Online Photo Sharing and Classroom Engagement
Hinda Mandell and Kelly Martin
Students in Journalism and Communications have to get comfortable generating content quickly on a regular basis, something that they can only develop with practice.
While Hinda Mandell and Kelly Martin, faculty in the College of Liberal Arts, were looking for an opportunity to bring their classes together, they came up with the idea of having their combined students contribute to a single photo blog. This collaborative assignment would give students practice finding and writing about “news,” with an expectation for them to produce on schedule.
Teaching and Learning
In teaching Journalism, Hinda says that she wants her students to begin to develop a “newsy eye”: to be able to find things that can be interesting and amusing for others. In addition, they need to develop the ability to write a few sentences of clear copy on a regular basis.
Along with Kelly, they set up a joint activity in the form of a photo blog that students from both classes contributed to, with photos and text, every week. They came up with the theme “The Best Thing I’ve Seen All Day,” (http://bestthingallday.posterous.com/) which enabled students to create a visual snapshot of what it means to be an RIT student. The theme also gave students an open-ended, low stakes opportunity to find and share images that connected with them.
"The Best Thing I've Seen All Day" blog
By having two classes contribute, Hinda and Kelly were also able to achieve an overarching goal of developing a sense of community and space beyond the immediate physical borders of a classroom.
Teaching Strategies and Tools
Hinda and Kelly selected Posterous.com as the platform for their combined assignment, because it was easy for them to set up and easy for students to post photos and comments. But the rollout still required some handholding from the instructors.
Kelly: “People assume that students at RIT are very technology-savvy, but there’s a wide range of skills.”
They recommend that faculty including this kind of activity in a course build in extra time during the first two weeks to help students get comfortable with the technology. They must also be sure that they are clear in their expectations of exactly what they want students to post.
Another thing students learn is what making something “public” means, although the knowledge that two classes share the blog raises this awareness. As instructors, though, Hinda and Kelly retain the ability to take images or text down that could be offensive, although they haven’t had to do that yet.
By requiring students to post and comment weekly, the instructors are also able to emphasize—and enforce—the importance of meeting deadlines.Photo by student Michael Roppolo
Experiences and Results
Although the classes didn’t meet in the same room, they liked the sense of community that developed from the joint blogging experience. It also enabled Hinda and Kelly to see how students interacted, and students appreciated that they could add their contributions to their personal portfolios.
By designing a grouped class, the students saw what they were doing as larger than just the classroom, so students tended to monitor themselves. Their post-class survey showed that students appreciated that comments remained appropriate and didn’t get “out of hand,” as they can with Facebook or other more open online environments.
In addition to accomplishing their learning objectives, the participation numbers indicate that “Best Thing” taps into the current cultural trend of people driven and interested in connecting instantly through social media and photo sharing. It also supports students growing expectations for instant feedback as part of their learning experience.
Because the activity was fairly easy to implement, Kelly has begun to use it in other classes, such as Public Speaking and Digital Design, sometimes using the same “Best Thing I’ve Seen” theme, and other times to have students illustrate design properties like texture or modulation.
Hinda: “It’s important that all classes explore technology and how technology can be used in the classroom. And just because it’s technology, that doesn’t mean it has to be very complex and technical.”Photo by student Dakota Nobles