This past Friday I was a panelist for the “Faculty Face Off” session at American University’s Social Learning Summit – a 2.5 day conference organized by AU’s Social Media Club that looks at the current and emerging role, trends, and a techniques of using social media tools in learning and education. I was joined by moderator Meghan Foster, and panelists Scott Talan, Jim Quirk, and Stef Woods. In the spirit of the summit, my reflection on the experience will be organized by tweets that members of the audience shared during the discussion.
This was the opening tweet from the AU Social Media Club’s account. And I just wanted to include this tweet as a way to recognize the organizing and educational brilliance of this club. I have attended quite a few conferences/summits at AU and many of them have been excellent. I can say that the Social Learning Summit has been the best conference in terms of speakers, audience engagement, practicing what they preach and hope to encourage in the teaching and learning, and developing networks of knowledge and idea sharing.
This tweet was in reference to a comment I made about a new conference call facilitation technique that I had recently learned from participating in a Kingian Nonviolence book club. The book club consists of about 11 people from all over North America, all of whom (except me) have been at least certified as a level 1 Kingian Nonviolence trainer. Check out this link to learn more about the Kingian Nonviolence trainings at the University of Rhode Island. In the club we read many of Dr. Martin Luther King’s original works – Stride Towards Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait, Strength to Love, Where Do We Go From Here?, and Trumpets of Conscience, and then meet on a conference call to discuss the history, strategy, and principles embedded in these stories.
The facilitator of the calls has each of us take out a piece of paper and a pen, draw a circle on it and create a clock face with all the numbers going around from 1-12. Then when he calls on each of us to introduce ourselves and give a short response to the opening question he also asks us to pick one of the numbers on the clock. Then everyone writes that person’s name next to that number on the circle. That way, by the time everyone has introduce him or herself we have everyone’s names written around the circle and we can visualize us all sitting at a table, even though we are in reality scattered all over North America. This arrangement and set up also then allows the group to do a circle process. When a discussion question or prompt is introduced someone can volunteer to begin and then the conversation can move around the circle that we have all created.
I found this facilitation technique to be very effective and has given me a whole new appreciation for conference calls, which up until that point were something I tended to dread because they were never facilitated effectively. Now I have this skill, have since facilitated it myself during another online course, and see conference calls as a good way to connect students who taking courses online but could still benefit from hearing each others’ voices. Conference calls are also, oddly enough, considered relatively “low-tech” now that there are all sorts of webinar and video conferencing services available. The only problem with those is that they require a certain level of bandwidth, computer equipment (video cam, microphone, etc.) and oftentimes always involve some type of trouble shooting in order to work correctly. Phones, however, are almost ubiquitous these days or at least easily accessible, especially throughout North America, and so its easy to incorporate that tech into an online/virtual learning experience.
These two tweets are in reference to a comment I made about how I use WordPress socially with the various classes I teach at AU. The example I gave was how I use comment sections on the class websites I create on WordPress for students to “ease in and out of class.”
For each class I post a learning plan on the website so, if they like, students can go to the site a couple hours before class and see what is in store for them and they can start mentally preparing for the kinds of themes we are exploring. Then at the end of class students are asked to write in the comment section of that posting their “end of class reflection” which we refer to as an “A-Ha” moment and/or something they would like to explore further. This is a short comment – just a couple sentences – that they must post within 24 hours of the class ending. The reason for this is that I find it important for students to let the learning that takes place in class to simmer a bit and for learners to actually write down a take-away from that learning experience. In a fast-paced, busy college lifestyle it is very easy for a class to end and for a student to then immediately move on to the next class, activity, event, etc. and not really taken the time to think about what value, knowledge, insight, or spark was generated in a class. For me, this is the opportunity for the learning to stick or take root, rather, in the students thinking and perspective.
The second way that I utilize the comment section is that each theme that we explore during the semester has a series of readings and videos that students are asked to read and watch prior to the class. I provide a short opening post about the theme and how it’s connected to previous sessions, etc. and then at the bottom of my post I share a couple thought-provoking questions that tie some of the reading and watching assignments together and provide the students with some guidance in what to look for and think about when they read and watch. I then ask the students to develop their own thought-provoking questions based on the readings and videos and post that question in the comment section. I then review these questions and select five that I think are really good and well-written and those are the questions that students discuss in small groups at the beginning on the next class.
