http://chrisstubbs.com/2010/02/rethinking-the-large-lecture-c.html There are lots of benefits to going to school at a place the size of THE Pennsylvania State University. Tons of academic and social resources. Alumni overflowing with school pride everywhere you go. And of course, 110,000 seat football stadiums. Giggity giggity! Of course, though they are few in number, there are a handful bad things about big school living. And number one on that list of downers would have to be the large lecture classroom. If you've never experienced the joy of wedging yourself into a room with 200, 300, or 750 of your peers for an hour or more, I can tell you from experience its not the most pleasant part of earning a degree. Its always too warm, the seats are never comfortable, and the only thing more intimidating than having to cross 50 people to get to the bathroom is raising your hand to ask a question. Insert the old Seinfeld joke about death and public speaking right about here. Whether out of sheer intimidation, or the logistical nightmare of managing a 300 person conversation, large lecture courses tend to have one voice nearly exclusively, and that voice is the voice of the instructor. A charismatic speaker certainly helps to ease the pain of what normally ends up being "death by powerpoint", but even that does not change the fact that without a handful of brave students (who will always be in the minority), big classes tend to be a one way street. These are the classes which earn the big University the stereotype so often heard - a place where the professor most certainly does not know your name. There is no way around it. The large lecture class is an impersonal way to learn. Efficiency however, is a virtue of its own. To make the academic world go round, particularly in an era of economic belt tightening, the impersonal big course sections are a necessary evil. Which leads to a logical goal for a unit like ours (Education Technology Services). Remove the "impersonal" and "evil" from the big course section. Enter Comm110, better known as Media and Democracy: a 300 person general education course, taught by Professor Michael Elavsky, which explores the role that the media plays in shaping our impressions of politics in our world. As you might imagine, any substantial current event could demand class coverage and discussion. But how do you facilitate discussion in one of the most intimidating venues imaginable for your average college freshman? largelectureclass.jpg Thankfully, Comm110 does not exist in isolation of our times. It is, after all, a large lecture course in the year 2010 - and the students who fill its ranks come packing. Laptops, netbooks, iPhones, Blackberrys and smart phones the likes of which I've never heard of give Comm110 a technology stockpile the Consumer Electronics Expo would be proud of. And having stopped by class last Thursday, I can attest personally that these devices are locked and loaded - but what are they being used for? Facebook? Games? Texting? Anything but Comm110? And so the stage is set. An incredible interesting course, an abundance of technology, and traditional format that discourages students from actively participating in their own learning. What is the solution? At least part of the solution (we hope) is to create a back channel that students feel comfortable interacting with. Then bring the back channel to the front of the class - literally and figuratively. Every Comm110 student was asked to create a twitter account and a gmail account, which was to be shared with Professor Elavsky via a google form. This data was collected so that extra participation points could be given for virtual contributions to the class. Virtual contributions to what, you say? Well I'm glad you asked. The Comm110 Twitter Stream By encouraging students to use their various mobile devices to post their thoughts, questions, and comments to twitter with the tag "#psucomm110", they are now afforded a safe place to speak their mind and connect with other students. The ease of use and 140 character limit keeps things simple and more importantly un-intimidating. The course Twitter feed is public, meaning that every post has the potential to be seen by even more than just the 300 people taking the course. And yet for those who fear the hand raise more than death itself, it represents an outlet. It also allows to conversations started in class to live beyond two, hour and thirty minute sessions each week, and for interesting blog posts, video clips, or sound bites to be shared with the entire class 24/7. But it does not end there. Because every Thursday, Professor Elavsky replaces the traditional powerpoint with, none other than the live twitter feed itself. The back channel comes to the forefront and, in conjunction with the prepared topics for the day, helps to drive a completely reinvented view of 300 person discussion. TAs Chenjerai and Cristina keep the feed fresh and work with Michael to highlight interesting contributions, discussions, or questions being made on Twitter - allowing students who feel comfortable speaking in front of 300 of their peers to engage with those who feel more comfortable interacting virtually. Tests: For Students By Students The twitter stream represents only one part of students ability to reshape their educational experience in Comm110. By using google forms and google docs, Professor Elavsky also allows students to submit test questions - questions which he will then draw from to create each of the course's exams. But perhaps more importantly, the hope is to turn these compiled question lists into study guides for the course. For the students, by the students - sounds like the perfect idea for a course on Democracy. For the moment, the plan is give the compiled document back to the students as is. But as the course goes on, the hope is to eventually create subteams within the class, and allow students to fully engage with these study guides by using the collaborative potential of google docs to built on the submitted questions. As usual, forgive the madness of this post. Its turned out to be half project brief, half excited rambling. But with good reason - change the large lecture and you have an opportunity to change the future of higher education, irrespective of school or subject. The enthusiasm that Michael, Chenjerai, Cristina and Drew (the courses technical expert) have for rethinking the course and its implementation is contagious - Comm110 is one of the more exciting projects I've had the pleasure of working on in a long time. I'll end with a few thoughts/ questions we are currently looking exploring as we move forward. Challanges and Future Potential * What role does Google Moderator or a tool like Purdue's Hotseat (social ratings) play in the future of this class? * How can we rethink the physical classroom to be more accommodating of this hybridized virtual/ face to face implementation? How can we make it more seamless for both instructor and student to engage each other without drowning out the core goals of the course? * How do we best archive the conversation occurring in the twitter stream for review, reflection and potentially research? * Blogs or wikis seem like they could be a logical fit for many of Michael's goals for the course - do they have a place moving forward, or is the small form factor of twitter perfect for encouraging the hesitant to stick their toes in the pool? * And of course, what kind of impact will these have on the large classroom experience for these students? How will it influence their participation? Satisfaction? Learning? In and of itself, what is happening with Comm110 might not be brand new (Cole and Dr. Scott McDonald having been using the backchannel to rethink their CI597 course for two years now). But things change when you go from 20 students to 300, from graduate to undergraduate. And the devil can certainly be in the details. Is Comm110 less impersonal? You better believe it. Less evil? Well... we certainly hope so. One way or another stay tuned. You've not heard the last of Comm110. Image from academicsuccess.tumblr.com Tags: * Education, * Teaching, * Technology & Society 5 Comments Akshay Shah | April 4, 2010 3:20 PM | Reply Stubdog! This is a really cool idea! Just a thought - why Twitter? You're at an educational institution, so why not use www.identi.ca? It's open source, you can set up your own locally controlled instance for free if this idea really takes off, it threads conversations, it supports formal groups (beyond hashtags)...it's a just a great service. And last, but certainly not least, happy birthday!! Matt Meyer | February 13, 2010 1:01 PM | Reply Stubbs- great post that further opens the mind to how collaborative technologies are helping to drive creative ideas on how to use those very technologies. Good stuff! Brad Kozlek | February 11, 2010 6:02 PM | Reply This is a great story and great work. I can't wait to for more details as it all plays out. Anne Hoag, Associate Dean, College of Comm | February 9, 2010 12:35 PM | Reply We're really thrilled with Michael's success engaging students. Thanks for sharing his COMM 110 story with the community. Sam Richards | February 7, 2010 4:40 PM | Reply Hey, Stubbs. I like your thinking here. I think you accurately lay out the contrasting benefits and problems (the blessings and curses) of teaching in a large class. Somehow we need to account for both to make these venues the places that students feel excited about "visiting" -- which is really what they're doing. And I'm going to grab that test question idea from Elavsky. I've never thought of having students in a large class write the exam. I've had small classes put together an exam, however, and they totally rocked it.