What’s Working and What’s Not


Crocodoc annotation

I have long been searching for a way to have students collaboratively annotate documents, so that they could examine primary sources together in a way that makes their learning visible. I considered building a class around Diigo but abandoned it when Diigo went down for over 24 hours – I couldn’t leave students dependent on it for a whole class. The other problem was that everyone would need an account, and it would be awkward to integrate with an LMS.So this semester I’m trying embedded Crocodocs. I upload the primary sources for that week from my workbook, and then embed the document in my course. Students can add their name to the list once they open the page, so they don’t need a Crocodoc account unless they want one so that it adds their name automatically.

This is working even though Crocodoc is moving toward a paid business model – a single Personal account is still free, and all the docs are in my account – each one is just set to be annotated by anyone.


It’s working pedagogically, too – students in my Honors class are annotating primary sources each week, answering each other’s questions, and posing their own. It’s a cool object-based way to work together.

Homework with open-ended questions

For my on-site Western Civ class, I’m trying homework that mixes open ended questions with factual questions, in “finish the sentence” format, for example:

  • The dates of the Ancient Period were approximately
  • The natural behaviors of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may have led to religion that was
  • The natural behavior of the Nile River may have led to Mesopotamian kings

The results have made it possible for me to see their level of understanding quickly.

Open grading

In the same class, I’m not grading individual assignments, although I have begun indicating the “level” of individual assignments and pop quizzes. Students may request an assessment of their work up to three times per semester, using my Rubric to Rule Them All. It’s Week 4 and only one student has considered requesting evaluation this early.

In my online classes, I’m also trying a midway method between grading every forum post (these are really writing assignments, just in “public”) and grading them all at the mid-term and ending point. I’ve said I’ll randomly grade forum posts for a total of 40% of the grade, which leaves it open for me to grade more or fewer posts, as needed.

Not working

Student attitudesĀ 

This semester they seem to be exhibiting some bizarre combination of the Ikea effect (they think if they put in lots of effort they’re doing it right), misguided self-esteem training (you are wonderful!), an inflated but unsubstantiated sense of computer competence (the opposite of what I used to get – they now assume it’s my fault instead of theirs), and the me-web (which has taught them to be the center of their own universe). It’s only about a half dozen students that seem to treat me like a combination of a computer and a South Asian helpdesk, but their constant queries (based on a disinclination to read anything I’ve posted) is taking up a disproportionate amount of my time.

My own textbook

Don’t get me wrong – this was a very good idea and students were most appreciative of being able to have it printed at a discount at Office Depot for under $20. They use it and study it. In fact, they read it so closely that it’s short circuiting my own in-class stories. I don’t think of myself as using a narrative pedagogy, but obviously I’m mistaken. A great many of my lecture stories are in the textbook, since they are really written lectures. I kind of knew this would happen, just not quite so often.

They also forget to do the online context reading because the book is in hand, and they know I wrote it so figure it’s more important.



Moodle 2.3 has got to be the most cumbersome, counter-intuitive product Moodle has ever produced. It is beginning to rival Blackboard in the opaqueness of its usability design. It has buried previously teacher-accessible functions in either the administrative settings (making them inaccessible) or multiple diabolicalĀ contextual menus, until the items you need are not only so deep you need a fishing pole, but are in a different ice hole than where you started. Moodle is suffering from roomsful-of-monkeys-on-typewriters syndrome. The alternatives would be Canvas (now with nested discussions but still relatively little flexibility and total dependence on them for a free class), paying for Ning (pay? me?), Blackboard (gag me with a spoon), or WordPress (where being admin is a major time suck). Perhaps I was more serious about going back to web pages and email than I realized.