Archive for October, 2013

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

Twitter Logo, courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

Twitter Logo, courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

by Reynol Junco

The following article was originally published in Leadership Exchange, Vol. 10, Summer 2011, pp. 34. Reprinted with permission by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Because of my research on social media, people often assume I am a cheerleader of these technologies. While I clearly see the benefit of using social technologies to connect with colleagues for professional development and for increasing student engagement, it is clear that these services are not for everyone.

As a senior student affairs officer (SSAO), no doubt you have been exposed to multiple pleas to join Twitter. The 2011 NASPA Annual Conference featured sessions designed to explain Twitter and what an SSAO can do with it, Twitter tutorials, and colleagues sporting “Tweet Me” ribbons. If that exposure to Twitter was not enough, a close friend or a col- league may be cajoling you into setting up an account.

All of these circumstances might have you thinking: “Should I be on Twitter? I am a senior leader in the field, after all.” The honest-to-goodness truth is that you might not be ready to engage on Twitter, and that’s okay. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. While you have heard the cheerleaders telling you why you should use Twitter, let me present some reasons why you should not:

  • It is yet another thing you have to do. You are busy with meeting after meeting, an inbox that you can barely con- trol, reports to write, and people to supervise, all of which does not leave much time in your busy schedule. Twitter has a steep learning curve and once you are comfortable with the technical aspects of the platform, it requires ongoing attention.
  • It will make you uncomfortable. Twitter is an environment very different from the world of an SSAO. From the start, the Twitter platform has democratized roles and relationships. For instance, it is not uncommon for a famous author to communicate directly with readers. Twitter blurs the boundaries of hierarchies and allows “the little people” to have as strong a voice as those in leadership positions. Generally, this is not how the workplace operates. The student affairs office has a fine delineation between the entry-level work- force, mid-level managers, senior professionals, and students. Imagine the ramifications of such a technology on cam- pus—students can have both individual and collective voices stronger than your own. Whoa!
  • You will do it wrong. Twitter is a tool better utilized to interact and engage with students, faculty, staff, and other SSAOs, not to broadcast messages. SSAOs who are currently on Twitter are less likely to engage in conversations with their followers than mid- and entry-level professionals. You do not need feedback from your “fans,” and they probably do not want to engage with you in that manner, either. Leave that side of social networking to celebrities.
  • You will be challenged to consider, and in many cases respond to, new perspectives that have very little to do with your substantive work. While that sounds like a good thing in principle, imagine the cognitive dissonance it  will create as well as extra work. I’m sure that when you were in graduate school, Sanford’s notion of challenge and support really resonated with you; however, these days, the challenges you receive are more often related to strategic planning or budget cuts. Engaging with others on Twitter might challenge you in insufferable personal and professional ways. That’s just not fun.
  • Backchannel communications are time killers. A backchannel is a running public dialogue on Twitter aggregated around a specific topic. It is called a backchannel for a reason—it is in the background and not typically noticeable. On top of all of your other responsibilities as an SSAO such as meetings, supervision, strategic planning, and possibly even fundraising, Twitter can open the flood gates for communication with students and other constituents. Most universities have a backchannel, but students rarely share any feedback that a student affairs division could use constructively.
Twitter brand page. Courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

Twitter brand page. Courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

My Twitter followers agree, providing the following comments when I asked them why SSAOs may want to avoid Twitter:

“All of the information sharing from other institutions and colleagues will just complicate things.”

“Why waste your time on Twitter when you can ask the same question in a meeting you attend with 20 people— who needs Twitter?”

“[Y]ou’ll find yourself wanting to consult your network for a better answer than the one you’re getting in person.”

“You may have your way of thinking challenged and be forced to consider new, previously unconsidered perspectives.”

“You won’t like getting instant feedback from students.”

So, my advice is to keep a level head and stay off of Twitter. Your e-mails are waiting.

