How to Regularize Good Discussion Participation

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So, I’ve been thinking about my courses for Fall 2011 (yes, I know, the summer’s just started…), and given the energy residue from THATCamp CHNM, I wanted to get some ideas jotted down in a more accessible space than my moleskine.

There was a lot of discussion about backchannels this weekend, and while I’m thinking about employing twitter as an option for student-student interaction and for quick questions/statements about course content, assignments, etc. I’m having some internal debate about the level of my own participation–ideally, this would be a space where students could discuss amongst themselves, but I would worry about quality control. Or am I being paranoid? Has anyone out there used twitter as a backchannel for your classes without participating? Is it alright to lurk but not participate? What are the costs–and benefits–of lurking vs. participating, as an instructor? I think the best thing to do, of course, is to discuss it with the class–it is likely that many are not on twitter at all.

Another thing I always struggle with is creating specific tools/assignments to stimulate and strengthen discussion both in-class and outside of class. Lots of possibilities exist: students bring in/post a question about the reading every day (good use of twitter?), in-class writing about memorable images/moments to start discussion, free-form discussion about the reading–or previous class–for 5 minutes followed by a Q&A, and so on. But I’d like to have my students, especially those in the Patricia Highsmith seminar, do something a little more sustained. I’m considering having two tasks that students sign up for once or twice during the term:

First, one student would be responsible each meeting for selecting and posting a quote from the text on our blog, followed by an analytical reply. Then, before the meeting, the remainder of the class–including me–would contribute additional replies about the posted quote, which the discussion moderator or original poster would be responsible for organizing into a final reply to be brought into class.

This could easily be adapted for my introductory course on visual and cultural studies, too–instead of a quote, students would post a work of art, a photograph, an advertisement, a sound clip, a video clip, and so on, ideally one that they’ve encountered IRL/created rather than just pulled from the web somewhere. Replies would have to incorporate material/quotes/ideas from the assigned reading.

Second, I’ve been interested for a while in using mind-mapping tools like PersonalBrain to map discussions and lectures on the fly. I think that adding an additional technology, though–especially if we have a blog, as I’m planning–would be a little schizophrenic. Still, I love the idea of having one designated student each period responsible for taking notes, then organizing/revising them for presentation next class. I was inspired by HackCollege’s post on using Google Docs to tag-team note-taking in class, as well as George William’s ProfHacker post on the same and the crowdsourced session notes at THATCamp, which I find more of a boon every day. I wonder if anyone has done this actively as a part of a class environment? The note-taking doesn’t need to be collaborative, but it should definitely end up accessible to the class. I could also create note-taking teams of three or four, depending on the size of the class, and that team would be responsible for the notes. This would avoid the problem of a roomful of computer users clacking away every single class period. Any thoughts?

By the following class, when the notes are presented as an overview of the previous discussion, the google doc contents could become a post on the class blog. Then, at the end of the term, I could use Anthologize to create a class gift! Or is that too corny?

Here are some useful videos I might ask students to check out–or watch in class–when we go over the process:

3 thoughts on “How to Regularize Good Discussion Participation

  1. It never occurred to me to tag-team note-taking on GDocs in the classroom–but what an excellent idea! Depending on how large your sections are, I think the “note-taking teams of three or four” would work best. It retains the spirit of collaboration during the process of note-taking, not just after, when the notes are shared.

    As for Twitter, @rogerwhitson and @jessifer both use it quite regularly in the classroom, often in novel and structured ways. Check out Roger’s current course at #lcc2400. Previewing his class can give you an idea of issues to anticipate.

    One of the problems with Twitter (which we discussed in the Backchannel session), is that it is terrible at archiving data, which is something you might want to address.

    One of the uses of Twitter that I most look forward to using in the classroom is having students “annotate” in Twitter while they read. I think instructor participation is particularly useful in this respect, because you can model what effective annotation looks like…

  2. Thanks, Leeann! I’m definitely going to check out Roger’s #lcc2400 feed–already scanned it, and it’s nice to see that students really (really!) do think of class as an event. I love the idea of using twitter to annotate–can you expand? Are you thinking of having them “restate” current topics/moments of discussion? Or, to reply to/comment on current discussion trends? I kind of like the latter idea.

    And the more I think about it, the more I agree with the three or four (group) crowdsourced notes per period. I wonder how well it would work for classes that meet twice a week, rather than once, as most of mine will next term.

  3. Instead of (or in addition to) asking students to create marginalia in their books while reading, the idea would be to “write in the margins” on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye out for some examples/resources I can forward to you.

    This approach is particularly useful when you can’t put the text itself online and use CommentPress, A.nnotate, or Diigo. I think Roger and Zach Whalen mentioned using it during film screenings–so students could record responses while the film is streaming.

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