Monday, May 16, 2011
While this article is mostly about high schoolers (who are tomorrow's law students), it also mentions how university professors are using social media to engage students too shy to talk in class. From the New York Times education section:
Wasn’t it just the other day that teachers confiscated cellphones and principals warned about oversharing on MySpace?
Now, Erin Olson, an English teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, is among a small but growing cadre of educators trying to exploit Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion. Last Friday, as some of her 11th graders read aloud from a poem called “To the Lady,” which ponders why bystanders do not intervene to stop injustice, others kept up a running commentary on their laptops.
The poet “says that people cried out and tried but nothing was done,” one student typed, her words posted in cyberspace.
“She is giving raw proof,” another student offered, “that we are slaves to our society.”
Instead of being a distraction — an electronic version of note-passing — the chatter echoed and fed into the main discourse, said Mrs. Olson, who monitored the stream and tried to absorb it into the lesson. She and others say social media, once kept outside the school door, can entice students who rarely raise a hand to express themselves via a medium they find as natural as breathing.
“When we have class discussions, I don’t really feel the need to speak up or anything,” said one of her students, Justin Lansink, 17. “When you type something down, it’s a lot easier to say what I feel.”
With Twitter and other microblogging platforms, teachers from elementary schools to universities are setting up what is known as a “backchannel” in their classes. The real-time digital streams allow students to comment, pose questions (answered either by one another or the teacher) and shed inhibitions about voicing opinions. Perhaps most importantly, if they are texting on-task, they are less likely to be texting about something else.
. . . .
Skeptics — and at this stage they far outnumber enthusiasts — fear introducing backchannels into classrooms will distract students and teachers, and lead to off-topic, inappropriate or even bullying remarks. A national survey released last month found that 2 percent of college faculty members had used Twitter in class, and nearly half thought that doing so would negatively affect learning. When Derek Bruff, a math lecturer and assistant director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, suggests fellow professors try backchannels, “Most look at me like I’m coming from another planet,” he said.
“The word on the street about laptops in class,” Dr. Bruff added, is that students use them to tune out, checking e-mail or shopping. He said professors could reduce such activity by giving students something class-related to do on their mobile devices.
Besides Twitter, teachers have turned to other platforms for backchannels, some with more structure and privacy. Most are free on the Web and — so far — free of advertising. Google Moderator lets a class type questions and vote for the ones they would most like answered. Today’s Meet, used by Mrs. Olson, sets up a virtual “room.”
Purdue University, in Indiana, developed its own backchannel system, Hot Seat, two years ago, at a cost of $84,000. It lets students post comments and questions, which can be read on laptops or smartphones or projected on a large screen. Sugato Chakravarty, who lectures about personal finance, pauses to answer those that have been “voted up” by his audience.
Before Hot Seat, “I could never get people to speak up,” Professor Chakravarty said. “Everybody’s intimidated.”
“It’s clear to me,” he added, “that absent this kind of social media interaction, there are things students think about that normally they’d never say.”
You can read the rest here.