Josh LePree has a vision for teaching that transcends the classroom: "[I want] to create a seamless environment for class [so that] ... it seems like there's no break between [class and homework]," says LePree. He is a Sociology PhD student at CU Boulder and has been teaching at the college level for four years now. Students nominated LePree for an ASSETT Outstanding Teaching with Technology Award last year, and one student wrote: "Technology use was a large part of our classroom and homework discussions in [LePree]'s Race and Ethnicity class."
The Sociology Department awarded LePree for his vision with the Special Topics in Sociology GPTI Fellowship for the Spring 2014 semester. LePree designed and taught the Spring 2014 Sociological Perspectives on Migration: Gender, Race and the State course (SOCY 2091). He created a class Twitter page and instructed students to hashtag it in a new tweet each week. Students needed to hashtag both the class and the week of class (see the screenshot from the class Twitter page, below) to get participation credit for that week. That way, LePree could just go to the Twitter page #SOCY2091 #WK2 to grade students' participation on the class Twitter page for the week! If students were concerned about keeping personal and class Twitter Handles (aliases) separate, LePree encouraged them to create new handles just for class with their names and the course name--just like he did (@LePreeSOCY).
To make the out-of-class Twitter threads even more relevant to class discussion, LePree would regularly bring in students' tweets of articles and videos that related to class topics. Consequently, one student wrote in her nomination of LePree for the ASSETT Teaching with Technology Award that posting original discussion questions on the class Twitter page for homework made her feel less anonymous in class:
Twitter was used for [LePree] and his students to share pertinent videos, ideas, and discussion questions to which the entire class had access. I as a student thought that the use of Twitter was an ingenious way to include everyone's thoughts since sometimes larger classes can make students feel 'invisible.' ... I thought that [LePree]'s use of Twitter was also really effective because he used it to facilitate in-class discussions with Tweets that students had previously posted.
At the same time that LePree uses Twitter to bridge homework and class discussion, he also embeds his classes' Twitter feeds onto the D2L course pages. That way, students' latest tweets greet them when they login to the course home page on D2L, and, "They can see what other students are tweeting about," says LePree.
LePree viewed incorporating Twitter into class discussion and homework as a trial-and-error process: "I didn't know how it would work out," he admits. LePree asks students for feedback halfway through the semester: "'Do you have any ideas beyond what we've tried? What's working and what's not?'" LePree listens to students' feedback and gives credit to them for the success: “Students are the authority with technology," he says.
Voicethread Lends Authenticity to Student-to-Student Feedback
LePree didn't stop with class discussion and homework--he has also innovated students' final presentation formats, assigning Voicethread as the medium. Students still create PowerPoint presentations, but they also upload them to Voicethread. Then, Voicethread allows students to record themselves speaking over slides to create what LePree calls a, "narrated slideshow." This format could be considered much less intimidating with more room for smoothing out presentation bumps than would be standing and making a presentation live in front of the class.
Since Voicethread was new to many students, LePree invited OIT Academic Technology Consultant Courtney Fell to visit the class and train students in using it. Furthermore, he pairs students with 'feedback partners.' Students record comments on Voicethread for their feedback partners to help improve one another's presentations along the way. LePree says that recording voiceover commentary is more personal than is sending typed comments back and forth. "I was blown away by their Voicethread discussions," he says. "The gratification that I get as an instructor was a huge payoff. I couldn't stop honoring them in class."
As part of his fellowship, LePree recently led a brownbag lunch discussion for other Sociology graduate students about "Designing Your Own Course Curriculum." He looks forward to continuing his career in teaching at the university level. "I appreciate my students," says LePree. "I'll never go backwards."