Blog Post

The Students Strike Back: Some Thoughts on Using Digital Tools in the Classroom

Most student excuses that I've encountered for not completing an assignment range from sickness to sleeping-in, so it was a bit of a shock to have a student declare point blank that he was "morally opposed" to the week's assignment.  But in fact, that was exactly what I faced, and have increasingly come to expect, when trying to bring the digital into the classroom.  While some of the discussions on HASTAC have dealt with opposition from departments or fellow grad students - I feel student push back to integrating digital in the classroom is an important and overlooked issue in the dh community.

The assignment in question was a relatively easy one in my opinion.  All I asked of the students was that they post two tweets with their reactions, thoughts or questions from the week's readings.  From my perspective, this was an ingenious way to get participation from some of the quieter students, create a digital discussion, as well as set the basis for in class discussion.  Yet my students by and large were incredibly skeptical, hesitant, and outright against the assignment. For some reason, using twitter was not 'academic', and thus was not treated as seriously as a written reading response.  In all honesty, as much as I expected some push back, I was shocked by the reluctance of my students.  This resistance got me thinking about why some digital tools are considered appropriate for the classroom, and how to get my students to see outside of this box.  While I didn't come to any grand conclusions, I am wondering how do you, my fellow HASTAC'ers, get your students to 'buy-in' to the digital in the classroom? 

Please feel free to respond with advice and/or horror stories.

Suffice to say, the students begrudgingly completed the assignment and we were able to discuss their ideas in class. Since that week, only a few students have used the class hashtag to post thoughts, but their willing participation is promising.

For those interested in using the assignment, you can find the outline here on the class website I built https://my.vanderbilt.edu/js256/2013/02/twitter-assignment-two-tweets-for-your-two-cents-on-js256/

Cheers,

Zoe

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5 comments

I'm interested in why the student was "morally" opposed? Did he just think it was a waste of time, since he considered Twitter un-academic?

I have heard that some students don't like to mix their personal Twitter persona with the classroom - giving their teachers and classmates access to their personal thoughts and life events. Was that a factor for this student or any of the others? Or did you pre-empt that kind of problem by encouraging them to create a second Twitter account if necessary?

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Hi Hilary,

Thanks for the comment and questions. I was also curious why the student said morally opposed and he didn't have really any clear reasoning. I think it was more of an inchoate desire not to be associated with twitter (that is the twitter where people only post breakfast photos).  I did tell the students to create a second twitter account that wasn't linked to their personal one. I was trying to show the utility of twitter as an information aggregator. For example on January 25th - the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, we looked through tweets with the hashtag #jan25 to see what people were saying about the event.

I think in the end your point about students wanting to keep twitter as their own personal social space is spot on.  I suppose in some ways I should respect that boundary but in all honesty I didn't want to have to read 30 response papers.  Perhaps the solution is somewhere between twitter and the more traditional response paper?

Cheers,

Zoe

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Looking at the page you set up, I noticed the following:

Please make sure your twitter user name is the same as your actual name so that we know who you are. EDIT: If you feel uncomfortable posting under your name, email the section with your username so that we know your virtual identity.

I think that might have been part of the initial push back. A lot of students are wary about putting their real name anywhere that is publicly accessible. 

As a point of reference: I had a class in which there was a closed blog, accessible only by members of the class. Even then, I had a lot of students that did not want to use their real name, generally because they were worried that their statements would be 'taken the wrong way' by other students. This is particularly of concern when the subject matter of the class is inherently 'political' (mine was, and it looks like yours is). Incidentally, I noticed that almost all of those students were women and/or of color – possibly worth taking into account.

This is a real concern. Whereas students will generally 'trust' their professor/TA, a lot of students are probably worried about what their peers think of them. We're being paid to listen to them and at least give them the benefit of the doubt, while their peers have no such restrictions. I had more than a few emails from female / of color students who didn't want to post their final papers on the closed class blog, because they were worried that what they had to say was too 'controversial'.

So, maybe a workaround would be starting off by telling students that they can use whatever username they like, and not force them to 'out' themselves to their classmates. Just have every student send you a one-line email with their real name and twitter handle, and put it into a spreadsheet for your personal reference.

If someone tweets something that is particularly brilliant, then you can read it in class. If the person feels comfortable 'owning' that statement in public, they will do so.

 

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Hi Zoe,

I'm sorry to hear about your twitter woes!  I'm using twitter for the first time this semester too.  So far it seems to be working well and students are generally amenable to the idea of tweeting.  I'll be soliciting feedback from them on whether or not they find twitter useful/valuable as a learning tool in the next few weeks and am happy to share their responses with you, if you're interested.

As an aside, one thing that helps is integrating tweets into the fabric of the course, rather than just "plopping" them in. In my introductory writing course, for instance, I have students tweet every other week or so, just to reinforce twitter's presence and purpose within the classroom.  Here's a link to my course schedule, in case you're interested in seeing how I use/assign tweets and with what frequency.

Also, there's an interesting piece on Hybrid Pedagogy by Jesse Stommel entitled "The Twitter Essay."  You might enjoy reading that as well.

Good luck...and keep us updated!  :)

Lori Beth 

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Hi Dexter and Lori,

Thanks for your comments and suggestion. They are much appreciated.

Dexter - I think you make an excellent critique. The question over ownership was something I deeply considered, but perhaps after reading your comment should have been more flexible. While I agree that anonymity means students will be more likely to participate, I purposefully wanted them at the very least to be accountable to their peers. In some ways, I feel like on controversial topics students should be forced to take ownership of their comments. Otherwise, it's much easier to say things that are inappropriate or that are dismissive of the complexities.  Furthermore, it's easier for students to move from online to in-class dialogues and vice versa if they know with whom they are 'tweeting'. I think perhaps a good middle ground would be Lori's suggestion of embedding twitter throughout the course.  Then students might be more comfortable and at the same time be able to take ownership for their thoughts.

Lori- Thank you for sharing your course schedule and the article. Both were helpful. Please let us know how the students respond on your survey. Would you even consider posting the survey? I wanted to do something similar but in some ways I worry over the feedback I'll receive, and so I've been burying my head in the sand. I would, and I'm sure others here at HASTAC, would benefit from hearing about your experience both using twitter and getting feedback about twitter in the classroom.

Cheers,

Zoe

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