Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blog & Twitter Use

Recently I met with a professor who had her students submit a journal-type document to the D2L dropbox in past semesters.  They had to relate the course content to a current event or an event in their lives.  She instructed them to add each new entry to the top of a Word document and resubmit it periodically.  However, she felt sometimes like it would be beneficial to have a discussion about what they were posting.  The dropbox does not allow for a conversation like that - it is primarily meant to accept documents that are then graded so the instructor could comment in the grades or send an email.

A blog seemed like the perfect tool for this assignment.  We talked through the details and she decided that it made the most sense to create groups of 5 students using the D2L Groups tool, then set up one blog per group on which all 5 students were authors.  This created a convenient way for the students to read and comment on each others' posts rather than having to navigate to different blogs. When the students go in to post their message, they automatically see other posts students in the group have written. Plus, she only has to monitor five different blogs rather than 25 if they were all individual.

Then, is commenting required?  We got into the details of how discussions in D2L usually work and it just seemed overwhelming to grade.  The goal was not to have in-depth discussion; it was more to allow for commenting when natural.  So, I believe she decided to encourage commenting, but was going to require the students to write up a document reflecting on what the other group members posted (with some specific prompts to respond to) and submit it to the D2L dropbox.  I suggested that this kind of assignment might seem more authentic to the students rather than requiring a certain number of comments with a certain depth because sometimes they have to try hard to figure out what to respond to and it feels forced.

Sometimes a problem with hybrid teaching is the tendency to add more to the course and end up with a course and a half.  In this situation, more student time would be required to read each others' posts and write up the summary paper reflecting on other students' posts, so it's important to account for that time by reducing class time, if appropriate, and add points or weight to the grade to reflect the new requirements.

Twitter came into play because the topic she teaches has a lot of media attention and she thought she could tweet some articles the students might want to use for their journal assignment. It would also be a way for those interested in the subject to learn more.  The Twitter part would not be required.  So we set up a Twitter account for her and I showed that the students don't even need a Twitter account to view her tweets.

Yet another innovative idea that I'm excited to see in action!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Class Facebook group

Last week I met with an instructor who teaches two sections of a clinical course with 8 students in each section.  She was interested in making her course into a hybrid format using a Facebook group.  The students previously spent 6.5 hours in clinicals each week and submitted documents to the Desire2Learn dropbox about their experience in clinical (along with various other assignments).  There is also a lecture component.

Her rationale with Facebook use was connecting with the students where they already are and adding interaction to the course.  Previously she had not been using any sort of online discussion; assignments were submitted to her only.

I think that her use of Facebook in this situation is an excellent example because 1) there are a small number of students, 2) what she is requiring of them is pretty informal, and 3) practice writing concisely will be helpful preparation for future case noting on the job.  For instance, she wants the students to comment on how group went each day.  If she was looking for very scholarly, citation-ridden, deep responses with replies, Facebook would not be the best place for that.  Those assignments would be best submitted to the dropbox or, in some occasions, posted on the discussion board.  However, since she is looking for the students to connect with each other on a more informal level (with correct grammar though!), Facebook can be a great place to capture that. It also will be a great place for them to ask questions of each other and the instructor so everyone can see the response and learn from it.

This course modification may not meet the UW-Eau Claire definition of a hybrid course in which 25% of the course occurs outside of the classroom (or clinical site, in this situation), but it is moving in that direction since she is going to reduce the amount of time in clinical to account for the time spent online. This also requires the students to use their clinical time wisely since they will have less of it.  Previously they were allowed to do outside work during their down time in clinical.  

The only real drawback I see with using Facebook rather than D2L for this type of interaction is that it is not possible to comment on a comment and see the thread indented as you can in D2L.  Instead, the commenter would just have to explain who/what they are replying to. This could get cumbersome if students are expected to reply to each other's questions (three replies deep).  For basic commenting, it would probably work well enough.  Time will tell.

She is planning on setting up a closed group and sharing the URL with the students.  They will then request to join the group.  Outsiders will be able to see that the group exists and will see the pictures and names of some of the participants, but will not be able to see any content.  When someone sets up a group, they are required to add one friend, so I became friends with the instructor via my work Facebook account.  Then she doesn't have to befriend any of the students.  I encouraged her to make sure the students know that they don't have to be friends with anyone in the group to join.

I'm excited to hear how it goes!  I also wonder about the impact Google+ will have on this type of situation since it is easier to separate personal, professional, and educational contacts there.