A COPLAC Digital Distance Learning Course

Author: garris (Page 1 of 2)

How’d we do?: Defense of Contract Post

With class finishing up and Cara and I’s presentation today, it is time to reflect on our contract and how well we met the goals we set out for ourselves.  As I look through the blog I notice one main thing, we achieved many of the overall goals we set for ourselves, but not necessarily in the way or on the schedule we had originally intended.

See the full contract here.

Goal of the Project

Our primary goal was to create a website that looked at all possible points of view and considered the many sides of this case. Though we had hoped to interview with more people who were directly involved in the case, I think we have still considered different possible sides by including the Lisa Baldwin interview on our page. It is unfortunate that we were not able to interview the teacher or the complaining parent, but by reading and providing other the syllabi of other teachers, we have created a site that readers can use as a resource to see what the  teacher’s aims might have been. Similarly, for the complaining parent, though we do not have his exact defense of why he challenged the book, the Lisa Baldwin interview shows why some parents challenge books and why one might challenge The Bluest Eye.


Most of the tools we set out to use we continued to use throughout the project. Coggle proved to be very helpful in organizing what pages each of us were responsible for, and we used that throughout the website design process to know what each of us was responsible for.

We used Trello significantly less than we had originally planned to, both Cara and I, whenever we met would write down our individual list of tasks for the week, so it ended up being redundant to also use Trello.

The Story map we created only contained about 10 challenge cases as opposed to the original 15. This was largely due to the number of cases that we could find when we were making it. Though it has been in the top banned book list multiple years, we had difficulty finding specific cases to use in the Storymap.

We decided not to include the timeline we created for the class on our website, there were not enough dates and specific details in our case for it to be a helpful illustration of what happened.

Division of Labor

The division of labor we had originally set out was met very well. Cara did many of the interviews, and I transcribed them, Cara did one half of the pages and I did the other, and we both, during the editing process, reviewed and edited each other’s work. Though both of us rewrote some pages and fixed some site mechanics, in the end, I did a bit more of the back-end design of the website, aesthetics and restructuring of the pages, where as Cara did more rewriting and of pages.


The timeline is where we veered the most from our plan. Though everything was completed by the time the website was due for the first revision, we did not always meet the exact due dates we originally set for ourselves. We did, however, generally come within a few days of those deadlines, and most of the time the content was completed, it was just a bit of editing that was still needed. Though being more on time would have been better, we originally set out for those to be general times when things should be done, as opposed to hard and fast deadlines. For us our timeline helped us pace ourselves so that we didn’t cram all of the content onto the site at the last minute, which was the point.


Overall I am very pleased with the final product Cara and I have created, and the process we used to get here. I found it especially interesting and helpful, during the editing process, to use colors to indicate what had been and still needed to be done on the website.  When we got the suggestions document from our professors, we assigned each other the different tasks on the page and then each used a different color to indicate what had been done. When we got together on Friday to put the finishing touches on the site, it was very satisfying to see all of the tings that we had been given to do highlighted and finished.

So Close, and yet, So Far (Actually just Really Really Close)

The fact that the website is due this Friday is one of those things that I’ve known for the whole semester, but, despite Cathy’s and Dr. Dierking’s continual reminders of its approach, it really snuck up on me. In general, finals make me feel something like this:


From the Wake Forrest Website post “Finals Humpday”


But, looking at all the work Cara and I’ve done on the website, and all the revisions we’ve started doing and are finishing this week, I have to say that I am rather proud of what we have accomplished.  Though there are still many revisions to be done, I think that Cara and I will be more than able to finish them by this Friday. Today we met with our professors to hash out the last few questions that we had on the suggestions they gave us, and we’ve divided those suggestions between the two of us to work on throughout the week.  On Wednesday we’re going to meet up and work on outlining and scripting the presentation for Monday, so overall I feel very well prepared for the end of this class.

That doesn’t meant I’m not scared out of my wits over this presentation.

But, I do definitely feel that Cara and I will be well prepared for it when it comes.  Actually, part of me is fairly excited to showcase all the work we’ve done this semester, the real challenge is going to be fitting it into under ten minutes.

