Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A College Freshman's Lament

I know a young man who is starting his Freshman year at a major University in the south. We emailed a couple of times the past two days (you know - email? That thing that the kids use to communicate with old people? *sigh*), and I was asking about his classes and about what kinds of technology he's seeing.

He said that one Prof will be using online textbooks and blogs with the students. (She'll likely use an aggregator to collect student writings, too.) Students will turn in assignments via a blog and will also be graded on the quality of the comments (conversations) that they are required to post on each other's "papers." His comment was, "This may be normal for universities, but it's way beyond anything we had in high school, technology-wise, so I was pretty excited" He went to a high school near Pittsburgh, PA. And, I wonder how "normal" it really is at the college level, too.

But then he talked about his American Government class. He said that he didn't think there would be any technology use in that class. I said I thought that was a shame, and that that class, in particular, was the perfect class for discussions. This is what he said in reply,
"As for American Gov, I completely agree. It's in a lecture hall with 150 of my closest friends, and he actually said that due to the size of class, we wouldn't be able to have very many discussions. It's really just sad; we're going to be "talked at" the entire time. How is that going to engage the students and make us interested in the material? He said he likes the book we use "because it has a lot of Supreme Court decisions." I can't help but think, "Wow, I can't wait to sit there and be lectured about Supreme Court decisions for 75 minutes."

I wrote back and suggested that he consider starting his own discussion forums somewhere, and even if only 10 kids joined in, it would add a level of engagement that would otherwise be sadly missing. His response, "Actually, after I sent that last email, I had thought about just starting a discussion board myself."

Don't you LOVE it? The professor may well plan to lecture for 75 minutes, but he's already thinking about how to leverage the web tools to create his own place to discuss the cases. Is he a "21st Century Learner", or what? What a shame that his prof didn't come up with that on his own. I was going to suggest that he organize a backchannel during the classes, but I've got a sneaky suspicion that the prof wouldn't appreciate all those kids typing while he's talking, don't you?

So, two things struck me in all this. First, that his high school experience couldn't match a simple experience like blogging. Second, that he's setting up his own discussion forums to create a more social aspect to his learning in the American Government class. He'll create his own area of engagement, if his Prof won't.

How are you meeting the needs of students like this?


Dan Callahan said...

I'd suggest a backchannel anyway. If the professor is confused about it, he could actually show the professor what they're doing and how it benefits them. Might broaden the professor's perspective a bit.

Charlie Roy said...

@ Jim
Glad to hear some professors are becoming more open minded. I would imagine with a little thought and planning the professor could group them into smaller communities for blogging and sharing.

N said...

Moving from Western Pa, Pittsburgh area, to Central, Pa, I was floored to hear words such as: Wiki's, Blogs, Web 2.0, you get my drift. Once I moved, I called my old professors, at my university, and asked them if they offered classes that I didn't know about. Of course not...Next thing you know, the university sent a questioner to my current school and asked numerous questions regarding "What exactly were we teaching at our high School".

As far as incoming Freshmen entering college, I took my son on a "College Road Trip" this summer. Most schools are wireless, however; there are a few that are not. I couldn't believe it....Not wireless....