December 29, 2013

A tough start at integrating technology in the college classroom

How do you start integrating technology in classroom instruction? Perhaps, in my case, the proper question would be, how do I start integrating technology in a class with students who have long perceived the classroom as sort of a theater wherein the teacher gets to do all the acts and they just relax, sit back, and enjoy the show? Oh, and don’t forget to pass the popcorn!

Then you must remember that this classroom is in a Philippine educational setting that is quite far from being “connected”. While international players in education are already debating fervently on flipped classrooms and technologies for K-12 learning, the Philippines is still reeling from the effects of the newly-installed K-12 system and its implications on colleges and universities. 

Infographic by Jessica Lazaro/

These pose several challenges to a new part-time teacher like me who thrives on technology for a living, such as no mention of technology as one of the pedagogies in the sample syllabi handed down to me for reference and no model teacher at the local level whom I can easily consult with on using Twitter in the classroom since many communication teachers I know are stuck with the traditional methods (and somehow I find that ironic).

Anyway, the week before Christmas break, I handed down an additional requirement for their midterms, which is constantly tweeting their project-related off-class activities using a class hashtag. Many of the students looked like they were about to protest (I could see it in their faces), but they were too polite to say so.

Later, I learned a couple of reasons for these reactions—one or two of them don’t have a Twitter account because they don’t see its value in their lives, and most of them set up their accounts on private mode for private purposes (which, if I may assume, includes ranting, complaining, and cursing many things, perhaps including the very teacher who gave them a tweeting requirement and now making this post… Who knows?).

These reasons are not exactly challenges; they can easily be addressed. There was little resistance, too, to this additional teaching strategy to the syllabus. Since more than half of the class are actively tweeting, I think (that is, I would like to think) it even adds up to their excitement of producing a newspaper in print and digital format or coming up with an investigative report. I think the big challenge lies on how to effectively use Twitter to support classroom learning. I’m a veteran at tweeting but I’m a newbie at using tweeting in teaching.

As a newbie instructor, I've listed down some of the things that I did, am doing, and will still do to integrate technology in my two classes (Com 4-05 – Newspaper Layout and Editing, and Com 5 – Investigative Journalism) this semester. If you could add to the list, I would appreciate that. If there is something you think I’m not doing right, please help me by pointing them out.

1. Assess capabilities.
You know, I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I feel like adding Twitter to the discussion today”. My personal frustration led me to Twitter (and perhaps, eventually, to other classroom solutions, like Storify). I’m a blogger who is active online. I work as social media manager part-time, I’m constantly online, and I have personal social media accounts all over the place. I could say information is definitely flowing at my backyard.

While I’m still struggling with my love-hate relationship with technology, I can say I’m a huge believer in technology as a solution. This is why it was frustrating to come to the classroom on a weekly basis and see the blank looks of my students, waiting for me to feed them with the help of my good old laptop and the old school projector. It took some thinking but I decided to capitalize on social media to engage and get to know more my students (who I observed are just as active online as I am) and vice versa.

2. Select the technology.

Why Twitter, of all social media channels? Well, my two classes have separate Facebook groups on secret mode. We communicate with each other there occasionally, but I felt it was just like the classroom brought online with me doing most of the talking and giving of instructions. Twitter is more personal, more interactive.

As someone who believes in technology as a solution, you can just imagine how excited I am at the possibilities of integrating it in my classes—there’s Youtube, Poynter, webinars, e-newsletters, websites, blogs, and so much more! But for now, just Twitter.

3. Set up clear rules and rubrics.

This is something I need to improve on, and which I will discuss with the two classes in our first meeting in January. But I will already post them in our Facebook groups a week before. I am fully aware that my rules have been quite vague; meaning, in general terms, I told the class to use Twitter and use the class hashtag as regularly as they could. But there were no terms and conditions given concerning how regularly they should tweet, when they should start tweeting, and what they should tweet about. I need these rules for myself, too, because, whether I like it or not, I need to give these students the grades they deserve.

4. Track a hashtag.

This is something we need so that my students and I can track down discussions happening on Twitter. For Newspaper Editing and Layout, we use #STCCom405. For Investigative Reporting, we use #STCCom5 and at the same time, each student has an individual hashtag for her investigative report. For example, a student researching on sexual harassment on women in the workplace at the local level uses both #STCCom5 and her report’s own hashtag #TouchMeNot.

I decided to approve these unique hashtags in our Facebook group because several students are not yet well-versed with the dynamics of Twitter and for them to also see the value of hashtags. It is something that should not be abused. At this point, I’m happy to see several students tweeting and using the hashtags (some of which you could not see because their accounts are private). I was even tweeting with my students before, during, and after Christmas. I replied to questions, praised their efforts, favorited their tweets, mentor them, and recommended links for them to look into. So far, so good (cross fingers!).

5. Chat with industry professionals.

While field trips are good, my inclination at the moment is leaning more towards setting up discussions with industry professionals wherein my students are safe in the comforts of their homes and are actively chatting with news editors about class-related topics. This I hope to set up next month.

So how do you start integrating technology in classroom instruction? Share your experience with me. In my case, I have to integrate slowly (but surely). I have to thread carefully in a school with traditional teaching pedagogies. But my students are young, vibrant, cooperative, and bright; I hope to (effectively) explore new platforms in teaching with them. Since I introduced Twitter as a requirement, it has become a silent prayer that we will pull this off together successfully at the end of the semester.

Nancy Cudis