One of the things we hope to focus on in our presentation is the overall process by which we went about creating our website. Though we haven’t completely hashed it out yet, I’m hoping to incorporate a synopsis of the research process that also gives a description of the case as well as a very brief discussion of how we decided upon the website layout. This will probably have to get summed up into a quick minute snapshot, but I would like to mention it, at least briefly, because it was something that I really though about and that Cara and I have worked on throughout the website design process in order to make a website that was easily accessible and that could be approachable from many different points of views and ways of thinking.

All and all I think that we will have plenty to talk about for the presentations in terms of site content and how we got the information we have, it’s just a matter of going through and finding the most important parts to highlight.

Reviewing St. Mary’s Site

This week I took a break from editing our website. I plan today to look back at it today with fresh eyes so that I can fix and update it. Instead this week I reviewed and made comments on the St. Mary’s site using hypothesis. This was helpful for me because, not only did they use the same theme (Parabola) in WordPress, they also did a challenge about a book by Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon. I liked seeing the way they used Parabola to create their website and how they laid things out. It was helpful to see the way they set up their navigation because it lets me understand the way some people may approach a website, this will help me to make sure our website is approachable to as many people as possible.  I also like they information and especially the videos they included of Toni Morrison. I thought it was nice to hear her opinion on censorship, her process, etc.

Another thing I really enjoyed about their website was they way they incorporated all of their primary documents. Their website is a treasure trove of newspaper articles, and letters to and from the school board, as well as a large file containing the teachers collection of student writings on the book challenge. Because there were so many primary documents, they faced the challenge of incorporating all of the documents into the website while also providing context for the documents and connecting them to the case as a whole. I liked the way they provided the original documents, while also transcribing them into the pages to increase the ability to search for the text and the accessibility. I have to say I am very impressed with the amount of information on their site.

The main suggestion I had for them was to better connect their documents. After reading through all of their pages, I realized that I still didn’t really understand how everything fit together. I suggested that they add a few pages as jumping off points where they summarized what happened in their case, and give a master list of resources, linking out to pages where they go into more detail about different specifics on the case.

Reflecting on the (mostly) Finished Website

This week Cara and I have been adding the last tweaks and fixes to the website before the peer reviewing starts this coming week. This has mostly consisted of re formatting things, reviewing and editing what has already been written, as well as writing a couple last pages, including the Lisa Baldwin interview  page, as she finally got back with us this week. On page in particular that I was putting off to the last minute was the “Why does this happen?” page. I save this page to last because I hoped to have the best possible picture of what happened before I started conjecturing and describing why I thought people challenged books in general and why this book was challenged.

I am very proud of our website. Given the fact that we only started learning how to use this program at the beginning of the semester, I am impressed with how the website looks and flows and am excited to see how we can improve it in the coming weeks.

The only thing I wish we had more of on our website is primary documentation and fact. Though we were able to interview a fair amount of people, we were not able to obtain the formal complaint or the final MTAC decision, nor were we able to talk to the teacher or the complaining parent. This means that all of the content on our website comes from an outside source, such as the news articles, or from someone we interviewed. While these sources are very helpful in understanding the challenge from different perspectives, I would have been much happier if we could have provided primary documents on our website and also shown the interpretations different people had. Because of the nature of a website, I think it is better to present the facts and the documents available in an organized manner so that people can find in and use it as a resource to form their own opinions on the topic. Though this can still be done on a website that provides more description of possible scenarios and interpretation of events, I would much rather also provide the primary documents in as value free of a way as possible. I’m not opposed to giving my opinion, I just wish we could have also given a more detailed factual account. Though truly value neutral educations is impossible (as we have learned in this class), I wish we could have given a more well rounded account of what happened, so that our site was more neutral and fact based.

However, at this point, all we can do is make our readers aware of this fact. Because we were unable to provide some of these documents and an exact account of what happened, all we can do is provide a description of what we think happened and make sure the those who visit our site know that much of what is on our site is interpretive.


