Mural.ly in the Hybrid Classroom
While working on hybrid course this semester, Lisa Brundage and I experimented with forums and blog posts in order to get students to connect and discuss in an online space. Both the blog and forum worked in a limited capacity, but the students never fully engaged with each other, they simply fulfilled the assignments. When we turned to our class project–a digital companion to Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood–I suggested that we try a virtual white board tool, Mural.ly, for planning the project. This format is different in that it removes much of the hierarchical structure found in blog posts/comments or forums. The mural allows students to add shapes, text, draw lines, overlap ideas, and add post-it notes. It also has a standard commenting feature, but one that can be attached to any element on the mural. In this way, even the comment threads are spatially located within a broader discourse or subject. Within 24 hours of setting up the mural, students were posting and responding to each other in an open, engaged, and frequent fashion that we had tried–and failed–to foster all semester. The video below shows a rough estimate of the development of the mural in matter of weeks. The experiment was so successful that we abandoned the class forum and started another mural for class readings and general discussion. It, too, has continued to prove productive and prolific. This is just one example of the need for experimentation when it comes to online spaces. When we think about how and why online learning should inform our pedagogical practices, I think it is useful to consider the importance of disruption in the educational process. Disruption is the willingness to experiment, fail, and try again. Standard teaching methods, like lectures, do not always allow for this. It wasn’t that our students weren’t willing to engage each other outside of face-to-face class, it was that we hadn’t yet found the space where they felt comfortable doing so. Mural.ly might not work for other classes, but it is worth considering that sometimes our students need online spaces that match the messiness of classroom interaction where a call and response–that matches the forum or blog/comment structure–may not be the most effective way for them to draw connections, engage with each other, and learn.