Flying in a Flock

A particular line from an email I received recently keeps coming back to my mind and making me reflect (the full email can be found in my post from March 15 – “Dumber or Just Different?“):

We have even seen some of our faculty peers engaging in technological multi-tasking by tweeting each other during presentations (so-called “back-channeling”).

If you are a teacher, educator, or school person, do you believe in note taking? Do you encourage, or expect, or even require that your students take notes? Do you assume that note takers are dutifully engaged and processing the information? Do you think that the notes can be used later to remind and refresh the thinking of the note taker? Do you sometimes ask a student who is not taking notes, “Hey, don’t you think you should be taking notes on this stuff?” Perhaps you even use a stronger prompt to elicit a note-taking response. Have you ever considered that note taking is “multitasking?”

Well, tweeting is just a form of note taking! Dare I write it…”21st Century Note Taking!” However, tweeters leverage technology to enrich their notes and interaction with whatever is the source of discussion on the “so-called ‘back-channel.'” Do you ever wish, or have you ever wished, that you could see someone else’s notes? Just a peek, so that you can calibrate your note taking and discover what the other person thinks is interesting, important, or needs-to-be-remembered. Now you can! Just join the hashtag of the back-channel and explore what other engaged note takers are thinking, asking, responding to, contemplating, etc. Perhaps there are too many people in the room for everyone to have a fair shake at audible-voice air time. No worries. Now more people in the room have a voice. One does not have to concentrate on injecting one’s thoughts into the audible conversation, but of course one can do both – tweet and discuss out loud. In fact, in my experience the two forms of participation complement and expand and encourage each other.

Note takers have always been multi-taskers. Now, many are simply “smarter” about it. The connected note takers realize the value of shared, collective, collaborative notes. WE are smarter than me.

Maybe the tweeters understand the advantages to flying in a flock, rather than flying solo.

4 thoughts on “Flying in a Flock

  1. I think we miss part of what is being presented no matter what we do. There is so much research that shows this to be the case. You can’t simply “pay attention” more, or “focus” more and get everything that is said when the method of presentation is pure information delivery via lecture. To me, this is why formative assessment and things like Jill’s #20minwms experiments are so great (and have had a big impact on my classroom).

    Sure, I miss things when I tweet (or write) an important thought or note—but I’m going to miss things anyway. Much better to have a summary of that important thought for me to refer back to (and activate a visual or kinesthetic memory in my brain from the act of writing), than assume I’m just going to get everything by listening. And then when others are tweeting their notes, theres a decent chance I’ll pick up on some of the things I’ll miss by tweeting myself.

    Personally, I want to work on testing the assumption that if everyone is sitting there listening passively, they’re getting it. I often feel this isnt’ the case. Maybe that will spur us to accept tools (like formative assessment, note taking, and twitter) that help learners to capture and digest more of the meaningful bits they hear.

    • After reading your reply, I agree and I disagree. I know that I personally miss information that is being presented when I backchannel because I am an auditory learner (who doesn’t miss much when I am fully focused) and the typing distracts me even though I benefit from the online conversation. However, I think you may be right that students generally cannot focus auditorily for long and most likely would learn a great deal more by backchanneling. I am definitely open to experimenting.

  2. I absolutely love backchanneling. During our joint Drew Charter/Westminster in-service day in January, we used Today’s Meet to ask Megan Howard about Rosetta Stone at Trinity (and read and respond to other people’s questions) as her co-presenter presented. I also enjoyed backchanneling on Twitter during the Diversity Worskhop in February. Although I think that backchanneling can be a wonderful tool for learning, it is also not without its disadvantages.

    At the Solution Tree Assessment Conference in the fall, Doug Reeves cited a research study that concluded that students are unable to multitask. I know that I personally miss a lot of what is being presented when I am engrossed in an online conversation. I do believe that I learn more overall from the combined experience of a presentation with backchanneling, but I cannot deny that I miss part of what is being presented. I justify the backchanneling because my experience is richer overall, but I do miss important information in the “official” presentation.

    Last year I read an article about the disadvantages of notetaking, most notably the fact that students cannot process what they are learning while they take notes. The article concluded that students should listen to the material presented, then the teacher should stop and formatively assess by having students write what they learned. Perhaps a solution to the presentation vs. backchanneling conundrum is to have students stop and backchannel after presentation of the material, rather than during.

    This may be a moot point, as the future of lectures and official presentation of the material may soon be a thing of the past. Recent articles that I have read on Diigo (re:UVA medical school, for example) have been promoting more individual learning of information via podcasts/videos outside of class time. Students acquire the knowledge at their own pace, then teachers facilitate activities that require application of the new self-directed student knowledge.

    However, the issue of whether students are actually able to multitask is an important one. Are we trying to do more things but less well, or does the sum of our learning experiences enrich the whole? Are we doing the educational equivalent of texting while driving?

  3. Great point. Just yesterday, I was able to follow along with the great conversation between the faculty of Trinity school and Alfie Kohn because Meghan Howard tweeted that she and her colleagues were collectively taking notes on etherpad. And, you’ll notice, she was following the TEDxATL twitter stream, since she incorporated one of your tweets into this document.

    And just today, with an awesome announcement about threaded comments in google docs that looks pretty incredible, google introduced a whole new set of possibilities.

    So is the problem one of perception? I can grant that if you aren’t tweeting or back channeling, it can be very distracting to see others doing so. It even make one feel excluded (I felt this way somewhat at my first TEDxNYED, when everyone was tweeting, and seemed to know each other, and I was not). That makes me wonder how can we change this perception?

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