Interview Debrief

I had originally hoped to do this post as a reflection of the Lisa Baldwin Interview, however we were never able to get her responses to our questions so it will instead be on the Eric Grant interview. Eric Grant was not closely involved in this case, so he was mostly only able to give us information on the general process. He was also interviewed about this case before the MTAC decision was made along with the complaining parent, Tim Coley by WLOS. Eric Grant is the Head of 6-12 English Language Arts for Buncombe County Schools and is only directly involved with book challenges if the parent challenges the initial school level MTAC decision. He provided us with the Board Policy regarding book challenges and had this to say regarding The Bluest Eye case and his role:

“In the case of The Bluest Eye, the school MTAC Committee met and reviewed the complaint and the materials. They decided to leave the text intact for classroom use for a 12th grade English Advanced Placement course only. That decision was supported by the complainant so the challenge stopped at the school level.

“My role proved to be fairly limited. I met with the school to outline the process prior to the school MTAC committee and to answer any questions that they had. Because the first step is for the school-based committee to meet, I did not participate in that meeting. Since it did not reach the county level, I did not need to get further involved.”

And, of The Bluest Eye he had this to say:

It’s themes around power and around how society defines beauty are very powerful.

When we asked him his opinion of the book more specifically he described it as “great literature” and said that it gave students “opportunity to understand a culture and an experience different from what most of them have experienced.” He also said that he found the process currently used by Buncombe County Schools held a fair balance between allowing “parents to have their voices heard” and also allowing the school committee to “apply their educational expertise.” He did not specifically say if he agreed with the schools decision, but he implied that he trusted the process to find a balance between parental concerns and opinions and the educational benefits of a text.


On What I’ve Been Doing, or, more Aptly, Thinking

This week Cara and I have been working on actually creating and fleshing out our website.  As I was writing the page about other book challenges in the county, I started thinking that something didn’t line up.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini cover. From Wikimedia Commons.

In 2015, The Kite Runner was challenged at Reynolds High School for it’s use in an Honor’s English II class room. It was challenged for sexually explicit content, language,  low reading level, and mature themes. In fact, Lisa Baldwin, the parent who challenged the book, also took issue with the use of The Bluest Eye on her blog, though she did not directly challenge it. The Kite Runner was retained. What I find interesting is that The Bluest Eye was moved to an AP English IV class, even though, in my opinion, it has a very similar “appropriateness” level as The Kite Runner. Granted, I haven’t read the entirety of The Kite Runner, so my judgement is based off of the passage Baldwin cited and her descriptions of the rest of the book, but it seems odd that in the same county, two similar books, challenged for two similar reasons, ended up two different places.

So, now I’m wondering about the schools.

Though the final Kite Runner decision was made by the School Board, it was originally reviewed by a school level MTAC who also ruled  that it should remain in the classroom.  So I’m wondering why it was that these two schools came to different decisions on similar books.

But, then I was thinking about the decision that was made in The Bluest Eye case. While they did take it out of the Honors English III curriculum they did keep it in the AP English IV curriculum, And If I really think about it, this is, in a lot of ways, similar to the decision to keep The Kite Runner. So now my question is, what’s the real difference between Juniors and Seniors? Between Honor’s Students and AP Students? Is this challenge really about a parent not wanting any children to read this book, or just their kid? Did the MTAC for The Bluest Eye case have the hassle and bad media of The Kite Runner case in the back of their minds when they decided to put The Bluest Eye on the AP English IV list?

I’ve come up with a theory.

I would like to say, however, that this is a theory and I have no factual evidence or testimonials to support this, it is, instead, based on my limited understanding of how people think and behave and the experiences Dr. Dierking and Dr. Hajo have shared with us in class.

The Kite Runner case made big waves in the Buncombe county community. In response to the book being challenged and removed from the classroom, students created a book club around it, multiple news sources covered it through out Buncombe County, and it inspired the complaining parent to start a blog about Buncombe County Schools from the parent’s perspective. The challenge was appealed all the way to the school board level and there was a lot of potentially bad press for the school system.  I think that the MTAC decision in The Bluest Eye was made to quiet the parent without removing the book from the school curriculum.

