room to only let in his most trusted friends.

Project 8: The Cat Laser Toy (Dakota Stephens, Jonathan Estrada, and Jessica Zapata)

These students took a laser, mounted it to a stand controlled by two motors, and uploaded code that controls both the vertical and the horizontal motion of the laser. As a result, the laser moves in a plane and its light will change direction in a seemingly random way, amusing your cat for hours on end. The students have not yet patented their invention, but maybe they can be convinced to build a few more toys on demand!

Digital French: Language and Literature Beyond the Classroom (Mellon Project Report)

Our course objectives this academic year were to give our language and literature classes a digital platform for efficient language learning, practice, production, and collaboration. Bringing technology to our classrooms involved several key components, most importantly the selection of textbooks with online workbooks and the implementation of annotation software as a part of class discussion of authentic materials in the target language.

French 102 – Voyages – “A French 102 student answers questions about vacations and trips they have taken, with instructor feedback.”

A digital, online workbook has to be a second classroom, a space for the individual student to learn at their own pace and to make language work a daily habit. Students complete exercises that develop their oral and written communication, ranging from watching videos and answering related questions to writing in response to short prompts. Open-ended exercises reviewed by the instructor are crucial for moving beyond a pedagogical model based on tests and filling in the blanks and towards a model where students can converse and communicate more naturally and confidently. Furthermore, some exercises are reviewed automatically and thus students receive immediate feedback on their progress without waiting for the instructor to return workbook pages.

We have selected a new textbook, Espaces that Stacey Battis will be piloting in Fall 2017; the new textbook and its online workbook have an even greater variety of ways for students to produce in the target language, including explicit pronunciation practice and communication activities where they record themselves having a conversation with a classmate. This process provides students with a complete language acquisition experience both in and out of the classroom that students find meaningful and communicative, not just busy work meant to force them to memorize.

French 235 – Lanval – “French 235 students annotate ‘Lanval,’ a short story by 12th-century author Marie de France.”

While we are lucky enough in foreign languages to have access to online textbook activities, we also supplement with other technology. This goes especially for the courses beyond the language sequence, where we use two different web-based document annotation technologies for students and the professors to collaborate on digitized French texts (Annotation Studio and Annotate as well as the use of Google Docs for exchanging materials). As students read, they provide definitions and ask questions to help each other interact with the text – again, we are aiming for the creation of a digital classroom that accompanies the physical space in which we meet with our students. These types of interactions in some instances have allowed us to move away from a professor-student model where only the professor sees individual student work and progress, thus replacing the traditional use of single-authored reading responses. In this regard, collaboration platforms offer improvements: not only are individual students’ reactions visible, but we can also see how the group responds to each other’s insights.

French 354 – Balzac 1 – “French 354 students discuss Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel Le Père Goriot. You can see the students’ annotations in the background, on the right-hand side.”

One of the more revelatory aspects of this kind of collaboration is the difference between how we ourselves learned to be students of a foreign language and its literature and the collaborative possibilities, and even needs, of our students’ generation. We were trained in a world of pen, paper, and heavy dictionaries, where if we didn’t understand the text it was our own individual failing. However, when the burden of understanding and of deciphering the text is on everyone, and students and instructor alike help each other move beyond comprehending the foreign words on the page, they can together move towards the more difficult work of understanding what the text is trying to do and what interest and value it holds.

The process works especially well for short passages selected by the instructor or by a student chosen to lead discussion. Part of everyone’s preparation includes reading the passage attentively and figuring out what it is doing and why it is important. In the classroom, discussion can then become more productive and more like the kind of work we want students at that level to be able to do. In real time, as we read through a passage together, students can consult annotations, define more words, leave and compare notes, and use all that information to contribute to lively discussion.

