Over the last few weeks, Phyllis and I have been thinking of ways to connect across classes. I'm teaching an Introduction to Criminal Justice Class, and she's teaching a World Lit class, with students getting ready to graduate. We thought it would be interesting if we had them post to each others blogs.
I created a Ning site for our classes. It's accessible off the Community 2.0 site.
Overall, the experience of trying to get the class into Ning has been difficult. I don't have a lab, but posted instructions and gave them out in class. I have 38 students in the class, and still have 3 kids who have not gotten in. I've sent invites to several addresses, but they have not seen them. It could be a number of things blocking them. I'm investigating now. I think it might ultimately be cases of user error. Even though we talk about students as being technologically savvy on the whole, many of them are not. I think many of them have taken my Criminal Justice class.
Honestly, I think a lot of the Web 2.0 programs are time-wasters, and I felt the same way about Ning. However, I was surprised and have the following observations:
1.) Ning was hard to get into, but once in, it's easy to navigate and use, especially for students, who tend to congregate in the common class area, but maintain their blogs and their own sites, choosing backgrounds, photos and sayings to customize their "space".
2.) For the most part, I have not prescribed much beyond having them post their assignment, a blog about the effect of race on crime. Before their papers were due, they began friending each other and posting and commenting. Remember, this is an evening class of older students. There has been an organic development of community without my direction. I think well constructed, guided activities could help foster the creation of communities in these classes, and help students discuss class ideas outside of class.
3.) It has been difficult getting Phyllis' students into my Ning, but several have gotten in, and several have posted. Interestingly, much of the conversation centers on causes of crime, and touch on the theoretical models developed in the criminal justice disciplines, although the students would probably not be able to identify them. Again, through no real prodding on either my or Phyllis' part, the conversations have morphed into something I had not really anticipated. Race was dismissed as having an influence on crime, and many of the students focused on sociological reasons to explain crime. This is interesting because many students hold very conservative views on crime and punishment, holding an individual responsible, supporting severe punishments and having little sympathy for offenders.
4.) I'm not sure what the World Lit class will get out of this exercise, but I think my students can benefit from interacting with a more experienced group of students. You can almost measure the difference in the level of thinking by looking at the posts. In the future, I'd like to try and integrate one common reading for each class and get their reactions, to the work and each other's post.
At the end of the class, I'm going to re-post the prompt, and see if there are differences in their thinking. I expect there will be.