Reinventing the New Classroom — Lessons from San Antonio

by Alexis Fetzer
 
I was fortunate enough to travel to San Antonio and attend the 2014 AALL Conference with the help of a generous grant received from VALL. My anticipation in attending was fueled all the more after a long battle with flight delays. Finally arriving, I was eager to attend my first session, Sunday afternoon’s Deep Dive : “Inventing the New Classroom.” 
 
Speakers included Debra Denslaw and Jesse Bowman of Valparaiso University, Jennifer Mart-Rice of Northern Kentucky University, and Susan Boland of the University of Cincinnati. The title “Inventing the New Classroom” initially led me to believe we would be focusing on the popular trend of flipping legal research classrooms. My suspicion was confirmed when the first speaker requested we text or tweet in answers to a live polling survey determining who among us had ever flipped their classroom. Results revealed that most of us had not.  However, a further discussion of what it meant to really flip a classroom caused some of us to begin rethinking our answers.  
 
Going into the session, I associated a “flipped classroom” with creating video lectures to be watched by students outside of class and using class time to work on practical application. My definition was really only partially correct. A flipped classroom is based on the idea that foundational knowledge comes before the classroom, using actual class time to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. Using video lectures is one conceptual design of a flipped classroom, but it is not the only one. Assigning material to be read before class could in theory accomplish the same goal. We were reminded that a video lecture is still a lecture. If lecturing is not the most effective means of teaching a topic, merely changing the format of that lecture will not change that.   
 
In addition to discussing the concept of a flipped classroom we learned about utilizing social media tools in the classroom. There are currently over 200 social media tools at our disposal and the number is continually growing. This was a topic I was very excited to hear about. While I love the idea of using social media in the classroom, I have struggled to come up with practical ways of doing so. I would hate to use social media simply for the sake of using it without having any real impact on instruction. In other words, I don’t want my students to think I’m trying too hard to be hip and cool.  
 
We were given several examples of appropriate social media tools depending upon your teaching methods. If you are lecturing, consider using Google Hangouts, Twitter hashtags, or YouTube videos. If you are employing collaborative learning methods, consider Google Hangouts or YouTube videos. Using screen sharing with Google Hangouts was offered as an example for this purpose. If you are composing a worksheet or memo, perhaps use blogs or wikis. For a pathfinder, consider having students create YouTube videos, websites, blogs, wikis, or even Pinterest boards pointing to their sources. One of my favorite ideas came from a librarian in the audience who had her students write blogposts and then create corresponding tags to help other people find their work.  
 
While using social media is a creative way to engage students, it should be noted that its use does raise some privacy and boundary issues. For example, you may not want to begin receiving Facebook friend requests from your students. As an instructor, you should be aware of these sorts of issues when choosing an appropriate social media tool for your course and students. It does, however, provide a great opportunity to discuss appropriate web presence among students.  

I found this session to be one of the most informative and motivating sessions I attended at this year’s AALL Conference. I am eager to begin teaching this fall and try out some of the ideas I picked up. Again, thank you to VALL for the generous grant that made my attendance this year possible. 


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