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How Memes Can Build Community in the Classroom

posted: 12.14.10 by Traci Gardner

Building BlocksInternet memes, like the quizzes, surveys, and polls students see on Facebook, are one of the easiest ways to build community in the classroom. Memes, by their nature, connect people. They spread like gossip from person to person, and as they are passed along, people learn a little bit about one another in the process.

As Bits blogger Barclay Barrios explained in his discussion of teaching with video memes, memes “get students thinking about the connections between what we are reading and what’s happening out in the world.” That, of course, is why they are so successful: memes provide students with a context for building connections that’s grounded in the buzz of pop culture.

Memes are like cultural building blocks, just waiting to be arranged and assembled in the classroom. Internet quizzes, surveys, and polls will be familiar to most of the students you teach. You can begin building community in the classroom on existing knowledge and take advantage of the inherently social nature of the connections students will make.

Better yet, there’s nothing to explain before students can start engaging. They’re already pros at the genre. Just give students a quiz or survey that relates to the purpose of your course, and tell them how you want them to respond. Once they reply, you can compare the answers and discuss the memes themselves. The Internet memes become icebreaker activities that give everyone a shared experience to talk about.

Let’s say you’re teaching a writing course. Begin with a quiz or poll that asks students to share some facts about their experience as writers. Ask them their favorite place to write, their favorite writing tools, and the length of the longest thing they’ve ever written. Once they share their responses online or in class, you can group like-minded students and ask them to dig deeper into their similarities. It’s likely that discussion will grow naturally.

Where do the quizzes and surveys come from? You may find that the perfect quiz already exists. For a writing course, for example, the What Type of Writer Should You Be? quiz, from the site Blogthings, might be perfect. After identifying the kinds of writers they are, students can discuss the way that writing is defined by the quiz and how well it fits their experience. Soon they’re off on a discussion about writers and writing.

Quiz sites like Blogthings and Quizilla have hundreds of quizzes to choose from. Some of the quizzes on these sites will not be appropriate, so be sure to review the site first and warn students if necessary. Quizilla is part of Nickelodeon, so may be the safest choice for the classroom.

Once students complete a quiz, they can post the results to Facebook or Twitter. If you prefer to keep the conversation in your own course management system, simply have students copy and paste the results into an email message to the class or a forum in Blackboard or Moodle.

Can’t find what you want on Blogthings or Quizilla? If you’re feeling ambitious, you can create your own quiz on Facebook with a tool like Quiz Monster, Quiz Planet, or Quiz Creator. Check the links to more quizzes on these Facebook tools for other sample quizzes you can use. You can also create your own quizzes on Quizilla.

If you want things more open than quizzes allow, create a Web survey with a tool like PollDaddy or SurveyMonkey. Even simpler, skip the special tools and just send students an email listing the questions you want them to reply to. Many memes on Facebook use a similar strategy by creating a Note and then tagging friends to request them to respond to the same questions.

Using a simple note in Facebook or an email or forum post works well for memes that ask for lists or a series of short, personal answers. You can ask students to post “8 Random Things,” like the sample on Classroom 2.0, or ask for a more specific list—like favorite books, least favorite television show, or favorite hobby in elementary school. Just choose questions that relate to the topics you’ll cover in the course.

Probably the hardest thing about using an Internet meme to build community in the classroom is choosing the quiz or survey you want to use. Fortunately, you can choose more than one and give students the option to complete as many as they like.

Do let me know which ones you try in the comments. I’m always on the look out for a great way to engage students!

[Photo: Building Blocks by di_the_huntress, on Flickr]

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Categories: Discussion, Popular Culture, Teaching with Technology
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