Archive for April 8th, 2010
Thursday, April 8th, 2010
Last Friday, I decided to conduct a small experiment: I turned my writing class, Tech & Sensibility, into a micro-blogging army for the Media, Democracy and Diversity conference. My force, first-year students learning the fine arts of academic writing and critical thinking, was new to tweeting: only three of 17 had a Twitter account before the project.
It’s no secret that Twitter skews older; so I wanted to get a sense, from my students, of how they experience Twitter, and the value (or lack thereof) it provides for them.
I assigned students to the 10 a.m. panels, which ranged in topics from women in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) to media representations of Haiti. Upon arrival, students were a bit confused: “what do we say?” and “what are we supposed to do?” they asked. My advice to them: have fun, but think of it as taking notes, relaying information to a classmate who can’t be present. I advised them to tweet roughly every 10 minutes, so that they could get a sense of the conversations and better consider their tweets, in 140 characters or less.They could also do TwitPics and yFrog posts. Days before, they had been given a quick tutorial on name creation, using a hash tag, and tweeting frequency.
When it came to the panel presentations, the class was unanimous in their praise of the content. Some of the best tweets came from the Haiti panel and the STEM group. Regarding the panel on Haiti, one student said, “I enjoyed listening to all three of the speakers at the conference….each had an (sic) first hand perspective on things having been to Haiti, which made me see things in a different light. Their take on the media coverage of the earthquake and aftermath was especially interesting.” Insightful tweets, commentary about new information learned. The panel on mass media and racial representation has led one student to consider a final research paper on “white savior films.” And after a follow-up tutorial on shooting and editing video, they are in throes of deciding whether their final project will be a class project or small group work.
When it comes to Twitter, though, they had tons to say about their engagement with it and it’s value to them:
“This was the first time I had ever used Twitter. I was, however, not very impressed. To me, it seemed very disconnected, and the word limit on the responses made me feel as if most of the tweets were only semi-developed or semi-expressed ideas. The discussions that the class sat in on contained some highly intellectual material that I feel Twitter was simply not able to convey effectively. Plus, needing to worry about the word limit and hash tag distracted me from being able to listen at some times.” –BC
“Quietly sitting in the back of the room with my laptop, listening to the speakers, while at the same time tweeting was a first for me. I thought that the presenters and other people around would think that we were being rude and inconsiderate. Since we were pretty much the only ones on our laptops, they would assume we were not paying attention and just playing on the Internet or chatting with friends when we should have been focusing on the presenter. Never having tweeted before, I thought that it actually was an interesting way to take notes during a presentation, but at the same time did not realize how few 140 characters were until I began typing away. One benefit that tweeting afforded me was to recognize that I needed to be succinct and get right to the point, which forces one to focus just on the main ideas. Having the hash tag then allows one to view the string of messages and get a full summary of what went on in each room, which is helpful because if attendees miss something they can look back at another person’s tweets and see what they might have missed.” –GW
Another student noted, though:
“I was reading some of the other paragraphs and a lot of people said that they felt awkward on their computers during the conference. I really don’t think there was any reason to feel awkward because Twitter was tied in to the event. I thought that Twitter worked well because of the planning, but I still don’t see the appeal of it in its general use. Also with the rising popularity of liveblogging conferences most speakers are used to this type of thing.” –PS
Overall, I’d say the conference exposed my students to conversations, research, and experts in a concentration that allowed them to view the breadth of conversations about the influence of media on numerous aspects of our contemporary lives. And it has exposed them to a different way of engaging intellectual discourse in the academic space.
I thank the conference organizers, Dr. Marcus Martin and the Office for Diversity and Equity, and in particular, Daisy Lovelace, for humoring me with my pedagogical experiment.
About the Author: Sonya is currently a doctoral candidate in English literature at the University of Virginia, where she teaches twentieth- and twenty-first century literature and a popular first-year writing course, “Technology and Identities/Tech & Sensibility.” She is also the Technology Editor at Black Enterprise magazine and a public speaker on a variety of tech issues: social media for entrepreneurs and small businesses, digital divide and access, women in technology, African American tech innovation, and technology and education.