Back-channelling and Curation: Using Twitter and Storify

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.

The Yellow Wallpaper Storify

#COMM56Reads Storify

The Best of Colleagues

I truly work with the best set of colleagues. As the end of the semester approaches, I have to say that working with the communications team at the Cornwall campus of St. Lawrence College is both exhilarating and engaging. We talk about communications ALL THE TIME. We talk about pedagogy ALL THE TIME. We talk about hybrid alternatives and classroom activities ALL THE TIME. We talk about student engagement and success ALL THE TIME.

Whenever I have a thought, they are willing to listen and offer input. When I have even a nugget of an idea-no matter how inarticulately expressed- they are willing to chime in. They give feedback, and support, and high fives, and commiserating sympathy as required. It’s no wonder that, surrounded by these educators, I feel things in general are going well. Over the past few years, this team has always been willing to jump in and try some of the new hybrid ideas. Especially this semester, with our new hybrid initiative being formed tri-campus. I think we have all done some aspect of hybrid – we always have actually: Hybrid is not new for the Cornwall campus COMMSquad, but now we are more conscious of it (before, we just called it homework!).

At any rate, it has been thrilling to test drive some of the new ideas that have come out of our impromptu hallway and lunch meetings (because we are all too busy to actually find time for a true meeting). Working with WIKI’s was one hybrid element that a number of us tried with varying elements of trial, error, and ultimate success. Finessing some of the other more common tools (journals, discussion boards, blogs) is much easier when there is a group of professors using the same platforms. And even in my own hybrid experimental areas (Twitter chats, Google hangouts, Badges, the still un-named Trans Media ??), knowing that I could bend the ear of the first member of our team who I could get to sit down for ten minutes was a godsend. Sometimes, just being able to talk it out with someone who is interested is enough.

All this to say, I am grateful for my team. For Julie, our de facto team leader (thought she denies that), who always listens and has sound advice based on a real understanding of students and the college. For Joy, who shares an office with me (and so hears me chatter glibly on about things I am trying more than she likely wants) and is a nice counterbalance to me because she is poised and thoughtful, and I am, well, less so. For Carolyn, born teacher and good friend who shares my enthusiasm for talking all things education regardless of whether we are at work, out with our children, or at a dinner party with our spouses (though the spouses’ enthusiasm for education talk has waned somewhat over the years). For Jordan, who makes me want to be more organized, and whose carefully considered and constructed ideas often spark me into renewed action (for example, today we experimented merrily with Padlet, something I had played with briefly and left on a back burner until Jordan just today started talking about a project she wanted to do, and I thought of Padlet again….and now it is back on the front burner.). And for Laurie, the newest member of our team, who is always happy to participate in our discussions, though I see her less often as our schedules seem to not overlap so much.

I don’t know if we will all always be on the same communications team-Jordan has an environmental background, and Carolyn could probably teach anything if she put her mind to it-but I do enjoy working with all these ladies, and know that regardless of what they are teaching, they will always be colleagues I can trust to spin ideas with me.

And that can only be good for all of us.