The Set Up
Well, last night our hybrid classroom looked very much like the Jones Room and the new Research Commons at Emory’s Woodruff Library. Every spring, a number of Brittain Fellows choose to participate in an optional postdoctoral seminar on research methodologies. This semester, because the Writing and Communication Program is piloting hybrid pedagogy in our first-year composition and technical communication classes, we are using the design and assessment of hybrid pedagogies as a lens through which our examination of method is focused.
For those of you who may be wondering, hybrid pedagogy (also known as blended learning) combines face-to-face and distance or virtual learning strategies. Some thought-provoking recent studies have suggested hybrid instruction may–at least in some situations, for some students–create a more optimal learning environment than either traditional or wholly-online classes. In our postdoctoral seminar, we are looking at some of these studies evaluating the effectiveness of hybrid instruction, considering how the knowledge gained from well-conducted studies might be put to use in crafting hybrid courses, and designing experimental models for evaluating hybrid instruction in Writing and Communication Program classes.
The seminar meets on Wednesday evenings. So when Roger Whitson, a former Brittain Fellow and current Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Emory’s Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC), emailed to invite us all to the grand opening of the Woodruff Library’s Research Commons, I was at first presented with a problem. Do we cancel our seminar meeting so Britts can attend the talk, or do we forge ahead, knowing we’re forcing seminar participants to choose between two learning opportunities?
And then it hit me, why not hybridize our own class on hybrid instruction? Instead of meeting in our usual seminar space in Skiles, we all attended the Emory DiSC lecture, “Seeing Time” by Edward L. Ayers, and used Twitter to create a backchannel for synchronous discussion during the talk (#discayers). Today, I’m creating this blog post to which seminar participants can respond, creating an additional channel for asynchronous class participation. In this way, we can begin our own qualitative evaluation of two tools and methods that are increasingly employed in blended learning environments and also get a feel for what hybrid learning offers to instructors and students in terms of flexibility, mobility, and extension of the learning environment beyond the classroom.
My Initial Thoughts
I have been a fan of using the Twitter backchannel during classes, lectures, and conferences since I first tried it during a Colloquium Series event as a Twitter newbie. Last night’s talk was no exception. I found that I was able to follow the substance of Ayer’s presentation while also participating in the backchannel. The backchannel provided an opportunity to respond in real time to Ayers’s observations and provocations, and led to what I thought was a brief but engaged discussion of the rhetorical status of computer-generated geographic maps and data visualizations as texts that follow conventions and contain embedded assumptions about the matter they represent as do books, letters, art, and other, more familiar objects of humanistic inquiry.
During the Q&A an audience member raised the question of how we train humanities scholars to do this sort of scholarly work. Ayers suggested formal and informal mentoring connected with projects that originate in digital humanities centers like DiSC was a step in the right direction. I generally agree with Ayers on that point. Via the backchannel, though, I was able to note my own question about whether or not project-driven mentoring will be enough, based on my experience as someone who dedicated some graduate-level coursework to humanities computing classes. Attending the reception afterward, I had a chance to catch up with professional colleagues at DiSC and make a few new connections. That experience caused me to reflect on how hybrid learning in postdoctoral, graduate-level, or professional courses might be used to integrate more, and perhaps even more useful relatively low-stakes networking opportunities for their participants.
I also made an effort to catch up with some of with my Georgia Tech colleagues who are participating in the seminar to get their take on the evening. Some of them reflected that trying to keep up with the Twitter backchannel was distracting, but did fill a useful function as a sort of collaborative note-taking exercise. On the whole, I thought taking advantage of the digital tools at our disposal to untether us from the classroom for an evening was useful and productive.
Now Your Responses . . .
So what do you (mainly Britts participating in the methodologies seminar, but other readers should feel free to chime in) think? How does the Twitter backchannel compare to face-to-face discussion or other “chat” tools that you’ve used? How do you like the combination of asynchronous and synchronous discussion centered on a shared learning experience? Do you see any potential in this design strategy for your own classes? What was your response to Ayers’s presentation? Give us your thoughts or any other questions that you think are relevant.