Reading the Times: Social Media in Class; Persecution of Christians in China

Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media

Trip Gabriel, writing for the New York Times, examines the growing use of social median in classrooms. Here’s an excerpt:

Students enjoy using cell phones in class

With Twitter and other microblogging platforms, teachers from elementary schools to universities are setting up what is known as a “backchannel” in their classes. The real-time digital streams allow students to comment, pose questions (answered either by one another or the teacher) and shed inhibitions about voicing opinions. Perhaps most importantly, if they are texting on-task, they are less likely to be texting about something else.

Nicholas Provenzano, an English teacher at Grosse Pointe South High School, outside Detroit, said that in a class of 30, only about 12 usually carried the conversation, but that eight more might pipe up on a backchannel. “Another eight kids entering a discussion is huge,” he noted.

Skeptics — and at this stage they far outnumber enthusiasts — fear introducing backchannels into classrooms will distract students and teachers, and lead to off-topic, inappropriate or even bullying remarks. A national survey released last month found that 2 percent of college faculty members had used Twitter in class, and nearly half thought that doing so would negatively affect learning. When Derek Bruff, a math lecturer and assistant director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, suggests fellow professors try backchannels, “Most look at me like I’m coming from another planet,” he said.

A friend of mine is a college professor. He requires students to contribute to a social media conversation of course material. He finds that students are, by and large, more involved in the subject matter. Moreover, he has discovered that introverted students who tend not to speak up in class actually have lots to say. He is convinced that the social media conversation enriches the educational process. But he has not tried (to my knowledge) live, in-class communication.

I wonder. Will “backchannel” communication enrich or impoverish education? Or does it have the power to do both, depending on the context?

Chinese Christians Rally Around Underground Church

Andrew Jacobs reports:

More than a dozen Christian leaders in China have thrown their support behind an embattled underground church, calling for the government to end its persecution and for broader religious freedoms as well.

Their petition, a rare public gesture for religious figures, who are often wary of wading into politics, raises the stakes in a standoff that has drawn concern from Christian groups outside China and prompted a separate petition campaign in the United States and Canada.

Nineteen pastors signed the petition, delivered Wednesday to the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, and posted on the Internet. It calls for legal protections for so-called house churches, which operate illicitly outside the government-run religious system.

As my fellow Presbyterians and I struggle with our theological and structure challenges, it’s good to remember that in China, and many other countries, Christians are prohibited from gathering for worship and are put in jail for their Christian convictions. Stories like this put things in context.

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  • Rob

    One of my favorite science writers was Loren Eiseley. Even back in the 60s, he was concerned with the technological revolution. In his book, “The Firmament of Time,” he wrote, “. . .the rise of a science whose powers and creations seem awe-inspiringly remote . . has come dangerously close to bringing into existence a type of man who is not human. He no longer thinks in the old terms. . . ” This problem obviously includes the classroom. How human are we any more?

    As a teacher, how do you deal with social media and “backchannels?” Is this something you welcome as a lecturer?

    As for the story about China, it’s a good reminder of how much the American Christian Church takes for granted.

  • Anonymous

    Cell phones in classrooms are distracting.  How do you police who’s texting regarding class and who’s “not in class?”

    This is an idea that quickly needs to go the way of the open classroom.

    Regarding the Chinese Church situation, it will be interesting to see if the Chinese government increases freedom or harshly suppresses the church.  This congregation of roughly 1,000 people were worshipping in the open air because sustained government harassment prevented them from renting or buying a building.  Then they were detained in their homes and some arrested.

    Pray for these folks.


  • Anonymous

    I like opportunities for students to engage with each other and ideas outside of class. I’m not keen on this happening during class. Seems to distract from the main purpose.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, prayers are needed.