By definition, formal debates limit participation because only 1 person at a time may speak. The idea was to use hand-held devices (iPod Touch) to provide more participants an opportunity to participate, critique, review, and argue.
As expected, access to hand-held devices boosted participation. Out of approximately 45 participants (2 groups back to back), our Facebook debate page showed that over 137 online communications (complete sentences discussing the topic at hand) were made possible because of this device. Given our time constraints, this clearly would not have been possible in a conventional classroom debate. Out of these contributions, about 1/4 were formulated after class time since students were told that they could continue to contribute for an additional 48 hours after the event.
An overwhelming number of students described the experience as ‘great’, ‘engaging’, ‘fun’, and ‘so cool’. Many expressed that it was extremely beneficial to them to be able to say what they wanted to say when they wanted to say it. Some also said that they would not have participate as much or at all if they had to speak up in class. Many noted that using technology to debate allowed them to think before they expressed their thoughts.
Some drawbacks were mostly related to the application used (Facebook). While the application allowed us to debate simultaneously, it is not designed for this type of discussion. One of the reasons why is it was chosen was because many students were not allowed to join ‘Twitter’ but already were Facebook subscribers. Another problem that caused some frustration was that our initial access router could not support more than 10 devices so we had to install a more powerful router. This caused some frustration on the part of the students. Some students also expressed that those who were technologically challenged felt that they could not compete; as they attempted to type their thoughts someone faster would trump them.
Overall, this tool was extremely beneficial to both students and myself. They allowed everyone to participate simultaneously and to continue adding even after class had ended. The device promoted the use of the target language created an intensely engaging environment in which students could express themselves freely. Having access to the discussion transcripts at my own convenience allowed me to conduct a more thourough assessment of student contributions.
- hand out devices only once all instructions have been given
- provide access in the classroom on a regular basis so that all students may acquire the desired skills (typing with thumbs / interface familiarity)
- use a more ‘discussion’ oriented application that will refresh instantly when students contribute
- FOR THE SECONDARY CLASSROOM, IT WOULD BE USEFUL TO HAVE A ROUTER THAT CAN EASILY BLOCK ACCESS, FOR EXAMPLE, IF IN-CLASS ATTENTION IS REQUIRED