The collaborative nature of our project is therefore the most salient and the most applicable to the campus community at large. It is not limited to the foreign language classroom or even the literature classroom, for there are plenty of academic articles and books whose style and content may be dense and difficult for students to grasp. If students are asked to annotate texts by leaving definitions, asking follow-up questions, providing brief summaries, or pointing out particularly important quotes or ideas, they may find academic writing and research more approachable and engaging.

Implementing Electronic Lab Notebooks (Mellon Project Report)

Fall 2016 was the first time that students utilized an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) in the laboratory component of CHEM 211, Inorganic Chemistry, CHEM. Each student received complimentary access to LabArchives, a commercially available ELN software, through which they recorded all of their data and generated their final laboratory report. This software is accessible from any browser and also has a free app. All ten students in the course had an i-Pad mini they used while in the laboratory through which they added data.

The initial use of the ELN was often challenging for the students. The LabArchives platform was more cumbersome than I anticipated and the technical barriers to utilizing the website, generating new labs, and adding data was often frustrating for some of the students. Some students expressed frustration outwardly but used the assigned software. Others used work-around techniques such as forming a Google Doc with their lab partners and then adding the finished document all at once to the LabArchives platform. At the beginning of the semester I emphasized the need for flexibility and patience as we all collectively implemented this technology, so students’ expectations were usually reasonable.

The objectives for using these ELNs are: (1) facilitate more organized and thorough lab notebooks; (2) encourage more input from all team members; (3) facilitate peer and faculty feedback throughout the semester; and, when coupled with PHY 351, (4) improve interdisciplinary communication.

The organization of the lab notebooks were certainly in flux as students figured out how to use the software. Over the course of the semester, the students’ comfort level improved such that, by the end, they had the process mastered. The organization was, to some degree, dictated by the templates that I provided for the students to use. In this manner, students soon learned expectations and proper layout for recording data through an ELN. The immediate impact of the iPads in lab was the addition of pictures to the notebooks. Students took pictures and video throughout the lab to show the setup, illustrate color and color changes, and describe products.  In this regard, the connectivity of devises made the laboratory experience more similar to their everyday lives. This connectivity and familiarity with digital intersection with experience did make it quite easy for lab partners (i.e. team members) to input data (i.e. observations). In fact, the use of lab partners became almost a necessity as one student would perform the reaction or procedure while the other would capture it on the iPad.

As the students documented their experiences in lab, there was an increase in the expression of enjoyment and appreciation for the experiments. This appreciation was also longer-lasting, as students would remark months later how they enjoyed a particular reaction, procedure, or color change. Students’ attitudes toward the laboratory experience were certainly more positive because of the use of the technology. As far as feedback, the LabArchives platform limited the degree of student input and feedback in generating formal reports for their laboratory. Indeed, my grading of the final products from lab experiments (i.e. the students’ lab reports) was equivalent to past experiences in grading digital documents. Certainly more exploration in terms of how students and I can offer feedback as data are being generated, considered, and formulated into a final conclusion is needed. Because CHEM 211 has not be course-paired with PHY 351, the last goal of interdisciplinary communication has yet to be developed/realized.

The challenges of teaching using new and often emerging technologies requires patience. For students to have consistent buy in, it also requires clear and frequent communication to students of expectations of obstacles and challenges that may come.  Recognizing what life experiences and expectations that students have, especially with how reliable technology is part of their daily practice, helps make a richer experience for them in the laboratory. One of the opportunities of teaching, then, is to identify these aspects of student life which can be incorporated into a classroom or laboratory. I am looking for renewed ways of keeping relevant and engaging without compromising the academic component of the course.

With this being my first semester, my project may not provide as rich a content as those from colleagues with multiple course implementations. One general area from this experience came from seeing the added element of the excitement the students had for using technology. In many ways, this lab experience paralleled the students’ life by making it possible to digitally chronicling events through images. To the student, taking pictures of life as it occurs is normal. Including more such opportunities into other parts of our lectures/experiential learning sessions seems to be a lesson that can be incorporated elsewhere in our curriculum.

