Start a #debate and make connections a world away

4th March 2016 at 00:00
Through sites such as Periscope and Twitter, students can discuss topics with peers on another continent

This is the story of how two classes on the opposite side of the world came together, using social media to live-stream video debates.

I teach at Basingstoke College of Technology. For my critical thinking unit, I wanted my students to be immersed in real debate beyond their immediate peers. I sought collaboration with others by tweeting using hashtags such as #edchat and #edtech and by using the Periscope app. This livestreams video that is available for up to 24 hours (with an option to save it as well). I sent out the tweets like a message in a bottle and waited.

I soon had a response from Beth Sanders, a teacher at Enterprise City Schools in Alabama, US. She suggested that we share a Google Doc to exchange a few ideas. Within 24 hours, I was working with the incredibly innovative Beth and her colleagues Bridget Goodson and Amber Pope as we formulated our first debate on the topic of voter apathy in young people. We decided on the hashtag for our collaboration “across the ocean”: #ATOdebate.

On the afternoon before the debate, I posted an introductory video of myself on Periscope using the #ATOdebate hashtag to ask the US students three questions. I invited them to respond via Twitter or Periscope (we soon realised that the time difference meant live debate was restricted). Bridget and Amber’s students watched my introductory video and researched their answers. Then the more vocal learners responded on Periscope, with the quieter ones contributing on Twitter.

Live-stream and learn

When my students came into class that afternoon, we watched the US students’ Periscope clips from the morning. My students then livestreamed their thoughts back about the differences between the UK and US, whether the causes of voter apathy were the same or different, and what issues would arise in a society born out of apathy.

I soon noticed that having a live audience (anyone seeing the stream on Twitter could watch the Periscope footage) and a playback audience (the US students) led to my learners displaying greater foresight and discernment, and a keener perception than I had seen before. Beth, Bridget, Amber and I observed our students’ process as they articulated their thoughts, while we joined in ourselves on Twitter with some directed Socratic and cascaded questions, in order to formatively assess each other’s students.

Some learners received favourites, retweets, replies and live comments as they expressed their views, and others continued the discussion with their transatlantic peers on Twitter long after the lectures had finished. Everyone found their comfort level of engagement.

For eight weeks, the British and American classes took it in turn to write three questions and Periscope them over, before evaluating the responses in class the next day. The conversations – on topics selected by the students such as racism, gun control, religion and feminism – have been extremely intriguing.

All of the students developed their critical thinking and communication. We used challenges designed to refine their skills in English (“Use two examples of terminology, correct grammar and correct syntax”) and maths (“Create your first response within 140 characters in two minutes”), as well as enhancing their professional digital reputation to boost their upcoming university applications and for future employers to see.

We found that our students gained invaluable experience discussing complex moral and ethical issues beyond the walls of the college with peers from another country.

Scott Hayden is a lecturer and specialist practitioner of social media and ed tech at Basingstoke College of Technology @bcotmedia

Five ways to connect

How to collaborate with teachers and learners across the world:

Make contact using hashtags like #edchat #edtech and #UKFEchat or in Google+ (a vastly underappreciated resource for educators sharing great ideas).

Share a Google Doc to discuss ideas that you want to cover, timings and learning targets.

Practise with Periscope – get students used to the app by live-streaming an activity in class or a video of you going over something on the board for revision purposes.

Challenge students to pick the topics, write the questions and host the videos.

Use online apps such as Twitterfall or Tweetbeam to curate and display the live feed on your screen.

The US perspective

Using Periscope has opened up a new world for my students. They have been able to communicate with students across the ocean and see how another culture views problems that all young people experience. Periscope closes distance and opens doors, allowing my students to have an authentic audience.

Bridget Goodson is a teacher at Enterprise City Schools in Alabama, US

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