quiltlef.gif (8176 bytes) VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)

lolteam3.jpg (16582 bytes)

ENG 112

Courseware Project

Interim Report

July 31, 1998


from Eric Hibbison, Project Director (front, center); Donna Reiss, Founding Director (front, right); Rosalind Blunt (front, left), Ron Carter (back, right), and Cathy Simpson (back, center) [and the spirit of Mark Raby, whose help is still present in our work, although he has moved on to Virginia Tech] regarding <http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us>

This summer's project has 6 goals. Here's what we've accomplished so far for each one. To see samples mentioned in this report,  click on this site map ("contents") link, and look down the genre column for the title mentioned.

Goal 1: Increasing the interactivity of lessons

Donna Reiss began using WebBoard (housed on a server at TCC; hint: Your ID and password are whatever you say they are, but please reuse the same codes for later visits) for hosting asynchronous online forums as an alternative to the forums made by Front Page 98 (FP98). Although FP98 makes web pages out of respondents' messages, editing is tedious; when double messages (from double-clicking the "Submit" button) and empty messages, as well as glib ones, need to be deleted, each deletion causes gaps in each entry of the listing of messages (the tocproto.htm file), which must be edited manually. (The FP manual advises that the message portion be deleted or reduced to "message deleted" to avoid this, but provides no automatic indication on the listing that a message is empty.)

Students in Reiss's online ENG 112 section for the summer and students in Hibbison's and Carter's sections responded to 4 questions about Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach" at the WebBoard site set up by Reiss. The two teachers assigned their students to one of the four question groups; groups consisted of 3 TCC students and 1 JSR student, with RCC students joining in later. Each student then summarized the responses of all respondents in their group. Finally, each student selected one respondent's comment in the group and wrote a response to that student. Reiss's students went on to write a documented essay based on this discussion and on library and Internet research they conducted.

Reiss's students participate in a closed e-mail discussion list for small interactions; she also had already established Webfolio sites for her students to post their work.

Although the team members visited advisor Ann Woodlief's web site developed to support the W.W. Norton ENG 112 text, we did not gravitate toward learning JAVA to make pop-up notes. Instead, one new web site that was added to VCCS Litonline this summer used a number index to list commentary about a short story and an essay about that story. See "Hills Like White Elephants."


* Casual introductory contact in the "Cyber Beach" forum is a first-week assignment in Hibbison's syllabus but is not yet an inter-collegiate practice.

* Regular use of existing forums on individual works of literature remains a goal, but individual instructors and colleges have preferences for software that must be used. Nevertheless, more forums were used by RCC and NVCC students this year than last year. 

Goal 2: Replacing the "scratch pad" forms in some modules that had been placed there to elicit first impressions of students working through the lessons.

Cathy Simpson has her students use the questions in her fiction module, "Understanding Fiction," to make an electronic journal. She and Hibbison developed a format for signalling writing tasks during a lesson that replaced a form (on a server without an email function) with a one-cell table and icon (e.g. a royalty-free photo of a hand on a keyboard) smaller than 20 Kb. Samples are currently in the "Understanding Poetry" web.

The project team also saw the benefit of gathering such questions from a website and packaging them in a downloadable file to which students would simply add their answers on the word processor contained on whatever computer they used to work the module. So we have begun to add files in Word 7 (.doc), Rich Text Format (.rtf), Text with Line Breaks (.txt), and maybe Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format to the modules that have questions designed to elicit preliminary thinking about one work of literature and the process of reading. One sample of a set of links that students can use to open the word processor on their computer and begin typing is at page 3 of "Understanding Poetry."

Pending: We still want to gather systematic feedback from users of our webs (students and teachers), so we have asked the JSRCC webmaster about enabling email from our site's server. That request will be delayed, however, at least until the entire site is moved to its permanent location in the JSRCC computer center, a move that should eliminate down time due to automatic shut off, since the server would be monitored for more hours when the college is in operation than was the current server.

Goal 3: Revising existing modules.

This massive undertaking began and continues with evolving a style guide. The root web, some of the modules, and some of the forums have been given cover pages that follow the same model--a central (photo)graphic surrounded by major links for the site. A style template for the core webs is linked from the Credits page. For samples, see the Litonline root web cover and covers for the "Barn Burning" and "2 Ballads" forums.

