Sakai and Facebook: A student perspective

I thought I was done blogging about the Rhode Island Sakai Conference, but just before I left I attended such a fantastic session that I can’t resist another entry. The session was led by a history teacher at Warwick West High School and three of her sophomore honors students. They are using the discussion tool for a few class assignment. The students spoke about some of things they noticed about this process, and it was a terrific endorsement of even light use of learning technology in the classroom. Here are a few things they mentioned:

  • Being able to read other student’s answers to the discussion question was very valuable in terms of formulating their own arguments.
  • One felt less intimidated about writing online than she does when she writes something to be “handed in”.
  • It was great to be able to “hear from” some of the smartest but quietest students who don’t speak much in class (there are 25 students in the class so that doesn’t leave much time for each of them).
  • By interacting in the course site they broke down some of the tensions that had developed in the classroom (this was a particularly argumentative class). People were actually more polite in the discussion forum than in person.
  • The assignments are given on Sunday and due Friday at midnight. One of the students said she was out on Friday night, realized at 11:30 that she hadn’t posted yet, and told her friend “Take me home now!”

The best part, though, was how earnestly the students described these points. They were obviously not coached about what to say (although I’m sure they were selected in part for how articulate they are) and you could tell they really meant it. It was great to see.

One of the things the teacher did was create a discussion forum called “Student Lounge” where the students could talk to each other about whatever topics they wished. Participation in this forum was very high, which surprised me. I’ve always assumed that students of this age want to keep their academic and social lives separate. Boy was I wrong, at least about the N=3 that were represented here.

The first question I asked them was about what they thought could be better. One girl answered that she wanted to be able to personalize her “My Workspace” page and share it with her friends (like MySpace). This caused me to ask whether they would like or dislike the mixing of their academic work (Sakai) into their social applications (MySpace and Facebook). I said that I had always assumed that while they might want to personalize their academic space, they wouldn’t want academics invading their Facebook page. Dead wrong.

All three students were in agreement that a Facebook app that reminded them of when assignments were due (for example) would be “awesome” (uh…their word, I think, although that sounds more like a term I would have used when I was their age). The reason? They procrastinate too much and they do their procrastination online.  Having that reminder of their upcoming work while they are “procrastinating” would help them actually get it done on time. From one student: “The hardest part about getting my work done sometime is walking across the room to open the book. If it is online already then I would get it done sooner.”

Again, N=3 honors students. Time to look at installing that Facebook app….

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