The latest way for students to “speak up” in class is online. Basically, students are joining classroom discussions virtually – using laptops or smart phones. They’re posting comments, asking questions, and voicing their opinions online – without ever needing to raise their hands. For example: Some teachers now host real-time discussions in class using Twitter. Others use Google Moderator, which is free software that lets students type questions about something being discussed in class, and then vote for the questions they’d most like answered. We’ve also read about a teacher in Iowa who creates virtual chat rooms using software called Today’s Meet. Then, as one student reads class work out loud, the rest of the class talks about it online.
Why not just talk about it the old fashioned way? First, there are always some students who don’t want to speak up because they’re too shy. Also, a lot of students feel more comfortable expressing themselves electronically. That’s just what they’re used to now. As you might expect, not everyone’s a fan of online class discussions. Some educators see them as yet another form of distraction for students! Others say they’re too easy to abuse, and they worry that students will use the online forums to post inappropriate remarks, spread gossip, or make bullying comments.
On the flipside, a growing number of educators say online discussions work because it keeps students engaged in what’s being said in class. As an example: Nicholas Provenzano is an English teacher in Detroit who says that in a typical classroom, only about half of his students will normally pipe up during discussions, but when he uses the Internet, he’s found that he can get up to 25% more students involved! Ask any teacher, and they’ll tell you that’s huge.