Taught by: Sarita Gregory
What is the course in which you use instructional technologies about? Tell us about its origin, goals and objectives.
Democratic Engagement is a course that encourages students to venture beyond Vassar gates. Students work in internships in the city of Poughkeepsie and beyond, and then bring their reflections back into the classroom to share with fellow classmates. In recent years, we have worked closely with the Family Partnership Center and the Board of Elections on local election administration.
What were the technologies used and how did they change or enhance your course?
I started out using Blackboard to facilitate student journaling, but found that the details were getting lost in the threads. We moved to using a wiki page on pbwiki.com to facilitate individual reflection writing and interaction between class members and myself. The wiki page became an extension of our classroom space, since we only meet once per week. Students posted critical questions to the readings before class, and also used the open journal to continue class discussions and post activities, pictures, and announcement from their various internship sites.
Each week, students are required to post two critical questions and responses to their questions. They are asked to read others posting and participate in a call and response to each other and the readings.
The Student Response
How have your students responded to your use of this technology?
Students expressed frustration over using the Blackboard site and the confusing threads entailed. They were very positive about the class wiki page, and especially enjoyed being able to create their own "blog" pages which were their private spaces for writing and reflection. Almost immediately, they began responding to each other's postings and presenting their own reactions. They actually developed the wiki beyond what I initially set up, creating instant messaging (IM) pages, adding photos, and links to their favorite sites.
What are the challenges you faced teaching this course?
Since the seminar meets once per week, the main challenge is how to maintain a sense of community amongst the students. The main feature of the class — having students go out into the community — creates its own sense of isolation and individualizes each student's experience with their organization. So I try to focus on creating a space in the classroom where students can share their experiences, their difficult moments, and their moments of personal or intellectual breakthrough. When we can't be physically together, I hope the wiki will serve the function of sustaining a virtual space where we can check in on each other and offer support.
What new directions would you like to explore with technology in your teaching?
This semester I am using the wiki to help facilitate small group work. We will use the wiki as a project management tool, where group members can collaborate on each member's responsibility, who will take the lead on which task, setting deadlines, and creating a memorandum for class presentations. I can use it to see who is actually participating and how much. It also gives a record of students' out-of-class participation. I think this project in addition to posting critical questions really helps to extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom but also helps to inform our in-class discussions.