Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Twitter and Diigo and AIM, oh my!

A month into the new semester. In my comp II classes, I introduced the use of Twitter and Diigo. I started with Twitter in the very first week, as a very simple assignment. Sign up, log in, and tweet to me, "@danholt, [student name] in WRIT 132 is all set to use Twitter." Here's a link to the assignment. Among the 50+ students I had, only one had been using Twitter previously, so for most all of them, it was a new experience.

I got a range of reactions, from "Wow, this is cool we're using Twitter" to "Why in the world are we using Twitter?" And several had difficulty with tweeting as I requested, so that class members would be able to search easily for class members to follow. Finally, a good number simply didn't do it.

Not unusual. Usually students who have some online experience, especially with online classes, have no problem with jumping in and exploring a new app. However, with students who have never taken an online class before, or may have but are overextended--6 classes, 40 hour a week job, part time job, rearing children on his or her own (and if you think I'm exaggerating, think again!!!)--being able to take the time to follow instructions carefully often hinders the student.

Of course, the problem with instructions and certain populations of students has been a challenge in teaching online classes since I started in 1997. Granted, early attempts left lots of holes since I was unfamiliar with how to translate the give and take of guiding students through an assignment in an online world. But now, especially from students who've taken a number of online classes, I receive positive comments, relieved they can follow and implement the tasks I lay out before them.

But I'm noticing with this semester, as I require students to do Angel discussion forums, chat, AIM, audio essay submissions, Diigo, Twitter, that I'm pushing many to the edge, very like what we had with students first trying online education in the late 90s. 

Add to that the fact that Angel has been buggy--students unable to log in at one point a couple weeks into the semester because of problems with communication between Angel and Banner. I know of at least three students who threw up their hands and dropped because of the log in problems. Furthermore, the discussion forums have been squirrelly, working with one browser, but not another, problems with uploading files, even emails sent through the discussion forum appearing as a single word: null.

Even so, my goal of offering a rich environment for a writing community, seems to be working for many--Twitter still has naysayers ("still can't see the value in doing this!") but some interesting reactions. A couple students have mentioned that they really like using Twitter because it helps them to stay on track by seeing what class members are doing.

And Diigo, though rather clunky with library online databases, has been a hit with most students. 

But even so, I had to drop a scad of students because of non-participation. So, should I make classes rich in applications to benefit those who have some experience with online classes and who devote appropriate amounts of time to the work, or should I make it easy and spare, so students who have little experience with online classes and/or have little time to devote to the class can succeed? 

I guess it's simply not in my nature to do much capitulation toward the latter.

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