Fantasy and science fiction: Eric Rabkin

I want to continue my blogging on the course ‘Fantasy and science fiction. The human mind. Our modern world’ by telling about our professor Eric Rabkin. His videos created the atmosphere needed to maintain motivation and hard work. He spoke to me and to everyone, from heart to heart. I learned a lot about literature as a science (this was my first course) but it was not the only point. Professor  Rabkin has the ability to empower students, he helps to find the best inside us (how to say that better in English?)

In the discussion forums there are many threads owned to Eric Rabin. We want to thank him and should like to continue studies with him. The best.thread.ever. is “Professor Rabkin’s closet” in general discussions, began by William Richards. In one of his video lectures, Rabkin promised to tell us what is in the closet behind him. This  inspired many students to use their imagination and photo manipulation skills to present optional answers. This is my favorite, made by William Richards 2.9.2012. I only changed the color to moonlight, I think it works.

Where o where does my raven repose?
That is the question that Poe does propose.
Where has he lost it
God only knows
Ask the professor
In poem not prose
Look there it is right in front of his nose

The online community of students is as important as it is in f2f studies. The teacher influences the atmosphere very much. Eric shared his love to languages and literature and motivated us by sharing this passion. He shared his confidence toward us by appreciating our essays. He told that he learned much from us, in such a way, that it did not sound to be a phrase.  He was really interested in this open course where people learn from people around the globe. His attitude  is the opposite of cynicism. I thank him from the bottom of my heart just as he said to us in his last video with feelings in his voice.

His videos were easy to follow for us non native English speakers. He spoke slowly enough and used gestures, spoke with his hands – and through his whole personality. He seemed to love his work and us, every student on the course. More this kind of teaching and learning makes the world better. The aim of the course was to help everyone think more imaginatively, read more deeply and write more powerfully – and this became true in my mind.

I give the last words to Eric Rabkin, his farewell e-mail to us ended “Thank you for your participation, your kindness, and all you’ve taught each other and me. Ours is truly a new world of learning.”

Fantasy and science fiction: peer feedback

My course of Fantasy and science fiction is ending this weekend and it is time to analyze my experiences. I had to work very hard during these eight weeks. All the novels were new to me (never read those books in English) and I work slowly when I use English. Now I am tired and happy. The course worked well: our teacher Eric Rabkin is brilliant and the student community learned to support each others. This time I will handle the feedback I got from my peers. How did it function as a source of learning?

The feedback was organized so that everybody got feedback from four randomized, anonymous peers every week (after sending the feedback to four others). Peer feedback was guided to handle two aspects in the following way:

FORM here refers to matters of grammar, usage, and structure. Are the sentences grammatically correct? Are the words properly used? Is the exposition and argument laid out clearly? An ideal response would note one aspect of Form that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Form that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

CONTENT here refers to matters of insight, argument, and example. Does the essay show a deep understanding of some aspect of the work or of a pattern that one can see in the work? Does the argument make sense, feel persuasive, and reveal the significance of the insight or insights? Are there concrete details from the text that support the argument and that we come to understand more powerfully because of the argument? An ideal response would note one aspect of Content that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Content that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

I was used to use peer feedback in my work as a teacher educator. Peer learning was a normal part of our work and useful practice to our students, who were becoming teachers. It was not a big step to me to use peer feedback and I did not miss direct assessment from the professor.  His feedback was in the videos. My problem was to believe too much on my ability to write and think in these literature studies. I had to use my knowledge of the human mind (psychology and education). I had used English language in my own studies, reading books, writing some articles, but during last years only blogging and twittering.  I was not sure if it is wise to study literature in English, but I decided to try what happens.

In the first diagram you can see our program and my grades (form, content +the sum) and the number of peers, from which I got feedback. Minimum is two and maximum could have been 6. My best is 4 and I agree with that.

It was very important to receive straight and honest feedback at the beginning of the course. The grade (number) is only a short way to describe the level; the qualitative feedback showed me my typical mistakes and weakness. All the four peers told that in my first essay:

“The title was not explored by the writer. The essay is basically a summary of the novel and In my opinion, the ideas are not linked. This theme is very interesting and could be better explored.”

” the exposition and argument are not clear. The writer didn’t explore the subject proposed. There is no thesis or development of ideas. There is no progression, only the gathering of information and facts presented in a descriptive manner.”

I had to agree with their assessment after re-reading my essay in a critical mind. This was perhaps the most important moment of my studies. I am grateful for the long feedback and good advices about what I should do better.

I concentrated better on my second week and begin to receive more acceptable notes. Nobody suspected me about plagiarism (the discussion in the forums was plenty). I had mistakes enough and I original themes almost every time. I was proud to hear that

“Your thesis was different, and new, so you get points for originality.”

