Taylor (2010) suggests that interactive learning coupled with mechanisms to create accountability is necessary to facilitate learning for millennial students. One way to boost interactive learning outside of class is to have students collaborate using Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis, and other social networking technologies (Parschal, 2010). These Web 2.0 tools allow learners to read, write, create, connect, and learn in robust and personally determined ways (Moore, 2006).
I teach an introductory Business Communication class and use team-based learning, adapted from the methods described by Larry Michaelsen (2009). Students are placed in teams on the second day of class and work in these teams every day. To assure students are ready for active application of content, the course has three “readiness assurance days.” Where Michaelsen uses scantrons and multiple choice quizzes to assure students are preparing for class, I wanted my students to write course-content-oriented arguments as their readiness assurance process (RAP); I have my students comment on cases I post in a course blog or course wiki.
Steps to use Canvas for blog-like discussions or similar to a wiki:
- Post cases in Canvas Pages, Discussions, or CNPost. I post business communication cases. The cases include embedded multimedia resources, such as pictures, video, and audio files. The posts also include links to course content. Posts on pages are treated as a wiki, so I make sure the settings allow students and teachers to edit.
- Students respond to post. Before each readiness assurance day (RAP), the students respond to the post. I vary the location of the posts between discussion posts and pages, because my students will benefit from learning different communication channels that are becoming more common in business. I ask students to respond by:
- Identifying concepts from the reading that they consider most important for analyzing the case.
- Applying the identified concepts to the case, and
- Comparing or contrasting the individual student’s analysis with a classmate’s.
- Students bring copies of their comments to class for review by their team. The review process works as follows:
- Each team determines the comment that is “most helpful for learning course concepts.”
- I collect the “most helpful” comments and redistribute them, so that each team receives a copy of every team’s “most helpful” responses.
- Each team then ranks the other teams’ responses from most to least helpful. Readiness assurance grades are based on these rankings. This mechanism creates an incentive to write and select strong comments. As part of the ranking process, team discussions lead to debate within the teams as they work toward consensus about application of course concepts. After readiness is assured, subsequent class meetings build on the case presented in the RAP.
One example of this process’s impact on learning
In Business Communication we expect students to learn to contextualize intercultural messages. I, therefore, created a blog post that asks students to consider inter-cultural-non-verbal communication. The post describes non-verbal communication then leads to an embedded video scene from a documentary called Well-Founded Fear (Camerini, 2000). In the scene a government official interview a refugee applicant. These interviews, under US Law, are to be conducted in a non-adversarial manner. However, the refugee applicant and the interviewing officer both have aggressive communication styles, resulting in a power grab by the asylum officer.
Typically, when I’ve facilitated in class discussion of this case as opposed to online, a majority of students begin discussion by thinking the applicant is lying. But as the discussion develops their eyes tend to open and see the richness of non-verbal communication … which, of course, is a substantial part of the expected learning outcome.
When I switched the process to a pre-class discussion as the course blog, I noticed that students who saw the problematic non-verbal cues of the asylum officer spoke up more forcefully and quickly in their comments. This was unexpected; however, it was extremely beneficial to student learning, as the students discovered the complexities of non-verbal communication without my influence. In the past, in class, I often had to make the points about how the asylum officer’s behavior impacted the interview; in other words, I led the students to a key learning outcome. I was thrilled that the students made this leap without me.
The activities create accountability in several ways. First, the RAP makes students accountable to me that they have learned course concepts at the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Second, the students are accountable to all students, as the process requires that each comment include reaction to other students’ comments. Third, the ranking process generates team accountability. Fourth, the blog and wiki become the source of follow up in-class activities and assignments.
The process emphasizes several forms of evaluation
- The blog comments compare and contrast differing views and applications of course concepts.
- The teams discuss the individual comments to determine which one is most valuable for learning course concepts. This conversation requires critical evaluation of the individual comments.
- Students receive two grades, an individual grade on their comments and a grade for the team’s choice of best comment. To deemphasize the competitive element in the process, an alternative is to use class time to have each team review the team members’ individual comments and to collaborate to write a comment for the team grade.
- After completing the ranking process, the teams debrief on their effectiveness. In this process each team member completes a team-evaluation rubric. Then the teams compare and discuss the responses in the rubric.
- After the RAP, the class discusses characteristics of effective comments, including effective writing style, considerations of audience, and depth and breadth of coverage of course content.