 

Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

This week for the digital pedagogy workshop we continue our explorations of digital/information/media/civic/web literacies by working with Mike Caulfield’s curriculum, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.  Mike has now published the curriculum in an attractive Pressbooks format, which invites further additions and revisions via the Hypothes.is online annotation platform (we’ve explored both Pressbooks and Hypothes.is here in previous posts).

Last week we introduced a central component of the curriculum, the Digital Polarization Initiative, a structured set of practices by which students evaluate claims found in online sources. Students use practices and tools native to the web, such as wikis, tags, links, and annotations, to marshal evidence, enable analysis, and reach at least tentative judgments about the claims they find in online news sources. The practices build various forms of literacy (digital, information, media, web, civic) as well as domain knowledge in particular fields. No matter what subject you teach, there are sure to be numerous opportunities to help your students become more proficient in assessing the information they access online.

We’ll gather again this Friday, February 17, at 1:30 in the Johnson Center space (Abell 102). Join us then or here online.

A Student Powered Snopes: Building Digital Literacy with the Digital Polarization Initiative

Fake news, misinformation, hoaxes, alternative facts … there is a growing sense of urgency to equip students with the resources, skills, and critical thinking necessary to establish the credibility of truth claims, the authoritativeness of sources, and the soundness of evidence. On topics ranging from politics to science, health, environmental issues, foreign policy and more, we now live in an information ecosystem that circulates claims with near instant speed and with little context for evaluation. In the face of this, calls for specific forms of literacy are multiplying–whether these be digital literacy, information literacy, media literacy, web literacy, or some combination of all of these. The problem is not new, and for some time we have had rubrics and heuristic guides, such as CRAAP and RADCAB, to provide students with at least a basic framework for the analysis of claims and documents.

But increasingly, we see the need for a more robust set of resources that will help build student competence in the analysis and evaluation of truth claims, especially those found in online environments and social media spaces. One of the more promising projects that has emerged is the Digital Polarization Initiative, developed by Mike Caulfield with the support of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The “DigiPo” initiative goes well beyond a simple checklist, and involves an infrastructure and space for students to fact-check, annotate, and provide context for information that appears on the web and in their social media feeds. The Digipo site, which functions as a wiki, is open to any user but is specifically oriented toward college students and classes. Here is how Mike Caulfield introduces the initiative:


Beginning this week and over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll have workshop gatherings to discuss strategies for addressing these issues in your classes and to work through the process of participating in the Digipo initiative and the other elements of the curriculum for digital/information literacy that Mike and others are building. We’ll begin this Friday at 1:30 in the Johnson Center space (Abell 102). If you can’t make it then, let me know and we’ll work out other arrangements.

For further reading:

Spring Forward: An external review of AC Digital Pedagogy

Hi everyone and welcome to the spring 2017 semester. It is a season of new beginnings within a heightened climate of dissonance and resistance in our cultural and political climate. As we go forward, we want to bring you up to date on our thinking and planning for the semester and beyond.

For starters, Brett and Mo would like to invite conversation on this external review of the “Collaborative Pedagogies for a Digital Age” grant recently conducted by Dr. Rebecca Frost Davis, Director of Instructional and Emerging Technology at St. Edward’s University. The report lays out findings, concerns, and recommendations for the future sustainability and progress of the digital liberal arts, learning, and pedagogy at Austin College. We look forward to multiple opportunities for dialogue, beginning this Friday afternoon when Brett and Mo, along with Randi Tanglen, Charles Curtis, and Barbara Cornelius, will facilitate a discussion of the report with all interested faculty. We’ll gather in the Johnson Center space (Abell 102) from 1:30–2:45.

The Mellon Foundation grant, “Collaborative Pedagogies for a Digital Age,” which launched the Austin College Digital Pedagogy initiative, reaches the end of its formal funding period at the end of this semester. As part of the evaluation and assessment of the initiative, we invited Dr. Frost Davis to conduct an external review of our activities and programs. Rebecca was on campus late last fall to observe classes, meet with faculty, students, and administrators, and gather information. As I indicated, her report will serve as a basis for us to strategically plan for the future of digital learning and pedagogy at Austin College, especially given the decision to discontinue the staff position of the Digital Pedagogy Designer.

