Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Student Presentations and Audience Microblogging

Despite the abundance of them in schools, I'm not a fan of book reports or posterboard displays. Mainly for three reasons:

  1. They are regurgitation instead of analysis
  2. Unless taught by a speech instructor, they usually do not accompany any teaching on how to present. The belief is that either they already know how to make a good presentation, or just the process of working on it without any teaching or constructive feedback will get them there. Which usually means, the presentations are poor.
  3. As long as the members of class are not disruptive, they usually have license to not pay attention.
Neither #1 or #2 follow the principles of Understanding by Design, but many educators mistakenly think that, because they are a project, they do. If this is our definition of rigor/relevant projects, we need to rethink things. I've never seen a posterboard project that is anything other than "Quadrant A".

But, one thing that would help #1 and #2 is if #3 wasn't true, if there was an active audience that you were presenting for. From a digital curriculum point-of-view, there is a better way to make seamless integration that enhances learning and engagement.

Using a microblogging tool such as Twitter or Edmodo, the class can respond and engage in critical dialogue while the presentation is taking place. It is like having a structured study guide for each student's presentation, but allowing for more flexible leaning and discussion to take place.

Let's say we take the normal, average book report (not recommended, but we'll start there). The teacher could assign to the class "Make sure you tweet at least two important thoughts you heard the presenter say." Or, "Make sure you tweet one similarity and one difference to your novel." She could have a discussion, even a practice speech with herself presenting, to examine which are deeper observations or comparisons and which are surface-level.

Through microblogging tools, you can set it up so that each student (and the teacher) is "following" each other. This will allow them to watch the running conversation of the audience as the speech is going on, including what other students are noticing and finding interesting.

The teacher then can use the tweets as a learning opportunity. The teacher can pose instructional questions mid-speech without saying a word and disrupting the speaker. These questions can direct students attention. Or, other students could pose their own questions and get "re-tweeted" (copied by another student) for emphasis. The teacher could "re-tweet" to draw attention to what a student has observed. And, the "re-tweet" becomes a powerful tool for student confidence and reinforcement.

Additionally, using the reply notation to address one person in particular, students can ask clarification questions of other students' tweets, as well as one for the speaker to think about when she is finished and back at her work station. It also serves as a way for the teacher to prompt other students.

When the presentation is finished, the teacher can show the entire dialogue on the lcd projector, or better yet, the highlight tweets (Twitter allows you to "star" certain tweets, which you can bring up later, separated from the rest of the dialogue). This digital data encourages not only audience participation and engagement, but also audience respect, since it can be saved and shown to parents as a model of student work, good or bad. But most importantly, the student data sparks post-presentation conversation. Which items in the speech were tweeted the most? Which questions came up? Teachers could mention "Carla, one of the questions that came up in the Twitter discussion was...", or better yet, students could ask.

The obvious objection to this type of strategy is that with all the twittering going, on, students won't be paying attention to the speaker. To this, I have two answers.

First, this shows the divide between those embracing technology and those fearing it. Students live in a multi-tasking world. Having them sit and listen to (in many ways) poor presentations for which there is no engagement or relevance is agony for them. If in doubt, become a cub scout leader and watch 8-year-olds squirm as they have to sit respectfully to hear the presentation on how the post office works without getting a tour of the building.

The reality is, students will multi-task whether we like it or not. By "forcing attention", students will multi-task by daydream, writing notes, or engaging in side discussions. Might as well let them do that in a productive way through Twitter. And, students actually learn better in these types of multi-processing environments. Plus, this is how the world is changing. Every meeting I sit in on or conference that I attend, I'm not the only one participating on the internet while participating in the discussion.

The second response is, this is where the art of a good teacher comes into play. If a teacher allows microblogging with no guidance, no governance, and no direction, they will get off-task behavior. Good teachers know, just like in regular classroom discussion, how to keep conversation flowing, involving all people, allowing for divergent thought, but then converging toward the objective.

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