Social media put to the test in classrooms

Facebook and Twitter make lectures more interesting, professor says

Film studies professor Sidney Eve Matrix’s Twitter page has 2,826 followers.
Film studies professor Sidney Eve Matrix’s Twitter page has 2,826 followers.

Abby Ho, Comm ’09, regularly watched YouTube videos and checked Twitter in class last year—with her professor’s encouragement.

Film studies professor Sidney Eve Matrix teaches FILM240, where she uses social media such as podcasts, clickers and YouTube in her lectures.

Ho was enrolled in the course in 2008-09.

“Honestly, I’ve never had a class I’ve been so interested in,” she said. “I love tech stuff—I have a blog and my own YouTube channel.”

Ho said downloading podcasts from the course website was helpful when she couldn’t make the three-hour lecture on Thursday nights.

“It made studying for exams easier.”

Using multimedia in the classroom keeps lectures relevant and interesting, Matrix said.

“I use PowerPoint and I use lots of video clips and I use the clickers, which are ridiculous gizmos.”

A clicker is a hand-held polling device where students can key in their votes on a question. The results are displayed live on the screen.

Matrix said she’s going to introduce Facebook and Twitter to the course this year.

“We plan to use them to support students who want to connect and communicate and mostly to share relevant links to what’s going on in pop culture,” she said.

Matrix has a Twitter account for her class and one for personal use. Her personal page has 2,826 followers and 1,172 tweets that range from “Ten Tips for Teaching Technology to Teachers” to “Guitar Hero 101.”

She also paid a student videographer to film each lecture, with money she was granted this year from the Principal’s Innovation Fund and the Centre for Teaching and Learning.

“I put the film lectures on iTunes for students who can’t come to class, or sometimes I might talk too fast during lecture,” she said, adding that she has an 83 per cent attendance rate on average.

“At exam time, then the Vodcast use goes through the roof.”

Wayne Cox, a political studies professor, said he thinks technology in the classroom can turn students into a passive audience.

“Professors become dependent upon technology and I would argue that that is a bad thing,” he said. “My teaching philosophy is to try to engage the students as much as I possibly can.”

Last year, Cox tried an experiment in his class, POLS261, Introduction to International Politics.

“I banned all laptops in Dunning and made my students a deal,” he said. “I would put all my energy into the lecture if they didn’t bring their laptops to class.”

Cox said he received positive feedback from his students on his actions.

“Students wanted to come to class,” he said. “It was a resounding success and students found it refreshing.”

Matrix said she uses social media to keep class material tied to life outside the lecture hall.

“Social media is also about crowd-sourcing, because several hundred people sharing links and opinions will make for a very media-rich and dynamic experience, or so I hope.”

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