Saturday, April 21, 2012

Using Social Media for Project Publication

I’m eager to share the success and hurdles I’ve experienced using technology in new ways this semester. I am experimenting with social media as a teaching tool in my Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature class. While launching this social media element was daunting to me, I was impressed with the successes reported from other institutions, as well as our own Lynn Sally. 

Most of my class readings and resources explore how great writers across time use literary devices and insight to speak out as critics of corrupted leadership and narrow thinking. That is a tall order for any student, and quite a new practice for many of our students. As this is a course I regularly teach, I am always keen to explore how the delivery of content and expectations for engagement radically shape the depth of critical inquiry around a topic or reading.  

This is best illustrated through our “Signature Assignment” (self-directed learning project), which focuses on social justice issues. In the past, these culminated in class discussion and PowerPoint presentations.
I have grown more and more frustrated with the “dead-end” feeling of this presentation format. For all of their great probing and creation of meaningful testimonies to individuals who are boldly “speaking truth to power,” the final product was limited to those in the room and a PowerPoint file… now collecting dust at the bottom of my desk drawer. This format fanned their inspirations only to become yet another project that died at the classroom door.

Enter Social Media. This spring term, for our Truth to Power projects, students
  • chose one individual or small group that they think played a significant part in 2011/2012 in helping to “re-write” how we think about power, institutions of power and inequality
  • used Bloom’s Taxonomy- Levels of Learner Knowledge to fuel their critical inquiry.
  • were required to use Twitter to engage with class material outside of class and gradually to engage with their topic through Twitter.
The final for this project was a multimedia analysis of their projects distributed back into the world via another social media, i.e. YouTube, Blog, Storify, Tumblr, Prezi,, etc.

Resistance was strong at the beginning, as students could not grasp the relevance of the social media component and/or were intimidated by the new online platforms. But truly, in week 4, when 15 students posted on Twitter their deep reflections to our Plato reading, my jaw dropped with a “holy shizzle, this works.” Of course, our next class session was totally radicalized by the dynamic on-line feed that proceeded our meeting.

The most incredible shift, however, came just this week, when students presented their published analysis of their topics to the class. Not only were we already invested in one another’s topics, but the testimonies were beautifully crafted, the writing was (mostly) very strong, and the class was amazingly empowered by becoming directly involved with a movement because of their online publication. (In fact, tears were shed.)
Here are links to two projects:
(This work was made accessible to general public by the students)

They got it. They got that the potential impact of their writing is powerful, that it creates ripple effects around the world and can influence someone (or a movement) without them even knowing. They are taking new-found responsibility for their writing. Never before in my teaching have I seen my students grasp the immediacy and far-reaching impact of their writing and language so well. 

Here is one success story of a course- students- being transformed by paying attention to relevance of course material, pushing comfort levels, bridging unforeseen connections and building peer community outside of the classroom. In an email today, a student wrote:
I found the Signature Assignment to be an eye opening experience. After I fully understood what the project was about, I realized how this assignment was truly innovative. Never did I think Twitter would be an integral part of my college studies. I especially enjoyed using social media at the completion of the project by sharing with the online community. It was interesting to research a group who was making a change in the world. During the time of the Arab Spring, I followed the coverage and thought I fully understood its purpose. Little did I know what was shown on television was a one-sided filtered agenda of what was happening. Your project exposed me to a grassroots revolution from the ground up. It brought to my awareness that true change can really happen if one is determined enough to speak up and speak out. And it is a sign of our times that social media can facilitate the mission statement of any cause. This class component enriched my learning experience and I'm sure it will do the same for future students.

I will be updating this assignment by
  • giving more directed prompts for Twitter posts
  •  giving more demonstrations for using Bloom’s for guiding critical inquiry
  • assigning project benchmarks that link directly to in-class learning objectives
  •  share examples of past student publications to help make a rather abstract assignment more concrete and inspiring
I’d love to hear any feedback and suggestions for moving forward!

Parker Pracjek, Academic Coordinator, Learning Enhancement Center

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Incorporating Tech into the Classroom

Dedicated adjunct faculty member and good sport Glenda Perreira shares her experiences incorporating technology into the classroom.

Perreira teaches and developed the curriculum for one of the common classes at MCNY: MIS CC 130 - Computer Applications. If your students have strong power point skills, she may be the one to thank.