Rey Junco is a social media scholar and an associate professor in academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University. You can try to reach Rey on Twitter, but odds are that he won’t respond.

If, after all the above admonitions, you still want to try Twitter, the following is a good starting point: momthisishowtwitterworks.com

Beyond Classroom Settings: Collaboration, Connectivity, and Learning with New Technologies

By Dr. Susana Sotillo, Associate Professor, Linguistics, Montclair State University.

 

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Image courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

We achieve digital wisdom by enhancing our brain’s capacity through the appropriate use of technology. This is Marc Prensky’s major argument in Brain Gain (2012).  Although many of my generation continue to labor in the traditional classroom setting, with its emphasis on the transmission of knowledge through face-to-face (F2F) lectures, others are exploring the use of technology for teaching content as well as language skills.  In our continuously evolving high tech society, employment opportunities are being redefined as part of a global shift from an abundance of labor-intensive jobs to highly complex technology-driven occupations.  With this in mind, Prensky (2012) points out that today’s students need to master three major skills: “working in virtual communities, making videos (on both sides of the camera), and programming our increasingly powerful machines.” (p. 210).  Ironically, programming skills are what make a difference in Elysium, a recent Science Fiction action quest, where intelligent machines can indeed be reprogrammed to alter the power structure.  All these skills involve a high degree of collaboration and connectivity, whether face-to-face or virtual, which are themes other educational technologists emphasize in their writings.  Collaboration and connectivity also figure prominently among game designers, computer scientists, and high school and college classroom teachers.  These groups are keenly aware of the importance of immediate and effective connectivity. 

Connectivity and flexibility are highly valued in any post-industrial society.  As Oblinger (2013) states, we have moved beyond the Information Age in every aspect of modern life, especially in education, industry, business, and health delivery systems.  We are now in the Connected Age.   In higher education today, whether we like it or not, students and faculty are strongly interconnected.  In my own field, linguistics and language learning and teaching, the focus has shifted from strictly teacher-centered traditional classrooms to student-centered online and hybrid instructional options.  For successful language and content learning to take place in virtual environments, student and instructor interconnectivity is essential.  Otherwise we are merely recycling the transmission model of education as online instruction with instructor designed objectives and assessment tools. 

Uses of technology in areas other than language learning is extensively documented in professional journals and books.  For example, Niess (2005) investigated five case studies and documented the successes and difficulties encountered by student teachers developing pedagogical content knowledge and preparing to teach with technology in science and mathematics.   In the field of Geography, Armstrong & Bennett (2005), made a strong case for mobile, location-aware computing technology in teaching abstract geographic concepts by allowing teachers to take students into the field, thus  contextualizing geographic education. 

Today, students who have limited access to resources for technology-driven learning at the college level can borrow laptops and iPads from their college libraries or Information Technology departments.  This would allow them to participate fully in collaborative assignments and field research with mobile learning tools.  In K-12 urban environments, efforts are underway to provide every child with access to a laptop or iPad (Warschauer, 2011).

In the traditional classroom setting, most faculty stay in touch with students by scheduling F2F office hours or via Email, an old technology in this rapidly evolving digital age.  Some of us prefer to use other tools in order to stay effectively connected with colleagues and students.  In my case, I use SMS texting and our virtual Blackboard Collaborate classroom for staying in touch with graduate and undergraduate students.  When I need to remind undergraduates of upcoming assignments, tests or projects, I text them and they in turn text me when they need clarification of course content or small-group projects. Students also text me to remind me about deadlines for letters of recommendation or to inform me that they will be late or absent from class.  

In the field of language learning, extensive research has been carried out from a variety of theoretical perspectives on the use of technology and its impact on student achievement in foreign and second languages (Stanley, 2013; Stockwell, 2010, 2012, 2013).  Most recently, studies in second language acquisition have examined the impact of technology in the acquisition of intercultural competence (see Chun, 2011; Godwin-Jones, 2013; Kukulska-Hulme, 2010; O’Dowd & Ritter, 2006; Thorne, 2003).  This type of research is very important because it helps individuals working in a variety of professional and informal settings avoid serious intercultural miscommunication problems.

