Today I introduced TodaysMeet to my 3rd year students and a very interesting discussion arose. I’ve compartmentalised the discussion into some headings. Although the main conversation focussed around taking notes or taking tweets, some other interesting points came up.

Note-taking on paper is easier than tweeting

There was a good discussion about why the students felt this way. My argument is that because they have been conditioned to listen to the teacher and take notes, this is naturally going to be easier. If they had gone through their formal education writing their notes in short form and online, they may have found ‘traditional’ note-taking equally challenging.

My argument is that taking notes on paper and tweeting your notes are both very similar, except in the case of tweeting you are limited to what you are writing to a certain number of characters. This can be a bad thing if you are trying to write something complicated but, equally, it could be a good thing as you need to reflect on what the main concept is and then re-write it in your own words which helps you to process the information (and hopefully retain it better).

Note-taking on paper may be similar to tweets but the feeds from other people are distracting

This is a fair point. When taking paper notes, you are writing on your blank/lined piece of paper and you don’t have other people writing as well. (Of course, if you were like me in high school and University, there is always someone sitting next to you eager to draw or write something ridiculous on the corner of your notes). TodaysMeet doesn’t have a feature which lets you see only your own input. Twitter does, though. I find it interesting that this year group found the tweets distracting but, to be fair, this could be more my fault. I didn’t drip-feed the use of TodaysMeet in quite the same way as I did with the other year groups and perhaps my expectations were too high. Still, it’s fair to say that try to read others’ responses (and respond to them) can be distracting during a lecture. Which brings me quite conveniently to my next point…

Tailor the teaching to match the tweeting

I can’t help but think this may end up being a little mantra of mine. So far, with the 1st and 2nd years in particular, I’ve been tailoring my lectures/tutorials to ensure the students can use TodaysMeet effectively, giving them time to reflect, tweet and respond. When I am lecturing, I’m only talking for 4 or 5 minutes at a time and then getting the students to review what I’ve said and to tweet the main points. I also give them time with a partner or in groups to engage in further thinking on the subject and to post their replies on TodaysMeet. So I’m weaning them a bit. Today, however, I didn’t do this quite as well which would explain the students being a bit more unsure and less confident. Due to time restraints, I missed out a chunk of the teaching I wanted to do – and this missing section would have, I believe, supported them in becoming more confident with how to use TodaysMeet (and tweeting in general).

The size of the group makes a difference

I had 5 groups today. Each group had around 6 students. One group had 2 students. The group of 2 students found it challenging to listen to the lecture, take notes and respond on TodaysMeet. This could, in part, be where they were sitting as they weren’t able to see the 2nd board where the tweets were being shown. However, in discussion afterwards, the students identified that other, larger groups had one person scribing and 3 or 4 other who were able to view the incoming tweets, discuss them and suggest a response to the scribe. The group of 2 had too much to do.

I’m still of the opinion a group of 4 is the best size. Everyone takes part and, so far, groups of 4 seem to break down into: 1 scribe/typist, 2 readers (reading the incoming tweets) and 1 facilitator (i.e., informing the scribe/typist what to write) with all 4 students engaged in the conversation.

A positive, ‘give-it-a-go’ attitude is essential

The GTCS (General Teaching Council of Scotland) has produced the document The Standards for RegistrationThis document includes information about the standards required for student teachers—The Standard for Provisional Registration. Section One focuses on Professional Values and Personal Commitment and contains a sub-section Professional Commitment. Here’s the first bullet point in this sub-section:

  • engaging with all aspects of professional practice and working collegiately with all members of our educational communities with enthusiasm, adaptability and constructive criticality.

I believe learning new technologies (and how they could be used as teaching and learning tools) falls into this umbrella of ‘professional practice’. You have to try something out and then engage in ‘constructive criticality’—reviewing, reflecting, discussing, researching, experimenting, etc. In my class today, I had to push some of my students to go beyond their gut-reaction and to look at the pros and cons from an objective viewpoint (or at least a less-subjective viewpoint).

Students are more critical of their colleagues than I am

It was interesting listening to my 3rd year students using TodaysMeet for the first time. The students were unsure of its use longer-term and they believed that once the novelty wore off, students would ignore the tweets and would end up playing games, on Facebook or generally off-topic. In other words, they would not be paying attention. (This cynicism seems to stem from previous experience).

And yet, in my experience with the other year groups, the opposite is true. Yes, you’re always going to have the odd student who sneaks onto Facebook for a quick update. On the whole, though, I have found the students are on-task, are engaged and are paying attention—even though it may look as if they aren’t. It is a bit odd to talk to students who aren’t looking at me but, to be fair, if they were taking notes, they’d be looking down at their paper and so there is little difference. It just feels weird. But the proof is in the pudding, as it were. The online tweet conversation has improved considerably in the past 3 weeks and there is a sense of engagement and interest.

Perhaps I need to encourage peer-monitoring and to have students nudge each other when they are off task. Or perhaps it just means I have to ensure I follow the rule above (“Tailor the teaching to match the tweeting”). If the teaching is excellent, the engagement will be excellent—Better teaching = better learning.

In conclusion

I’ve done quite a bit of reflecting on my class today. There were a number of very fair comments but there was some fair points raised about the use of this type of social media. I believe the main reason the students were uncomfortable was my fault. I removed a chunk of the teaching due to time restraints. This was my big mistake as I didn’t set a good, solid foundation. I rushed them a bit and expected too much, forgetting they hadn’t had the same inputs as the other year groups.

Of course, if things had gone well, I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to reflect as I have in this entry so perhaps it wasn’t so bad after all. 🙂

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