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Feb 23 14

THATCamp Digital Writing, May 2-3, 2014

by Elizabeth F. Cornell
Sponsors for THATCamp Digital Writing

  Sponsors for THATCamp Digital Writing

From tweeting to multimodal research papers to Prezi, writing these days means more than just black text on a white background. Through workshops and discussions, THATCamp Digital Writing aims to deepen and advance our notions of all facets of writing. Participants in THATCamp Digital Writing will explore how to effectively write using different digital tools and platforms. This event will take place in New York City. We begin with a special lecture on Friday afternoon, May 2, 2014, at John Jay College, and continue all day Saturday, May 3, 2014 at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus with workshops, discussions, and a Maker Challenge.

At THATCamp Digital Writing, join a dynamic cast of participants to

  • Learn more about innovative ways to digitize your work and publish it online
  • Share pedagogical methods that use digital media for writing and research assignments
  • Explore how to evaluate online writing and give feedback
  • Question how tools, technology, and methods for publishing work shape the way we write
  • Take workshops on Scalar, Juxta, and collaborative writing
  • Make connections with others
  • Establish new collaborations.

TCDW is being organized by Amanda Licastro, a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, and Elizabeth Cornell, Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow in English at Fordham University.

Nov 21 13

Interview with the Fordham University Newspaper, The Ram

by Elizabeth F. Cornell
Late Autumn Sun and Two Sun Dogs  (c) 2013 Robert Goldwitz

Late Autumn Sun and Two Sun Dogs
(c) 2013 Robert Goldwitz

The other day, Joseph Vitale, the opinion editor of Fordham University’s undergraduate newspaper, The Fordham Ram, interviewed me about using social media in the classroom. He emailed me the questions, and I responded in writing. Mr. Vitale incorporated some of my responses into his very good opinion piece about using social media in educational settings. Here’s my responses to his questions, in full:

First, I would ask if you could explain a couple of ways in which you find social media useful in the classroom, just to get a sense of how professors are using it at Fordham.

In my classroom, my students have occasionally used a private page on Facebook and a public Pinterest page to collaborate on collecting material for discussion and research on American literature. I find Facebook to be particularly useful because most students are comfortable with that medium. It’s easy for them to write original material and respond to other people’s posts. However, I change things just a bit by having students write rather long posts (for Facebook) about something they’ve researched and include a link to supporting material. Students are often surprised that they can add so much content to a single post. Pinterest is more challenging because not as many students use it. It’s also better for posting images, and since my courses are generally about writing and reading, Pinterest is less useful for my students.

In what way do the functions of social media transcend traditional teaching methods? Traditionally, the classroom has not been a social place. Students arrive to class, sit in a chair and, the teacher hopes, listen to a lecture and take notes. Many educators today see that model as outdated because it causes students to be passive learners. Social media can be a way to encourage students to be more active during class hours and outside of class.

For example, during class, some teachers allow students to tweet important material from the lecture to the rest of the class. While this is happening, students participate in a Twitter back channel, in which they add their own ideas and links related to the lecture. After the class is over, students can refer back to the Twitter stream, using it as a set of notes for the lecture and continue the conversation. This approach allows students to help teach the class because they are contributing their own knowledge and insights about the material.

Using Twitter in a directed way can help prepare students for careers that may involve using Twitter or other social media venues. That kind of job might include broadcasting information to clients or customers, or cultivating a personal learning network among colleagues.

What obstacles have you seen come up when using social media in the classroom? Are there limits to its functionality?

One major obstacle, obviously, is that when a teacher allows electronic devices in a classroom, some students are going to do things with them that have nothing to do with the class. Some students with devices may be tweeting the lecture, but others may be checking email, Facebook, or even doing work for another class. A way around that scenario is, for example, to only allow several students to tweet the class, but then the backchannel might lose some richness.

Teachers can turn this problem into a learning opportunity for students: Learn to use devices responsibly and make the most of your time in the classroom. In my experience, most students at Fordham are responsible and do want to use their time here in the best way possible. Moreover, it’s important to be conscious of how one uses social media. Students should cast a critical eye on their use of social media and how it uses them. A great book about mindful use of social media and technology is Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2012).