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Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Students in linguistics and teacher education programs who are seeking certification in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) often take courses in Methodology of TESL, Language and Culture, Structure of American English, and Language in Society.  In the past, teaching methodologies were offered exclusively in traditional classroom settings or community centers.  This has changed radically with the development of the Internet and video-conferencing software that allows teachers-in-training and students to learn and interact beyond the confines of localized physical spaces in both K12 and higher education.  Another useful technology is SMS texting.  As Stockwell (2010) has shown, SMS has proven to be very effective in teaching English as a Second-Language (ESL) students.  A simple way to help ESL students build up their vocabulary involves sending mini-lessons or true/false quizzes to their smartphones.  Other creative uses of technology in ESL classrooms involve the use of videos.  I have witnessed how technology-savvy ESL students have effectively collaborated with classmates in the creation of videos for classroom projects that were successfully uploaded to YouTube and shared with a wider audience.  This approach allows ESL students an opportunity to use their second language in context in order to effectively communicate with others and accomplish a variety of goals.

A successful classroom project for English language learners involved tutoring partnerships between students majoring in Linguistics and their counterparts in Shanghai, China.  I had remained in contact with Jie Chen, a professor of English at Shanghai Institute of Technology who was a student in a course that Shufa Li and I developed and taught in July 2012 for the Teaching in English Summer Program at MSU.  Jie and I decided to keep in touch via FaceTime since she plans to return to MSU as a visiting scholar in 2014.   We developed a project to encourage our students to greet and meet via FaceTime.  Five students who were doing well in three of the courses I was teaching in the spring of 2013 volunteered to tutor five English language learners attending college in Shanghai.  Technology played a significant role in these international exchanges, but there were some challenges tutors and tutees encountered.  For example, Internet connections in China were unreliable and the language learning applications used by our students were not available to Chinese students.  One of the most enthusiastic participants in this project, Gabrielle Napoli, expressed her views about this experience: “For 5 weeks I pursued an opportunity to connect with a student across the world. She told me to call her Mao, which was not her first name but her last. I asked why she asked me to call her by her last name and she explained that her first name would be too difficult for me to pronounce. When connecting with students who are not native to the English language, everything must be simplified, not only for them but for the native speaker as well. … I never thought we would become as close as we have. We still communicate and talk frequently over email and FaceTime.” (Gabrielle’s blog http://usatoshanghai.wordpress.com/ ).

ImageAnother project participant, Jonathan Williams, also found these language learning partnerships rewarding, though he chose to work with Skype rather than FaceTime and explore Google documents, slideshows, and occasionally screen sharing.  He writes:  “Working with foreign students on Skype was a fantastic experience, and it’s something that I’ve continued doing throughout the summer and hope to continue doing while studying and after graduation. Being face-to-face with a student, even though you may be miles apart (in this case across the globe) is invaluable for student-teacher dynamics and effective learning. Though there were internet connection issues and technical faults at times, the disturbances never significantly disrupted the sessions. In my opinion, what’s crucial about this is that learning sessions don’t lose anything by occurring online. Despite the distance, students and teachers are still able to convey things like tone and body language – each of which is lost in other media such as phone calls or emails.”  (Jon’s blog can be accessed at http://jwskypetutor.blogspot.com/ ).

Technology made these global projects possible.  It is also changing the dynamics of learning subject matter and languages.  Online and hybrid courses afford students and teachers opportunities to learn beyond the confines of the traditional classroom at convenient times for all involved.  In addition, mobile communication tools (i.e., notebooks, iPads, Tablets, smartphones, etc.)  have made it possible to learn anywhere and anytime, while at the same time increasing the strength of people-to-people connections locally and globally (see October 2013 issue of Language Learning and Technology).  We are indeed witnessing radical changes not just in modes of teaching-learning, but also in the degree of interconnectivity in multiple environments, which include school, work, neighborhoods, communities of practice, and nations. The future of education at all levels offers exciting opportunities for learning with technology and managing time wisely so that we can all eventually attain digital wisdom.

