Faculty Guest Post: Paul Collins Talks about Students Helping Students with Celly

Our guest poster this week is Paul Collins, Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance.  Paul attended the Spring 2013 FTI.

As part of the Scenery and Lighting Design and Production concentration in the Theatre major, students are required to take a course in which they learn Computer Aided Drafting and Design. The software on which the students learn is brand new to nearly all of them, and very complicated. We spend time in class going over the necessary skills and tools, but the students are then expected to complete exercises in the computer lab as homework. Because of the complexity of the software and the lack of experience that the students have with it, struggles are very real and frequent, and I spend a lot of time with individual students working through the process.

While I work closely with each of the students, I have also noticed in previous semesters that the students do a great job helping each other. Sometimes while I am working with an individual in class, another student has a question about something, but by the time I get to this student, a neighbor has helped to solve the problem. I encourage the students to work on their homework in the lab together so that they can take advantage of what I call ‘the collective wisdom of the class’.

During the Faculty Technology Institute (in Spring 2013), I was introduced to a tool that has allowed me to expand this ‘collective wisdom’ beyond the walls of the classroom. Celly (simply http://cel.ly/ in your web browser) is a kind of online discussion board, similar to other discussion boards that you may be familiar with (including the tool available in OAKS). However, the advantage that Celly has over traditional discussion boards is the ability for the user to receive and send messages in a number of different ways: via email, mobile app, online web portal or text. The text feature is what makes this tool truly powerful- by connecting the discussion to a cell phone, posts to the board are more immediately available both to the students and to me. A question can be put up on the Celly, and be responded to almost immediately by whoever gets to it first. Here is an example of one of the conversations (note… read the conversation from bottom to top)

 

 

In this situation, a student asked for clarification about a handout. Within a minute, another student joined the conversation to try to help, as well as giving advice on how to create the shape in question. I also was available to help at this time, and checked the handout so that I could answer the question. Within 8 minutes, I had the problem figured out, and posted a clarification to OAKS to clear things up for the whole class. This is only one example of what is a relatively easy question, but would likely have caused this student to either be unable to continue, or at the very least have to go back and make significant revisions. If the message had gone to a discussion board or email, the response time would not have been nearly as quick as the text message allowed.

There are a few things that I’d like to mention, though: First, this is a small class. With a larger group of active users, receiving the messages via text could quickly become overwhelming (especially if you do not have an unlimited texting plan). There is an online web portal which updates immediately, and you can receive the messages via email or mobile device, but this also brings you back to the response time issue that traditional discussion boards have. Each individual user (student and faculty alike) has the ability to set notification preferences to whatever combination of methods desired.

Celly also allows me to contact the class via text message without sending from my personal phone (and thus sharing my cell number with the whole class). I will send out a ‘how is the homework going?’ reminder message around Friday or so, as the homework is due on Monday. However, if this ‘reminder’ feature is the primary reason for using a service such as this, Remind101 is probably a more appropriate tool (as this service allows ‘outgoing’ text messages from teacher to student, but not vice versa).

Celly also has a ‘private messaging’ feature that allows users within the ‘cell’ to send messages to individuals rather than the group.

When this tool was initially introduced to me during the FTI, I did not think that it would be one that I would wind up using, but I’m glad that I gave it a shot this semester. I think that it is a powerful tool for those students who have chosen to participate, and I will continue to use it in the future.

And the best part: I get to be a robot.