Looking over my posts for the last few months (I joined the seminar at the beginning of the Spring semester), I realize how much confidence I’ve gained using technology in the classroom in this short period of time. This confidence has made me more willing to try new things, sometimes adapting them as I go, which has allowed me to find and hone more effective teaching strategies and activities both in and out of the classroom.
While I’ve been using computer labs for several years now, I’ve never felt sure of what I was doing so I limited myself (without really realizing it) to simple tasks such as writing and revising essays in class. Sure, I would post class documents onto the Blackboard page but often students didn’t know (or couldn’t be bothered to find out) where to find them. Since joining this seminar, I’ve expanded my use of the web to assist students as they do research, evaluate sources, draft and annotate bibliographies, review and provide feedback on the work of their peers, and have class “discussions” (some live, some not). I was even able to break down the classroom walls a bit by having them interact with students in other English classes.
Using Facebook, in particular, has offered many more possibilities than Blackboard does and I believe students were more comfortable with and therefore more likely to access and benefit from what was on the class page. I had some concerns about using a social networking site for serious academic work but Facebook’s familiarity and ease of use for students proved it was a good decision. The social aspect also helped me feel more connected to my students (when they “liked” my homework reminders, for example, or thanked me for offering an Extra Credit assignment – small gestures they would not have otherwise made) and I believe made them feel more connected to one another. This sense of community is always difficult to create but I believe it to be incredibly important and I am thrilled that FB helped facilitate it.
I especially liked the opportunity to connect with other classes and I participated in two rounds of peer review with two fellow faculty members this semester. First, I had my students review and comment on the Annotated Bibliographies created by Lizzie’s ENG 101 class. They used Blogger, not Facebook, and the different in platform led to some technical difficulties but it was still a worthwhile experience for several reasons. First, my students got to see various examples of Annotated Bibliographies, some more complete than others. This was done the week before their own Annotated Bibliographies were due giving them a better sense of what was expected of the. Then they were assigned a partner and were asked to answer a series of questions about that person’s work. Working with Jeremey’s ENG 102 class allowed me to revisit literary analysis and let my students see how research on the cultural and historical background of a poet could be combined with close reading to contribute to the poem’s interpretation.
In both cases, seeing the work of a fellow student through a critical lens was an important learning experience for many of my students and while they struggled with how to respond to these partners they’ve never met, they had a better understanding of how I respond to their work. Several students said that it helped them know what to look for as they revised their own writing and some were just happy to see what kind of work other classes were doing. In one case, a student of mine felt invested enough in his partner’s work that he commented on the revised version of the essay (something that was not required).
Of course, not everything went smoothly. Lizzie’s class completed their work a week before mine was ready to tackle it, creating an uncomfortable lag in time. The different platforms also led to some technical difficulties. For example, many of my students were not able to post onto her students’ blogs and had to e-mail them separately, a cumbersome step for many that somewhat defeated the purpose of doing the exercise in class. The exchange with Jeremey’s class was smoother but still wasn’t perfect. We each made our groups public thinking that students could join easily but we still had to “accept” each student one by one. Add to that the fact that many of my students posted work that then promptly disappeared (likely a Facebook quirk that doesn’t allow multiple postings all at once) and there were some challenges there, too. But, I had learned to anticipate them and therefore was prepared to offer an alternative to my students.
My main suggestion to future participants is: Don’t be afraid to try something new. Even if it doesn’t work the way you planned (and in all likelihood, it won’t), you and your students will likely learn something new. Of course, I am myself a future participant of the Community 2.0 seminar since I want to continue to develop the work I’ve begun over the past few months. Expanding my use of technology in the classroom has been a goal of mine for years now but I find it to be much more manageable when in an environment such as this one. Jason and Ximena (and all the Community 2.0 participants) have been incredibly helpful and supportive as I’ve experimented with and adjusted various activities over the course of the semester. I find myself unwilling to leave the nest just yet and am looking forward to implementing more technology-based learning in the coming year.