Case study: Engaging large cohorts in active learning through online discussion

'Blogging Phyllis' by Thomas Widmann

This case study outlines the use of Twitter and Storify as a method of encouraging class discussion among English Literature students during screenings of adaptations of plays and novels.

Teaching on the English Literature course has long been around small groups of students discussing aspects of a literary work with their peers and tutors. However, the growing demand from students to have more contact time with their tutors has led to these groups expanding – which can limit the quality of discussion and reduce individual students’ opportunities to contribute. Therefore, the tutor wanted to find a way to bring together the cohort while still providing opportunities for guided discussion.

During the first semester of their first year, the students need to develop an understanding of several plays and novels that they will be covering in some detail, and gain confidence and experience in analysing and critiquing complex works. With the larger cohorts requiring a change to the previous teaching style, the tutor decided to screen television adaptations to the cohort to support discussion and informal interaction. The tutor selected adaptations of the relevant works from SHUPlayer and screened them in a lecture theatre. During the screenings, she used Twitter to pose discussion points and encouraged the students to reply using their own Twitter accounts. After the screenings, summaries of the discussions were collated using Storify and supplemented with additional resources and commentary from the tutor. The Twitter discussions were displayed within the Blackboard site for the module to further encourage students to contribute.

While there was some initial hesitancy to contribute on Twitter, the students were soon persuaded of the benefits of the activity, leading to some good discussions about the adaptations. The public nature of Twitter meant that people external to the cohort were also able to provide their input and so expand the pool of views beyond that of the students on the course. Additionally, selecting adaptations from SHUPlayer and using Twitter to discuss them allowed students who were able to be physically present the opportunity to still take part in the discussion. Using Storify as a mechanism to summarise the discussions gave the tutor an opportunity to consider the students’ contributions and provide supplementary materials and commentary to support their learning. Overall, though there were some issues with screenings of longer works, the students greatly appreciated the activity and many have requested that the activity be continued into subsequent semesters.

You can find out more about this approach by reading the two-page case study entitled: Engaging large cohorts in active learning through online discussion

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