 

References

Armstrong, A. P., & Bennett, D.A. (2005).  A Manifesto on Mobile Computing in Geographic Education.  The Professional Geographer  57(4), 506-515.

Chun, D. (2011). Developing intercultural communicative competence thorough online exchanges.  CALICO Journal 28(2), 392-419.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2013).  Integrating intercultural competence into language learning through technology.  Language Learning & Technology, 17(2), 1-11.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/issues/june2013/emerging.pdf

Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2010).  Learning cultures on the move: Where are we heading? Educational Technology & Society 13(4), 4-14. 

Niess, M. L. (2005).  Preparing teachers to teach science and mathematics with technology: Developing a technology pedagogical content knowledge.  Teaching and Teacher Education 21(5), 509-523.

Oblinger, D. G. (March/April 2013).  Higher Education in the Connected Age.  EDUCAUSE review.

O’Dowd, R., & Ritter, J. (2006).  Understanding and working with ‘failed communication’ in telecollaborative exchanges. CALICO Journal 23(3), 623-642.

Prensky, M. (2012).  Brain Gain.  New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stanley, G. (2013).  Language Learning with Technology: Ideas for Integrating Technology in the Classroom.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stockwell, G. (2010).  Using mobile phones for vocabulary activities: Examining the effect of the platform.  Language Learning & Technology Language Learning & Technology 14(2), 95-110.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol14num2/stockwell.pdf

Stockwell, G. (Ed.). (2012). Computer Assisted Language Learning: Diversity in Research & Practice.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stockwell, G. (2013). Mobile-assisted language learning. In M. Thomas, H. Reinders & M. Warschauer (Eds.), Contemporary computer-assisted language learning. London & New York: Continuum Books.

Thorne, S. (2003).  Artifacts and cultures-of-use in intercultural communication.  Language Learning & Technology 7(2), 38-67.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num2/pdf/thorne.pdf

Warschauer, M. (2011).  Learning in the Cloud. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Start with an Appetizer

This exercise is predicated on the integration and application of technology as a learning tool. However, for my freshman FYW students, I find that their access and knowledge of technology is very limited, and I don’t have the proper technology in the classroom to demonstrate and allow them to practice this method. However, the key idea behind this assignment idea is good and can provide instructors with ways to introduce tiny chunks of course concepts in such a way that student’s are able to test out what they know, what they need to know, and get peer-feedback in a low-stakes activity.

 

For those of us who teaching writing, it seems to me that freewriting prompts on particular topics that students will be covering in their former essays is a great way to start them off with an “appetizer.” You could break essay assignments into three or more in-class writing prompts that asks them to freewrite on their

  • claim (what is your claim? what assertion or idea are you arguing for? what position have you taken to argue this claim? what issue do you want to bring to your audience’s attention? Is this a claim of fact, value, policy?;
  • the next one on the evidence they might use to support the claim (what is your personal experience with this issue? what is open to dispute? how will you support your argument? what counterarguments might you address? what types of evidence would best support your claim?;
  • the third on audience (what do people already know about this? what don’t they know? what groups would be most interested in this issue? what do you want your audience to do, think, or feel as a result of reading your essay?);

Once they’ve completed a freewrite, they would discuss their choices and strategies in small groups before applying their ideas to their essay. These steps will give them writing that can be formalized in their essay, gives them in-class writing time, and allow them to discuss their choices with their peers before committing them to paper. I like this idea especially because I find that once a student writes down an idea or takes a stand in their essay, they are loathe to change it. Positioning freewriting prompts around elements of an essay has them test out ideas before fully writing them, get feedback, and then leaves them with the core components of their formal piece. Worth trying!

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