frustrations in composition pedagogy design

I'm putting together the common syllabus that will be taught by our 17 incoming TAs in the fall. It's not easy designing a syllabus that will be taught by 17 people you don't know, but that's not the frustration I want to talk about today.

My frustration is a technological one.

Here is what I need to have in a technological solution:

  • Create assignments and have students submit files in a variety of formats (text-only, video, image, audio, etc.). Most CMS can do this to some degree.
  • Share that student work with groups of students in the class, the whole class, and perhaps wider audiences. Most CMS can at least do the first two.
  • Provide feedback on these assignments (both peer and instructor) and assign grades. Again most CMS can do this, though the mechanisms for doing so in some systems are not very good, in my view. Also the reviewing capacity for non-text media is generally lacking.

So far, so OK. Here's where it starts to get trickier:

  • Allow students to create profile pages that are customizable, something like a WordPress site with a blog and with static pages that might serve as a repository and portfolio of their work. It would be great if this content could be exported in a format that would translate into other common blog formats (say as easy as migrating from Blogger to WordPress, which is to say not super-easy but doable). There should also be levels of sharing here: private, instructor-only, custom group inside the class, the whole class, and potentially larger audiences (e.g. the web). I haven't seen any CMS that do this.
  • Something Google+ like. An activity stream into which you can directly publish. Rather than user circles I think topical circles that would work something like conventional discussion threads do now. So every discussion post, blog entry, shared link, or general status update in a course would appear in each students activity stream. With only 22 students or so, it wouldn't be that much content to manage. Again, there is no CMS version of this very common kind of social media activity. 

I suppose you could say that on a minimal level I am looking to combine common features of CMS with common features of social media. That would probably be enough for the course I want to design for the fall, but I do have some more advanced requests. Let's be able to do all these things with mobile technology. And let's build some mobile apps that would facilitiate writing and research activity. To do this, we'd need to operate on a larger scale. Not the 22 students in the class but the 2500 students taking composition at UB each semester. For example:

  • I just posted on my blog. Find other student bloggers among the 2500 with similar interests. Maybe we would make a good peer group for reading each other's work. Maybe we can support each other in doing research.
  • I'm in the library (physical or virtual) and I find an interesting piece of research. Can I share a link? Can I find out if others are using it? Can I find out what other sources they used? Can I get any kind of recommendations based on community activity?
  • Can we do some writing version of dailymile? (I guess 750 words is something like this). Can I make a work plan and track it? Can I see what others are doing?
  • Can we leverage those 2500 students and 80 instructors as a powerful audience for student writing?

My last frustration is with finding content for the course. Writing Spaces is great for rhetorical instruction. What I need is around a dozen essays, videos, etc. that are more topical. I can't bring myself to charge students $50 for that, especially when I am not using the supporting materials in a reader AND I am not particularly happy with the selected content anyway. Especially when there is usable material freely available online (or available through our library). It's just that the work of sifting to find the right stuff is exhausting.

 I suppose I will be stuck with kludging together two systems. Anyway, back to it. 

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