From a certain point of view, this week and last could be seen as Weeks of the Unnecessary Instructor. With facilitations in #111cr and presentations in #252ac wrapped up, I see that a beneficial result is how much students now look to each other for encouragement, praise, and support. One need only check the #111cr and #252ac Twitter feeds for evidence. Supplemental examples are also present on students' Posterous blogs.
This is not to say I'm absent, of course. I'm more of a coach, a facilitator, a guide, a reference point, a resource to be tapped at appropriate moments. Curious, though, is my timing to engage students in individual, private discussions of their performances so far this semester. Asking them to talk with me about whether or not they think they're keeping up their end of the grading contract (and if I'm doing the same) keeps the communication line open and helps us address concerns before they become unaddressable. I welcome these discussions because they keep us honest.
It is almost as if I'm encouraging such conversations as a way to remind them of something else, though. I'm not sure what. Perhaps it concerns those traditional notions of professorial authority. If so, I find that rather unfortunate. Still, some students expressed relief at my invitation, worried as they were about their grades. Others took advantage of the opportunity to remind me of their unique goals and interests as related to the courses I'm guiding.
With Pop Up Scholarship due in #111cr and facilitations in #252ac set to continue, next week will also be witness to whole-class discussion and evaluation of Twitter and how students use it. I amended the schedules of both #111cr and #252ac so that we have full class sessions to air grievances, share experiences, and make executive decisions about whether or not to keep and use Twitter for the rest of the semester.
With that in mind, I want to take a moment and look ahead to the possibility of doing away with Twitter. If #111cr and/or #252ac decide against tweeting, some kind of activity, some kind of writing will need to replace it. Something will need to replace it because, along with Posterous, Twitter functions as part of the alternative to using Blackboard and/or having #111cr and #252ac as more traditional courses. To be frank, something will need to replace Twitter if only because of sheer volume. Please forgive the elementary math used below to illustrate:
7 tweets per week x 140 characters = 980 characters per week
980 characters over the next 10 weeks = 9800 characters
On an average of 5 characters per word: 9800 / 5 = 1960 words.
So, if students continue to use Twitter for the next 10 weeks, they will each produce the equivalent of an essay. Note that I'm only comparing volume here, not content or quality, but I think there is something to be said for volume. However, I'm not about to suggest an additional major writing assignment as a replacement. Instead, here are some possibilities:
- An additional blog post and/or comments per week
- Revise existing requirements
- A new social media tool
Of these, I see only two as viable. Additional blogging in the form of one more required post per week and/or more comments may be the most attainable and sensible. #111cr and #252ac students have already proved their comfort and confidence with blogging and managing Posterous as a platform for doing so. Perhaps there's more yet we can do with Posterous alone, particularly in light of recent changes to the service.
The other option would be a revision the existing requirements for Twitter use. The #252ac feed is never more active than during class time, so there might be little resistance to a simpler requirement that all students live-tweet on Mondays and Wednesdays for the rest of the semester. This hasn't happened much in #111cr, though, so I'm curious about students' receptivity. That written, I'm wary of introducing a social media replacement for Twitter. Students' relative focus should be on their areas of significant interest. Taking the time to introduce them to some other form of social media such as Diigo or Reddit would shift that focus to an unfortunate, and maybe even unnecessary, degree.