Here are a few highlights from Rebecca’s report:

Findings:

  • AC has successfully built capacity for digital pedagogy and has created faculty community around digital teaching practices
  • Digital teaching practices have had multiple positive effects, including projects that focus on students and active learners and producers of knowledge, from first-year students using Scalar to engineering students prototyping designs through 3D printing
  • Many projects focus on digital communication, presentation, and publication, which supports the Austin College strategic plan pillar, “Liberal Arts in a Digital Era”
  • Opportunities for advancing the work of the grant include the curriculum revision, collaboration with the Johnson Center, the e-portfolio pilot, the focus on undergraduate research, the writing across the curriculum initiative, and the emerging use of new practices such as 3D printing

Concerns:

  • Sustainability of the program is a key concern, especially with the loss of the instructional designer position, but more broadly, can this work continue without key faculty, staff, or administrators?
  • There is not a common understanding of digital pedagogy on campus. Some faculty members perceive digital pedagogy as transformative for their practice, while others view technology as a support tool
  •  Sustainability of grant activities depends on finding a path forward rather than just maintenance of current practices.  The capacity for digital teaching built among faculty needs to find its purpose
  • There is a need for intentionally scaffolding student technology skills within the curriculum (building student capacity).  Currently, the student experience of digital learning depends on individual faculty initiative

Recommendations:

  • Focus on digital learning for students. This initiative has focused on faculty; now focus on students through active student learning; students as digital creators rather than digital consumers, students partnering with technology to solve problems.  This approach might tap into the professional preparation culture at Austin College
  • Consider intentionally scaffolding digital learning into the curriculum. The upcoming general education revision (with a very ambitious timeline) offers an opportunity to scaffold student technology skills within the curriculum, which builds student capacity to match faculty capacity.  Integration with general education would ensure that all students benefit rather than just those who take classes from faculty practicing digital pedagogy.  A campus-wide conversation about these ideas may build faculty ownership of digital pedagogy.
  • Develop a common definition for digital pedagogy that is shared across campus based on work done for this initiative as a basis for work going forward.  This definition might be a project for faculty participants. Productive definitions shared by faculty focused on thinking with technology, students as producers of knowledge, networked learning, and crossing the boundaries of the traditional classroom and course
  • Link capacity that has been built to other campus initiatives (e-portfolio, writing, AC Create, etc.); partner rather than compete. Develop an advisory group on digital pedagogy practices with representation across campus. Consider what structures could be created on campus to build on the collective experience and lessons learned of the grant.

There is much more, but perhaps these observations will give you a sense of where we can begin with our discussions. Again, invite you to join us for conversation this Friday, and we welcome your comments and observations here on the blog, at the AC DigPed Facebook page, or however you want to share your ideas.

Roo Products: 3D Design and Printing in Pre-Engineering Physics

During the latter part of the fall semester, students in David Baker’s Introduction to Statics class (part of the pre-engineering curriculum) worked to design products using 3D modeling and printing. Working in teams, the students not only applied their knowledge of physics and design, but also took into account marketing, finance, and other business considerations. This is the first class at Austin College to make use of our recently acquired Ultimaker 2+ printer. Students used AutoCAD 123D and Fusion software for 3D modeling, and Cura for final print preparation. Each team developed multiple iterations of its design, testing and refining the performance of their products and documenting their thinking and practice in a collaborative Google doc.

During finals week, the four teams held a demonstration showcase outside the cafeteria for public engagement with their final products. The visitors and passers-by were duly impressed and got to try out each item. Here’s a gallery so you can see what each team produced. And maybe you’ll get some ideas for the gift-giving season 🙂 Congratulations to all the teams for your excellent work!

