Here are some suggestive ideas for exercises that occurred to me during the project. I have not tried them yet. Such exercises could be used as "tests" in some instances or situations, but my current thinking is that I would use them to spot-check student understanding of concepts and as tools for student self-analysis. Where possible, the obvious thing in several of the cases would be to make these exercises available as surveys on the Blackboard course management system that I use where I could see and comment on the results, and where they are available for conferences with students. Or I wonder if in some cases the tech people could devise some interesting web pages that would enable a fairly simple way to do the exercises involving "boxes."
Though I defined and described and modeled the "five eyes" in introductory classes, I did not actually have the students do a post of each kind in the beginning. They gradually did each one as the units evolved. I think it would have been more effective if I had had them try each one right away and receive some feedback from me about them. I think this would have speeded up their grasp on these concepts.
Maybe this practice could be made more interesting and dynamic by having, say, groups of three students cluster their examples in separate boxes under each eye, enabling them to compare approaches and to learn from each other.
A first step in the project is introducing the "five eyes" as ways to "serve," that is, as ways to begin a discussion. I encourage students to recognize what type serves, if any, are already in play on the discussion board before they post and to vary the discussion by consciously serving with another eye.
In order to determine if students can recognize the five eyes, then, I might have them do a 10-15 item multiple choice survey in which each item is a sample post representing one of the five eyes. In actuality, posts are often a combination of eyes, but I would probably make the samples here pretty simply and obviously models of one type. There is no need to try to trick students here. The goal is simply to have them spot-check their grasp of the five eyes concept in rough-and-ready fashion. Quick-and-dirty examples will do.
If they cannot make correct identifications in almost all the cases, then they need to revisit the explanations.
I defined, described, and modeled the response options, but, just like with the five eyes, I didn't have the students practice them early on. It would have been a much more effective learning experience, I think, if I had done something as simple as giving them a post and asking three students to respond to it, each using one of the three levels of options.
I can image a chart with a series of boxes that might be quite interesting and instructive. Put the serve in one box, and then have lines from it to three other boxes labeled "level 1," "level 2," and "level 3." There might even be boxes coming off those three boxes in which other students comment on the efficacy of the responses.
It seems to me that some sort of exercise like this might not only vivify the differences among the levels but give an appreciation for the respective potency of each level to keep the conversation going in a productive manner.
It might be fun to have the students consciously write a dead-end post!
The basic idea is that one of the ways to keep the conversation going is to write conversationally (rather than in essay style, which often can be more assertive, argumentative, and dogmatic), that is, that posts must stylistically invite responses.
I provide a provisional document with some hints about and some pep-talk for writing socially, but one way to have students check themselves on this would be to ask them to actually do a reply to one of their own posts and to describe the ease or the difficulty of doing so on the basis of the rhetorical cues in the first post.
Ask them to put themselves in the position of reader and potential responder to their own work and to use my document or something like it as frame of reference for making specific comments. How easy is it to make that response? What do they see in their own serving styles when they must return?
I have put people in groups of 3 to 5. Within those groups they are in linear 1-1 conversation with each of their group members, but I also ask them to read everything that's on the board in their group each time before they post in order not to repeat what's already in play in the group as well as to encourage the higher level response of "weaving."
Students don't always do this. I have noticed a (no doubt natural) tendency for some students to respond first to posts directly addressed to them. And some students, in fact, only pay attention to the specific tracks in which they are involved. They don't open up to other ideas present in their group but located outside their specific tracks.
Students can check themselves on this by using the Blackboard option to "sort" the posts by "date" into a kind of flow chart that will cut across the linear tracks and arrange the posts of everybody in the group in chronological order.
I could ask students to use the Blackboard option to "collect" their group posts in this order and to annotate what they see. Did they repeat ideas? Did they miss opportunities to weave?
I’m imagining a series of boxes in which I or the students would put their posts for close analytical inspection. Those boxes would have questions beside them relevant to the specific step in the posting, with space for the student to answer. And the idea would be that the student and I could then have a basis for talking about or judging the quality of the post.
It might go something like this. There would be a box titled “your serve” that would have such questions as: How many serves from your group members were on the board before you posted? If there were any, which of the “five eyes” types were they? If there were any, in what way did you conceive of your post to insure variety? In any event, what five-eyes type was your post? In what ways did you structure or present your post in order to engage a return?
Things like that.
One can imagine such a series of appropriate questions for the "return," "fielding" the return, "volley1," and so forth.
One of the problems in keeping a conversation going is responding to dead-end posts. Suppose some one returns your serve with a simple, flat-out, level 1 "agreement" post. What do you do? You can't just quit. It is your job to keep the conversation going. So what do you do?
I found myself wishing for a typology of dead-end posts -- that is, labeling the three or four common types and providing examples. If I had that, I could give an example of a dead-end post and then have, say, three students do replies, thus opening up discussion of possible strategies in this situation.
Likewise, a growing file of dead-end posts with examples of a range of responses (a typology of responses to dead-end posts!) could be very valuable.