Will using Facebook, IM, Skype, etc. make me a better teacher?

Probably not. Though your choice of tools should probably be related to the kind of communication network you want/need to establish with your learners. For some this will be as simple as e-mail or online discussion forum in WebCT/Vista. For others, it may involve a range of instant messaging for office hours, Wimba for online tutorials, maybe even Facebook if all learners in the class are there already. Whether or not any of these strategies is effective is, to a large degree, dependent on how committed both you and your learners are to making it work.

The topic of teachers and social media was recently explored on CBC’s radio show Spark in an interview with danah boyd, of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and Marc Fisher, of the Washington Post. The blog discussion was lively and fascinating following the interview and I’d encourage you to spend some time on the site:

Here’s an excerpt from one of the blogger participants:

I am a lecturer at a university in BC. I allow my students reasonable access: I do use email (obsessively) and virtual classroom technology, and promise my students that I will respond “in a timely manner” (my time, not theirs). I encourage Facebook, Moodle, and Google study groups and chat/IM – so that students who often live more than an hour away from each other in our area can use technology to help make their lives a little easier.

Does this make me more effective than the instructor who oversees f2f study groups, who offers specific office hours, who volunteers time in the Writing Centre and makes sure her students come for extra help?

Of course it doesn’t. The one thing research in pedagogy has shown time and time again is that any technique works for most students as long as the teacher is committed to it.

Sharon Taylor, March 5th, 2008 – Posted on CBC’s Spark blog.

And what do students think makes for a good instructor? Recently, some of the students involved in the LEAP project, asked their peers to share their thoughts on teaching and learning via U.Stream from the Ike Barber Learning Centre. If you’d like to review the archived video clips, they are available here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/leap-ubc.

Here are a few highlights:

It would be good if they (profs) would give us an opportunity to do our own research/ academic reviews. Trevor, 4th year student

I like it when profs emphasize discussion, interactivity – not just reviewing notes. I can do that on my own. Teena, 2nd year student

I know that I’m really learning something when I choose to think about it outside of class – not just what I have to remember for a paper or mid term.

Profs may have taught the same thing over and over, but I haven’t learned the same thing over and over. Cadence, 2nd year student

Most profs don’t use technology enough… to bring people together in a closer environment.

Luke, 2nd year

I really like it when my profs put presentations and course materials online. It helps me follow along with class work …

Interactive study guides and online quizzes (not for grades) but for self tests is a great thing.

Facebook is a good way (for me) to connect with classmates and organize meetings, study groups…as opposed to all the junk you could do on that site.

Alec, 2nd year

In an ideal world, learning would be more collaborative and interactive…

One of my profs really encourages interaction and discussion our entire hour lecture. In another class, my prof lectures the whole time, we don’t really have any choices, which makes it boring – totally unlike the other class.

Kevin, 3rd year

The bottom line? Learners recognize good instructors. They are the ones who make the subject matter come to life in a meaningful way, who use classroom time wisely and who want to know what learners’ think. They have high expectations and provide the guidance necessary for students to really learn – not only about the subject matter, but about themselves as learners and citizens. It has very little to do with technology. It has to do with a deep commitment to learning and the willingness to try and fail in an attempt to improve. After all, learning transcends the boundaries of the individual course or instructor but you can make an impact on what your learners will take with them. What do you want that to be?

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2 thoughts on “Will using Facebook, IM, Skype, etc. make me a better teacher?

  1. Cindy,

    Dan from Spark here. Thanks so much for the mention and the link. We can’t fit as much as we’d like in our 27 minute show, so we put as many full, unedited interviews online as we can. Glad to see people are listening and making use.

    Thanks again.

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