Paper vs. Electronic: One professor moves into the digital age completely

Photo provided by Justin Cary

Carrying stacks of paper from home to class and back home is the ideal profile of most professors at Queens – but not Justin Cary.

Cary is an adjunct English professor teaching Composition 1 to freshmen. The focus of his class is music and history. The main difference between his class and other freshman writing classes is his class is totally digital.

Cary wasn’t satisfied with just “using technology just to use it” so he revamped the way his class would use the blogging sites by allowing them to post on specific topics that interested them.

“Students would record a video response to an article read on YouTube then post it on their blog,” he says. Other than using Tumblr, Facebook was used for missed assignments. Cary uses a variety of social network sites to engage his class in as he calls it “live writing,” which he defines as the ability to write “to an audience outside of the room they’re in.”

This live writing has pushed Cary back in the classroom and has brought students forth as independent students and authors of their own work. Cary likes the fact that students don’t need him in the picture, but he also doesn’t want that to get too out of hand.

Live writing refers to the student being able to write to live audiences through the media; social networks, newspapers, etc. In reference to him being pushed back in the classroom Cary means that he is not playing the role as the traditional teacher. “They don’t need me to stand in front of the classroom and tell them what to do,” he says. Cary believes in the teacher being in charge, but also believes in the students taking the lead in the classroom; showing him what they’ve learned through blogging and teaching each other concepts through social networks. Live writing differs from the traditional writing in English classes by directing the style of writing to an audience that is not in the class. So, this means students have to expound more on details that wouldn’t need to be expounded on in a Queens classroom.

Cary also encourages students to create professional Facebook accounts outside their personal accounts. He has taken protective privacy measures when creating the class Facebook group by making the group private.

Cary also has the group set up in a way that students can interact with each other and the interactions are forwarded to his Queens email account and kept on file. For students who are strictly opposed to using Facebook, Cary says, “I accommodate them.” Cary accommodates his students by emailing them the assignments. Although everything is digital in his classroom, Cary still has room to leave comments on his students work. “I prefer making comments electronically versus putting a big red letter grade at the top of their paper. Leaving comments digitally gives me room to highlight confusing text and ask them questions.”

Cary, not only being an adjunct professor at Queens, works for UNC Charlotte and has worked for other colleges part time. The idea of moving from a print classroom to a digitial classroom came from him watching other teachers carry around huge briefcases filled with papers. “I didn’t want to be that type of teacher,” he says. Cary moved towards making his classroom fully digital the spring of 2011, but most recently incorporated it this semester. This semester will make the first semester that Cary has a fully digital classroom.

Clarke Eaves, one of Cary’s former students, switched to his freshman English class after previously signing up for another that did not interest her and required her to write “thousands of papers” says “I was in a different English class before his and my teacher expected me to write thousands of papers about the environment and politics which I do not really care for. I wasted so much paper and I felt like I was not really learning from my other teacher but when I switched over to Professor Cary’s class I got to discuss things I liked.”

In addition to the Facebook group, Cary’s students create a Wix account. Wix is a site that allows the user to create different websites of their choice. It’s free and easy to use, for a creative way to present a project or assignment.  His class also uses Tumblr, Blogger, YouTube, Gmail, Google Docs and Word Press.

Cary also uses Twitter in the classroom to engage his students in discussions, “I do ask them to talk during class discussions but if they don’t want to then I allow them to get on the hash-tag on Twitter and tweet their response.” He believes this method allows for more interesting class discussions and freedom of speech in the classroom.

Social networking sites are integrated in Cary’s classroom to make class work fun and easy, but Cary doesn’t neglect the fact that the school has websites such as Moodle set up to share information with students. “I do use Moodle to put up important documents because I feel like in a way it’s a requirement.”

For Clarke, the class has reduced her anxiety about writing. “I believe the class did shape me as a writer because when I was a freshman I was so worried about my writing and (whether it) would be good enough for my teachers. But Professor Cary worked with me and made me enjoy what I did.”

“I think an English Comp class is more than just writing a bunch of papers. It’s about actual learning. I think it is truly amazing that he is making his class all digital. We’re all growing up in a world where writing papers is old news and he is preparing us for the future,” she says.

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.