“Geeking Out” Authentically in the Classroom: A Response to “Living and Learning with New Media”

“Geeking out” is defined as “learning to navigate esoteric domains of knowledge and practice and participating in communities that traffic in these forms of expertise. It is a mode of learning that is peer-driven, but focused on gaining deep knowledge and expertise in specific areas of interest” (28). It gives participants “peer-based sharing and feedback” (31) and “recognition and reputation as well as an audience for creative work” (32).

I’ll paraphrase and modify today’s essential question to consider this issue: How can we effectively, practically and authentically take advantage of the phenomenon of Geeking Out within our curricular areas?

The characteristics of Geeking Out suggest that our students crave peer-based sharing and feedback as well as a wider audience for their ideas. In other words, we teachers need them to complete assessments that are meant for eyes other than the teacher. I’ll freely admit that I haven’t done this. I know that other teachers have given students blogs to record their thoughts. Others have used Moodle forums to prompt online discussions. The reason I’m loathe to try it in my classes is that I don’t believe these really result in true peer-based sharing and feedback or give the students a significantly wider audience. Students respond to forum posts and write blogs largely because they’re required to. What is missing from these insular components is the critical mass that makes or breaks any online community: enough interested users to sustain an informed, dynamic and ongoing conversation about relevant topics.

Is this, however, really a good reason not to have students use these tools? For one, the mere experience of using them prepares the students with the technical skills that they will need should they ever choose to participate in an active online community in the future – and as the course readings to date have emphasized, the ability to connect continues its climb to paramount importance. Furthermore, using blogs and forums is still a way for students to practice essential and timeless literacy skills. Finally, just because not ALL students’ work takes off doesn’t mean that it won’t have value for a few (highly motivated/not traditionally successful at other types of assessments/shy/etc.) students. 

They type of activity that I think would REALLY harness the “geeking out” trend is having students participate in an established online community. The only one I’m aware of that fits with the academic and content goals of my history classroom, however, is Wikipedia – I think that assigning students to make edits on a Wikipedia article would be a fantastic way to give them an authentic assessment. And imagine their exuberance if one of their edits actually passes Wikipedia’s ruthless editors! (I speak from personal experience). It would give them true peer feedback and recognition for their work.

Hm. I’m going to throw this one back to the community, then. How do you help your students “geek out” by providing opportunities for peer-based sharing and feedback and recognition and reputation while connecting them with expert communities, all while maintaining your traditional skill and content goals?

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