RooBoost (Evan Wyatt, Will Winborne, Trini Balkaran)

Have you ever wished you had a convenient, stylish, and inexpensive way to up the volume on your smartphone? The RooBoost might be your answer. Just set your phone in the dock, and the phone’s output is routed through fourteen specially designed acoustic portals to enhance your listening enjoyment without distortion.

 

The Sauce Boss (Sophie Anderson, Dani Dewitt, Carlye Lide)

You’re stirring a special dish on the stove, but you don’t want the spoon to fall into the pot? Enter the Sauce Boss, which fits snugly on the rim of the pot to hold your spoon in place, and doubles as a spout to smoothly pour the contents into another container.

 
KangaBroo (Brennan Ellis, Charles Rambo, Jake Williams)
Are you a coffee nerd? How about some cold brewed joe? Check out the KangaBroo, which will fix you up with several cups of coffee brewed with a special method that actually removes many of the bitter compounds left in by regular brewing methods.
 
Can-dle ( Matthew Gilbert, Cal Schone, Dearl Croft)
Don’t you just hate it when you drinking a cold can of your favorite soft (or not so soft) drink, and holding it with your hand both warms the drink and gets your hand moist from condensation? Then take a look at the Can-dle, which gives you a smooth and sturdy grip without messing with your drink.

Write and Publish Your Book with PressBooks

As we have explored digital writing and publishing in previous posts and workshops, the focus has been on short to medium length texts, such as blogs and Google Docs, with which most academics are familiar. But when it comes to book-length manuscripts, you may not be quite as informed about the options for digital publication. This week, our AC Digital Pedagogy workshop will introduce you to Pressbooks, a platform developed for web-based and e-book publication, and designed in particular to permit open access, an open peer review process, and the collaborative production of open textbooks. Our workshop times will be as usual…4:30 pm on Tuesday, and 1:30 pm on Friday, in Abell 102.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-1-19-21-pm

As a book publishing platform, Pressbooks competes with alternatives such as iBooks and Scalar, but with some notable advantages. It is actually a specialized version of WordPress, so the interface and dashboard layout and functionality will be quite familiar to WordPress users. You can use a free hosted version of the software at PressBooks.com, where you can be up and running in a matter of minutes. While you can create books for free on PressBooks.com, when you output the final PDF or ePub version, there is some PressBooks.com branding and watermarking, though with upgrade options you can remove the watermarks and increase storage capacity.

However, with access to a self-hosted version of WordPress (such as acdigitalpedagogy.org, or acsites.org, or your own WP version), you can roll your own PressBooks installation, because it’s actually just a particular theme in WordPress that is activated via a plugin. Still free in itself, this version of PressBooks also allows you to maintain the book as an HTML document or export it to .epub, .mobi (Kindle), and .pdf versions, as well as various formats designed specifically for printing. Epub is the most flexible and open format for e-books, and displays smoothly on various screens and e-readers. It does not display natively on the Kindle (which uses Amazon’s proprietary .mobi format), but you can either export a .mobi version of the book for reading on a Kindle, or use the free e-book management application Calibre to convert the .epub file to .mobi. Calibre is an outstanding tool for management a collection of e-books and other long-form digital publications, supports all major formats, and gives you a wide range of features. It probably deserves its own post and workshop, but if folks are interested, we can talk about it this week as well.

As noted above, PressBooks incorporates support for a collaborative and open process of writing, editing, commenting upon, and annotating the text. Some instructors are making use of PressBooks as a platform for textbooks, including textbooks that are produced in collaboration with students. For example, Robin de Rosa of Plymouth State University describes how she worked with students to create The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature. In the context of describing her practices of open pedagogy and the creation and use of open educational resources, de Rosa observes that, when it comes to textbooks, students are particularly well-situated to create, and not simply consume:

People often ask me how students can create textbooks when they are only just beginning to learn about the topics that the textbooks cover.  My answer to this is that unlike many other scholarly materials, textbooks are primarily designed to be accessible to students– to new scholars in a particular academic area or sub-specialty.  Students are the perfect people to help create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the material in meaningful ways.  By taking the foundational principles of a field– most of which are not “owned” by any prior textbook publisher– and refiguring them through their own lens, student textbook creators can easily tap their market.  They can access and learn about these principles in multiple ways (conventional or open textbooks, faculty lecture and guidance, reading current work in the field, conversations with related networks, videos and webinars, etc.), and they are quite capable, in my opinion, of designing engaging ways to reframe those principles in ways that will be more helpful to students than anything that has come before.

So if you are interested in exploring your options for writing and publishing a book, either on your own or as part of a larger project, join us this week for some conversation and demonstration.

 

Digital Writing Month: Blogging Basics and Beyond

Digital writing and composition can take so many forms and happen in so many different spaces. There are micro-spaces such as text messages and Twitter, where every character is meted out on a strict limit, and sometimes emojis and icon suffice for expression. At the other extreme there are platforms for book-length projects, such as PressBooks (about which more in an upcoming post). The full scope of “writing” and “texts” now embraces composition with media that includes images, audio, video, and other digitized materials. Digital writing can remain the province of the local individual, working within word processors and text editors, or it can be networked–composed, circulated, read, and replied to in digitally connected systems. The digital environment expands upon the already variegated profusion of literary genres and styles of discourse and rhetoric, creating new forms of writing, expression, and communication. Indeed, we struggle to keep up with everything that falls under the term “digital writing.”

But perhaps one modality of digital writing continues to be most definitive of the term, and that is blogging. Blogging may be the Swiss army knife of digital writing; the tools and practices of a blog allow for almost endless permutations of composition and voice. Do you want to write just for yourself, for a small group or class only, or for the whole world?  Do you want to write a couple of hundred words, or a journal-length essay? Do you want to invite comments, annotations, and other forms of audience response? Do you want to compose with words only, or incorporate multimedia, animations, graphs and maps, gifs, and the like? Do you want to write every day, or once a month? It’s all up to you…a blog can be what you want it to be, for personal and professional purposes and as part of your pedagogy.

We visited the realm of blogging in a couple of posts and workshops from last fall–“Got Blog? Getting Started With WordPress,” and “Incorporating Student Blogging into Your Course.” Now for Digital Writing Month, it seems a good time to revisit the topic, provide some updates, and continue conversation and demonstration about academic blogging for professional and pedagogical purposes. Our sessions this week will be as usual, on Tuesday at 4:30 and Friday at 1:30, in Abell 102. We hope you can join us at one of those times or participate via comments on this post. Depending upon who gathers for these sessions, we’ll move in whatever direction seems most helpful, whether that’s getting started with a WordPress site, looking at other blogging platforms like Medium, considering questions of site design, using blogging in your courses, or discussing how to improve your posts and build an audience.

Writing is first and foremost about claiming your voice. As I provide tutorials and support to faculty and students to set up their blogs, I usually mention that the most difficult part of blogging isn’t the technology. Getting comfortable with the dashboard and the widgets and all that comes fairly easily. No, the true challenge of blogging, as with any writing, is having something substantive and interesting to say, on a regular and consistent basis. A blog is the idea platform for finding your voice. And perhaps more often than not, you write not only to express your thoughts and ideas, but to discover them. And if others hear that voice and respond in kind, then genuine dialogue and conversation leads to yet further discoveries.

Thus, while a blog is the idea platform to find your voice, it may just be that the most powerful element of blogging is the chance to build a community of interest, readership, and conversation around the subjects that you care deeply about. So in our sessions this week we’d also like to showcase some blogs of Austin College faculty, staff, and students (at least those that I am aware of). At root, a college is a community that reads together, and that should certainly include reading (and therefore writing) for others in our community. Here’s are some examples of faculty, student, and organization blogs at Austin College that you might want to explore and follow:

 

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