Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ghost Teacher

Last week, I had fun commenting on student papers. I know what you're thinking, no one has fun commenting on student papers.  Well, I did. I made audio comments, using Audacity to record and save my comments as mp3's. You could also do this with Garageband or a few other recording programs. My students found it eerie, like I was a ghost in the room with them, but also helpful.

Here's what I did. First, I read through the papers and made marginal comments using Word's comment feature. I've been using this feature for years and find it extremely useful.  Students seem to like it as well. When I made these written comments, I tried to respond as a reader rather than a teacher, asking questions, pointing out where I was confused or found an argument weak. I tried to keep suggestions to a minimum. Then, in the audio comments, I read the paper out loud and made comments about how to approach revising the paper. I tried not to be prescriptive in these suggestions, and just offered possibilities.  I uploaded the commented papers and the mp3 files into Blackboard, but these could be emailed or posted somewhere.

Students read and listened to my comments before meeting with me for a conference. About half of them opted to do the conference virtually via IM.  I asked them what they though of the comments and what they were thinking about doing in terms of revising.  The IM conferences were really successful. It was much more of a conversation than the face-to-face ones are.  I didn't feel rushed and the students didn't feel rushed so we just covered whatever we needed to.

Interestingly, I just generally felt more engaged with the process of helping the student revise their paper via IM than I sometimes do face-to-face. I don't know if the students felt the same way, but it definitely seemed like they were engaged. I'm not the only one who's found IM to be a useful tool for engaging and interacting with students.

Now, doing all of this took time (and for me, all that time was at night and on the weekend since I have a 9-5 job) and I have the luxury of having only one fairly small class.  But the audio didn't take any longer than traditional written comments. I know compositionists have been doing audio comments for a long time, using cassettes in the pre-digital world. It's amazing how easy it's become to do these things. It was very little hassle for me to get the files to the students and for the students to retrieve them. I'm definitely doing it again, as long as the students don't mind having a ghost for a teacher. And I could see myself having office hours at night IM occasionally, as long as I can be on the couch in my jammies while I'm having them.

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