Twitter in the Classroom #agoodidea

Happy New Year, Jbloggers!

I’ve long been interested in the potential of using Twitter in the classroom, and over the break I finally got around to reading the first published piece of controlled experimental evidence about the use of twitter in the college classroom.  Even better for our purposes, the authors used Twitter in the FYE classroom – a one credit first year seminar course for students intending to major in the health professions.

The take away is that that there was a significant increase in both student engagement and GPA for the group of students that used twitter in the classroom.  I’m not surprised by this, since the use of twitter mirrored the best practices we already know help students succeed – more out of class contact between students and their peers and students and professors, more targeted engagement with readings/course content, more immediate feedback to questions and concerns.  However, an interesting finding was that Twitter was more successful than Ning — both the control group and the experimental group had a Ning page for course management, but Twitter seemed to foster much more active engagement from students, and then in turn by faculty.

Some of the limitations of this study mirror the challenges we have had with first year assessment.  First, student engagement was measured in a self-reported manner (using NSSE answers), which is not the ideal way to determine if a student is actually engaged (this has been our concern with using student- and faculty-reported data exclusively for FYE programmatic assessment).  Second, the researchers attribute much of the beneficial impact of twitter to increased faculty involvement and interest, which might have encouraged student achievement even without a technological component, or this specific technological component.

Nevertheless, the article provides some interesting ideas for how to use Twitter and bodes well for further study of social networking in the classroom.  Now, who wants to summarize The Great Gatsby in 140 characters?


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snoooooow (on your blog, that is)

For those of you active bloggers out there, I wanted to let you know that if you can let it snow on your blogs this winter season.  Just go to the General Settings tab on your dashboard (really Settings, and then General) and click “snow falling on my blog until January 4th.”  Save those changes and your blog becomes a festive reminder of the winter weather through the new year!

@ The FYE Showcase

I have been fond of saying to people that the FYE Showcase this year felt like a wedding of sorts, in that we put so much time in planning it and then it was over in a flash.  That being said, it was a great success and I hope you were there to feel the electricity in the room.  If you weren’t, or even if you were, go ahead and check out some of the great technological projects that were on display and in process:

Students in DRA 199/FYS 17 (Prof. Davies) live-reported from the Showcase

Students in LC 15 (Prof. Pauliny and Prof. Martinez) created Digital Stories about immigration scenarios

Students in LC 7 (Prof. Helmer and Prof. Grose-Fifer) made enhanced podcasts about literature that deals with psychological topics

There were many more great projects, both digital and not, which we will soon be sharing formally on the FYE site.

I had a blast helping students and professors realize their fantastic ideas!

ePortfolios @ CUNY: A Whole New World

Today’s ePortfolio session at the CUNY IT Conference, held at our very own John Jay, opened my eyes to a “dazzling place I never knew” (to quote Aladdin).  Although I’ve done my fair share of snooping around CUNY sites for various ePortfolio initiatives, this presentation shared some great practices happening across CUNY in the realm of the ePortfolio.

The session featured snapshots of ePortfolios at 6 CUNY campuses: Macauley Honors College, Queensborough Community College, Hunter, Kingsborough Community College, the College of Staten Island, and the School of Professional Studies.  It was meant to highlight the diversity of ePortfolio initiatives at CUNY, and it definitely did that.  Here are some highlights:

  • At Queensborough, students use their ePortfolios as part of their Making Transfer Connections program.  The presenter shared that a student who transferred to Queens successfully used her ePortfolio to argue that she should receive transfer credit for a course that she took at Queensborough.  Accessing her ePortfolio on her advisor’s computer, she showed all the work she had completed and the course materials, and got the credit!
  • At SPS they have a faculty reunion every semester for faculty who have been involved with ePortfolios.
  • Many campuses use peer mentors to train students on using ePortfolios.  I love our peer mentors at JJ and would love to have some dedicated exclusively to this purpose.
  • Macauley uses a dedicated site housed on a Macauley server and their students use a version of to create their sites.  I’ve long admired these sites and got to discuss the technical components of the program with the presenter after the session.  It made me excited about the possibilities of this sort of thing here at JJ.
  • The other platform people seem to love is Digication.  This is not a free platform, but based on extensive research many campuses (including LaGuardia, where ePortfolios originated at CUNY) chose this platform because it is easy to use, has a robust backend for assessment purposes, and the vendor is quite responsive, with representatives who have experience in education.  Of course, new platforms are coming out every day, so the ePortfolio business is constantly evolving.
In addition to these exciting ideas, there were some other nuggets that made me think more broadly about ePortfolios as an academic and intellectual tool.  During the Q and A many presenters wondered if we are putting too much emphasis on the “e” in ePortfolio and reminded use that the point is the way that portfolios allow us a different, more nuanced, way to assess student learning outside of testing.  The presenter from Macauley encouraged us to look at portfolios in the way that a detective looks at a piece of evidence: what can they tell us about our course, program or campus?  Finally, Brett from LaGuardia (the guru of ePortfolios at CUNY) framed ePortfolios as a “multi-faceted practice” rather than a product.  All in all, lots to think about!

There is a ton more information available about ePortfolios at CUNY on the CUNY Academic Commons ePortfolio page.


I knew the time was coming, and it has.  For those of you who have followed this blog for some time, you know that part of what I do here is try to keep up with the wordpress’s constant improvement of its site and offerings.  Improvement, of course, is a good thing, especially when it’s free and instituted by a company like wordpress, which, based on my relatively extensive experience, is generally trying to make the experience of using its site more pleasant for the user (aka you and me).  However, this constant drive toward self-improvement can be somewhat challenging for your trusty John Jay wordpress support person, since it sometimes renders the information that I provide in trainings slightly off (at best) and just plain wrong (at worst).

I first realized this problem after writing a lengthy post on themes last year, only to figure out that themes are always in flux – some of the themes that I have lauded in this post have disappeared, and other, better ones, have cropped up in their place.  Leading ePortfolio training sessions earlier this month showed me how almost daily a new theme is added to wordpress.  Recently I experienced what it must be like for some of you, who leave a training feeling relatively confident about using wordpress, just to find a screen that looks different from the one I used as a model in the training.  The newly revamped wordpress help page, which is now listed just as “Support” at the bottom of (not as “24/7 Support,” which is what I have told soooooo many of you), is actually pretty great, but threw me for a huge loop when I first saw it.  I must admit, I am still getting adjusted to it, and mourning the old interface where I taught myself to use this platform.

Yesterday, I returned to a class to follow-up with some blogging questions, and low and behold, I found another change: the sign in box had moved from the left to the right side of the screen and there are no longer different tabs – just one long menu that lets you edit your profile and access your blogs in one place:

Again, this is a good thing — it’s quicker and requires less clicks, and for new users it eliminates the step of remembering whether you want to edit your profile or go to your blog since both options appear at once.

Nevertheless, I’ll admit that my heart stopped for a second when I opened my trusty and didn’t know how to sign in.

We are all creatures of habit, but I would characterize myself as more of a fan of routines than the average Jane or Joe.  That being said, I have had to become MUCH more flexible because my entire adult life has consisted of teaching in one form or another, and flexibility is one of the most useful tools in a teacher’s toolbox.  If you can’t go with the flow as a teacher, you lose those valuable “teachable moments” that crop up in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times.

I have found this flexibility (which is still a work in progress) invaluable with my work with technology, since the internet is, of course, the most flexible and dynamic place on earth (if we could even consider it a place on earth).  It would be deadly for wordpress to stop tinkering with its platform in an industry where everyone is constantly striving for something new and improved.  (Not everything new in the world of technology is necessarily an improvement — stay tuned for more on that.)  However, since we are using this platform, we have to just go with it and trust that the people at wordpress are committed to making a good thing better.

Finally, flexibility and comfort are intimately linked.  The more comfortable with wordpress and the more you know about its ins and outs before a big change happens, the less likely you are to freak out and the more likely you are to be able to figure it out on your own (or with a quick visit to the trusty wordpress help site).  So practice, play, and then prepare for the next change — who knows, you might even like it.

This is Cathy Davidson’s brain on the internet

Warning: this post is long.  According to attention studies, you will likely space out every 5 minutes.

