Storify in the classroom update

At the end of Winter 2011, I began experimenting with using Storify as a way to supplement class material and discussions. My thought was that, compared to use of course blogs, this would be a more efficient and visually appealing way to share content with students. My last update on this practice is from July of last year.

Here are thoughts and observations from this year.

  • The one class in which I consistently use Storify is GEOG 107, which is introductory cultural geography. I “reset” the timeline each term, meaning I strip the content out and rebuild it each quarter depending on what class discussion is like. I’ve noticed that with some sections I end up with a lengthy timeline and for others I only make a few additions. What’s interesting is that this does not seem to correlate with how often students seem to reference or read the narrative, or even, to how active and engaged a class is otherwise. For example, my current group of students includes a number of individuals who went to Storify from the class blog to read the faculty page for our textbook author, but, despite that early interest, I haven’t added anything new, and class discussions are, lively and interesting.
  • I suspect that my choice to use the service here is more dependent on what students are interested in than if they are. Some topics lend themselves better to further exploration and discussion online than others. I’ve noticed, for example, that I am most likely to use Storify in my intro course for follow-up to discussions about youth culture and the body, both of which are visually-oriented, at least in the way I teach them in this course. With other topics, whether I add material to Storify or not seems more dependent on what kinds of questions students ask or where I end up with loose ends than it does on the topic itself or levels of student engagement.
  • In Fall I taught a course on using digital video in the social sciences and made extensive use of Storify to share resources on filmmaking, but, based on class questions and use of the course blog, I’m not sure that very many students made use of that timeline, despite needing the help. I do see that I have 68 views of that page, which suggests that it got some use, but maybe not of the right kind. It did not seem as if students got into the habit of using that page as a reference for problem solving. It could be that the “timeline” format is not conducive to providing a ready reference for guidance, even though it does allow me to be responsive to questions as they arise in class. Or maybe students just preferred to be told what to do as opposed to working through problems themselves. I’m sure that someone in the class must have found those resources useful and I don’t know about it because they were successful on their own. In the future, I should think about asking students directly about their use of the site.
  • This term I am looking for supplemental material on a regular basis for my upper-division course in political geography, but I am relying on Pinterest (I even started two new boards to support the class, Geography graphics & Geopolitics) rather than Storify. This is something I noticed the other day, and have only begun to think about. I think one reason for this habit might be that I do not have a primary text assigned and, therefore, a less obvious “narrative spine” for the class on which to build a Storify page. It may also be that, for whatever reason, the convenience of “pinning” has made more sense for me when I have begun to look for material for this class than has working from my page on Storify.

Whether Storify or Pinterest, these resources have been valuable ways for me to share, especially, images, graphics, and videos with students, and are far preferable, and less time-consuming, than building Power Point slides or constantly embedding content on a blog.

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More on Storify in the classroom

At the end of Winter term I started to use Storify in my classes. That term, I put out a short narrative about Marjane Satrapi for my Introductory Cultural Geography students, who had read Persepolis. In Spring, I made use of Storify for all of my courses.

For me, the most interesting application was in my Spring section of the Intro course. There I built a timeline around topics of interest where there was limited classroom time or where I thought there would be value in letting students explore on their own time, especially through multiple media.

I intended for this to be a supplement, and generally did not refer to the page during class discussions, although on a couple of occasions I added items to the story that had first been discussed in class. I particularly liked having a rich way to show students what I did while away at the Association of American Geographers meetings, and for which I canceled class.

I did announce updates via the class blog and there is some discussion of the timeline on that site. According to Storify’s stats, there have been seventy-six views of that page, but I don’t really know how many of those are from students in the class.

I am going to repeat this exercise next Fall, and maybe I will make more use of the narrative in class, or give students an opportunity to suggest additions. It occurred to me later that asking about use of the story would have been a good evaluation question at the end of the term.

In History and Philosophy of Geography, a small seminar course for majors and minors, I built a quick story outlining my path to becoming a geographer, and for Geography & Film I collected a set of infographics as an aid to discussing Inception. In both of these cases, I used Storify more as a presentation tool than as a way to build an independent resource. However, the web-based interface and integrated search function made Storify a better choice for making these presentations than a program like PowerPoint would have been. In the case of the Inception graphics, especially, I appreciated having that easily available to my students for preview and later reference.

The broken college book market

It would be hard to be  involved in American higher education and not know that the market for books is dysfunctional. Most of this concern is about pricing and publishing practices, especially the overproduction of new editions of textbooks, and how that affects students. One way that this also affects professors and instructors is in the selection of books for classes. I am always conscious of prices when building a syllabus. I have adopted a variety of strategies for helping my students to manage the cost of their educations by looking for ways to teach with books written for broader markets, or settling for one book when more would be ideal, or working with library reserve. In any case, the economics of college texts is such that students often look for ways to avoid buying books, while many of their teachers are compelled to plan their courses around book costs as well as academic considerations.

One actor in all of this that doesn’t get discussed as much is the college or university bookstore. As more students attempt to get away with not buying their books, or look to alternate sources with better prices, our bookstore, like many I’m sure, has taken to under ordering so as to avoid taking on the cost of shipping back a bunch of books to distributors (and, for all I know, it isn’t just the shipping that is at issue, but fees from publishers or distributors, too).

I can understand this adaptation, but it is a strategy that does not always work out well for students or professors, and this term, at least, it has become my biggest challenge to getting my classes going, notably my intro level course. A half or more of my students were unable to get the main textbook this week, and only a couple report having ordered from another source, which means that I have twenty or so students who had planned on walking into their university bookstore and buying the class text, but were unable to do so for lack of stock (and, no, this does not appear to be an availability issue with the title).

The thing is, I think that my students who thought they could walk into the bookstore in the first week of the term and get the text they needed should have been able to do just that. There is something very wrong with a system that makes that seem naïve.

Which raises another point.

If bookstores are going to be playing the odds with orders, it seems to me that there should be more thought given to the size and nature of particular classes when deciding how far below the cap is too far. It’s one thing to go halfway for an upperdivision class with a cap of twenty, or to severely under order for an instructor using books made for a wider market, but when dealing with a large class, with a high percentage of inexperienced college students, and a text pretty much made for the classroom, it seems shortsighted to cut an order significantly below the planned enrollment (and, at WOU anyhow, intro level courses rarely enroll below their caps by any significant number).

I don’t have much to offer as to the deeper issues, I don’t fully understand why the college book market is as broken as it is, but I would like to see more holistic thinking and cooperation with students and faculty as we all ar seeking strategies for dealing with the ways that the market does not work for our needs. Right now, at my university in any case, everyone is mostly working in isolation and on their own side of the problem, which is why I’m dealing with the unintended consequences that I’m now having with my intro class.