Because I’ve been tapped into computer technology for my entire life, and because I research digital media and technologies, I strive to incorporate technology in my classroom as much as possible. I will forego an extended discussion of what counts as technology (on a theoretical level, I would argue that writing is a technology; Socrates, I’m guessing would agree with me). I take risks with my technology incorporation; sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. Here are some of the technologies I have employed in my classes:
Canvas is the most basic technology I use in the classroom. It’s Penn State’s course management system, complete with plenty of strengths and a plethora of weaknesses. I use Canvas to distribute course materials (syllabus, assignment sheets, exam reviews) and to collect student work. While I had streamlined the clunky processes of Penn State’s old system, ANGEL, Canvas has thankfully rendered my hacks unnecessary.
Each semester I have my students participate in mini-debates during class. To keep the rest of the students engaged while four people debate, I encourage my students to hop on Twitter to contribute their thoughts about the debates. I look for witty, constructive, or analytically insightful comments, and I share with the students between the debates. I find that students are better engaged with the debates and have a lot of fun. I use hashtags such as #PSUFallacyDebates, and I participate as well.
After piloting use of the technology with debate students, I have encouraged students in my CAS 100A courses to use GroupMe to communicate with each other. Using this informal mobile system, students can get information and feedback, and can build community with their peers. Though I participate in the GroupMe with my debate students, I only encourage 100A students to use the technology, leaving them free to vent without worry that I will see their comments.
The Virtual Polis
This was an admittedly failed experiment–but it was a useful failure. The Virtual Polis was a phpBB3 web forum where students interacted. I approved all accounts prior to viewing, so the forum was private to the students in my classes. The forum featured four main categories: discussion forums, where students could talk about current events; outlines, where students posted outline drafts before giving their speeches, allowing pre-speech feedback from other students and me; assessments, where students provided self-assessments; and class talk, where students could ask questions about the course, largely to be answered by other students. In essence, the purpose of the forum was to allow crowdsourcing outside of the classroom, strengthening student assignments and reinforcing learning objectives. I have included below a screenshot of the Virtual Polis’ front page.
Google Drive and Dropbox
Though Penn State has recently adopted Box (a service I will certainly utilize in future classes), I have made considerable use of Google Drive and Dropbox. On both services, I keep lecture notes and presentations, allowing me to access my course materials at any time. I also use Google Drive to keep track of student speech day sign-ups, and as a repository for students to link to videos they make for the first speech assignment, described below.
As I indicate in my teaching philosophy, I believe firmly that the future of public engagement is on the web. While people will likely always deliver speeches in person (as long as speeches exist), I believe advocacy through digital means, such as YouTube, is a vital skill for students to learn. To that end, I experiment with students using YouTube to enhance their speeches in CAS 100A. I encourage the students to be creative, but to still showcase the skills of public speaking. I recommend my students either use a webcam to record their clips, or make a visit to one of the one-button recording studios on campus.
I use SurveyMonkey to collect student feedback prior to the end of the semester. Since the data is all anonymous, I ask students to give honest feedback about what is working for them in the classroom and what I can improve. So far, student feedback in the middle of the term has proven immensely valuable, as I have been able to adjust the class according to student needs and interests.
Though I have decided to discontinue the project, I spent a semester experimenting with Pinterest as a platform for students to organize research for their speeches. I learned much about student engagement through the process. In particular, they were strongly opposed to joining yet another social network, and didn’t see the payoff of using social networking sites for academic purposes. Still, it was a worthy experiment–and I may return to it someday.