Another obstacle is that not all students want to use social media. There are many good reasons for not wanting to join the digital herd, including not wanting to divulge personal information to companies such as Facebook. In my current class, one student does not use Facebook. She sends me her material, which I post for her on our private course page, and then she reviews the posts in my office with me using my account. Fortunately, this student is very accommodating. If that wasn’t the case, a workaround could be to have students collect their material in a shared GoogleDoc or in a wiki created by the teacher. But these solutions, as well as the use of social media, assume that all students have access to the internet. That’s not always the case—and another obstacle and limit to the usefulness of social media.

If you were a student, would this be something that would excite you? Why or why not?

Social media in the classroom would definitely excite me if I were student. However, I’d probably be looking for the next hot thing. I would be less interested in using the same platforms as my teachers or parents. Or, I would search for innovative ways to use the most popular forms of social media. That said, it’s very important that all students who use social media, whether for social or academic purposes, use it responsibly. As we’re constantly reminded by the news, reckless use of social media can haunt users at some point in the future.

According to one study, 41% of college professors use social media in the classroom? How do you think this number can grow within the next few years? 

This number may grow, especially as new (younger) teachers are hired and bring their experience using social media productively for academic purposes. But what will social media look like in the next few years? A recent New York Times article reported that Facebook has seen a decline in new users, particularly with teenagers. They’re already moving on to the next big social media thing. And that’s going to be a challenge for teachers who want to use Facebook or Twitter in their classrooms. Students who use newer forms of social media might resist signing up for the old ones on the grounds that they don’t want to give companies such as Facebook information about themselves. Teachers might not want to learn how to incorporate new social media venues into their course work.

Some teachers avoid social media. I think that’s a mistake. Social media is not going to go away; it will continue to develop and become more complex. It is important that students learn to use social media not just for entertainment, but in creative and productive ways, and that they use learn to use it safely and critically. What better place for that than a college classroom?

Aug 31 13

Upcoming Events

by Elizabeth F. Cornell
Grapes on the Shawngunk Wine Trail, Ready for Harvest. (c) Robert Goldwitz 2013

Grapes on the Shawangunk Wine Trail (c) Robert Goldwitz 2013


Spring 2014
>>May 2-3, THATCamp Digital Writing,
Fordham University and John Jay College campuses, Manhattan. Various sponsors.

Fall 2013
>>November 13: Using Prezi for Making Arguments and Presenting Research: Organizer of this 2-hour workshop. Kimon Keramidas, Bard Graduate Center, workshop leader. Sponsored by Fordham GSAS, Fordham Grad Student DH Group, and various university departments.
>>November 19: How to Use Zotero  Will lead 45-minute workshop for faculty. Sponsored by Fordham IT.

Jul 20 13

The Humanities Do Matter

by Elizabeth F. Cornell
Humanities Matter 1

Screenshot from “The Humanities Matter!” by M. Terras, et al. 2013. Infographic,

The good thing about all the doom and gloom over the so-called demise of the humanities is that it has caused humanities people to think about why the humanities are important and to quantify their place in our culture (see, for example, “Why English Majors are the Hot New Hires” by Andy Smith). One response to the “humanities is in crisis” debate comes in an infographic, The Humanities Matter!, from the University College London (UCL) Centre for Digital Humanities and 4Humanities.

The infographic visualizes statistics and arguments for the humanities, and some of the statistics might be surprising. For example, did you know that a “2012 survey of 652 US-born Chief Executive Officers and Heads of Product Engineering showed [that] almost 60% had degrees in the Humanities”? The entire banner, which has a Creative Commons license, can be downloaded here.

Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like if we did not have novels, poems, biographies, as well as film and television. All the things that examine and challenge our understanding of what it means be human. We might have poor imaginations, for one thing.

