Virtual Public Squares

Saturday, I briefly attended Quinipiac University's New Vistas 2012 Conference.  It was a WAC, or Writing Across the Curriculum Conference.  It was a conference designed for college professors to get them involved in conversations about to improve the writing of college students.  Here's the thing...I always enjoy going to conferences even if they don't directly relate to me because I inevitably take ideas from them that can be applied and/or modified to what I am currently doing.  I found this to be true of this conference as well.  

The first professor I heard speak, Dr. Anita August, was from Sacred Heart University.  After hearing her speak I was confident in the education my youngest sister was getting at SHU, but I was also inspired.  She had a few ideas that she is implementing at SHU that I absolutely loved and one of them I tweeted out while she was speaking:
 I thought this idea, Virtual Public Squares, was a pretty ingenious idea on many levels.  For one, think about what we know about public squares.  They are a central place in a community for one stop shopping.  They can dine, shop, church, feed the birds, etc. all in that one central place.  What she has done is taken the concept of public squares and turned it virtual.  Her students are going to a blog (or wiki?) to discuss the course.  They can talk about the content, review the course, etc.  
  1. What a great way to incorporate the tools that today's college student is using.  My sister and all of her friends are on tumblr.  I really don't understand tumblr all that well, but Dr. August was saying (and we all know this to be true) just because they use it doesn't mean they are using it well.  True...they have no idea how to wield the power of their social media.  Engaging students in a Virtual Public Square is a great way to have them using their tools in a more efficient way.
  2. What great feedback for Dr. August!  Now, I know today's education atmosphere is all about data data data, but this is raw authentic data.  Information that can arm Dr. August with what her students are understanding, what she needs to clarify, extend, modify.  Even how she needs to alter their understanding of the tools they are using.  
  3. Talk about engagement.  When I feel like my learning needs are being met, I am all in.  And when I am all in I am more likely to be open-minded to stretching myself out of my comfort zone.  This is especially true when I am given an opportunity to voice my thoughts, and being able to do so via social media...cha ching!  You've got me hooked!
  4. Engagement leads to empowerment.  Once you've got your audience, your students engaged then they are going to share more freely.  When sharing more freely they are making decisions in a way they may not have previously thought possible.  They feel like their voice matters and that what they have to say will make an impact.  
This idea of Virtual Public Squares got me thinking.  In some ways, many of us do this in our classes.  We have a space where our students can come together and safely share their thoughts. Some of us do this in a meeting area; the rug.  Some of us do this on a blog or wiki.  Some of us, if we have access, do this on other social networks like Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.  But...are we using these tools to their fullest potential?  Should we be opening them up in a new way for students to engage with the content and each other?  Wikis and Nings do a great job at allowing this, but so does Posterous.  It creates a true collaborative environment that traditional blogs do not.  Something to consider.


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