So the last installment of my three-part series—The Global Gender Gap (#3 of 3)—is going to have to wait.  I’m a little crunched this week, and there’s something else I want to write about.

Today I have a yen to write about teaching and technology.

Now, if you ask any member of my family regarding my relationship with technology, the likely response will be hoots of laughter.  Remotes befuddle me.  My kids (bless their patient souls!) walk me through downloading stuff onto my iPod.  And, actually, my iPod is not really mine; it’s a hand-me-down from my daughter.

Even my cell phone is a “classic.”  (See below!!!)


my cell phone

Remember brick phones, the great-great-grandaddy of all cell phones?  Well, mine is maybe the next generation–the great-grandmother generation.  It does “text” (I do, after all, have a teenaged son)—but barely.  My cell phone directory is a card in my wallet.  Programming it is not something I have ever even contemplated.

So in my teaching I have been, shall we say, hesitant to try out different technological innovations.  I have faced my fears, however, and resolved to try something new each year.  TWEN, youtube in the classroom—(I try to get to class early when I’m using something like this to make sure I can make it work)…it’s not always pretty, but I’m hanging in there.

My latest is the on-line discussion forum.  I first used it last spring in my Civic Organizing and Democracy class; I used it just this week in Local Government Law for a class discussion on student presentations week before last.

The presentations were on various “citistates” and issues associated with them that relate to underlying local government law doctrines: what Neal Peirce, the guru of citistates, refers to as “torn social fabric,” “sprawl,” and the “local governance gap.” I grouped the students into “like” citistates (Gateway Citistates, Destination Citistates, Multi-state Citistates, even Scandinavian Heritage Citistates), and they gave presentations of 20 minutes per 3-student group (“heavy on the visuals please”—maps, charts, graphs, photographs; a picture is worth a 1000 words).

Then, using the Creighton instructional website (“blueline”), I set up the discussion forum (even I can do this!).  Every student posts an initial, longer entry reflecting on the presentations.  Each student then posts 3 shorter responses commenting on the first set of posts.

What a great exchange!  From Hegel to the social capital effects of University of Iowa football; from “Disney visas” to process as a value in and of itself; the contributions ran the gamut.

Here’s what I really like about this medium in terms of what it does for students—and for me:

First, every single student in the class contributes not just one but several thoughts.  I don’t just hear from those whose hands wave in class (not that I don’t appreciate you, especially in large lecture classes!); I hear from everyone.

Second, the class members talk to each other rather than to me, though of course they know I am “eavesdropping.”  And I do exercise my prerogative of reading through the entire forum (the assignment for today), reflecting back to them what I see, and offering my own perspectives on their thoughts.

Third, because the themes are initiated by the class members and elaborated through their interactions, the discussion is unique.  Many of the themes are ones I would have chosen to emphasize.  But some I probably wouldn’t have put into the hopper.  This makes the exercise instructive for me as well as for them.  And it provides food for thought next time I teach the material.

This year, for example, the longest “thread” had to do with citistates having memories and the need to preserve and tap into them.  I’ve thought about citistate identities before, but not so much about the historical dimension.  Intriguing!

So I’m a convert.

Which means that I need to stick with my resolution to try another new teaching techno-tool…