After I posted a few weeks ago about Cathy Davidson’s new book, an announcement magically appeared that she would be speaking at the grad center tonight.  So, I am of course here, and bringing it to you live on the internet. (Well, not really.  I am adopting the ethos of live blogging, i.e. commenting as we go, but I will publish all of this at the end of the talk).

6:23 There are a lot of people here.  I have somehow inserted myself into a class that is all sitting together.  There is a line outside and they are about to reach capacity.  This is a good thing for scholarship and the world in general.

6:26 They are passing out pencils and paper for audience participation.  This seems rather odd at talk about the internet, but reminds me of how I’ve been passing out paper sign-up sheets at my workshops for ePortfolios.  Ah, the contradictions of technology.

6:28 A slide has gone up. The title of the talk (and the book) is “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We LIve, Work, and Learn.”

6:32 The talk is starting! There will be many introductions.

6:37 Prof. Victoria Pitts-Taylor points out the ubiquity of neuroscience all over the press and how it’s important that not just hard science people engage with it.  I agree.  Autobiography theorists have been interested in neuroscience, its relationship to memory and how that interacts with life writing for a while.

6:39 President Kelly points out there are 30 people waiting outside trying to get in!

6:41 President Kelly reminds me how much I admire Cathy Davidson’s early work, particularly Revolution and the Word, which changed the way people looked at early American literature and helped to inspire my interests in readership and reception which have informed much of my own work.  Highly recommended.

6:46 Davidson (CD) founded the organization HASTAC which will be of interest to JJ students and faculty who are engaged with technology inside and outside the classroom.

6:48 NOW the talk is really starting!

6:50 CD says all academic talks just have 3 main points (academic humor).  She might be right.

6:51 CD shares 4 great information ages: (1) invention of writing, (2) moveable type, (3) machine made paper, ink, presses (i.e. books available to middle and working class people — direct access to information, development of public education), (4) NOW (post-1995 with commercialization of the internet — people can put their ideas out there unmediated).

6:53 What do we do with institutions of ed that developed in an industrial age when we are now in a digital age?

6:59 Just finished an exercise that started with a formal “timed test” and then turned and talked to our neighbor about what we wrote.  I said that education in the future should teach students how to use the technology that is available and how to choose which types of that technology they should use for what types of projects (Are jbloggers readers surprised?!).  I also said that we need to focus on evaluating sources, so that students (of all ages) are able to work with the ridiculous number of sources that are readily available on the internet.  My partner said we should make sure to discuss audience and address the fact that now audiences are much broader and may have different motivations than the traditional audiences for undergraduate work.

7:00 CD address the myths about the internet (she calls it “silliness”).  The worst one: the internet (and multi-tasking) is damaging a whole generation of brains.

7:03 References the famous gorilla/basketball experiment (Gorilla in the Midst – ha!)


7:06 Also discusses that in flight simulation, 60% of pilots will be too focused on landing to notice what they are landing on (like a huge aircraft carrier perpendicular to the runway).  That’s scary, and, as CD notes, a good lesson to learn in simulation before real life.

7:07 Her point: distraction is not about computers.  Also, we think we know what we see/understand/experience, but we don’t.  We should be modest about what we do not see.

7:09 CD is ultimately interested in institutional change (this is relevant to John Jay).  It’s important to have people who see the gorilla and people who count the basketballs.  But, we (who often just count the basketballs) need to trust the people who see the gorillas.  Gorilla-seers need to seek out basketball-counters and vice versa.

7:11 “Institutions tend to preserve the problems they were designed to solve.” – Clay Shirky

7:12 Public education was designed to train industrial workers and valued these characteristics: attention, timeliness, standards/standardization, hierarchy, specialization, expertise, credentials, metrics, binaries (science vs. humanities).

7:14 My theory that Henry James or William James must be mentioned in all academic talks is proven again.  Here: William James originated theories of attention in Principles of Psychology (1890).

7:17 CD: Frederick J. Kelly invented the multiple choice test in 1914.  Inspired by Fordism.  Kelly acknowledged that this was only a way to test lower-order thinking.

7:19 CD: Kids need to learn how to browse now, how to assess all of this information that they can find in less than a second on google.

7:21 Apparently, the American Library Association says that wikipedia is as accurate as anything else.

