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“And they’re off…”: Thoughts on the unveiling of the social media-based class

Well, I’ve successfully done it, (or at least started the ball rolling,) on implementing my social media-based class. Or from an entirely different perspective, I’ve opened a huge Pandora’s Box. But I’ll be optimistic and think its the former.

As I wrote about in my last post, I’m structuring my sophomore World History classes around Edmodo, blogging, Diigo, Twitter (soon enough,) and a centralized class wiki. Though some students seemed a bit taken aback by having the first two days of class deal almost exclusively with technological resources and the philosophical underpinnings of my desire to create transparency and extend the classroom through social media, they’ve all adapted very quickly and are now actively contributing to our digital community.

My first order of business involved having them create their own blogs and post those URLs to Edmodo. With all those RSS feeds I created groups for each class in my Google Reader account, and embedded those in the class wiki in the form of “bundles.” Today in class, I had students add the bundles to their Google Reader accounts, established the blogging groups (an idea for which Boone Gorges deserves much credit) for the first quarter, and had students begin reading and giving one another feedback via comments.

Once all the trouble-shooting had come to an end, and everyone had successfully managed to add one another’s blog and knew whose work they should be reading and commenting on, they quickly got to work and stayed productive throughout the whole class period. In fact, one class period worked uninterrupted until a minute before the ball rang. I managed to quickly call their attention to the night’s homework before they had to rush off to their next class. Though I’m rarely perceived as being a “glass half-full” type of person, I was really pleased to see this type of dedicated focus and self-directed work from a class. It seems that this type of social media structure really does engage students!

My current challenge now rests in building the Yahoo Pipes feed for all the class comments. I constructed one version that successfully pulls all the comment feeds and merges them into one RSS feed; however, the current set-up identifies the author of each comment, but does not distinguish on whose blog that comment was written. Any ideas how to pull that information out with filters or some other tool in Yahoo Pipes? Here’s the current set-up as I’ve designed it. I’d appreciate any insight.

The other challenge is non-technical, but is much more significant. One of my great frustrations in the past with peer editing is the way in which students seek to avoid what they perceive as “meanness” toward one another by writing very safe, heavily laudatory comments (even, or perhaps especially, in cases when it isn’t warranted.) I noticed this dynamic develop immediately during my first class as they wrote one another feedback, and was able to address this issue in the second class. While I haven’t scanned through the comments of the second class yet to see if my admonition made much of a difference, I see that I’ll have to spend a fair amount of time helping the students learn what constitutes meaningful critical feedback and what constitutes feel-good pablum.

Undoubtedly the students are capable of reading insightfully, thinking critically, and generating helpful feedback that both helps the commenter develop a constructively critical writing voice, and also helps those receiving the comments develop intellectually. However, I think the opaque nature of traditional peer editing in class reinforces the idea that one doesn’t want to risk social capital on providing an honest evaluation of a peer’s work as the only person seeing those comments (typically) is the author of the work. Now that the comments are visible to a broader audience, I hope that students begin to get a sense of participating in a broader dialogue and begin writing comments that address issues and ideas (and potentially other people and authors) beyond just the person who wrote the post.

Certainly my modeling of these types of comments will be important in conveying this shift, but I also think that discussing what constitutes “quality” in a blog post will also help solidify this understanding. To that end, I was impressed by Ryan Bretag‘s Blogging Rubric for a number of reasons. In particular, it does a nice job of addressing the ways in which blogging is an activity that goes beyond just writing,  but also encompasses citations (hyperlinks,) participation in a community (comments,) and the creative elements afforded by writing in a digital medium.

Undoubtedly more progress reports will follow, but now it’s off to immerse myself in the conceptual morass of distinguishing between the transnational vs. the transatlantic. Ah, grad school reading.

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3 thoughts on ““And they’re off…”: Thoughts on the unveiling of the social media-based class

  1. Nate says:

    Good God, that’s complicated! Wow, thanks for fixing my problem. Everything is running smooth in Google Reader now. I had the filter module in there thinking I could somehow generate the info I wanted using one of its options, but as I can now tell, it is totally useless (for this purpose.)

    Thanks again!

  2. Western Dave says:

    I have a couple of handouts that model critique and that talk explicitly about how to provide feedback without sounding mean. Most of it has to do with questions or I statements. Things like “I don’t understand how… (this piece of evidence supports this idea, you’re connecting these two ideas), or “Can you explain this more clearly? I’m confused.” Of course, one of my rules with peer review is that the reader is never wrong and all reactions must be in writing. My students often want to explain themselves orally during peer review and that is verboten. Not a problem with a blog!

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