America's Authors


America


Overview

Title

America's Authors

Group Member

Geoff Sheehy

Executive Summary

This website introduces students to four major American authors with the hope that their interaction with the site will pique their interest and draw them into the content for the year.

Rationale

This project is intended as a leaping point, where students taste bits of four authors. I have not tied a particular assignment in too closely with the project, so as to make it useful to my colleagues who may like it and to retain flexibility in later years. For my classroom, I intend the project to be a place where students can voice their thoughts about the curriculum we’ll study during American Literature, even influencing what books or authors we read during the year.

The exploration gives students control over their learning, and the multimedia aspect should increase the feeling of control they have. I’m keeping particularly in mind Kurt Anderson’s advice to “get beyond what is appealing visually and design products that are activity-based” (p. 32 of Vaughn’s textbook).

Description of Content

The project is hosted mostly on a wiki, which allows students to sign in and respond to content at appropriate times. On the front page of the wiki, students are linked to a map of North America (Google) where they can navigate around the country and click on places of interest. Inside the map’s bubbles is information about writers pertinent to that place, with pictures, links back to the wiki, and links to a biography of the writer. Multimedia content for featured writers is included on the wiki page. The multimedia content includes one slideshow of pictures similar in theme to a book, a video promoting a particular novel, an audio file accompanying a letter about an author’s themes, and an interactive audio exercise concerning one author’s style and skill.

Audience

The audience is 11th grade American Literature students just beginning their study of the subject.

Medium Rationale

The wiki allows students to read a bit about writers and then sign into a wiki page and voice their thoughts – “We’ve got to read Twain!” or “Please, this book sounds boring. Let’s skip it.” It also allows me to embed media easily and without too much fuss.
The content would be ineffectively delivered through CD-ROM. Here, students can explore in class and if they’re interested, they can return from home. Also, other teachers can use the site and launch their own projects and feedback pages (with a little help from me to redirect the traffic). It also allows the interactive audio feature I’ve included with the Twain page.

Funding

No funding is required for this project.

Procedures

  1. concept mapping
  2. building map and wiki framework (including building image header for wiki)
  3. project map/storyboard
  4. storyboard the video(s)
  5. collect footage
  6. edit
  7. post
  8. finalize organization of the website

Charts, Storyboards, and timelines

Project Timeline

  1. by 6/25, have finished steps 1-4 from above;
  2. Week ending 6/29: continue threshing out ideas for particular aspects of each part of project, build concrete, final storyboards;
  3. by Tuesday, 7/3, have filmed necessary footage for videos;
  4. Wed-Thursday, edit and post videos;
  5. Friday: final organization of website

Project Storyboard

external image L.jpgclip_image002.jpg

Video Storyboard


Content Development

The process for developing the content was a bit frenzied and I had to pare it down the further I worked into my project. Initially, I wanted the project to span more authors and there to be multimedia content for a couple of them. My vision at that point was to have students browse through authors, decide which were interesting, and use the project as a decision making tool for writing a research paper about one. Their research would then develop my never ending project further, giving them a real motivation to contribute. As I progressed with that collection, however, I felt that my project sprawled a bit too much and that the multimedia element became lost. I also found that my tidbits on particular authors were so sparse that they might not be too interesting, and that I did not have time during this class to create all the content required for making the project worthwhile. I therefore abandoned the grand vision and chose four authors on whom to focus.

For these four, I created multimedia elements, and I chose them because they are some of the biggest names in American Literature and students will need to interact with most of them during English 11. An introduction to them might get students excited about the coming study, and it would also allow students to influence our choice of books when a choice is possible. These four were also helpful choices because I had collected previously created content on some of them – like the Steinbeck letter and the pictures that matched Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea – and only needed to recast them in a more general and accessible manner.

I was a bit obsessed with the map, and that may be where I went the most overboard. I wanted a picture for every bubble, and it was bad enough that I created so many bubbles in the first place. Fortunately for me, my mother has traveled the country widely and loves to take pictures of everything, so I had her raid her collection and I picked ones that matched the particular points of interest. For the rest, I used by permission other people’s photos.

Thankfully, with most of the bubble-content and the commentary I’ve added, I needed little preparation to create content, since I was simply trying to give introductory statements to the authors and their work. I did use some outside help on the map’s points for The Grapes of Wrath, and in spots I consulted summary websites, like Sparknotes, to check my facts.

Interface Development

I decided early on that I would use the web as my delivery platform, as it matches the way I deliver so much of my content to students. But when I was considering spanning my project over the entire sweep of major American authors, I wanted to create an interface that drew a user in further than a list of names could ever do. The students aren’t attracted to names, and they don’t have any reason to want to click on them, so I needed some other way for them to access the information. That’s when I chose to use a map: students know what the country looks like and they have places that might strike them as romantic or intriguing, and a map might draw them in and make them want to click on things.

In the end, my map is smaller than I thought, but when a student uses the points to browse (whether they use the side bar navigation or click on the markers themselves), they inevitably grow more familiar with the authors and their works. By the time they finish the map, they can click back to the website and might be informed enough to want to click on one name more than another. If a bubble interests them and they want to want to know more right away, it contains a link back to the wiki page pertinent to its content.

Within the wiki, the interface is crafted like basic web navigation, with the authors’ names and the home page always available on the left side. Additionally, I added arrows directing students to the next author in a chronological order – while not terribly necessary now, this feature may prove helpful as I grow and expand the site.

To aid the simple use of the multimedia elements, I have embedded players in the wiki page. This helps reduce navigation confusion, which can develop if users have to rely on the back browse button to return to the wiki. With the audio, it also allows the user to stay on the page where the written version of the text is located, so they can follow along if they’d like.

Testing

The testing occurred with each brainstorm along the way, though I knew a lot about wikis and interactive web content before beginning the project and used that knowledge without having to test it. I initially spent a good deal of time experimenting with the bubbles in the Google map, making sure I could insert pictures and links and could adapt the text how I wanted to adapt it. With each bubble and step, I continually revisited older entries to revise them and make them more interesting.

With the wiki, I had a vision for what I wanted – with the page banner – but experimented and tested until I discovered a way to insert the page banner in the CSS apart from the wikispaces logo (something that appears on my regular wiki with wikispaces). This was a nice discovery and I was able to redesign the banner to contain the title of the project within it. I did not choose the final color scheme for the wiki until after I finished the page banner – I’ve based my color scheme on what matches the page banner itself.

I did not need to test or experiment with the Evoca browser mic, audio embedding, or Teacher Tube embedding, since I have used them before, though with each upload I tested as a double check.

As a final check, I have had my mother browse through each element of my project to make sure she can navigate through it and make sense out of it, and she has been successful.


Description of Files




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