Using SoftChalk for Active Learning: Engaging Students Through Popular Media

teacher_studentOur guest poster Jillian Abbott, Professor at Queensborough Community College, talks about how to better engage your students through popular media, such as the Internet.

English 101 is a compulsory subject at Queenborough Community College (QCC), and one that many students would rather not take. This makes engaging students in the course content challenging. However, technology provides myriad opportunities to engage this population. QCC’s emphasis on technology pedagogy provided me with the opportunity to create a learning module using SoftChalk. QCC’s general education objective, “Use information management and technology skills effectively for academic research and lifelong learning” provided the institutional support for adding a technology component to my EN101.

In my case, the goal of this addition was not only to meet General Education Objectives, but also to enrich student experience. The current generation of college students’ Web prowess is legendary, with terms such as “digital native” already sounding clichéd. Faculty often complain that these students won’t read tradition hard copy texts. In my classrooms I routinely observe students transfixed by their phones and other devises. It doesn’t seem to me that young people are reading and writing less, it seems that they’re reading and writing different.

According to Education Development Executive for Apple Computer for the Northeast United States, Jon Landis, speaking at the University of Delaware’s Summer Faculty institute in 2011, the current generation of college students is the most prolific writing generation ever. However, as Dutch academic, Dick Swart, pointed out at Mix: Merging into Media, the UK’s Bath Spa University 2012 summer conference on multimedia, “The Internet has created a new reading style. Today we are changing from a concentrated sustained and linear reading style into a more fragmented reading style.”

Given these developments, the challenge in the classroom then becomes: How does one engage students in the literature one wants them to read and write about?
There is no denying the resistance to reading traditional text books and literary text on the part of this generation of students. This made me question whether it was the medium itself that put them off. What if I gave my students the opportunity to read the material I wanted them to read using their preferred medium – browsing on the internet?

In trying to mimic this experience, I had to think through how information is uncovered on the internet. But the Internet is wide and deep and I wanted to keep my students within a certain universe of knowledge. Coincidently, around this time I took a QCC Academic Computing Center workshop on SoftChalk and realized immediately that this software had the capacity to recreate the experience of surfing the Internet, incorporating multimedia links, while containing users inside a knowledge set of my creation.

I explore the outcome of this foray into creating a lesson in SoftChalk in an article in the Hispanic Education Technology Service (HETS) peer reviewed online journal. To learn more about how I created this learning module, my SoftChalk lesson entitled “Eminem Holds the Torch,” click on the link below, which will take you to the article.


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