In my role as Fellow of AUP’s recently launched Teaching and Learning Center, I’m particularly interested in how teachers and students can make the most of technology inside and outside the classroom. Recently, with Robert Payne – our colleague from Global Communications – I co-organized a short series of workshops addressing just that. I’ll be writing about these sessions in more detail at a later date.
For my inaugural post here, I wanted to share something that I learned how to use through facilitating those workshops, a simple tool that made a significant impact in my classroom. One of the workshop aims was to consider how smartphones could be a productive, rather than disruptive, presence in the learning environment. Mark Ennis, a colleague who teaches in Comparative Literature and English and Global Communications is, it turns out, a useful resource on this topic as he’s been thinking about technology best practice for some time. He let us know about the deceptively simple, yet powerful, TodaysMeet.
On one level, TodaysMeet is a straightforward online application that lets users contribute to a basic real-time discussion. Aesthetically, its nothing to get excited about and reminds me of the ill-fated chatrooms of the late 1990s. Anyone can set up a room and securely (it can be password protected) invite people to exchange online. Contributions are short and limited to the length of a Tweet, just 140 characters.
One of this ways Mark uses this tool is in his public speaking classes to prepare students for distracting social media messages that increasingly are displayed alongside speakers at public conferences. He helps students to be more interesting than the real time feedback they find themselves competing against.
In one of my English composition classes, I decided to try something different. As any teacher of academic writing knows, one of the challenges is helping students discover compelling, succinct and pithy thesis statements. For me, Todays Meet was an enjoyable way to get students to share, peer review and discuss thesis statements for an upcoming assignment. I logged into the site on the classroom PC, created a room for my students and projected it onto the whiteboard. I told students the URL and invited them to switch on their phones and contribute their draft thesis statements to the page, encouraging them to use their real names for easy identification. Armed with a whiteboard marker, we set about discussing, scribbling on and improving the thesis statements. Such an activity can be fairly tough, and it can be difficult to keep students engaged. The class was small, and we generally worked in an informal, collaborative way, which I think suited this kind of activity. In short, this approach – while not being something I’ll be using every week with my students – provided a refreshing change to the classroom dynamic and certainly caught the imaginations of the students concerned. I’m not completely convinced it made their thesis statements stronger, but we’ll get there in the end….