Freshman Seminar Reflections

Steve reminded me yesterday that it would be good to take a moment to record some of my reflections on his globalization class. We’ve been working closely with him to integrate a variety of technology tools into that class, one of the first new freshman seminars offered at UMW this year. There’s a lot to think about, and Steve has done a fantastic job of recording the experience over at Pedablogy. My thoughts are below are far less polished, but I will take a moment to share some reflections.

  • Wikis meet University social hierarchies: A few weeks ago we asked the students to share their feelings about collaborative writing in the wiki, which they seemed to be reluctantly engaging with. A bunch of them expressed concern about changing or meddling with their classmates words/thoughts.  This isn’t too surprising — most writers probably feel this way the first time they encounter a wiki. But I think an interesting dimension to this in the University environment is how social pecking order fits in. We’re dealing with freshman in this course, new to the academic life of the University but also new to the social culture. Yes, they want to learn something about globalization, but they also want to make friends. They want to position themselves correctly within the social dynamic. They may not want to come across as too aggressive, too opinionated, or even too smart. Editing the words of a stranger on Wikipedia is different than editing the words of 13 people who could become close friends. It would be interesting to take a look at what’s being said about how the social context of “live” interaction affects peoples’ use of wikis. . .
  • Back Channel Effects: Steve posted last week about the introduction of a shoutbox into the course Web site. Our goal was to capture the “back channel” conversations that we knew were happening to a limited degree in IM. Not too surprisingly, perhaps, a lot of what that tool has been used for so far has not been course related. On the one hand this is disapointing. However. . .we could argue that those students were already IM’ing in class, but they probably weren’t all talking together. They were messaging friends in other classes or back in the dorm. Now, in the shoutbox, we’re seeing people engage in conversation with each other (granted, somewhat juvenile conversation). The potential benefit is how this can create a stronger sense of community among the students. It would be interesting at the end of the class to ask the students about this as well as to evaluate if there was any change in class participation via other channels: blogs, wiki, etc. Can a tool that helps to foster informal community in a class serve to support the formal, hopefully more scholarly activity as well?
  • Does bribery work? I’m ashamed to admit we resorted to bribery a few weeks ago. On Halloween I brought bags of candy into class for the two top blog posters since the last class meeting. I haven’t looked at the overall trend, but it actually seems like blogging and commenting has picked up since then. Granted, this could be attributed to other forces and factors, but perhaps candy can be a motivating incentive. Or perhaps just the introduction of some kind of silly, tangible incentive can make a difference that then affects future behavior. . .

I’m sure as soon as I post this I’ll think of other points I should have made, but these are the major issues I’ve been mulling over the last few weeks.