Reflecting on my plans after 5 months I see that over the course of the semester I strayed from my initial goals. In January 2012 I conceptualized using Twitter as a way to collect student feedback and facilitate course interactions. Specifically, I envisioned using twitter as a student-driven repository “Big” and “Challenging” – which loosely map to the threshold and bottleneck concepts discussed in January 2012.
During the semester I quickly learned that Twitter is ill suited to this purpose. However, I did have some successful uses of twitter and/or similar technologies. In this document I will comment on my experiences with using social media to facilitate classroom interaction and student learning in a large 400 person lecture.
1. On the first day of class I asked students to tweet a definition of geography using the class hashtag. The results were mixed but generally good, 2/3 of the messages were serious and the balances were jokes. I captured a screenshot of this first twitter experiment, see figure 1 below.
I was able to distill these twitter responses into a word cloud defining the discipline of geography. This word cloud proved useful for classroom conversation. Certain aspects of the discipline were highlighted “people” and “earth” were commonly occurring words but climate and “environment” figured less prominently in the results (figure 2, below) than they do in the discipline.
2. For a classroom exercise I asked the students empty the contents of their backpacks and enter the “made in” information on a website that I created using Google Forms. This website was accessible on mobile phones which allows the students to rapidly enter data in class. The data was structured which allows us to create a map where the products used by students were created. The purpose of this exercise was to illustrate the nature of the global economy. While not strictly related to assessment it grew out of my goal of using technology to facilitate communication in a large lecture setting.
3. Using clickers I collected information from students on the pace of lectures throughout the semester. This regular feedback was useful and allowed me to adjust the pace of instruction as necessary.
The largest failure was the use of twitter in a classroom setting. I found the medium difficult to use for the follow reasons:
- It is ephemeral. Student contributed material disappears after around 10 days. This makes it difficult to use twitter as a repository for students contributed information. Our repository for threshold and bottleneck concepts was quickly deleted. We abandoned this use of twitter during the first month of the semester.
- It is anonymous. I thought anonymity might facilitate honest communication. Instead it leads to posts like the one below.
- It is too slow. In a large class I found the update frequency of the class feed to be too slow to use in real time. Posts often arrived in clumps anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 minutes after users sent them. Usually, the update speed was too slow to be useful for real-time communication. Perhaps this was due to the size of the class?