Friday, February 12, 2016

Collaborative academic rap

I've written before about how to use Google Apps (e.g. Sheets) for real-time multi-student collaborative editing. In class this term, I've asked students to form their own groups in order to summarize each chapter's worth of content by collaboratively writing a verse using Google Docs.

(the pedagogical philosophy)

For example, one student group penned (digitized?) the following after our first chapter, on the concept of natural selection:

"It's all about change across generations' time
It's not in a single life, that ain't our rhyme
That theory came from our man Lamarck
But evolution's DNA, so that didn't work.
It's not a perfect system, the pick's a random roulette
The better go on to proliferate, that you can bet
We don't choose our traits, Mother (Nature) knows best
And now that you know that, here's the rest…"
- de Guzman, McDonald and Olvera

One benefit of using Google Apps and internet-accessible mobile devices in such an exercise is that students not only form groups to help each other learn, reflect on which topics are most important, and distill complex concepts into more simple forms (things that could be done without tablets), but that they can conduct collaborations asynchronously and from any location. More simply put,

"Recognize that one of our limitations
is our limited time together.
Fifty minutes at a time is never enough;
a passionate teacher won't settle for less than forever

Group work is easy when you're in the same space,
but when your group members leave campus, you're all apart
Each take a tablet with a cup of Google apps
And you've got the time to build lyrics a'la carte"

If nothing else, the above should demonstrate why I leave the incorporation of art into a science class to the students: they come up with many more clever rhymes than I could ever hope to design. More importantly, though, tablets allow everybody to provide input to reach a common goal at times (and places) convenient to each group member.

Tablet Use
(boost the digital intensity)

Here are the technical details to the approach. Assuming each student has the Google Docs app (available on most, if not all, tablet and smartphone platforms for free), have students form small groups. Each group chooses one member to create a Google Doc, and then share editing access to the group members by collecting their e-mail addresses and inviting them by adding their e-mail addressing in the "Share" function in Google Docs. Make sure have each group add you, as the instructor, as well. Also, make sure to be clear that each group document should contain a list of all of the group members at the top.

Then, set a deadline. After the deadline, you can navigate to the header of each Google Doc, where there will be a link to the Edit History (e.g. "Last edit was made 2 hours ago by User1"). If you click on that statement, you get taken to a list of all contributions by each group member (assuming that each has signed in via a Google account). This is how I check to see whether each group member at least contributed to the content.

Moving Forward
(collaborative propensity)

At this point, we are about to embark on our second bout of lyric production. We're going to continue this for the entire term. I'm especially excited about this because, just after we wrote our first set of lyrics, I noticed that acclaimed rapper Baba Brinkman (famous in scientific circles for his academic rap works, the most notable of which is the "Rap Guide to Evolution," which he has performed for us in the past at Fresno State) is currently crowdfunding his current project, "The Rap Guide to Climate Change" on

My Evolution (BIOL 105) class, presented with the opportunity to help fund this album, in exchange for Baba writing and recording a custom rap song (to potentially include some of my students' lyrics!), raised the $1,000 necessary to make this a reality! I sent the funds to Baba's campaign today (February 12), in celebration of Darwin's birthday.

I'd like to thank Baba for being willing to collaborate on this project and thank the students for seeing the long-term benefit of rewriting evolutionary concepts as rap verses (which we'll also use by the end of the term to compile a study guide for the final exam). I'm always looking for ways to integrate the arts into science courses, and so far this approach (especially enhanced by our tablets) has met with great enthusiasm and support!

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