Paul Benzon

College of Liberal Arts

Paul Benzon

Please describe how the nominee has made significant contributions toward integrating technology into teaching and learning at Temple University.      

Professor Benzon uses digital tools to help students engage in scholarly dialogue and collaborative research and writing. He requires students in all of his courses to post regularly to a class blog prior to class meetings. The focus of the work on the blog changes to accommodate different texts and different moments over the semester: students might start the course by closely reading key passages in foundational critical texts, progress towards discussing connections with outside phenomena and applying various theoretical frameworks, and begin brainstorming potential final paper topics towards the end of the semester.

Professor Benzon asks students to post regularly to the microblogging social network Twitter as part of their writing for class. Twitter serves multiple purposes, allowing students to extend class dialogue and engage in public, shared note-taking.  It also encourages them to reflect on their development in the course as critical readers and writers. The immediacy of Twitter as a platform has encouraged experimentation with new ways of communicating and of creating and circulating information as a class. Between class meetings, Twitter serves as a means of continuing the thread of class conversations, giving a shared context in which to reflect on the ongoing issues of the course, discuss upcoming readings and assignments, and share material related to their collective interests and concerns. Students’ collective writing on Twitter becomes part of a public dialogue that extends beyond the class community, with outside scholars, authors, and artists (including some of the major figures on the syllabus) engaging with them and responding to their questions and ideas.

This technology has also transformed Professor Benzon’s work in the physical space of the classroom. For example, he often structures class discussions as a “Twitter fishbowl,” with half the class in an inner circle discussing the day’s material and the other half in an outer circle using Twitter to comment on and discuss the inner circle’s verbal conversation. Having Twitter as a second channel of conversation in this fashion invites more students to speak at once than in a traditional discussion, adding valuable layers to the conversation and incorporating multiple strands of thought and often multiple forms of media, as students add photos, videos, and links related to the verbal discussion taking place. Ultimately, the frequent, low-stakes writing that blogs and Twitter offer lays the groundwork for more in-depth written analysis and helps students to experiment with potential areas of interest for culminating papers and projects.

Professor Benzon requires students to conduct research for their course papers using the online citation management tool Zotero. Using Zotero, students are able to collect citation information and cite it in their writing with a few simple clicks and keystrokes. Making this part of the research process automatic has had dramatic results: rather than focusing on the practical minutiae of disciplinary formatting, students become more easily able to consider larger questions of intellectual property, authorship, and the ongoing dialogue among sources and student authors that makes for strong research-based writing. Students also publish their annotated bibliographies as collections of sources on Zotero and share them with one another as part of the research and writing process. In using technology to collect, annotate, and share research material in this fashion, they learn to approach research as a collective enterprise, and thus to seize upon connections and common interests among their projects that would otherwise remain invisible within a more isolated approach to research.

Please describe how the nominee’s contributions toward integrating technology into teaching and learning can be applied across disciplines at Temple University.

Professor Benzon focuses on topics of digital media and culture in both his teaching and research.  He has developed a core of assignments and classroom practices that consistently investigate contemporary engagement with technology, allowing students to understand digital culture more complexly and critically through the very tools that constitute it. The work his students and engage in through technology is broadly applicable across disciplines. His use of blogs and Twitter, for example, becomes a public intellectual dialogue.  Moreover, Benzon insures that his students both understand the goals of the classroom assignments and the technology needed to produce them.  He has outstanding subsections in his syllabus called “Synthesizing Material, Making Arguments, and Making Conceptual Connections,” “How to Use Twitter in English 802,” and “Getting Started in Zotero.”  Any of these documents can be used in any course across the university with only minor adaptations.  Indeed, Professor Benon encourages students to use Twitter in particular to begin developing professional relationships within their fields of interest (not simply in English-related themes). This way, students gain a point of entry into the possibilities of ongoing professional discourse within their own respective disciplines.  His work with Zotero is similarly applicable across disciplines.

Please describe any evidence that demonstrates nominee’s use of technology in teaching is effective.

Professor Benzon submitted his course syllabi and relevant assignments from two recent courses, English 802: Analytical Reading and Writing and English 3332: Contemporary American Fiction. Examples of his students’ blogging are available at https://ddc14.wordpress.com/ (English 802) and https://templecaf13.wordpress.com/ (English 3332).  He also has a demonstration video for getting started with Zotero at http://youtu.be/U-rLkyH1buI. An archive of the Twitter conversation from his English 3332 class is available at https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%23tucaf13&src=typd.

Student feedback forms were submitted for both these courses.  While the upper level course received very high marks, we point to Benzon’s course “Analytical Reading and Writing: Debates in Digital Culture,” a required course.  Only 10% of the students registered a high interest (24% registered low interest) upon enrolling,  yet by the end of the course, students were won over. 52% indicated high agreement with the statement “they had learned a great deal”; 33% indicated agreement. In this course, Benzon introduced both digital culture and digital means of studying it and writing about it: twitter, blogs, Zotero, youtube. His students consistently say that “This man is the wave of the future of English professing”; they are delighted to have had him; they want to model him as they approach their own teaching careers: “As a prospective teacher, I love the way he incorporated modern things such as twitter into the syllabus as well as post-millennium novels.” Benzon’s work is both exciting and innovative.

Please describe how the nominee has shared, with Temple colleagues, their experiences and expertise using technology to teach.

Professor Benzon has shared his experience with technology in the classroom with Temple colleagues both within his field and across the university. As a founding member of the First-Year Writing Program Technology Committee, he has contributed to shaping the Program’s best practices for the use of teaching technology for a large and diverse group of instructors, and has presented his own work with Zotero as part of a program-wide faculty development session on technology in the classroom. In addition, he organized and participated on a panel on Teaching with Twitter with several colleagues from the School of Media and Communication at the first Temple University Teaching with Technology Symposium in 2014.