Community 2.0 gave me the knowledge and tools to implement new Web 2.0 technologies in my Freshman Seminar (FSM) courses. I chose to use Blogger in my Fall 2010 seminars where each student created his or her own Blogger account to complete weekly online reflections. I was often skeptical about my decision to use Blogger instead of one of the more “social” platforms such as Facebook ; however, I was positively surprised by my students’ positive reactions to the tool at the end of the semester. Freshman Seminar is not considered to be a “traditional” writing-based course like English but instead a discussion-based course that relies on group discussions and active class participation. The survey included 7 open-ended questions that explored students’ reactions to using Web 2.0 technology to enhance their classroom experience and their satisfaction with the class format.
The following semester, Spring 2011, I experimented with Facebook groups in my College Discovery Second Semester Seminar (FSG) to gain a broader understanding of the many advantages and disadvantages of these different tools. Unfortunately, my Facebook experiment was not as successful as the Blogger accounts had been the previous semester. This was largely due to the fact that my FSM courses met in a computer lab whereas the FSG met in a smart classroom with no access to personal computers during class. It is crucial to have access to personal computers during class time in courses like FSM and FSG because each class meets only once a week for an hour and carries no college credit. Students appear to be less likely to use tools such as Facebook groups at home when they are in the midst of their credit-bearing courses and do not receive a grade for their “extra” effort (or lack of effort) in FSG (here).
Despite the aforementioned challenges, I will continue to incorporate technology into my FSM and FSG seminars. Overall, I felt a greater student engagement with technology in my courses than without, and it gave every student a voice regardless of their public speaking abilities. Online journaling also keeps a record of each and every student’s work in a one centralized place for future reflection and personal growth.
One of my favorite moments was when I reviewed the survey results for my Fall 2010 FSM courses. Majority of the students seemed to have had a positive experience with technology and most of them were interested in enrolling in a technology enhanced course in the future. It has also been rewarding to see students offer their technology expertise in class when my knowledge of Facebook, for example, has been more limited than theirs.
During our year-long seminar, I had an opportunity to read, write and reflect on a wide variety of comments by the Community 2.0 participants. It was also a rewarding experience to be part of an online community that supported my efforts and to whom I could turn to with my trials and tribulations. On the other hand, I did experience a few moments of self-doubt as I was reading some of the longer and more extensive posts on the Community 2.0 blog. Questions such as: “Should I write longer entries?”, “Should I use more technology?” or “Should I create more connections with the other courses?” crossed my mind until I reminded myself that I teach a zero-credit course once a week for an hour. In theory, it is easy to imagine possibilities for connecting with non-FSM courses, but in practice, reality does set some limits on how we as instructors choose to use our precious class time to connect across curriculum. Even though we all strive for greater connectedness, ultimately, we choose activities for our students that are the most relevant and meet one or more of our course outcomes. For example, Prof. Sharif and I considered teaming up on study skills because many of his students seem to lack study skills whereas my FSM students learn about various study strategies throughout the semester. Other possibilities included connecting with Prof. Sanchirico’s co-op class on one of the career activities and/or Prof. McCormick’s class on emotional intelligence. All these connections sound very viable on the surface but very difficult to implement in practice when the stakes are so very different in each of these courses (contact hours, number of credits, course outcomes, letter grade vs. pass/fail, etc.). From my point of view, it would have been easier to connect with other courses if there had been more participants who taught courses more similar to mine, especially when experimenting with a new approach to teaching. Otherwise, I learned a great deal from all the participants and gained many new ideas by reading the Community 2.0 blog and attending our seminar meetings.
I am very enthusiastic about the future and the great benefits that my FSM students will reap from having a technology enhanced seminars and assignments in the future. I will continue to use blogs (or possible NING) in my FSM courses, but instead of having public accounts, I will probably opt for a closed community for my freshman cohort (some of the FSM topics are more sensitive in nature than others). I also plan to incorporate more writing assignments into my seminars and have students complete in-class reflections at the end of each session. I will most likely connect my two FSM courses with each other, and give students a greater sense of community by connecting beyond their particular course.