One "shortcut" developed this summer is to add resources to forums rather than to make a separate module about each reading assignment in a course. (FP98 facilitates this process.) For example, the "Dover Beach" forum includes references that allow users to look at 2-D and 360-degree views of Dover, England, that were made by the town council.

Three acceptable designs for a navigation bar have been drafted, with encouragement to each author to include graphics appropriate to their site, such as "rose" icons that point left, right, and up for the site on "A Rose for Emily" to mark links to the previous and next pages, plus the site map for that web. A standard graphic, or selection from a few graphics, has been proposed but not decided yet.

The team traded via email references to more a dozen other Internet sites for their design features, resources, or free graphics. Team members also continued to share evaluations of modules from their students to the author of the site. Over the past 10 months of using the instructional modules (now 11 in number), dozens of critiques have been transmitted with hundreds of comments and suggestions. The team continues to process these suggestions, using the feasible and most helpful to make changes for content and clarity on individual pages and occasionally across an entire web site.

Style Guide and Templates: To facilitate the revising process, a survey of the team was conducted about some design options. Agreement and results of that survey and the subsequent email and videoconference discussions it provoked are embodied in a style guide embedded in the root web of the Litonline site.

The team also has a few experimental pages embedded in the website for demonstrating features of FP98, such as a "banner" that will show multiple images in one spot on a page. Some features, such as page-turning effects familiar to users of Power Point, look terrible on the slower, modem-fed computers students (and faculty) have in their homes.  Other Java-based features, such as hover buttons are invisible to older browsers and apparently to the current AOL browser.


* Eventually, every module and forum will have a cover page like that described above (roughly a third do now).

Since it took weeks to get the software ordered for the grant, 3-D options are just now being explored. FP98 will bevel the edge of a graphic image; unfortunately, other effects, such as object animations, can only be seen via the Internet Explorer 4.0 browser. Student assistant Sadie Cornell at TCC is investigating the addition of multimedia by trying several approaches to embedded audio files, including streaming.  She also is improving the quality of some of the graphics, including thumbnail development and compression to improve the download time.

* New forums are a low priority until the major points of the style guide are settled. Besides the new "Dover Beach" forum, a forum is planned to partner with existing modules on "The Glass Menagerie," a collection of poems on the Icarus myth, and possibly the drama "The Sandbox."

* The module that completes the "quilting" metaphor at our site will also soon be added to the Litonline site--an instructional module on the short story, "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

Goal 4: Get and learn a gradebook in order to put grades online anonymously.

Micrograde from Chariot Software Group was purchased with grant funds and delivered to all 5 team members.

Pending: It will be reviewed by Rosalind Blunt to see how hard it is to learn and how handily it will post one of four forms of grade reports as separate html pages or as an part of an existing html page. Using the last four digits of a student's Social Security Number as an ID has been proposed, but separate student codes might have to be used.

Goal 5: Increasing contact with and among students with videoconferencing, WebBoard, vclitol (listserv for faculty), webfolios, and possibly a student listserv.

Donna Reiss has been instrumental in making progress on this goal. She and the student assistant at TCC-VB, Sadie Cornell, tested videoconferencing capabilities. We used NetMeeting at the suggestion of Leslie Smith and Ron Carter of RCC; most of the team has tried it out in 2s or 3s. Although NetMeeting, a free downloadable software from Microsoft, seems superior in video and sound quality to Connectix software that ships with its camera, the superiority comes mostly from establishing a direct TCP/IP link. NetMeeting will support multiple users for chat and whiteboard, but it supports only two-way video and audio.

Technical support at each campus did install the videocamera, if a new one was purchased, or gave ready access to a team member to use an existing videocamera and microphone for videoconferencing.

Donna also established the WebBoard asynchronous discussion site used or viewed by the team for the "Dover Beach" interaction that involved student input from 3 of the 4 colleges which have online sections this summer.

Donna also revived the vclitol-fac listserv <vclitol-fac@listserv.cc.va.us>, which we plan to introduce to faculty who attend our pre-convention training session for using Litonline at the upcoming VCCS English Peer Conference.

Donna is currently in progress converting sample student essays to .pdf files using Adobe Acrobat, an authoring software that has users download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free to view files.

