Published: May 6, 2015

Jason GladstoneCU Boulder Department of English Instructor Jason Gladstone enrolled in ASSETT's Spring 2015 Teaching with Technology Seminar to learn how to better support his students' engagement with texts in their Contemporary Environmental Literature and Media course.  Gladstone created a Digital Commons space in Wordpress for his students to explicate various texts, and examine them more critically.

Problem. One of the major aims of an environmental literature course is for students to learn how  different types of texts and media  engage with a  range of environmental concerns.  An immediate goal of such a course is to introduce a range of such engagements to students.  A longer term goal of such a course is to provide students with the capacity to assess such engagements outside of the classroom--­­in other words, to provide students with the capacity to ascertain how texts and media they encounter, “in the real world,” engage with specific environments and particular environmental concerns.

Accordingly, one of the key things an environmental literature course can do is to facilitate student’s active engagement in and collaborative responsibility for establishing, producing, and making use of the environmental contexts for the texts and media they encounter in the class.  The “problem” I decided to take on in this ASSETT seminar was to think about how I could use technology to accomplish this goal.

The components of this problem are as follows:

  • Students search for information related to course texts/media.
  • Students compile and curate information related to course texts/media.
  • Students engage with information related to course texts/media.
  • Students engage with one another in relation to information on course texts/media.
  • Students build and share archive of information on course texts/media.

Implementation. The particular course type I decided to design a solution for is a 3000 or 4000 level  topics course in English.  It would most likely be focused on “Contemporary Environmental Literature and Media” and would feature an enrollment from 20­40 students. I will be using WordPress to produce a “digital commons” for the course. This digital commons will be an actively maintained online archive of student­-produced “environmental contexts” for a set of the assigned course texts and media. I anticipate that the commons will be organized into three levels: (1) a single “commons” for the course consisting of links to (2) individual “sites” dedicated to the environmental contexts of individual course texts and/or media. Each of these sites will consist of (3) areas organized according either to the kind of information provided (i.e. historical, land­use, biographical, etc) or to the specific media­type of the information (i.e.  video, audio, text, organizational site, etc.). These areas will also include spaces for student annotations of the information they compile, and student conversation and about the compiled information.

Assessment Structure.  In order to assess student participation in the production of the course’s digital commons, I plan to incorporate that participation into the assessment structure of the course. At the start of the semester students will be assigned groups, and each group will be assigned to a particular course text.  Each  group will then be responsible for building, maintaining, and presenting a site for their  assigned text.  The graded components of this assignment will have three parts (each designed to assess a different component of the problem).

  1. In order to assess individual students' active engagement in establishing an environmental context for the course, each individual student will be responsible for uploading and/or linking to a designated number of sources (1­3?). Students will also be responsible for annotating and/or presenting these sources on their site.
  2. In order to assess students collaborative responsibility in maintaining an environmental context, each  student group will be required to present their site to the entire class during a designated class session.  Ideally, these presentations will occur before the class sessions dedicated to a particular text.
  3. In order to assess individual  students ability to use the  contexts they have generated, each individual  student will be required to draw on the course’s “digital commons” to produce a final inquiry-­based paper or project for the course.

Indicators. In order to assess whether or not the above problem has been addressed by my implementation of technology, I will need to work out a way of measuring students’ active engagement in and collaborative responsibility for establishing,  maintaining, and using the environmental contexts for the course. In order to do so, I will need to:

  1. Monitor and assess students searching, compiling, and curating of information related to course texts/media.
  2. Monitor and assess students collaboration and interaction with each other in relation to the compilation and curation of information related to course texts/media.
  3. Monitor and assess students' use of compiled and curated information in both in ­class conversations and out­-of­-class inquiry­-based projects.

Overall, then, I will need to find ways of measuring and assessing the development of students’ dispositions towards and capacities to generate the environmental contexts for texts and media.