mobile learning in ENGL 329: grammar, style, & writing

The spring semester started this week at Boise State, and I'm really excited about a class I'm teaching as part of the university's mLearning Scholars program.

The mLearning Scholars Program is designed to facilitate the exploration of questions about teaching, learning, and collaboration in the information-rich, “connect anywhere and anytime” environment enabled by mobile technology such as tablet devices and smartphones.

Each year sees two cohorts of mLearning Scholars. The 1.0 cohort are faculty just beginning to experiment with mobile learning, while the 2.0 cohort consists of faculty who have already gained some experience teaching with mobile technologies.

I'm part of this year's 1.0 cohort, and I'll be implementing mobile learning into ENGL 329: Grammar, Style, and Writing, in a few ways.

rhetorical style & mobile learning

The first way I am implementing mobile learning this semester is by including mobile technologies into the artifacts we analyze and produce this semester. This approach fits well with the course's objectives. In ENGL 329, students are expected to

  • Develop an understanding of grammar and style as rhetorical choices
  • Learn grammatical and stylistic terminology
  • Analyze writing style in our own work and the work of others
  • Explain why grammar and style choices are effective
  • Experiment with form, style, and genre

This semester, we are expanding our work to include a consideration of medium, or composing environment. Mobile technology use will increase students' engagement with course objectives by fostering critical awareness of the relationship between medium, audience, and composing practices. In fact, this critical awareness is key to meeting all of the objectives.

Traditionally, discussions of grammar and style have privileged print literacies. Instruction in this area has focused on writing in print environments, and students practice writing traditional academic print genres, such as the seminar paper. More recently, both popular (e.g., Yahoo! Style Guide) and academic (e.g., Web Writing Style Guide developed collaboratively by Writing Spaces) resources have emerged for composing for digital/online environments, and students have begun practicing writing for the web through blogging, participating in social media projects, and developing web pages or wikis.

In this course, students think about the affordances and constraints of print, digital, and mobile composing environments.

analyzing style in diverse composing environments

Students will use concepts from course readings to analyze style rhetorically, and most of that work will happen in the style case study. In this project, students examine the print, web, and mobile presence of an organization or entity. This project offers students an opportunity to explore best (and perhaps worst) practices across platforms before experimenting with their own writing and design. The style case study includes two components: the notebook and the report. The former is a series of 7 online entries posted to the student's subpage on our course site. The latter is a formal "print" report that synthesizes findings shared in the notebook.

In addition to the style case study, students work collaboratively to create analysis & keywords guides for all course readings. In this project, students work as part of a 3-4 person team to develop the guide for one set of course readings that may be used by the entire class to analyze print/web/mobile artifacts. The project offers students the opportunity to work as a part of a team to "dig into" course readings and transition them from abstract concepts to practical tools for analyzing rhetorical style. By having a different group prepare the AKG each week, students share the work of operationalizing course concepts. These guides will be published as a public blog.

preparing to write in diverse composing environments

Students also work as part of a 5-person team to prepare a communication and style report in which they make recommendations for effective rhetorical choices when communicating with the Boise State campus community. In addition to a situation analysis, the report will include persuasive pieces written for the university community and mockups of print pages, web pages, and mobile screens.

mobile technology in teaching & learning

One advantage of Boise State's Mobile Learning Initiative is that the Academic Technologies unit provides students in the course with an iPad to use during the course. This has a number of advantages, of course. Chief among them is knowing that all students will have access to a wifi-enabled device during our class meetings. In addition to knowing that students can use cloud-based tools to collaborate on projects during the semester, I am looking forward to having students do impromptu presentations using the beautiful and simple Haiku Deck.

In addition to analyzing and experimenting with writing for/on mobile devices, we'll be using google hangouts to hold team meetings. This is a hybrid course that generally meets once a day in person and conducts course activities online for the equivalent of a class meeting. I've never required synchronous communication in a hybrid or online class before, so this will be a new experience for me as well.

software development & collaborative writing

This semester I am also experimenting with concepts from agile and iterative software development. We're using Trello boards to manage our projects, holding standing meetings, and thinking about the work that we're doing in terms of user stories. My hope is that re-seeing writing processes like drafting and revising will give students new entry points (new lines of flight, if you will) for their work.

documenting the journey

My plan is to blog about this class all semester. As a part of the mLearning Scholars program, all participants are required to maintain bi-weekly reflection logs on a private site. Since I'll be writing on this anyway, I thought I might share my experiences publicly as well.