Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Engineering Ed > Learning In 140-Character Bites

David Zax / ASEE Prism Magazine / October 2009 /

Twitter can improve teacher-student communication, in and out of class.

In most respects, Prof. Natasha Neogi’s aerospace engineering class is like any other. It’s a large, hour-long lecture-style course at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. But at the halfway mark, Neogi’s class takes on a new twist. She invites her students to log on to Twitter – the “micro-blogging” service that limits messages to 140 characters – and write in with questions. Neogi sifts through the “tweets,” in Twitter-speak, addressing the most common sticking point at the end of class.

Of course, plenty of professors — engineering and otherwise — have long been using Twitter. They tweet about interesting links they’ve come across; they complain about their flight delays; they keep us updated on their cats. But there are also professors who, like Neogi, have begun to bring Twitter into the lecture hall or seminar room. [snip]


Gordon Snyder, who directs the National Center for Information and Communications Technologies at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts, has also experimented with the back channel. He assigned his class a "hashtag",  [snip]

He also has found Twitter useful for getting a read on a room. Professors are familiar with the inscrutable sight of a lecture hall full of mute students. Are they listening? Understanding? Many professors have adopted "clickers," polling devices used to quiz students on a topic recently covered or to gauge students' opinions when venturing into politically sensitive subject matter. Snyder, whose center is funded by the National Science Foundation, considers Twitter a "modern and much more effective" clicker.

Of course, skepticism in academia remains the norm ... . But Twitter evangelists have ready answers for skeptics. Does it erase a necessary distance between professor and student, eroding professional authority? That depends on your view, says McDonald: If you think, "'Well, I'm the teacher, and people just need to listen to what I have to say'... then Twitter is not useful for you." Does Twitter distract students? "I see it as a way to keep students engaged," says Snyder. Besides, some argue, students often are already using these technologies in class; professors are simply co-opting a tool that would otherwise serve as a distraction. "If you can't beat 'em, might as well join 'em," sums up Kathy Schmidt, director of the Faculty Innovation Center for the College of Engineering at the University of Texas - Austin.


Danger of 'Parallel Discussions'

Punya Mishra, associate professor of educational psychology and technology at Michigan State University, notes that ...  there is "no such thing as an educational technology." Rather, "there are various technologies, and instructors need to repurpose them for their own needs." Last year, Mishra tried integrating a micro-blogging service similar to Twitter into a graduate seminar, but "I felt two parallel discussions were going on, but they didn't pull together productively at the end." He spent the week considering what went wrong and then designated a block of time near the end of class for students to catch up on the contents of the micro-blogging feed. Afterward, the class reconvened to continue a newly enriched discussion. With this bit of thoughtful tinkering, micro-blogging proved useful.

Mishra followed that experiment with a more ambitious one: using Twitter to join students from different continents. [snip]. He praises Twitter for "this ability to connect people... The sense of community can be very useful and powerful."

But just because Twitter has found success in some classrooms doesn't mean it's right for all engineering educators. After all, most of the experiments have thus far been led by professors of educational technology or social media itself ... .

One common concern is that Twitter currently isn't equipped to deal with engineering's lingua franca: mathematics. [snip]. Though an advocate for new classroom technologies, he doesn't foresee using Twitter in courses heavy in equations and scientific formulas. "There's something organic about a concept flowing from your brain to your hand to the board, and from the board to their hand and their brain," he says. [snip]




!!! Thanks To My ISU Colleague / Dr. Jacob D. Schroeder / For The HeadsUp !!

1 comment:

  1. Terrific post. I think for today's student for whom technology is as inherent as paper was for us when we were students, it is an organic process of concept flowing from brain to hand to twitter and back again.


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