Technology in the Classroom: My Midterm Report

Ah, the halfway point. Classes are in full swing, students are eagerly working away on projects, and I always take a bit of time to reflect on where things are at so far.

This semester, I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time contemplating the role of social media and technology in the classroom. Here are a few things I’ve been reminded of:

Social media is not a one-size fits all solution. At the beginning of the term, I eagerly whipped up a Facebook Group for my class. I promoted it to all my students, posted some content, did all the right things. But, it just didn’t take. Only about 28 of my 75 students signed up. And I found that out of that number, only 1 or 2 seemed interested in interacting there. I posted interesting links and tried to start conversations, but since there was so little involvement, I didn’t feel confident using it as a main communications tool.

Why didn’t this work? Well, I could probably have spent more time promoting it to the class, but you know how it is when you’re a teacher. Other work and issues take priority. But really, I think that it just isn’t the right solution for this group. The dynamic isn’t there. Perhaps they are using Facebook for other things – and aren’t interested in talking about their classes there. I had assumed it would just work because I had used a Facebook Group to much success the semester before, in my Web Media class. But the nature of that course is to learn about social networks and Web 2.0 technology….so it sort of stands to reason that students would have a vested interest in interacting this way.

It’s not that I won’t try Facebook again. It has been a useful way for students to contact me and I don’t mind keeping that aspect going. I also have another college event-based project kicking off soon (which I’ll talk about in a few weeks) that is going to make extensive use of a Facebook group. I’ll be eager to share my learnings from that experience.

But remember, just because a tool is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right fit. Don’t force it. Just ensure you’ve found other ways to connect with your students and all will be fine.

Every year, students are more social media savvy. I have been teaching my video production course for 3 years, and I can tell you that, 3 years ago, things were very different in the classroom. In 2007, less than 10 people in my class of nearly 80 raised their hands when I asked who was involved in social networks. Today, almost everyone is on Facebook and about half my group use Twitter. Nearly everyone has either watched or uploaded video to YouTube. My students seem much more aware of the power of social media to connect and share information than they did a few years ago, and I think there are two reasons for this. First, social media is much more in the mainstream now than it was back then. There are simply more people using it. Second, every year, many of my first-year students are getting closer and closer to being part of the digital native generation. This online communication stuff comes naturally to them, because they’ve never really known anything different. In just 4 years from now, our entry-level students will never have known life without the World Wide Web. That is remarkable. How does this change the way us 30-and-40-and-50 somethings teach students born in the mid-1990’s about technology? More on that in a later post, but it’s an interesting question.

Suffice it to say that today’s students are more comfortable and know more about technology than we do, and that’s becoming more true all the time. We are going to have to find ways to adapt to that.

What is working. I’ve had some successes with technology this semester. I’ve made myself available to my students on Facebook, Skype, and Twitter. Though I have far from a 100% adoption rate, I do get messages and questions from students through all these tools. It works for me because it integrates well with my day. I’m not always having to login to the school email (a 3 step process in my world) to check messages. The students come to me on social tools if they need something, because they know they can find me there. I’m able to get back to them within the natural ebb and flow of my work day. Not only that, but I find that the students I am connecting with online outside of class tend to be more engaged in class. They are getting the clarifications they need to thoroughly understand the material, and even bringing that understanding back to their classmates, which is great. I’m also able to flag certain issues and share the solutions to the class in what I feel is a more timely and efficient way (i.e. I can deal with an issue by sending an announcement to all and don’t have to wait till the next class).

All in all, it’s been a great term so far. I’m looking forward to seeing what clever and creative video projects my students come up with over the rest of the term.

And you? What’s been your experience with technology and teaching so far this semester? What’s working? What isn’t? Please share your stories in the comments!

[photo credit: jisc_infonet on Flickr]

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