Does this look familiar? How can we see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?
On Tuesday last week I went to a talk from Prof Vivian Forssman; Director of the Learning and Technology Services (LTS) team at the Sauder School of Business at University of British Columbia. The LTS have been very involved with supporting lecturers in the use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social tools both inside and outside the classroom, as a means of classroom learner engagement. Forssman shared with us her experiences providing several examples of how they are implementing social learning, as well as offering various critiques. Much like UCT, her examples were closely tied to the challenges of teaching in large lecture theatres.
The Sauder School of Business has been able to invest quite a bit in their classroom technology, equipping rooms with multiple screens, cameras, and microphones between every two students amongst the audience. This technology has enabled more of a conversation to occur in the classroom. The microphones enable students to have a voice which everyone can hear. When a question is being asked, the camera automatically pans to the space where the student is seated.
Vivian alluded to the “unintended consequences” which have been experienced as a result of the new classroom technologies. The old trick of calling out a student sleeping in class takes on a whole new dimension! Imagine catching some sleep in class, and then the teacher calling upon you…all of a sudden your sleepy face is presented on the big screen for all to see and the microphone is ready for your answer. Vivian has said this unforseen use case has led to students being slightly more alert in the classroom.
Another technique which has led to students being more alert is the playing of music in the classroom at the start of the lecture. Imagine walking into the lecture theatre with some loud pulsing music to get you fired up! This is a very simple technique which seems to have lead to more vibrant students in the lecture which follows.
The Sauder School has also embraced Facebook as a classroom collaboration tool. As we all know, nearly all students seem to be using Facebook these days, but it is still considered a distraction rather then an opportunity for most. By leveraging social media, they are engaging with students using their online platform of choice. Groups are set up for specific courses which allow students to share, comment and collaborate on the course material through the platform.
While I was concerned about how students might feel mixing their social and academic identities online, there are tools being developed which allow students to keep their social engagement separate from their academic engagement on Facebook. Therefore, students don’t necessarily have to become ‘Facebook friends’ with all of their classmates, but can still have discussions around the course material. Additionally, participants in the course don’t have to receive all of the updates from the student’s social activity stream, unless they choose to become ‘Facebook friends’. This allows Facebook users to use their profiles to engage in the course, without becoming linked to all of their classmates as friends. I tend to think students would be happy to use their Facebook accounts in this way, especially if it led to an improved learning experience.
I found it remarkable how the Sauder School had embraced the tools that the students wanted to use, and made them part of the academic experience. Forssman gave the wonderful example of how graduate tutors monitor the Facebook course page for student’s updates, questions, or contributions. If a relevant link is shared, question is raised or debate is prompted on the Facebook page, the tutor may interrupt the class and bring the academic into the discussion. For the most part, the tutor can probably help the students out on the Facebook page by themself, but when the discussion needs to be elevated to course level, they can raise the issue for discussion. The tutor acts as a filter between the academic and participants; addressing, and adjusting the lesson in real time. I think this is a really wonderful example of creating a backchannel within the classroom. This may create more opportunities for students less inclined to challenge the teacher aloud to have a voice. As well it leaves a lovely record of what transpires in a course, and how students relate it to their everyday life.
I am always interested in how educators are using technology in other contexts. Thanks to Prof Forssman for sharing the Sauder School of Business examples! You can read more about the Learning and Technology Services group at Sauder in their annual report.