How I use social media in teaching III: In the classroom

In this final post in a series on how I use social media in teaching I focus on what I do in the classroom. I’ll begin with a summary of my learning and teaching philosophy, which I include in course outlines:

This course combines lectures and films with interactive tutorials in a format designed to guide students through the major topic areas and encourage discussion. The emphasis is on collaborative learning through dialogue and active participation rather than passively listening to lectures. Lectures will utilise various forms of technology (Blackboard, Twitter) in order to encourage in-class participation so students are welcome to bring smartphones, iPads, netbooks or laptops to class.

In future this will be followed with a caveat based on recent research carried out by Faria Sana, Tina Weston and Nicholas Cepeda (2013) which found that in-class use of laptops hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. I will still encourage people to bring technologies to class but recommend that they read this article and try to stay off Facebook and other distractions during class (unless I have specifically asked them to look at something online).

Like most lecturers, I usually show a relevant YouTube clip or a TED talk (TED-Ed is a great tool for the classroom) during class, which I embed within Blackboard so students can view them again in their own time. I also add extra relevant links (YouTube, blogs, websites) to Blackboard for those students who are really keen on the subject and want to find out more. I do not expect students to watch anything extra that I have not shown in class, but I do want to inspire them to check out interesting anthropological content when they are browsing the web in their own time.

In large classes (300+ students) I use a ‘virtual lecture hall tool’ on Blackboard. This is what I have called the Course Blog function within Blackboard (although I am sure I could probably come up with a better title for it!). It is a way for students to ask a question without having to raise their hands and speak up in front of everyone, which can be daunting for some. Students can post questions here during lectures and I set aside time to look at the questions – usually when I am showing a YouTube clip or TED talk – and respond to them either straight away or at the beginning of the next lecture.

When I respond I just address the question; I don’t look for the person who asked it. To start with I tried to engage with students by naming and looking for the authors of questions (students cannot post anonymously to Blackboard) but found that doing so discouraged some from using the tool – they wanted to remain as anonymous as possible. I only answer questions in class and do not post replies or monitor the ‘virtual lecture hall tool’ outside of the lecture situation.

I use other social media (such as Facebook) as objects of study. Facebook is a great topic with which to explore anthropological concepts and one which resonates with students. However I do not use Facebook as a vehicle to communicate with students. I have found that students usually create their own group Facebook pages for courses, which I do not participate in or view. I think it is good for students to have a space to ask one another questions and discuss course content that is not monitored by lecturers or tutors – kind of like a virtual library corner.

I would be interested to hear from others  – teachers and students – about experiences with social media in teaching. I’m sure I could learn a lot from your practices!

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