“Flipping” the Classroom with Web 2.0 and Social Inquiry

This is a guest post written by Technology Fellow, Ann Marie Davis, Assistant Professor of History.

davis-annOne of the areas that I have been exploring as a Tech Fellow draws on the practice of sociality in academic inquiry. To put it simply, good scholarship often depends on good social interface. Trying out new ideas, drawing inspiration, and refining arguments, for instance, often require active and engaged participation in social settings. In pursuing these endeavors, scholars must not only read and write, but they must also network, collaborate, and share ideas. Indeed, embedded in the practice of scholarly inquiry are certain mandatory – and welcome – opportunities to bond and build communities with colleagues.

Using the framework of Web 2.0, I have been trying to replicate some of the practices of social scholarship in my first year seminars and intro level history courses. In the broadest sense, I take from Web 2.0 the idea that sharing information online is user-centered, user-focused, and user-generated. The tools and platforms of Web 2.0 allow participants to shape and circulate knowledge via social networking sites, podcasts, blogs, video sharing, and Wikis. The users of Web 2.0 are not just passive viewers of static web pages, but rather they are the creators of their own dynamic and user-defined content. Fundamentally, the social media platforms of Web 2.0 are tailored to encourage user participation in the creation of information synergies via open online communities.

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More concretely, I have been seeking ways to adapt social media to encourage more active participation in and outside of the history classroom. In my intro level classes, I often ask students to discuss complicated theories in live chat rooms and then send me their transcripts. I also ask them to create and post online multimedia presentations in which they analyze primary sources and develop new arguments. Once they have uploaded their findings on video sharing sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, they next exchange peer feedback and questions on social networking sites such as Facebook or Blogger. As a Tech Fellow, I have been working on better streamlining these activities and assessing their implications.

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One major outcome of these assignments has been the showcasing of student questions, ideas, and discoveries as the heart of the history classroom. Online networking tools have allowed students to publicize their work, connect with peers, and engage course themes via familiar and potentially empowering online platforms. Given the user-centered context of Web 2.0, the students’ work rises to the fore, while instructor mediation fades into the background. Often, the public aspect of social networking also motivates students to publish “peer-worthy” work in anticipation of sharing online feedback and constructive criticism.

In this sense, emphasizing the sociality of scholarly inquiry has begun to “flip” my former classes. The dynamic synergism of collaborative knowledge-building offers a distinct contrast to the passive processes of listening and note-taking during lectures. More importantly, social media platforms allow students to experiment, share, and critique each another’s progress before setting foot inside the classroom. In this context, online tools operate as virtual laboratories where students present and assess digital evidence and field online questions about their findings. In turn, our class meetings become an opportunity to continue these interrogations with greater enthusiasm and depth. In sum, the generative aspects of online collaboration ideally “flips” the more passive modes of scholarly inquiry into a more dynamic and authentic experience for history newcomers.

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Images taken with permission from former students in FYS 172 “Butterflies and Barbarian” Representing ‘East’ and ‘West’ in Popular Culture” and featured on Professor Davis’s web site on The Virtual Past.

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