Adlt 641-5: The Baby and the Bathwater

On any given day, on any given hour, of any given university, a lecture is in process. Voices are quiet, fingers are moving as students take notes using a software package, created by the publisher of the textbook. Students who wander from the note page receive a visit from the teaching assistant. An immediate assumption may be that the student was checking email or browsing Facebook. The message conveyed is “Big Brother” is watching. A smartphone is an intrusion to the class. As a late baby boomer, this philosophy is commonplace to me, yet now requires considerable constraint on my part. I have morphed from technologically terrified to that of a provisional player. This move to become a player in the world of Twitter asks me to consider the possibility that one student was tweeting to another about class. Where there is no connection, there is no contribution contends Garr Reynolds. A limited number of students connect in this setting due to a flawed system of contribution.

Students in this lecture spoke briefly with a classmate to compare and contrast a piece of Greek sculpture. Pair-and-Share is not a usual component of a small group setting, however, this lecture takes place in a rather large auditorium. Several minutes pass, conversation occurs on cue and then quietly dissipates after several minutes. The boy in front glances peripherally, but does not engage me in conversation. I watch with interest as the exchange ensues. The passing of the microphone to students is unsettling. I intentionally sit in the back of the class in order to remain inconspicuous. I do not intend to speak in front of a large gathering of individuals who are not my peers. I look for a place to rest my eyes knowing that an escape to the restroom would be too obvious. I wonder if there was another way for me to ask a question, or provide feedback, while maintaining face and composure. According to Gardner Campbell, there is and it is a godsend! Twitter is a just-in-time resource that could be the lifeline for students like me.

Campbell’s view of Twitter as the “…glue that holds the team together,” makes me question why so many people so unwilling to consider it. I must admit that I was rather ambivalent when first asked to create a Twitter account. My impression is that it was a tool for young people to chatter. The Twitter Experiment-Twitter in the Classroom poses the question, “What is going on inside the heads of students during a lecture? I have found something that arouses my interest.

Engagement is the catch all phrase in public education and has been for the last five years. Administrators harangue educators daily to create lessons that “engage” students, yet the limited availability of technology makes this connection a challenge rather than a natural occurrence. Over the course of the last ten years, I have taken a variety of graduate level courses through several universities. The solicitation of feedback rarely occurs at the conclusion of a lecture and never during a lecture.

The ease with which Dr. Monica Rankin, professor at UT Dallas involved students into the lesson provides reassurance for me as both a learner and educator. She considered technology as a way to transform the experience, which engaged Twitter as a student-centered learning technique. I found her comments about the use of a teaching assistant who monitors the responses, while alerting her to immediate concerns, a useful detail for me to consider for future presentations. Research presented visually is a medium that engages me as both a learner and a future adult educator.

The point/counter point debate between Campbell and Maas raises interesting questions about the use of technology in higher education. Steve Kolowich’s recount of the debate of 2009 asks me to question not the utility of Twitter’s value in the classroom, but in the presentation of Twitter to learners. The “Adlt 641” column of my Twitter feed gained a substantial number of tweets in one week. My willingness to microblog frequently shows considerable growth over seven months of use. When considering Twitter as a way to connect with others, I recall Denzel Washington’s interaction with a member of his debate team. He admonishes a student to contemplate these words; “You need to do, what you have to do, in order to do what you want to do.” If my goal is to connect with others both professionally and socially then I need to make Twitter a medium of choice rather than an act of avoidance.

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7 thoughts on “Adlt 641-5: The Baby and the Bathwater

  1. Great blog, as usual. The instant feedback that twitter allows is such a powerful tool. I enjoyed experimenting with back channeling during the last class and seeing what everyone else thought of the presentation (grad school seems less lecture-focused to me and more like a conversation). Having the online conversation in “real time,” as opposed to later on a message board brings the material to life.

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    1. The idea of “real” time is what I would love to see happen in large settings where a personal atmosphere is not always available. It’s exhilarating to have a tool like “Twitter” for real time responses as well as “Blogs” for reflective thought and conversation. Helps to provide a sense of balance, yes?

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  2. Really enjoyed this post, Laurie. You are asking some important questions here and working on connecting the dots. As you continue to explore, one thing I have also found helpful is keeping in mind that other folks I encounter who are considering using tools like twitter will likely have initial responses similar to your own – ambivalence, rejection, uncertainty. Helping adult learners move through this in a meaningful supportive way will likely remain a challenge. Any thoughts about that?

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    1. Jeff, I am really careful to “feel” the water before I make any comments about social media. I know that ambivalence, or disapproval, is generally a way in which to mask a fear of the unknown. Adults are uncomfortable with one more form of media that may expose them as ignorant. Weinberger’s ideas about lack of filters vs. an over load of information may be a great way to share the “gospel” of social media! If I start with myself as a learner, sometimes it sets the stage for a future conversation when the adult is ready.

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  3. WOW! Twitter in the classroom? I have definitely been out of school too long! I wonder how the use of this kind of technology would work with much-older-than-college-age students?

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    1. Sally, older students often struggle to see it beyond a play toy. I know that I wasn’t overly excited about the prospect of adding another form of technology to my list of things to learn. The graduate students in my class love to “back channel” as soon as class begins! We’ll need to “Tweet” about it sometime soon!

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