November 3, 2013

Blogging: Class Announcements as Class Content

Yesterday, I wrote about how I use blogs to develop content that has evolved into book form, with the blog providing a space for the development and re-iteration of the content, thus allowing it to improve with each iteration. In this post, I want to talk about how I use a blog to develop class content in the form of daily class announcements.

I've used daily class announcements since I first started teaching online courses over ten years ago. At first, I did announcements for Monday-Friday, but now I do new announcements every day, including Saturday and Sunday, because most of my students do course work over the weekends. I remember showing my announcements many years ago to another online instructor, and she was baffled. "How could you have something to say every day?" That question really surprised me: how could I not have things to say every day, and how could I miss such a valuable opportunity to communicate with students? I rely on the daily announcements not just to reinforce the immediate goals of the class but also to educate students about the Internet as an infinite learning resource, a space for learning that I hope they will continue to use long after the class is over.

So, before you read any further, take a look; here is my class announcements blog: Online Course Announcements.

It's a blog, and I've been using the same blog for over five years now (although, as I've said before, I'm platform-neutral; any blogging software will do, and I used different blogging platforms before setting on Blogger). With blogging software, all my previous announcements are accessible to me. That means I can build and grow the content from semester from semester, and from year to year, both recycling AND improving the contents of the announcements along the way. So, I do a lot of copying-and-pasting, but I also do a lot of editing, while gradually adding in new kinds of content every semester and removing content that I am less satisfied with. In terms of course content development, I consider doing the announcements one of the most fun aspects of the class. In-between semesters, I look forward to developing new content, and each day as I write the announcements during the semester, I enjoy seeing how it all fits together.

Overall, I would say the announcements have a big impact on the class. At a minimum, it shows the students that I am aware of the flow of the class from day to day, every day. I am never checked out (even if I myself don't do schoolwork over the weekends), and I want to make sure they have the information they need, no matter what personal schedule they are on as they do the work for the class. I don't expect that any student would or even should read the announcements every day, of course, so I do repeat important news items if I need to make 100% sure every student in the class is aware of them.

Beyond that bare minimum of checking in and basic reminders, the best part of the announcements is all the other "stuff," the class content that comes through day by day, showing that there is an endless supply of things to know and learn about the topics of the classes I teach. The two classes I teach - Mythology & Folklore and Indian Epics - are interrelated enough that it is easy to do combined announcements for both, and I am actually really glad that the students in Myth-Folklore get to see the content related to the Indian Epics class, and vice versa.

So, as of Fall 2013, the "extra" content which appears in the form of my class announcements consists of the following items:
  • Reminders and Procedures: These are what most people probably think of when they think of class announcements - reminders about due dates, answers to questions students have asked, etc. 
  • Online Resources and Tools: Since I am an avid consumer of online resources and tools, it's exciting to share those with students. Some of the items are specifically course-related (like great websites to use for research), while others have a more general purpose (such as browser-based tools for working with text, editing images, etc.). Since my classes are writing-intensive, I also feature a lot of writing tips here.
  • Featured Storybook: This allows me to feature wonderful student work, both from past semesters and from the current semester. At the start of the semester, I feature past projects, and then as the new projects for the semester get underway, I feature a mix of both past and current Storybooks.
  • Free Kindle eBooks: I have collected a list of free Kindle eBooks with mythology and folktales from around the world, including India too of course, so that there is a new free ebook every day. I like the Kindle format because it is very device neutral; I'll say more about that choice in another post.
  • Proverbs: Proverbs are one of the most important folklore genres in the world. I include proverbs from many traditions, making sure that at least two of the proverbs each week are from India. (I build these with the Automotivator tool I wrote about last week.)
  • Indian Epics Images: We read the Ramayana and the Mahahbarata in class, so I have a new image from the image, aligned with what the current reading assignment is in class. Indian art is a beautiful tradition, and it is often new to students in the class. I am really happy that the students in Myth-Folklore get this exposure to Indian art, in addition to the material they are covering in that class.
  • Campus Event: I look for some kind of campus event to include every day. This is not easy because our Campus Events Calendar is badly underutilized and I think, in fact, it may be broken (on the day of Homecoming, not a single event was listed; I haven't gotten any really clear answers from the people in charge of the calendar about just what is going on). Luckily, the students help me out by sending me items to include from events they are involved in, and I am now using Twitter to learn about campus events, too.
  • Date-Related Item: I try to close with some kind of holiday or other date-based observance to call attention to the calendar date. I include all kinds of items under this heading: religious and secular holidays, the dates of historical events, the birthdays of famous artists and writers - anything at all that is prompted by the actual calendar date.
So, that's how my announcements are working for this semester. Next semester, it will be mostly the same... but also different, as I continue iterating, improving the content every semester. In upcoming posts, I'll say a bit more about how I developed all this content and the specific tools that helped me to do that. As I've already mentioned in a previous post about my new #foreignwordsinenglish project, I should be adding a word etymology to the announcements every day next semester (with a focus on words that English has borrowed from India, but from other languages around the world also).

While I'm sure that for other types of classes textbooks are a great content-delivery vehicle, I am convinced that for my classes and my style of teaching, it is actually the daily announcements that are a better way for me to share content with the students, offering them something of myself, my interests, my knowledge, and my goals in teaching these classes. Moreover, even in a specialized course with a much more narrowly defined content focus, I still think there is a role that daily announcements can play, helping to make students aware of the issues that are important in a given academic discipline, sharing with them news of scholarship and important discoveries, alerting them to whatever resources are available online for them to deepen and broaden my studies, etc. etc. etc. With daily announcements, it is all about etc. in fact!

That's how it seems to me anyway. I cannot imagine an online course that does not take advantage of the communication channel made possible by daily announcements for a class. If everybody learns even just one new thing every day, what a wiser world this would be!

Every day a person grows more wise.
Polish: Co dzień człowiek mędrszy.
(more information about this poster)

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