Pending: None

Goal 6: CD-ROMs, even hybrids, vs. the Internet

These have been the slowest of the purchases. Ron Carter is in the process of learning and reviewing the "American Poetry" CD-ROM, which required specific screen resolution and a specific, older version of "Quick Time for Windows," which it installs itself, to work.

Pending: "Shakespeare's Life and Times" will be exchanged for other CD-ROMs from the same company, probably not in quantities of 5. A CD-ROM on "A Doll's House" is on order from Annenberg/CPB for Rosalind Blunt to augment her own CD-ROM on that Ibsen play, which she is doing collaboratively with Robert Brown of NVCC-Loudoun, as she did with her CD-ROM on "The Glass Menagerie," which she adapted as her website for Litonline. This collaboration should test the issues involved with making a hybrid CD-ROM that would also access the Internet to locate specific, relevant resources.


Evaluation Plans

Students involved in this summer's cooperative project on "Dover Beach" generally appreciated the interaction and wished for more. In response, the project team needs to further investigate the possibilities for synchronizing readings to facilitate such projects via WebBoard or via increased use of existing or new FP98forums.

Changes made in the websites of Litonline and the procedures for increasing cross-college interaction should all increase student learning and the documentation for it. Certainly, evaluating contributions to online discussions increases their length and depth over free postings.  Even "for credit" postings are assigned with clear expectations about topic, approach, length, and deadline--and these have yielded excellent results.  Whether graded outright or for credit, the public accountability and engagement with peers seem to motivate most students. Interactions between classes (especially between colleges) also seems to foster care among the students so that they be full partners in the cooperative activity.

One survey planned for fall semester concerns specifically the amount of impact that peer feedback has on student writing--with a follow-up survey about the same topic, plus preferences for format of feedback: forum (or listserv) vs. email (public vs. private).

Other Possibilities:

The shared responsibility for individual goals seems to have led to more interaction among team members than occurred last summer or fall, but perhaps we're just getting used to each other and the technology.  After having taught the class for two semester and presented our website at two conferences, we also have more insights to share. In addition, the email debates about format have intensified, perhaps because we are all not only more familiar with the authoring software but also because we are better able to comment on the esthetics of various webs.

In terms of evaluating student learning, team members are considering the options listed below. At least 3 of the team members have taken on large responsibilities at their institutions--all related to merging technology and teaching--and the fall semester's evaluation activities are not funded, so we cannot promise more than we stated in our original grant. Nevertheless, we intend to continue sharing our experiences with our colleagues at conferences and on our campuses, so we do want to gather as much useful data as we can.

* "situated interviews": This variation of "think-aloud protocols" puts a teacher-author and student-user together at a computer, preferably with audio or videotaping during the session. As the student works, he or she describes reactions to the format and content of the revised website, either prompted or unprompted by the teacher. The function of this activity is to capture the student's thinking while working on the lesson--reasoning, rationales for navigation choices, etc. These should occur for instructional modules rather than forums, although forums need not be excluded; sessions should last no more than an hour but could be resumed so that the student could finish with the lesson.

* focus groups: Either in person or by voice bridge between cross-college sites, groups of enrollees in online sections of ENG 112 should comment on their experiences with Litonline, including what they knew after midterm that they wished they had known early in the course, their preferences for instructional modules, favorite forums, suggestions for improvements. If they occur, focus groups should be conducted in groups of no more than 5-6 enrollees, be audio-recorded if possible, and be scheduled for early November.

* ejournals by the teachers: If most of the team could jot down at least weekly their reflections on the experience of online teaching, the results could be used in later training sessions, as well as excerpted at the "For Teachers" area of Litonline that we started this summer, or maybe as a WebBoard or as a Front Page discussion forum.

* textual analysis of forum contents: Almost certainly, the quality of prose generated in our forums and WebBoard is higher than that for unmoderated forums and listservs because our discussions are moderated, evaluated, and goal-centered. But how does the prose of our discussions compare with the prose that we see in on-campus quiz answers, especially take-home quizzes which allow the same amount of contemplation and preparation that an online response can?

Submitted by Eric Hibbison, 1998 Litonline Project Director

Colored Wavy Line

VCCS Litonline ENG 112 Courseware Project Interim Report http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us/treport page developed by D. Reiss | modified 02/20/05 by Eric Hibbison

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