#phonar at UC Irvine

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks and I am feeling super excited about how Phonar and Phonar Nation are moving forward. Phonar always used to thrive in the autumn (or the fall for any American readers) when the undergraduate class would run, but for the first time it was unhitched from this norm… Jonathan Worth and I remixed the Phonar class, taking the core themes and associated lectures, condensing ten weeks into a four session accelerator.

Assistant Director of DML Research Hub Claudia Caro-Sullivan introduced me to Liz Greeban who is a lecturer at UC Irvine. She got super excited about Phonar Nation and wanted her undergraduates to explore its potential for young learners, inspiring them to think about how we can teach with the digital in a positive way. This already was a new instance for why Phonar Nation was being adopted and I was naturally getting super excited, as I do.

Phonar Nation provides [misrepresented] youth with the means to participate in their own representation; they are given the tools of how to tell a visual story, the instruction of where to publish and then how to publish so that their images can be seen (using hashtags that aggregate to the website).

But teaching with and of the digital is the important part; we understand how to use technology, but we don’t necessarily always think about what that means and how we can use it effectively to benefit not only ourselves but also our students. So I wanted the undergraduates at UC Irvine to experience learning with and of the digital by trying the Phonar Accelerator (yes, we were really that original with the name, but I like it anyway…).

I talked about this idea with Liz. She got excited and then really anxious about the technology application. Understanding how to use technology (digital skills) and then what it affords (digital literacy) can feel really scary for a lecturer coming into it afresh. So I walked through with Liz how the students will need to have a device (preferably a laptop) where they can plug in their headphones, listen to a recording and also have access to Twitter. Then that the students will be asked to tweet their notes, thoughts and questions with the hashtag #phonar and when possible to mention who presented the lecturer. Then finally her role as the lecturer would be to open up a Storify and curate the tweets into a shared set of notes for which is a great tool to point at after the lecture when everyone is reflecting on their thoughts.  I went through these tools and explained how they worked (digital skills) and then before the class started Jonathan set up a TAGS Explorer and I ran a hashtag tracker with Keyhole, this is so that we could share back with Liz what tweeting the notes actually means.

I introduced Phonar to the students via Google Hangouts on Air and gave them the instructions of how to participate in the class, in a true Phonar manner in which it has always been taught. I couldn’t tell if they were excited as Liz couldn’t get into the Hangout, so I was effectively talking to myself hoping that they were listening. To be honest, if there was ever going to be a technical glitch, I am glad it was that because it didn’t have any adverse effects on the lecture.

Guess what? The students picked it up in a flash and it was really exciting to see my Tweetdeck tick so quickly. I was really struggling to keep up, so I could only empathise with how hard it would be for a Storify newbie to keep track! In less than an hour the students reached over 400,000 twitter accounts. Everytime I tell this to people, their jaws drop. But not only that, but we had other people participating including Phonar Nation hero Elysia in Chicago; Picbod graduate Charo in Spain and Phonar alumni Oliver Wood here in the UK, but to name a few… Without bragging too much, science fiction author Cory Doctorow even popped a cheeky retweet. But what this engagment means is that it gives us the ability to grow the community and make more meaningful conversations and connections happen.

This was a steep learning curve for the students, for Liz and even for me trying to figure out how to explain why we teach in this way. It is by no means a walk in the park the first time we try to get technology to work for us, but it is certainly do-able.

If you want to try a #phonar class, or are curious about opening up your course reach out to Jonathan (@jonathan_worth) or me (@kategreen28) on Twitter. You can also see Liz’s class notes here.


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