This is a guest post by Bob Henson, a teacher in the Social Studies Department of Villa Madonna Academy.
On October 3rd 2012, a Wednesday night with school the next morning, 62 high school students gathered together to watch the first presidential debates. 62 seniors, juniors, freshman and sophomores (out of a student body of only about 180) were willing to stay up until 11pm on a school night to talk about politics and campaigns. Many of these students had iPads issued by the school; many had iPods, cell phones, or their own personal laptops. They were all connected silently to each other (and their teachers) via TodaysMeet chat room.
These five dozen students were all working on an eight-week long project on American presidential campaigns. They were members of classes on government and civics, economics, and American history spanning 7th, 8th, and 11th grade. As Social Studies teachers, my department chair and I were looking for ways to watch the presidential debates in a useful, scholastic atmosphere. We wanted students to be involved in the election process, and find ways of using the candidates’ ideas in their own lives. The debates then, for us, were a way to get our students excited and focused on national politics.
TodaysMeet allowed us to do so in a 21st-century, student-focused way. The fact that the chat room requires minimal setup and training meant that we were free to use our time in better ways than tech support. Students intuitively understood the program, and the simple format proved easy to teach when necessary. We were thus up and running in less than 10 minutes.
During the debates themselves, TodaysMeet allowed us to instantly communicate with dozens of students silently. This communication offered ways to ask questions, start (or finish) debates among students, and fostered an academic atmosphere of political citizenship. It let us hold a conversation among 60 students at school and others who couldn’t attend, and all without interrupting or disrupting the presidential debate itself.
The electronic chat room also allowed us to reach students who are often reluctant to contribute during class discussions. Some have disabilities or issues that make classroom interaction difficult, and many are simply shy. Their voices were heard in our discussion because TodaysMeet provided a safe, electronic atmosphere for them to express themselves.
By the end of the project, we aim to create interested and engaged twenty-first century citizens. We wanted them to appreciate the fine art of argument making, and the importance of being involved in public policy discussions. TodaysMeet is a wonderful tool to advance these goals. We received a multitude of positive responses from faculty, administration, and most importantly the student body. The success was so marked that we hosted the other two presidential debates, and the vice-presidential debate as well. TodaysMeet allowed us to engage students electronically while teaching them the value and importance of twenty-first century citizenship.