Practicing What We Preach

looking forwardWe at ProfHacker write a lot about possible ways of incorporating a range of technologies into diverse classrooms. We always try to base our blog posts firmly in our experiences, but we often mention what we actually do here and there somewhat randomly. Now that all of our fall semesters are firmly under way, the ProfHacker team presents this entry with descriptions and links to what we are actually doing this semester. Feel free to take a look at our blogs, wikis, syllabi, and other materials to see how we practice what we preach.

In the comments, let us know what you have up your sleeves this semester. Has ProfHacker inspired you to try anything new? Or is there something you’re up to that we haven’t covered yet? Here’s to a great Fall 2010 for us all!


Quite some time ago, I moved away from using Blackboard for my courses. Though I really tried hard to like it, it just never grew on me; I found that it had more features than I really needed, and the ones I wanted to use were clunky and counterintuitive. WordPress blogs, I discovered, worked much better for what I’m trying to do.

Some semesters, I’ve had students contribute to a course blog. This semester, I’m not asking them to do that, mostly because (following Ryan’s advice) I don’t want to throw too many new things at them. I’m already asking them to work with Zotero and Google Documents; that’s probably enough for one semester.

I’m teaching two courses this fall. They overlap quite a bit, and both are general education courses that fulfill a requirement in the social sciences. The W version is a writing-intensive, 4-credit course in which students can earn their “Basic W.” The course blogs can be found at:

Keeping with my the classroom experiment I discussed back in July, I’ve eliminated one of the textbooks I used to use for these courses. Instead, in the latter part of the semester, students will participate both in choosing topics for discussion and in finding class resources on those topics.


I’m teaching a new (to me) course this semester: Writing and Computers, a junior-level course in which students learn to use a variety of digital tools for writing, editing, and publishing. I’m adopting Jeff’s approach by

  • having students collaborate in groups on a somewhat ambitious web-based project of their own design, and
  • having each group write up a contract that describes their project in detail.

So far, the projects are going fairly well. I haven’t sought the students’ permission to make public the work that they’re doing, so I’m not going to link directly to them right now. However, once the semester draws to a close (and once/if they give me permission), I’ll report back with more details


Like Amy, I build all my course sites in WordPress, not Blackboard. Part of that comes from WP’s ease of use, and part from the belief that as academics we should be outward facing and transparent in our work. I’m teaching two classes this semester. In the upper-level lecture/discussion course, US History in Film, I’m asking students to post to the class wiki their reactions to the films and readings for the week as a starter for our class discussions. They will also be doing their own multimedia projects on an historical film later in the semester, built in UMW’s WordPress blogging system, UMWBlogs. In my other class, a first-year seminar called When Americans Came Marching Home, students post on their own blogs before each reading discussion about their reactions to the diaries, memoirs, and scholarship on the experiences of returning US veterans and their families. [In both classes, we've had conversations about what it means to post things online, to write for a public audience.]


I’ve written frequently on ProfHacker about using social media with my students, so it’s not surprising that I’m doing more of the same (always with tweaks and tinkering) this semester. My graduate seminar on the graphic novel provides an illustrative example. You’ll see I’m using a class blog, an ongoing Twitter conversation, and even Pecha Kucha presentations, which Jason has explained on ProfHacker. Something completely new—and fitting for a course on graphic novels—is a tracing project that replaces a typical mid-semester essay. I’ll be sure to report back to ProfHacker on how this alternative constructive writing project goes!


It’s a busy semester for me, but I was looking forward to it all summer, I must admit. First, I took over as chair of my department, Rhetoric and Professional Writing (RPW), so Jeffrey’s letter to new department chairs has been very important to me. I am also teaching three courses, each with its own blog. My section of RPW 110: Rhetoric and Writing I is geared especially at students in the performing arts, which shapes our readings and paper topics. RPW 210: Foundations of Argument is a new general education course for second-year students in our College of Arts and Sciences; because it’s new, the other faculty and I have spent the summer sharing ideas on a private wiki I created through PBWorks. The class is also working on a class wiki. As the final project of the course, students will each create a podcast with Audacity, an assignment I’ve done often that students praise more than I ever expected. RPW 215W: Introduction to Professional Writing is the gateway course for our major. Students will be ending the course with group Pecha Kucha presentations. Finally, I’m teaching an online version of RPW 211W: Introduction to Business and Management Communication for my university’s weekend program for non-traditional students; I’ll be keeping that course fully on Blackboard since that’s standard for our online classes (ironic that I have blogs for my face-to-face classes, I know). In each of my classes, we’ll be talking about some controversial issues from school shootings to censorship to diet, health, and obesity. If you check out my syllabi, you’ll see that I still use passive voice now and then even though I do strive to write the majority of each of them in my own voice. And each blog is filled soon with numerous Action Lists for my students. I must be in the right field when just typing all this out gets me geekily excited about my teaching, what we have done, and the other things I have planned.

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