In reality, there isn’t that significant of a maturity difference between a 16-year-old high school junior and a 17-year-old high school senior. So, why would the book be better suited in the AP Senior Class? I think in a lot of ways the reason for that change is that the complaining parent’s child would likely not have to read it in the future. Though the daughter could change her senior year to AP instead of Honors, it is unlikely that she will change to AP and take a teacher that chooses to use The Bluest Eye a year after this controversy. I think the whole point of this decision was to appease the parent enough that he didn’t appeal to the county level and give the school system more bad press.

Interviews Part Two

This week was spring break, so, naturally, all the work we’ve been putting of doing finally got done. This week I transcribed two interviews (and am doing another one tonight), contacted and sent interview questions to Lisa Baldwin, the creator of the Buncombe Students First blog, and created half the timeline for the case and and a Story map for different book challenges across the country.  This week the hope is to create a large portion of the pages for our website. Also this week, Cara has contacted Tim Coley via Facebook and hopefully we will hear from him soon.

Photo of Lisa Baldwin

Lisa Baldwin, Asheville Citizen-Times OPINION 9:32 a.m. EDT May 15, 2015, From the Blog of Lisa Baldwin: Buncombe Students First

I contacted Lisa Baldwin at the end of the week before last, and last Wednesday we set up a interview plan. She preferred to answer questions via email, so Cara and I spent about a half hour of our Wednesday meeting discussing questions we had for her.  After our meeting I sent her these questions:

~Your article was primarily about the Kite Runner, but you mentioned The Bluest Eye as well. What is your specific opinion on The Bluest Eye as a book and its use in the classroom. The specific book challenge that we are looking at was in an Honors Junior level class at North Buncombe High School.

~The Media/Technology Advising Committee decided to move The Bluest Eye from the Honors Junior class book list to the Senior level AP Literature class reading list. What is your opinion on this decision?

~What inspired you and motivated you to blog about and speak out in the Kite Runner case?

~What is your advice to parents that are concerned about materials being used in the classroom?

~What is your advice for educators who want to use more modern and controversial works in their classroom? On your blog you recommend teachers do their “due-diligence”, what does that entail?

~Could you please walk us through what the challenge process was like for you when you when you challenged The Kite Runner?

Hopefully she will be able to give us information and understanding in favor of banning books from the classroom. Her blog has been inactive for two years now, so I was pleasantly shocked when she responded to the email attached to it. Because we are continuing to have trouble getting documents and the complainant’s contact information from the school, We reached out to her, though she is not directly involved with this case, to better understand not only the historic context, but also the opinions of a parent who had challenged another book on grounds of sexually explicit content.


Preparing for the interviews

This past week Cara did a lot of interviews. Because her schedule is more flexible than mine, we have agreed to have her conduct the interviews and I will do the transcribing. Through this process I have also been helping Cara come up with questions for the different people she has been interviewing. We’ve created a Google doc that holds rough questions that we have for different people. This doc started when I interviewed Eric Grant and we have also used it to create a list of questions for others that we will be interviewing.  My interview with Eric Grant happened via email throughout the last couple of weeks. On our google doc Cara and I wrote out all the information that we wanted to get from Mr. Grant I then wrote him the following email:

We are mostly interested in the process that a book goes through when being challenged, and specifically what that looked like in the case of The Bluest Eye. We’d also like to know about your role in this process  as well as other people who played instrumental roles.  We’d also love to hear your opinions on the book, the challenge, and the process.
We’d also be very appreciative of any materials or paperwork related to the case that you could give us copies of.
Sorry for being so slow to email you back, I came down with the flu last week and am still recovering.
Thank you for all your time and help, and I look forward to hearing from you,
He replied with a two page document that we will be adding to our website along with other transcripts as we finish them.
If there is one thing I realized  when writing this email, its that there phrasing these questions requires time and planning. Though our main goal is to just figure out what happened and why, we have to be very particular about the way we pose some questions. There is a fine line between asking the right question, and asking a leading question. While drafting the email, I first wrote out exactly what I wanted to ask, the first way that popped into my head. I then realized that the way I phrased some of my questions were not only leading, they were also combative. Mr. Grant agree to help us and didn’t have to be as cooperative as he was. I had to make sure I didn’t sound accusatory in any way. After editing and revising I came up with the email above. We knew that Mr Grant, as the curriculum specialist for 6-12 English Language Arts, would possibly be the most willing to speak openly with us and we are glad that he did. Though we still can not get any information about the complaining parent, he gave us a great deal of information about the specifics of the case.

