My 101 students connected to one another online as part of larger assignment. They were divided into small groups and each group was assigned an article that relates to our discussions of Fast Food Nation. Four specific tasks were defined: 1) summarize the article, 2) note who was interviewed for the article and decide whether or not they are "reliable" sources, 3) choose two important quotations and explain their relevance, and 4) prepare two discussion questions for the class. Group members chose their tasks and posted their work on Facebook. Once the initial assignments were posted, they were assigned "partners" and asked to read and respond to their partner's post. They were also told to prepare class presentations.
How it went:
Most of this went really well. Students did a great job with their assigned tasks and the presentations were terrific. They succeeded in dissecting and analyzing a possible research source and practiced their public speaking skills. The class got an overview of 6 resources and many have chosen to use some of the articles in their upcoming research essays. The part that didn't go so well was the online connection, mostly because the instructions I provided were confusing to them. A few did a wonderful job but most did not, which tells me that the fault lay with the prompt, not with them. Their comments were short and vague and not particularly useful. I would certainly do the larger assignment again but need to rethink the online connection. I may have been trying to force something for the sake of experimentation when it really doesn't belong and may end up cutting that part entirely.
On an unrelated note, I'm having technical issues with Blackboard SafeAssign and could use some advice. Many students trying to post are getting error messages saying that the system is overloaded. I planned to return comments on Monday so wanted to grade this morning and afternoon. Since most essay aren't up yet, I'm already several hours behind schedule and am afraid I won't have time for all of them tomorrow. So, what do I do? Give them an extension? Accept essays via e-mail (which will be very confusing for me)? Make them keep trying and hope they upload in time for me to read them?