Without the humanities, I imagine it would be a little like living on Camazotz, the planet ruled by a big, bad brain called IT in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. When Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin arrive on the planet for the first time, they encounter a neighborhood where all the houses look alike. That’s not so strange to them as is the sense that something is “off” about the children who are outside, skipping rope and bouncing balls. Charles Wallace figures out what’s wrong: “Look!” he says. “They’re skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone’s doing it at exactly the same moment.”1   They quickly discover that people on Camazotz can’t think for themselves. They can’t make up stories or question anything. The humanities doesn’t exist on Camazotz. But when Charles Wallace gets trapped by IT, it is Meg’s stubbornness and her deep love for her brother that helps him escape. She realizes that these two things, which are integral to her humanness, are potent weapons against IT’s mind control.

Without the humanities, Albert Einstein might only have studied science and math. Imagine if he’d ended up in that patent office in Bern, Switzerland until he died, spending his whole life testing out other people’s inventions. Imagine if Einstein hadn’t been acquainted with the philosophy of Spinoza, which helped shape his understanding of order and determinism. How might that have altered his formulation of the theory of relativity? If Einstein had never learned to play the violin, how might that have affected his ability to arrive at E=mc2? How would he have relaxed his big, amazing brain? We don’t know these answers, of course. But, as humanists, we can speculate and imagine, “what if.” In fact, that’s what Einstein did. He asked, “What if the ether did not exist?” If he hadn’t asked that question, if he had assumed like everyone else that the ether existed, he might never have discovered the theory of relativity. The scientist and the humanist have many things in common.

Humanities Matter 2

Screenshot from “The Humanities Matter!” by M. Terras, et al. 2013. Infographic,

1 L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1962. Pg. 103.

Jul 16 13

WordPress in the College Classroom: Five Sources

by Elizabeth F. Cornell

A Rothstein A Farmer LOC

Despite their membership in the digital tribe, few of my undergraduates have any experience with WordPress or any blogging platform. Using WordPress in my classroom gives students an opportunity to increase their digital literacy as they read and discuss works of literature.

Because to teach is to learn is one of my fundamental beliefs about teaching, I assign a small group of students to teach themselves how to use WordPress. They then teach their peers. Students also investigate the purpose and content of an academic blog, the pros and cons of student blogging, and then discuss their research with the class. My students use the blog to post short essays. They also use it to post abstracts of their final papers and links to online resources and projects they’ve created.

Here are five sources for using WordPress in the college classroom:

  1. WordPress for Teaching and Learning at Vassar College This slideshow was created for teachers by undergraduate seniors at Vassar. It contains examples of blogs in use at the college along with benefits and outcomes of using blogs in the college classroom. I especially like this piece of advice: “Emphasize WordPress as a discovery process.”
  2. Teaching WordPress: Building and Running Your Website on WordPress The pedagogical goal of this site, which is a resource for students at Portland Adult Education, is the same as the course’s title: “Create Your Own Web Site Using WordPress.” The site, created by a teacher named Frank, is well-organized and seems to have a little of everything you need to know to develop a site, from “Pages and Posts” to “CSS in 10 Minutes,” which can be helpful for tweaking themes.
  3. ScholarPress Courseware plugin should tempt anyone looking for a way to use WordPress as a learning management system. According to this Chronicle article by Ryan Cordell, the plugin can create assignments, schedules, and bibliographies inside of WordPress. ScholarPress recently received an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant.
  4. Psychology in the News Nicholas de Leeuw, Dept. of Psychology, Vassar College, maintains this WordPress site. On the right-hand side of the screen,  you’ll find some pages offering guidelines for attribution, a checklist for blog post content, a discussion of comments versus posts, and other insights. De Leeuw emphasizes the importance of making original posts and comments, and offers advice on to how to create useful and original content.
  5. Using WordPress in Your Class for Student Writing and Websites is for teachers who have a WordPress site. Hosted by the College of William and Mary and created by Evan Cordulack, the site is a straightforward resource covering everything from adding students to a WordPress site to offering links to other instructors who’ve written about their experience using WordPress.

Image Info:
Arthur Rothstein. “A farmer listing his fields under the wind erosion control program. He receives twenty cents an acre for the work. Liberal, Kansas.” 1936. Library of Congress. Rights Advisory: No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs Reproduction Number: LC-USF34-002493-E (b&w film nitrate neg.) Call Number: LC-USF34- 002493-E [P&P].Medium: 1 negative : nitrate ; 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches or smaller.