“Gosh, now I’ll always think of Poe’s characters while reading yet another rant on the forum. Possibly imagining fellow students chasing each other with an ax. An improvement!”

“The essay is interesting and ‘thought-provoking’.”

My ‘favorite weakness’, lack of clarity and logic, was not easy to take away and leave. Sometimes I succeeded in the form and forgot the content, and sometimes on the contrary. Comments like these followed me up to the end:

“The first paragraph and the final sentence of the essay are completely unnecessary; the rest of it is well expressed.”

“Your two questions in the intro are excellent questions, either one of which would have resulted in a full essay. Your essay, though, did not fully examine either of these questions”

“The argument is not very clear Please stick to one argument and explore it completely.”

I did not know how difficult it is to write a coherent essay with 320 words. Now I am more aware of my weaknesses in thinking and writing. These peer assessments were given anonymously and it made possible the honest speech. My learning curve is smooth as the following diagram proves.

I received 30 assessments and everyone was written seriously and honestly. It was easy to agree with the feedback. My language was assessed bipolar from poor to good without any mistakes. The students came from different cultures and many had English as Second Language (ESL), so the ability to assess grammar must differ. It was fine to receive advices from experts, an example here.

“Overall a good effort. ‘An utopia’ should be ‘a utopia’. The rule is that if a noun begins with a consonant sound you precede it with ‘a’. Utopia begins with the consonant sound ‘Y’ (as in youth’) and not the vowel sound of ‘Y’ as in ‘any’; so the phrase should be ‘a utopia’.  Also, watch your lack of the word ‘the’. For example ‘women in Herland’ should be ‘the women’, ‘comprehend all issues’ should be ‘comprehend all the issues’, ‘overcome obstacles’ should be ‘overcome the obstacles’ and ‘at least two of three’ should be ‘at least two of the three’. Comma placement in this sentence, ‘the male visitors had an opportunity to learn, too, and their minds etc…’ should be ‘the male visitors had an opportunity to learn too, and their minds etc…’ In general, these were minor issues.” Thanks for teaching me.

I got a positive  experience about peer learning during this course; it really worked to me. Perhaps I did easy mistakes to correct in my language and my writing as well. Perhaps the best literature students did not receive relevant comments, I don’t know. Some were disappointed which can be seen in the discussion forums.  My background as a teacher,  a feedback expert, surely helped me. I considered peer feedback as a normal behavior and an excellent source of learning. I am happy about participating this course and I’ll blog more about other aspects of my learning. Thanks to you all!

 

Fantasy and Science Fiction

A new episode in my life in the internet is going on; I study literature on the course ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction. The Human Mind. Our Modern World’. This is my third week on the course and I am writing my essay about Edgar Allan Poe today. I took a break in writing and came here to tell why I am committed to these studies. All important things are excellent:

  • the course is well organized and it  helps to proceed in learning and monitoring with other participants
  • the expert Eric Rabkin loves literature and languages and us, his students. I can feel it when watching his videos.
  • the learning environment / platform is clear and everything works there, no problems at all
  • the best parts for learning are 1. writing an essay after reading the material and choosing the theme and 2. giving feedback to the fellow students about their essays anonymously (randomly selected four students)
  • receiving the feedback, which the students write to me, listening it and pondering on it

It is obvious that learning needs structures, rules and guidance. Following the pedagogical structure I can find my strength and creativity. I am guided to “write to enrich my intelligent, active, attentive fellow students”, so I have to do my best. I have to focus and find the perspective which I can offer as enrichment to them. The essay must be short, only 300 words, so I have to select the content carefully.  I have to respect others as our teacher respects us – the atmosphere is one of the most important things in open online studies.

I was astonished that I learned so much about the peer assessments, which I got from the four fellow students. The assessments differ greatly but I can learn from everyone. Someone corrects my English, someone the  structure of my essay. It is useful to know what leaves unclear to readers. I have already learned a lot, for instance to focus my sayings  better, to say more clearly what I mean, and do not trust that the reader can guess my meanings.

This course reminds me about my experiences as an online teacher. I have found the same principles while teaching online myself and now I can see their effectiveness on a global online course. The studies are well organized. Human development needs guidance to emerge, it needs supporting structures and challenging assignments. Lisa Lane shared in her blog a definition of three kinds of MOOCs: networked-based, task-based and content-based. This ‘fantasy and science fiction’ course is both task-based and content-based, but it is still more: it is based on emerging learning process. It supports the students’ learning process from simple to higher, more complex levels. This improvement is the aim of all online teaching and learning. Have we lost this simple truth and have to find it again and again?