7:25 If you’re on twitter, follow ToughLoveforX, CD’s fav twitterer.  Sec. of Ed. Arne Duncan follows this guy!  That is pretty amazing.  I also found this personal newspaper creator/curation service when I followed ToughLoveforX.  This would be an interesting tool to use in a classroom, and could be great for students who like to blog as well.

7:36 Now Prof. Jesse Prince (JP) is giving a response presentation.  It’s called “Sizing Up Our Digital Futures.”  He’s structured this around “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

7:37 JP coins what he calls an “ugly” term: Technoptimism, i.e. a hopefulness about the internet and the digital age. Shows an image about how there is twice the level of neuroactivity when we look at a webpage vs. a page of print/text.

7:42 Google is with us all the time.  Your brain is as big as the internet.

7:44 He just did a version of the gorilla and basketball test for us here.  I am a basketball counter.  Not a shock.

7:46 Within a 45-minute period, people zone out about every 5 minutes.  Prof. Prince is now talking about “the bad” of the internet.  There are concerns about attention.  ADHD is on the rise (in my opinion, this is just because people are diagnosing it more).

7:48 Luckily, Prof. Prince acknowledges that ADHD might not be a real thing/may not exist.  See article by Lydia Maria Furman, MD in Journal of Child Neurology (July 2008).  He suggests it may be a medicalization of childhood.  I like that terminology.

7:49 There is now a picture of a clown teaching a class on the screen.  He is worried that now education has become edutainment.  He just noted that edutainment does not come up wrong on the spell checker.  I can attest to that fact, as my spell checker has not been triggered.

7:52 Now we are up to “the ugly” of the internet.  Apparently, the correlation of violent media to actual violence is second only to the correlation between smoking and cancer.

7:54 Video games are sexist.  This study shows that sexism in video games makes people think sexual harassment is acceptable.

7:55 There is lots of pornography on the internet. This may be making people more sexist.

7:56 Crowd sourcing has been influential in conservative politics.  For liberals, this is disturbing.  There is a danger that technology is an instrument of capitalism.

I am noticing that all of these issues, the good, the bad, and the ugly of the internet, were brought up at the faculty development session I participated in a few weeks ago.

Suggestions: digitize everything, play prosocial games, hypertext “the classics,” make better democracy (like the Swiss!), take a day off from technology, read Cathy’s book.

8:04 Q and A for both speakers begins.

8:10 CD: we need to use technology in a way that serves us, not in a way that makes us serve the technology.  This is exactly what I’ve been saying about letting the pedagogy drive the technology in terms of classroom technology.

8:24 Good question about how to teach creatively toward an antiquated end (in other words, how do you teach well when your students have to take a test).  This is asked in the context of CUNY’s departmental tests, but obviously is relevant to public k-12 schooling.  CD: Cites teachers who say “Yeah, we have to do this, so what else can we do?” and explain to students how to make an end-of-grade test a problem that you solve, and tell students that this is a hurdle, like there will always be hurdles you have to jump over.  This reminds me of the games and assignments I designed to prep my fourth graders for the end-of-grade science test.

If you got to the end of this blog, your attention span has not been “damaged” by the internet.  This talk convinced me that even if you didn’t get to the end of this blog, it hasn’t been damaged either.


This is your brain on the internet

Unfortunately, I didn’t make up this catchy title.  It belongs to Cathy Davidson, a professor at Duke and overall amazing scholar whose work I’ve admired for a long time.  Recently, she published a new book about neuroscience in the digital age.  This article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed is a very interested meditation on the relationship between collaborative learning, the brain, and the internet, spurred in part by the free iPod project that Duke launched some years back.

This little nugget in particular caught my eye, especially in the context of the ePortfolio work we’ve been doing at John Jay:

“Research indicates that, at every age level, people take their writing more seriously when it will be evaluated by peers than when it is to be judged by teachers. Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers. Longitudinal studies of student writers conducted by Stanford University’s Andrea Lunsford, a professor of English, assessed student writing at Stanford year after year. Lunsford surprised everyone with her findings that students were becoming more literate, rhetorically dexterous, and fluent—not less, as many feared. The Internet, she discovered, had allowed them to develop their writing.”

Can’t wait to read the whole book!