In this podcast, Perreira shares with faculty some of the benefits of using tech in the classroom, her perspective on how to introduce it, and how to guide those new users.

Audio quality is a little rough for our first take, but hopefully this will be the first of many guest voices from faculty!

If you're having trouble with the embedded player, you may try this link directly:

Thank you, Glenda.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Using Social Media for Social Change

At the regional PCA/ACA this week, I presented a paper on my experiment with using Twitter in a Common Curriculum Course, Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature, and a BAUS first semester course, Self-Assessment through Writing and Technology.  I presented my paper, “Writing & Thinking in 140 Characters or Less:  Twitter as Purpose-Centered Education,” on a panel with a Carol Bernard who presented on a study she did using a Facebook teacher page and Lindsay Illich who presented on using Word Clouds to help teach composition. 

You can create a word cloud out of a text through the website, and the image that is produced will show you the primary words used in a particular text.  This could be an interesting exercise for analyzing the differences between two political speeches, for example, and it made me think that Word Clouds would be a great inclusion in the Public Speaking common curriculum course which is currently being developed at my college.  It is exciting to see other educators’ use of technology to enhance the classroom experience, and I was interested in the ways that colleagues have thought so deeply about how to teach students to think and write through these technologies.  It also got me to thinking about whether I practice what I preach.

As MCNY promotes Purpose-Centered Education that fosters students to become socially engaged change agents, this seemed a logical extension to move towards using Twitter and social media more broadly for productive ends.  Social activism does not have to happen simply in the traditional “internship” model on which the college – in the past – has been based.  As a cursory glance at revolutions around the world indicate, social media has been central to many – if not most – of our modern movements for change. 
This semester, I assigned Twitter for the Critical Thinking Signature Assignment, and asked the students to create a project called “Using Social Media for Social Change.”  They were asked to research a topic that was either 1) connected to their Constructive Action or 2) of political or personal interest to them.  They were then asked to follow that topic through their involvement with Twitter, by following leaders and organizations, retweeting, and generally getting involved in a topic through social media sight.  As they researched, read, and got involved, at the end of the semester they are asked to use social media to sum up their findings, and to recirculate that through a social media sight such as YouTube, Tumblr, Prezi, or a host of other options.  The idea is that their research would then be recirculated through the social media that they did their project.

I realized, perhaps too late, that asking students to bring about some type of social change – despite the medium – is daunting.  It’s not that using Twitter or using Twitter for productive ends is beyond students, but rather that I don’t know if I succeeded in breaking that down – just like one would break down a research paper in a composition class – into steps.  Some of the questions that have arisen include:  how do we get students to use social media critically?  What type of additive assignments can be given to help students establish, research, and develop their topics? In short, how do we get students to “start a revolution” or movement online?
Here are some ideas of how I will update this assignment in the future:

1)       Suggest Topics.  Though it may seem limiting, I realized that giving students possible topics may be useful for some.  “If you could change the world, what would you change?” question is admittedly both daunting and seemingly impossible.  Suggesting topics will give options to those students who find difficulties coming up with their own.  It also allows us to connect to what is happening politically and socially both locally and globally, and to place our conversations in class in a larger context.  The topics can give students options, and can help them brainstorm their own take on the suggested topics.
2)      Show Examples.  I tried to model in class how I was using social media for productive ends by showing students who I was following, and what I had learned about current events or topics of interest to me through Twitter.  But a don’t know if this was entirely successful.  In hindsight, I think a list of concrete examples of others using social media for social change would have helped students understand the concept.  These concrete examples could include
a.       celebrities who use Twitter to support causes;
b.      individual or organization who use  their Twitter feeds for activism;
c.       examples of viral videos, etc. that have helped broadast social issues;
d.      online “boycotts” and “buycotts” as strategies for supporting issues important to students as consumers;  
e.      examples of revolutions and movements around the globe broadcast on social media 
This list could, in turn, be placed on a collaborative editing cloud such as Google Docs, so that students and instructors could contribute examples that they come across.

It may be the end of the semester, but it’s never too late to think about and implement changes in the classroom.  I will run this by students this week in class, and see what they think.  I am sure they will have suggestions that will improve the classroom for all.