This is a way of encouraging inquiry and questioning as opposed to a “right answer” mentality. It also give students more ownership over the learning experience in each class. And lastly, it helps me learn about and think about the readings and videos in new ways each semester.
This tweet was in reference to a comment I made about how I am totally comfortable with students being allowed to use their laptops for a couple reasons. First, much of what we do in class in conversational, participatory, and oftentimes involves kinesthetic exercises and activities. In all such cases, students see no need and never really have the opportunity to take out their laptops and potentially get distracted. Second, if the class is going through a more “passive” learning experience like a lecture and a student asks a question or wants more information about something that was mentioned, I sometimes ask that student or anyone who has their laptop open to Google for that information. Sometimes this is because no one in the room currently knows the answer (myself included), or a better more complete answer might be found online as opposed to me or another students having to pull together a partial answer.
An example of this from this past semester is when I was giving a lecture on environmental sustainability and international development and I mentioned the Chipko movement. Not a single student in the room had heard of them and all I had provided was a single image of women and young girls hugging trees and short explanation of the struggle. It just so happened that some students found this really fascinating and wanted to learn more and so I asked them to Google Chipko movement and see what popped up. Within seconds we had students sharing information about it from a variety of sources.
This is just one example of the power of laptops and internet inside the classroom. 15 years ago the ability to instantly gather and find resources about a topic would have to wait until after class and involve a trip to the library to find a book, which for more obscure topics and smaller libraries, no information may exist.
This tweet is in reference to how I use Google docs in one of my classes. As I mentioned above, I ask students to develop their own thought-provoking, discussion questions based on the reading and watching assignments. I then select five that we we actually discuss in person in class. I copy and paste those five selected questions into a shared Google doc and send that out to the entire class a couple hours before class begins. It is really amazing to see how quickly they flock to the shared doc to see which questions were selected and which to which discussion group they have been assigned.
The fun does not end there, however. Once we are in class, each of the selected question has been introduced, we’ve explained why they were chosen, and the students have been broken up into the discussion groups, I ask one student to open the document and be a scribe during their small group discussion. Their job is to type the key ideas, arguments, and resources mentioned underneath their group’s question on the shared doc. All five groups are doing this simultaneously all on the same document. I have the document up on the screen as well, so I can watch as notes are added to each question in real time. When I see an interesting idea pop up in one of the groups I head over to them, ask them about it and join in on their conversation for a bit before going back to the main doc and seeing what other groups have been discussing.
At the end of the semester we have multiple shared docs – one for each theme that we explore during the semester. Each doc has the student generated thought-provoking question and their notes from when they discussed them in small groups. Some of those questions are then incorporated into the final exam.
These tweets were in reference to an interview I had recently heard on NPR with MIT professor Sherry Turkle called, ‘We Need to Talk’: Missed Connections with Hyperconnectivity. In the interview Prof. Turkle says, “”We’re also moving into a world where we’re truncating our communications, making them briefer and briefer, where sometimes we’re willing to sacrifice conversation for mere connection.” This can make us “nasty and insincere” as Taylor tweeted because texting and tweeting removes us from the experience of actually engaging with someone vocally, if not physically. That vocal communication and conversation brings with it so much more information, emotion, and feeling that does a short text message and so it requires us to engage with that person in a different way and for us to develop skills that allow us to effectively empathize with and understand the other person.
In the interview she gives the example of the young man who texts his grandmother, last minute, that he will not be coming to dinner. His parents found this to be unacceptable and said that if he wants to cancel that he must at least give them the respect by declining the invitation over the phone. By texting he was preventing himself from having a difficult, but important, conversation with his grandmother, hearing the disappointment in her voice, or hearing anything else about why his coming over to dinner is important to her (e.g. she spent all day making his favorite dish, his grandfather wants to catch up with him, etc.).
I found this to be quite relevant to peace education and the social/emotional learning aspects that are part of that field. This is why I am introducing conference calls into the online peace education course I am teaching this summer. Its hard to explore peace education ideas unless we create learning experiences that allow us to see, hear, and feel what we hope to practice.