Wednesday marked our first group virtual meeting with fellow OLE participants (thanks again, Jay. #GoTeamAdams) and my first experience with appear.in. I’ve used Google Hangouts many times before (faculty meetings, open discussions for class, individual student meetings) but, aside from trying Skype a couple of times, I’ve never thought to go beyond Google for virtual work/class purposes–an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of mentality.
What I found valuable with appear.in was how easy it was to set up and execute. Google Hangouts aren’t too difficult, but it’s not intuitive. Students have had trouble getting set up for virtual meetings just from not having much Google+ experience, even though it seems easy to get everything running. With appear.in, they really just need the link and a camera/mic setup. Additionally, the feel of the “room” was the closest to office hours I have experienced: causal and fluid. Hangouts and similar online meetings seem to suffer sometimes from criticism that they are “artificial” (i.e. “weird”); Appear.in seems to be a strong platform to alleviate this worry. Everyone is visible at the same time–whereas Hangouts and other programs focus on the speaker as default–adding to the fluidity (or non-weirdness) of the conversation.
In short: It feels casual, because it is.
This is definitely not an urge to adopt appear.in over other platforms. Though, while meeting our group for the first time, I couldn’t help but think that appear.in may be the first alternative to brick and mortar conferences with students that would be functional, easily utilized, and something they may actually take me up on.
Several weeks ago after Peter first switched rooms to teach in the Incubator, he wanted to know what Enoch and I thought was the most valuable element of the room to use for class. There are many cool things that can happen in the Incubator, and I am still finding more ways to utilize them as cooly and keenly as possible. Though, when prompted with this question, Enoch and I both lauded the multiple whiteboards as some of the biggest highlights of the room. It’s true that I have yet to explore everything the room has to offer (but give me time), and am still very interested in the exploration. But, I can’t help but still be widely enamored with the ability to have groups of students at different boards making their thinking visible in concert and on a physical space. This does not come from a fear of technology or without the understanding that group work can be made visible and collaborative on things like wikis and Google Drive. What’s most compelling is that we have been able to toy with conveying views in unique and modular ways in real time together. Something I am striving to pursue in this class in this classroom is how thoughts and arguments can be articulated clearly and creatively: going beyond prescriptions to allow for more organic demonstrations of reasoning. Consider the following:
As a class, we looked at a particular concept video to analyze. I asked students to break up into groups and map out on their respective whiteboards how we can better interpret the video given a particular theme they found valuable to explore. I told them that I didn’t care how the map looked, but that they needed to walk everyone through their focus and reasoning once they were finished. The comparison of outcomes was excellent.
This group intentionally used the first board to establish a foundational question and the second to explore the larger dilemma as they framed it. Though not incredibly robust in explanation with the branching bubbles, this demonstrates the group’s efforts with the initial steps of inquiry: starting with a question of interest (albeit speculative and broad) and breaking down its parts for deeper exploration.
In a more traditional brainstorming model, this group started with a particular facet of the video as the central focus to explore and then tried to capture its dimensions while also making comparisons to other technologies.
Rather than a web, this group functionally sketched out their potential argument for interpretation, starting with a claim at the top-left and working through with evidence and reasons.
I don’t mean to suggest here with these examples that everything counts as solid interpretive work or that everything is an argument. (I firmly reject both of these sentiments.) And I certainly don’t mean to denounce digital technology in the classroom–I love it. What I find valuable here is that, as instructors, we make sure to try and help our students articulate and share their views in clear, significant, and unique ways: that we are always attuned to the spaces we occupy and what we have around us for use–shiny and new or not–to test for best practices.