Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#SocialMedia experiment: Twitter as #backchannel (#edchat #engchat)

A few ideas came together over breakfast this past Saturday, and my wife, Amy, gets the credit for being the catalyst. Pulling from my own experience backchanneling, my trip to Educon 2.5, and the possibility of sheer boredom in my class for one week, I decided to mash it all together and see what would happen. Amy was the lightbulb.

Rather than continue the search for "the answers," I realized that I had to step up and experiment  The worst that could happen was that it bombed and I would lose 45 minutes of "test prep." (Golly gee...NO!). So, I did it. Here's how it went.

The Context:
  • My juniors will be taking the Regents in June. 
  • 2nd semester means we turn our attention towards more explicit and specific test prep (ugh)
  • They pretty much bombed the previous Critical Lens essay
    • The essay on the Regents exam asks students to interpret a quote and then use that interpretation as a guide to analyze two works of literature (for all the non-NY'ers)
The Plan:
  • Prep students on how to use Twitter as a backchannel
  • Discussion time. 
    • I modified the Socratic Seminar idea - my wife calls it the Fishbowl (no idea if that is an "official" name - I'm new to utilizing seminar discussions in my class). 
    • Split the class of 30 into 3 groups of 10. 
    • Group 1 sits in the center (in the fishbowl) and discuss a quote (I grade their contributions to the discussion); Groups 2 & 3 sit in the outer ring and take notes, either on paper (not everyone has a Twitter account) or on Twitter (using #MrC11R)
    • Display stream using on projector
  • Handouts:
The Fishbowl

In Action:
For the first run through, my co-teacher and I split the moderating duties: Heather dealt with the verbal discussion in the fishbowl; I dealt with the virtual discussion on Twitter. The second time, I was flying solo. Combine that with a chatty class at the end of the day, and you get chaos. It was exhausting. two class periods (45 minutes each), the students generated 270 tweets*. Full disclosure: I haven't read through the list, and I know for a fact there are some off-topic tweets, but given their reluctance to Tweet FOR school (as opposed to good 'ole IN school) on Monday, I am kind of proud that they did what they did. I participated with them as well, tweeting questions and comments throughout.

* NB: I removed the students' usernames from the published list to maintain their privacy.

This was an interesting experience for me. My department chair did a 10 minute pop-in and sent a congratulatory email. I spoke to one student in extra help, and he said he didn't like it. I feel that the reactions can go either way, and I am curious to see what the students write in their reflections tomorrow. I am most concerned with the educational value of the exercise (see my previous post on tech for tech's sake) - if the students do not feel like this was a benefit, then it needs modification. I am willing to do this again, as I believe in the value of it. It just needs to have the kinks worked out.

Two things jumped out at me: one was the physical reality of 10 students talking at once. It just got loud and chaotic. One solution is to cut the numbers in half - instead of 10 students for 10 minutes, do 2 groups of 5 students for 5 minutes. This might create a more focused atmosphere.

The second realization was the tech (yup): this was the first time that some students had ever used twitter, and it was the first time that "experienced" users used the tool in this manner (scroll through the list to see friends in other classes reacting to the flood of tweets that came out of my classroom - I was laughing).

I'd be curious to see if anyone A) has read this far and B) has used a similar activity. I need help structuring the activity before I can do it again.