Thoughts on Diigo and Other cMOOC Things

It’s Sunday morning and I have several student conferences planned for early this afternoon. I am meeting with all my students in the next three days for a slightly early mid-term conference. Although it is not quite midterm, they have posted inquiry proposals and early research questions, and rather than going back and forth via email and blog comments, which takes forever, I think a 15 minute conversation will be far more productive. I’m really looking forward to “meeting” each of them in person. That makes the biggest difference for me, and I assume for them, once I can imagine the person to whom I am speaking and writing.  I think a face-to-face serves to make the experience even more real for them, as well. The first two conferences I had were super productive!

Overall, I think things are going very well in the cMooc. I began with 20 students and retained 15 after add/drop, and that’s very normal based on my experience teaching 200 online for the last few summers. Since then, I have officially lost just one, and I have 1-2 others who may soon be cast into the officially lost realm (but maybe the conference will save them, fingers crossed). Again, that’s all pretty normal though.

In our meeting this past week, I said that I had 5-6 students who were seriously far behind and not really doing the work. Ironically, as soon as I said that, most of them got caught up. As of today, I’ve graded everything for the first three weeks, right up through what was due this past Friday, and I really only have a couple students who just aren’t doing the work. Of course, again just based on my own experience, most students do fine in 200 until the research begins and the hard work starts happening. That phase begins next week for us.

I have to say–I’m really disappointed in Diigo. I use Diigo personally, but I think the annotation function in it are awful, truly pathetic, actually. I mean, it never really works right when I try to annotate. Although I have seen that it is possible to share annotations with others, it very rarely works. In fact, I would liken it to Google Hangout: getting started with it is different every single time and the use of the various apps is 50/50 at best. The worst part of Diigo is trying to use in on an iPad. You have to download the Diigo browser and can only use that browser throughout the process. I realize that is probably an Apple problem as much as a Diigo one, but still, it’s pretty annoying. I won’t use it on the iPad.

I required all my students to do a concept experience last week that involved Diigo. Part of the assignment was to create a library and find and annotate 5 articles related to their topics. I gave concise but explicit instructions (which took me forever to write) explaining how to save each article so that 1) our Diigo group could see it, and 2) the group could see each other’s annotations. When I sat down to assess the students’ work, only 7 had done the assignment–from what I could tell, as they used totally random usernames and didn’t follow my instructions to post their usernames on a Google Doc so I could identify them. Out of those 7, I could only see annotations for 2 students. Later in the day, a student who received a zero, emailed me with screenshots of the five articles inside her Diigo library. I checked again and from my end, her Diigo library is empty. She swears she saved the articles to the Diigo group, so I don’t know what’s wrong. Also, from where I sit, her personal library is empty too. Yet she provided the proof. Now I’m wondering how many of the other 6, who I thought didn’t do the assignment, actually did but Diigo sucks so I can’t tell. I really like what Diigo tries to do, but I think it’s still in the “trying” phase.

I hate micromanaging students’ research. I really do. However, this is an undergraduate class in research writing, and for these students, its the first time (and will probably be the only time) they have learned to do real research. My job is to teach students how to do research; thus, I don’t feel like I can just say “okay, go get your research for your inquiry project.” I wish it was that easy.

Students in this course need a lot of help understanding how to find research and what types of sources to use. It requires a lot of teaching and one-on-one work with students individually. The problem is not with peer reviewed sources; rather, it’s all the other sources, the ones they need to assess for credibility, with which they struggle.


Over the 15 on-and-off years I’ve taught this class, I’ve tried a variety of methods for overseeing students’ research. The method that yields the most success for students and the best student work is undoubtedly the “I oversee ALL your work method.”  It’s not like I read all their research or anything–I’m not doing THAT kind of micromanagement–but I think they need to know that they are accountable for it on a weekly basis or else they fall behind. If they fall behind, meaning they don’t do the research, they are bound to fail, and I can’t let that happen. They need to see that I am looking at their sources and making suggestions about other sources to use. Without that, they will mostly use very short web articles they Googled.  In the end, without a doubt, every semester the students say that the best assignment they do is the synthesis matrix (more about that later) but that what helped them the most when they sat down to write their projects was the “evidence of research process” assignments that I required.

This summer, because there is such a variety of other types of work that the students are doing, I’m using a modified approach for overseeing their research. Rather than doing the standard source analysis assignments that most faculty use, I’m going to try three different assignments, one per week for three weeks, with the goal of teaching them three different ways to do research. Beginning with a version of the nugget assignments we have already been doing, I’m going to develop two other ideas so that they are exposed to different possibilities. Of course, some students would prefer to just do one activity over and over; once they figure it out, they want to continue. On the other hand, I imagine some students find that type of repetition very boring. So we will see how this process goes in the coming weeks.

I’m off to Google Hangout conference-land. Hope that Google Hangout is working today!


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