The jury is still out for me as to whether back-channeling (the use of technology to have conversations offline in class as part of the discussion or activity) is a valid educational tool. This perhaps stems from my own lack of success: I love the idea of live tweeting a conference or speaker, but whenever I try, find it difficult to capture pithy soundbites while still giving my complete attention. One or two tweets…okay. But more than that and I feel I have tuned out and am missing too much of the depth of the experience.
(The depth….there is something telling about that. For another post perhaps…)
But I love social media, and like to encourage the use of it in the classroom. This past month, my short story class has been using Twitter as part of back-channelling activities. This year, I created a Twitter account for class use (@COMMSLC) because previous discussion suggested most students felt uncomfortable using their personal Twitter accounts for school, and some students were reluctant to create Twitter accounts.
For the first in-class activity, we used Twitter as a forum to discuss a reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Students were in groups to discuss and tweet throughout the activity, with the aim of meeting five objectives set up at the start of class.
For the second activity, we used Twitter to live tweet out Culminating Assessment: a variation of Canada Reads that I do every year called #COMM56Reads, where we debate the merits of 5 of the key stories/poems discussed over the semester to determine which one all students should read. This assessment encourages students to reflect and engage with the stories studied and to collaboratively work on presenting their reasons why a particular story or poem deserves to win the contest. It’s always a fun way to end the semester….and much more interesting and in-depth than a test could ever be.
What I like about using Twitter is that it has the potential to be interactive, and indeed, an author who wrote a novel inspired by The Yellow Wallpaper contacted us and offered to answer questions via Twitter that we might have. It is also a written record. I was able to use our Twitter feed from last year (when we did a reading of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson) to demonstrate this year’s activity as part of the class’ hybrid learning. I had the class last year curate the Twitter feed using Storify, and so there is a permanent link to the conversation.
We did the same thing this year, and the Storify links can be found below.