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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Virginia Tech Prof to Skype with Burma's resistance leader on Monday



 Tomorrow, Monday, December 7 at 7pm Eastern Standard Virginia Tech professor and his World Regions class will be interviewing Burmese resistance leader,Aung Sun Sun Kyi, via Skype. Boyer managed to turn a YouTube video  request into the interview.

I received a letter from a former student of his that tells the story very well and have decided to print this letter in entirety. I like the letter because it not only shows how his students value this but his students are using their social media knowledge to help their former professor and I want to help them and help him. We look forward to viewing the video and learning.

And thus, is great teaching in action. Great teachers are now syndicators (sp?) of content. Great teachers share. Great teachers teach us all.

A Letter About My Favorite Professor
from former student Jessy Irwin

I'm writing because I want to publicize the incredible work that one of my favorite college professors is doing with social media in his World Regions class at Virginia Tech. He is John Boyer, an instructor in the Department of Geography in the College of Natural Resources and he's an exceptionally passionate educator who thrives on engaging and communicating with his students through social media. For the third time in a row, he has successfully managed to turn a YouTube video from his super-sized class of 3,000 into a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity for his students.

In the past, Professor Boyer has used viral YouTube tactics to lure the likes of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez to Virginia Tech to discuss their film "The Way", and he even convinced wine aficionado, social media guru and businessman Gary Vaynerchuk to stop through Blacksburg while on a book tour during the Spring 2011 semester. Much of that happened with little fanfare or attention from the university or the Blacksburg, VA community of which he is a member. This time, though, Boyer has turned a World Regions professor's dream into reality-- he managed to turn a YouTube video request to Aung Sun Suu Kyi, leader of the resistance movement in Burma, into an hour long Skype interview with her and his class. 

Having been recently been liberated from 30 years of house arrest imposed on her by dictator Than Shwe,  Suu Kyi recently met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and is regularly courted by foreign media for interviews. That she could be convinced by the sheer enthusiasm of 3,000 students half a world away from her is to take the time for an interview is a poignant example of how social media and technology can enhance and enrich student experience in ways never before possible. Professor Boyer is working to open a live-feed of the Skype interview for educators and interested parties, though the event may also be live-streamed by various Asian media outlets

Professor Boyer isn't just active on YouTube-- he maintains a course website and a UStream channel through which he conducts weekly online office hours, he uses a Facebook page to announce course events to his class, and he uses his own Twitter account in addition to a backchannel Twitter hashtag to communicate with his 3,000 students. His course material even includes regular uploads of his podcasts as the Plaid Avenger, a Jon Stewart-inspired, schwingy superhero who travels the world in pursuit of international justice. Though this is a higher education example of technology integration in the classroom, more teachers need to hear about the work that he and other professors are doing with technology. At one point in his career, students were barely showing up to his class, which could be used to fulfill a university curriculum requirement for graduation-- now, he begins each semester with huge wait lists of students every semester who want to take his class as an elective but for whom there isn't enough room.

I could go on and on and on about the work that Boyer and his assistant Katie Pritchard do. His educational use of technology to leave Virginia and pursue a career in social media + educational technology in the Silicon Valley. While this story takes place within the context of higher education, much can still be gleaned from how social media and technology integration can enhance the efforts of an effective, engaging educator and enrich a student's learning experience. At a time when so many question the effectiveness of technology adoption and whether it is making a difference in education, Professor Boyer's provides a concrete example of technology's potential and ability to positively change the classroom for the better. Alternately, while higher education is usually outside of the realm of standardized curriculum and assessments, this particular educational technology success story serves also as an example of technology-facilitated learning that may well be immeasurable within the confines of today's standardized testing.
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