Last week a colleague shared with me a “Call for Poster Presentations” flier he had received from one of his professors from his Education Ph.D program. The presentations, and accompanying one-day conference at the University of Texas at Arlington, addresses the theme of “Engaging Students: The Process and Product of Effective Active Learning.” While I’m enrolled in the Transatlantic History Ph.D program at UTA and will begin my classes this fall, the topic of this conference certainly touches on my professional interests and much of what I’ve been thinking about this summer and writing about on this blog.
So, in brainstorming ideas for a potential presentations (the flier offers four major themes — Research on Teaching and Learning; Service Learning Experiences; Innovative Teaching Techniques; and Student-Focused Peer Collaboration — of which I’ll likely focus on the latter two) I’ve encountered the conceptual challenge of how to cast this presentation. I have a number of topics that I could address — using Twitter in the secondary school classroom, designing and implementing a social media-based classroom, using blogs for student writing, using Diigo to improve student research techniques and make their process (and progress) more transparent — but am having a hard time deciding what direction to take for the 300-500 word abstract that I have to submit for consideration.
The primary challenge, as I see it, deals with the issue of the presentation’s scope. Again, the constant breadth vs. depth question confronts me again (as it does every year I think about ways to change and improve my teaching of World History — a Sisyphean course [in terms of content, not skills] if there ever was one!) Do I take the very pragmatic approach and strive to present something that offers a tangible, descriptive sense of how I employ a particular social media tool or resource in my classroom, which might include an introduction to that tool and its functionality? Alternatively, do I strive for a broader overview of the types of social media I employ in my classroom and then focus primarily on the philosophical basis behind moving toward this type of arrangement? How do I create a presentation that offers something of value both to conference attendees who might be very familiar with various forms of social media and use it in their daily lives, as well as to those who think “Tweets” are noises made by birds?
This past May I gave a presentation to my colleagues about Edmodo and how I’d been using it in my classroom, the functionality it provided, and how I managed to migrate much of my coursework and assignments to a paperless format. I very much focused on the pragmatics of using Edmodo and how it could be useful for teachers to not only communicate with their students, but also to communicate with one another, and to communicate with the clubs they sponsor or the teams they coach. I received positive feedback on this presentation, and a number of my colleagues created accounts and began using the site, but because it was toward the end of the year, I think enthusiasm for revamping class structure wasn’t at an all-time high. It’ll be interesting to see how many people continue, or begin, to use Edmodo this fall. But, back to this presentation…
I think the most earnest type of presentation — and certainly the one that would most accurately reflect own my level of expertise — would address the process I’ve undertaken this summer in going about conceptualizing and planning to implement a social media-based class. In a sense, by giving a presentation on my own brainstorming, research, and design process, I not only am able to address some of the specific tools and how I plan to use them in the classroom context, but I am also able to delve into my philosophical bases for wanting to move in this direction and explore how I think these changes will enhance the learning process for my students. Therefore, in the course of answering questions and conversing with conference attendees (I know, I know…”don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” I haven’t even drafted an abstract yet) I’d be able to both discuss the pragmatics of using specific resources and how one can shape classes around them as well as why, more broadly, social media works in the secondary school context. Perhaps a before-and-after type organization or frame for my presentation would make the most sense, as that would showcase how I’m still striving to teach the same fundamental skills and get the students to engage in the same intellectual challenges, but am now harnessing technologies that help students better connect with one another, with me, and with classrooms and students in far-flung places. Employing this new social media-based structure in the classroom will hopefully shift the emphasis of the students’ learning toward the formative process rather than the summative result(s) [note: I've borrowed that distinction from Shelly Blake-Plock, as I think it really hits at the core of social media's value.]
On a side-note, isn’t there something deeply ironic about a conference dedicated to innovative teaching techniques based on technology to require presenters to generate a physical 36″ x 48″ poster? I know that posters are now becoming a more popular form of presenting one’s research findings in academia, but shouldn’t the presenters somehow be encouraged to conceptualize and frame their presentations in a more meta- way, thinking about how the content of their presentation could be enhanced through a medium other than posterboard (and glue, clippings, ink, etc.)? However, from the perspective of a conference attendee, I can see the appeal in terms of the flexibility this format creates by enabling one to focus on talking with presenters whose ideas are most compelling or applicable, while skipping other presentations that are less pertinent. In this way, the poster format avoids the danger of having to sit through a didactic talk from an un-engaging speaker, or having to make choices about which session to skip when talks or panels are held concurrently. In any event, it seems that the unconference model (like that used at GMU’s THATCamp 2009) is likely the best model for fostering collaboration — a case which Dave Parry makes in a recent blog post.
So, has anyone else given any similar presentations on social media (poster or not) to an audience of varying familiarity with these tools? What tacts did you take? What presentations have you seen in this vein and what has been most effective? I look forward to hearing any feedback as I draft my abstract over the next week.