Faculty share experiences with technology

A trio of educators shared their experiences using technology in the classroom during a recent seminar on best practices in academic technology at Emory, sponsored by Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching.

Journalism adjunct Lee Clontz, the subject of an earlier Tech-niques blog post, explored the use of iPads, Twitter and WordPress as tools to enhance student learning (See “iPads get test during election night assignment”). English professor Sheila Cavanagh discussed using Skype to bring Shakespeare to life, and doctoral student Timothy Harfield discovered that Facebook may not be the best tool to facilitate student discussions.

Tales from the Bard

Chance encounters between two Shakespeare enthusiasts led to a widely successful course this spring on the bard, taught by Cavanagh and supplemented via Skype by a veteran actor and lecturer.

“At first, it was just a couple of classes,” Cavanagh says of the cross-continent collaboration with Kevin Quarmby, the Globe Education Lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, where he regularly lectures and chairs a variety of academic and public events. “The students were captivated, and he’s become a regular part of the class.”

Quarmby brings an actor’s perspective to each play, leading students through the rehearsal process, which brings Shakespeare’s words to life. Cavanagh and Quarmby became acquainted at a Shakespeare conference in India and later during the British Studies at Oxford (England) program, where Quarmby was a guest lecturer.

“At some point, the idea of a Skype collaboration came up,” Cavanagh says. “I have not been an actor, and it’s useful to have a real actor involved in the process of understanding these plays.”

The actor asked for student pictures before the first Skype teleconference, and he knows many of them by name. Students have been emailing Quarmby or contacting him through Skype for advice on their final projects.

“Student response has been uniformly enthusiastic, and I’ve recognized that these types of interactions really enhance the learning experience,” Cavanagh says.

Facebook not discussion-ready forum

Despite his best efforts, Harfield concluded that Facebook is not suited for the types of discussions he was hoping for from students in a “Basic Problems in Philosophy” class. He calls the experiment a “successful failure.”

Harfield, who has worked in the market research for a firm heavily involved in IT, believed that the popular social networking site would be an ideal platform for class discussions. For many students, Facebook provides the conduit for daily interaction and communication, but using the site in this manner created what Harfield calls “platform confusion.”

“I wanted to move away from Blackboard [Emory's central online course and content management system] and use technology that was readily available and that students were interacting with on a daily basis,” Harfield says.

However, he experienced some classroom attrition when some students didn’t want to set up an account. Privacy settings were another problem area to protect the privacy of the group. At first, students tended to submit brief opinions rather than thoughtful arguments. Harfield then tried providing guiding questions for the week and letting peers grade the participation of classmates.

Finally, Harfield adapted his methods to typical Facebook postings, with links and quick comments, which was more successful. He advises others who might try using Facebook as a teaching tool to keep discussions private, to discuss the Internet security and privacy issues and to use the site as a way to quickly disseminate information.

But Harfield cautions its use as a teaching tool. “My recommendation is basically don’t do it,” he says of Facebook.

Related: How to protect yourself on Facebook

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