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Classroom collaboration etiquette

We spent a great amount of time this semester discussing annotation: its history, its intended and unintended uses, our individual approaches to annotation, and discussed *new* forms of social annotation.  We were given the opportunity to play around with a social annotation tool and to use our in-class discussion and reading to inform our engagement with a text online, using that tool. We mastered the use of hypothes.is and created our own, and group, annotations on Melville’s Benito Cereno, which was fun and also a great learning experience.  However, one lingering thought I have about this sequence of the course is that there were very few ground rules set.  I appreciate the freedom for us to play and engage as we saw fit, but I am left with the feeling, for many reasons this semester, of a need for some baseline rules of etiquette and fair play.  I would like to point to some resources that have assisted me with establishing my own personal policy on my approach to belonging in a classroom community and of a netiquette policy for the online work completed during the course.    

I was interested to see if hypothes.is provided a guiding policy on how online discourse, using its social annotation tool, should be conducted, but I did not find anything satisfying.  They do have space on their site dedicated to educational usage, but no mention of etiquette from what I could see: https://web.hypothes.is/education/  I turned to searching for a discussion on Twitter that mentioned best practices for online annotation, but instead of a guide focused on hypothes.is, I found a guide to “Twetiquette.”  It appears that Twitter can be used as a model for how pedagogical tools should and can be used as long as “teachers…establish firm guidelines regarding proper online decorum and expectations for student interaction” (“Tweeting in the Classroom”)   

Let me stop for a moment to contextualize why I’m a little hung up on this idea of establishing some ground rules for etiquette and online discourse.  There were some tense moments during class this semester which I had not encountered fully in my other courses so far, nor had I anticipated that there would be “tense” or “tough” moments when we first met back at the end of August.  I’ve been grappling with the interpersonal dynamics within a classroom setting, and trying to work out what has been going on, especially in a time of much public discourse about what is civil discourse. I recognize that we all come from different places with different perspectives, abilities, and motivations.  This is what makes classroom discourse so exciting and interesting, but I personally really don’t enjoy conflict or tension and expect the classroom to be a civil place where everyone has an equal voice and those voices are respected, but I realize that’s the ideal, and it’s not what happens at all times. I’m very shy as a student and rarely share my thoughts unless called on to do so, and thus understand that naturally, some will have different approaches to class participation.  I honestly still haven’t entirely unpacked the observations I’ve made this semester, but I know that I have spent a lot of time thinking about classroom dynamics, both as a student as an education professional who has to stand up in front of a classroom regularly.

I spend many hours of my professional life working out how to approach classroom content and dynamics and how to improve the content and dynamics with technology, but I rarely speak with students directly about classroom dynamics or ask for their feedback regarding the content they’d like to learn, nor do I rarely spend more than one class session with students (librarians are often only invited in to a course for the “one-shot” library instruction session where we’re tasked with providing and overview of a variety of library resources and services in the hour and fifteen minute class time).  So, this semester got me thinking about how I’ve very infrequently been in a classroom situation where *rules* are established, and perhaps rules isn’t the right word, but I think it’s worth establishing a group policy on behavioral conduct both in class and online (since we used many collaborative tools online to engage with one another, not just face to face, and let’s face it, much of the work we do is online, so it might be important to establish an online behavioral standard for oneself). That’s where I’m at and why I’m writing this blog post, and to be clear, as an instructor, I have never done this much intentional groundwork for establishing a code of classroom conduct myself before, but I plan to implement this in my teaching practice going forward.  

Since I couldn’t find what I was looking for on hypothes.is’s site in regards to online behavior conduct, and the use of Twitter is a somewhat established model, I took a look at what kind of resources the CUNY Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center offered on establishing classroom etiquette, more broadly (not just online etiquette).  I was happy to find the following which I’d like to share with everyone. “Discussion Strategies: Creating Policies for Classroom Discussion” was posted on the Visible Pedagogy @CUNY blog March 9, 2017.  I got to this through the Teach @CUNY Handbook version 2.0, Chapter 3: In the Classroom.  Many of the strategies suggested on this part of the Handbook have been used throughout this past semester, but I was most taken with the last section: Creating a Classroom Community.  The classroom is definitely a community I very much appreciate being a member of, but I think educators need to regularly think about establishing ground rules for discussion behavior (in class and online).  I’ll list the “examples of widely used ground rules” here (taken from http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/activities/groundrules.html):

  • Listen actively — respect others when they are talking.
  • Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing (“I” instead of “they,” “we,” and “you”).
  • Do not be afraid to respectfully challenge one another by asking questions, but refrain from personal attacks — focus on ideas.  
  • Participate to the fullest of your ability — community growth depends on the inclusion of every individual voice.
  • Instead of invalidating somebody else’s story with your own spin on her or his experience, share your own story and experience.
  • The goal is not to agree — it is to gain a deeper understanding.
  • Be conscious of body language and nonverbal responses — they can be as disrespectful as words.

The author of the Visible Pedagogy blogpost that references this list, Amanda Almond — Assistant Professor at the New York City College of Technology, uses this early on in the semester to develop a collaborative understanding (amongst teachers and students in the classroom) of the ground rules for discussion.  She encourages her students to respond to this list and to come up with their own rules so that there is a communal understanding of what is expected.

In summary, I have enjoyed the many approaches to collaboration we’ve been exposed to this semester, even if there have been moments of tension and misunderstanding, and continue to learn about myself, and others, through collaboration.  I am most appreciative of being given the space and time to riff on my thoughts regarding interpersonal classroom dynamics in person and online in this blogpost which is informing my own classroom practice and understanding of my role as a teaching librarian.   

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