Progress Report

We have broken through!!

This week Cara has set up multiple interviews. Through Stacia Harris, Cara got connected directly to Dr. Samantha Sircy, the principal of NBHS, so she has set up a phone interview with her for Tuesday.  She also interviewed a Librarian at a local library, and has set up an interview with Dr.  Deborah James, UNCA’s resident Toni Morrison expert. Both of us will be attending the Dr. James interview. So this week the two of us will have a lot of transcribing to do, but hopefully this means that we’ll start to get more information.

While Cara’s been networking and contacting people, I’ve been mapping out our website on Coggle and gathering information for the history timeline.

Click here to see the website laid out in Coggle

I’m using this program to visualize all of the different navigation options and make sure there are different ways of accessing the information on the website.  This week I’m going to finish adding pages to the website and cross linking everything I can before we have text. Once we have text, it is our plan to have names and other things mentioned linked to Bio pages or pages about whatever was mentioned.

I plan on contacting the reporter who wrote the article for WLOS, to see if I can be put in contact with the complaining parent. I have also been waiting to hear back from Eric Grant. I emailed him questions last week and he has not gotten back to me with answers. I emailed him again at the end of this week and he told me he’d had a busy week and would work on them on Friday, and I’m still waiting to hear back from him.

We’re really excited to finally be getting somewhere. Hopefully Dr. Sircy will put us in contact with the teacher and complaining parent. Hopefully we can start to get all the information we need and begin writing the case  specific pages for our website.


Tripods and camcorders and headsets! Oh my!

This week I checked out all the different types of technology one could get from our library. I’ve done the technology tour twice before with other classes, so this time I just refreshed my memory by looking at the technology resources listed on the UNCA Library website. Not only does our library have a large variety of digital media devices available for check out, they also have many resources that can be used in the library to edit and create different types of media.

Many of the in-house resources, such as the Media design lab and the CrAFT studio are designed to make physical projects as opposed to digital media. However the Media design Lab, which has several Adobe programs  that could be used to edit images that we wish to use on our website.  They also have a in-house video and audio lab that we can use to create high quality videos and audio clips to add to our website. At this time we don’t plan to add any videos or podcasts, but it’s nice to know that they are readily available to us should we decide to use them.

We most likely will not use many of the resources that our library provides directly, but most of the students that work in the Media Design lab are New Media or Computer Science majors, and will likely be willing and able to help us with website design, and most importantly troubleshooting. Neither Cara nor myself are very experienced in web design and it is comforting to know that there are people on campus that we can access for help troubleshooting problems on our website.

Our library also has various video and audio recording devices that can be checked out for three days at a time. So far, I have been using an audio recorder application on my phone for the interview I conducted, and Cara has a handheld recorder that she plans to use for her interviews. However, should we decide to do a video interview, we will be checking out a camcorder and tripod from the library to use.

General Updates

Mind map of website layout, designed at coggle.it

Our Website mind-map.

Cara and I have started to work on the layout for our website using Coggle, and are trying to figure out where different types of visuals would be helpful and how to categorize the different things we are planning to cover. So far we think we have the whole layout figured out and have also divided up the different topics for each of us to work on. We are also using Trello to organize what needs to be done. This weekend I am drafting up a contract for us so that we have a more concrete timeline and division of labor.

Right now the biggest issue is getting information. Slowly but surely things are starting to come together and we are starting to see progress.

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