Eight Simple Ways to Embrace the "Froom"

min read

Key Takeaways

  • The “froom” concept — forever in the classroom — employs technology to provide a nonlinear, hybrid, always accessible learning environment to engage students and motivate their learning.
  • Establishing a 360-degree classroom environment gives students the option to engage and tinker with ideas, not just in class but also online and at any time.
  • Eight ways to plug into the froom make the initial steps quick and easy.

College students have become active participants in the learning process. The concept of collaboration, for example, is now considered central to their learning DNA, whether it’s building an online wiki or doing multi-user editing using Google docs and other platforms. (For many insights into the learning styles of children and young adults, see the research series published by the MacArthur Foundation on Digital Media and Learning.) The new generation of college students could be considered a living manifestation of the Google Age. Nicholas Carr, citing major studies in his extensive piece titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in the The Atlantic (July/August 2008), asserted that the “media and other technologies we use in learning…play an important part in shaping the neural circuits of our brains.” Digital media technologies have engendered a new way for many of us, especially the young, to learn: in bits and pieces and in a continuous download mode.

If one has to juxtapose this new cognitive reality with the dominant campus learning environment — that is, the old industrial block-by-block schedule — it should be no surprise to educators if we find students who are a little bored. How do we motivate students to learn and do class work a little more effectively? And how do we get them more excited about the courses they’re taking?

The answer lies in the froom — forever in a classroom. As educators, we must find ways to use digital technology and establish a 360-degree classroom environment where students have the option to engage and tinker with ideas, not just in class but also online and at any time. All kinds of popular new media must be deployed to motivate students to do course work. Being in the froom frame of mind requires getting used to the idea of nonlinear, hybrid learning. Using computer lingo, classrooms must become a place for “rendering” knowledge, for problem solving and analysis, and for fostering creativity.

More specifically, in the froom world, professors must be willing to offer options for students to send text messages, do instant messaging, and chat via iChat or Skype. Instructors must also set up a faculty or social networking site so that students have several avenues to get feedback.

Plugging In to the Froom

There are eight simple ways to get plugged into the froom, which will help increase students’ motivation to learn:

1) The Grand Central Station

I recommend using a free blog (WordPress or Blogger) as the communications hub for any professor teaching a course. Populate the blog with all kinds of course-related materials found on the web, whether YouTube videos, games and animations, or free podcasts from Yale University, University of California at Berkeley, and other sites. The blog site will definitely add convenience to classroom teaching because you can pull it up anytime and show it to your students using an LCD projector.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s also a good idea to establish a Twitter account and link it to your blog so that you can post updates or tweets using your cell phone. Crafting messages with a 140-character limit becomes real fun. If you have downtime, such as getting stuck at the airport while waiting for your flight to an academic conference, you can send tweets to your students. Don’t forget to ask your students to subscribe to the blog and follow you via Twitter.

If you want maximum student access, try my extreme 360-degree classroom technique, which requires you to give your cell phone number to students. Be warned, though, that some will try to send text messages at three in the morning, a behavior sometimes known as “drunken” texting.

2) Flash and beads

The web is like a never-ending carnival of animations, interactive experiences, and photo galleries that instructors can use effectively in the classroom. In my multimedia journalism class, for example, I used — with great success — the educational galleries, videos, digital maps, and other interactive files available through online newspapers such as the Washingtonpost.com, NYTimes.com, and MSNBC.com. These sites gave my students an enhanced learning experience (visual and interactive), especially on topics such as crime and airport security, among others.

Citizen journalism sites such as Gothamgazette.com, which recently won an award for outstanding citizen journalism from the Online News Association (ONA), offer interactive experiences on important issues, which you can use in class. Educational games such as “playing the news” (an interactive experience on balancing the New York state budget) or “finding your inner Republican” can add a whole new dimension of learning experience.

Moreover, I find that using Google Maps and Google Earth provides heightened visual cues to students, especially on understanding certain topics or stories relating to crimes and crime statistics. Visit site aggregators such as digg.com or delicious.com to find sites offering rich visual experiences.

3) Hello, Japan! Skype, iChat, or Pronto

Use free chat technology (with videos) to link students with people from the other side of the globe. Dialoging with international communication students using Skype, for example, will help promote student appreciation of other cultures and the globalized communication marketplace. Make sure, though, that everyone knows English, or at least has someone who can help with translation. I made a mistake one time of establishing a chat hook-up with students in Africa only to learn that they only understand and speak French. For instant messaging, try iChat or Pronto.

4) The wisdom of YouTube

YouTube provides a treasure trove of three- to five-minute videos that can prompt or support classroom discussions. Some of the best clips I’ve used in class involved a fun video explaining Web 2.0 and the mini-documentary about Ron Paul, the Internet’s presidential candidate. I have also used popular political animations from a company called JibJab, which proved to be a hit with students.

5) In the age of Oprah

Students have become used to the Oprah style of discussion, where an audio or video clip precedes the actual conversation. I often use a short video, an animation, a podcast, or a photo gallery with music as a surefire lead-in to an animated class discussion. This technique is effective because it gets students’ attention. I often use Adobe Flash software to create photo galleries with appropriate music. If I don’t have much time to prepare before class, I just upload a series of pictures into iPhoto and put a little music from iTunes or that I created in GarageBand and then — kapow! — I have a nice lead-in piece to the topic of the day.

6) It’s not official if it’s not on Facebook

I created a group called “Media Mavens” on Facebook and invited all 15 of my investigative journalism students to join. The exchanges were lively because students checked their accounts many times during the day. Needless to say, Facebook provides a plethora of information about your students (talk about data mining) — including favorite books, movies, and music — useful in developing an engaging class sesssion. The course Facebook page can also be used as a vehicle for a little bit of “sentiment analysis” by getting insights on how students are reacting to certain issues or how they feel about specific events during the news cycle. This information can be used to help sharpen conversations in the classroom.

7) Tapping the wiki culture

Another good way to motivate students to work on an assignment is to allow them to work collaboratively using Blackboard’s wiki option, Google docs, a free blog, or other wiki sites such as Wetpaint. Students today live in a Craigslist culture where TRUST is their main exchange currency and where they are more open than before to the idea of collaborative authorship.

8) Automation and the layaway strategy

I suggest doing an inventory of class time wasters and trying to eliminate activities that don’t contribute to knowledge “rendering.” Devote most of your class time to informed discussions, workshops, processing of ideas, and analysis. I often ask my students to spend at least six hours each week preparing for class (reading assigned materials or working on assignments posted on the course site). A lot of time can also be saved by asking students to take tests online and perhaps automate some of the grading by using multiple-choice questions.

In my journalism class last year, I asked students to submit a one-page progress report every two weeks. I find this type of benchmarking an effective way of motivating students because they know in advance the direction or trajectory of their grade. Breaking deadlines into pieces, much like a layaway plan at a retail store, and providing short feedback or tweets along the way will enable students to work on a project at a more manageable pace. Most of my students held jobs off campus during the week, so they needed a bit of prodding and a little push here and there to succeed. I also recommend having face time with a student every week or two just to check progress and to make sure class expectations are being met.

Froom Ahead!

In these anxious economic times, where classroom focus can be a bit of a challenge due to distractions big and small, it’s crucial that we, as educators, find ways to help students get some learning done, wherever and whenever it’s most convenient for them. And the best way to do this is of course via the froom.

Happy teaching!