One of the big challenges I face as an instructor, is to foster student involvement and discussion on the topic we are discussing in class. Some students are shy and do not want to speak up, others are perfectly content to take their notes and give the ideas no further consideration. This is a problem, however, in that I do not want robotic students that just memorize facts and then spit them back out on an exam. I want students that understand the material and how it relates to other ideas we have discussed – memorizing facts will not create these learners. In fact, I would prefer to have students that really engaged the material and perhaps did not learn as many facts, rather than a student that memorized every factoid that left my lips. In the end, students will most likely forget any facts that they crammed into their head for an exam anyways, but skills like debate, analysis, criticism and conjecture can be used and re-used for a lifetime.
I feel like sometimes I get caught in a rut of teaching facts because they are easier than teaching someone how to question an idea, formulate an opinion and write a response. In addition, the students protest much less when having to just fill in blanks, so that is enticing as well. Bottom line, thinking of creative and innovative ideas that motivate students while demanding a higher level of work from them is hard.
However, some teachers around the USA are using social media to make this process easier. A number of college professors allow computer and cell phone usage during class (gasp!) so that their students can discuss topics that come up. One teacher led a twitter discussion while another encouraged students to make posts as he went through his slide show.
I like both ideas because I think the novelty alone will improve student achievement, but once again, I feel locked in place because of restraints I find at my school.
- We have a computer lab to use, but we would have to leave the class room which immediately removes us from the routine and if anything changes in the routine, many of them turn back into 2 year olds.
- Beyond losing the attention of some, the computers are pretty slow these days, require the students to log-in multiple times and often stop working. So if I were to say “go make a post on twitter about what we talked about today,” it would take them at least 15 minutes, probably more like 20 to get it done- that is at least 1/3 of my class time.
- Some would never get it done because of tech problems. I would like to make it a grade, but if they are unable to complete it because of technology, I can’t hold that against them.
- Students are blocked from Twitter by a filter anyways.
- One last barrier – the students are not allowed to download anything (even plug-ins) which makes using technology a nightmare. Even I, as a teacher, am not allowed to download anything on the computer. This really ticks me off – how can you pay me thousands of dollars a year and entrust me with the future of dozens of children, but you won’t let me update my Firefox?!
Every time I like an idea that uses technology, there is some sort of constraint that I cannot overcome that prevents me from using it – it is kind of depressing. Sometimes I kind of feel like it would be better if I did not learn about this stuff because then I would not know what I am missing, ignorance is bliss as they say. How does one fight the uphill struggle against student apathy while at the same time having to do it with one hand behind their back and hopping on one foot because of constraints on technology?