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Ask Me Anything: Using Formspring with Students

posted: 11.29.11 by Traci Gardner

5005673112_e8271a3d1a_mThere are always questions that students are reluctant to ask in front of the entire class. There are also questions that they would ask, but they don’t want me to know that they are unsure. Sometimes I would find the more generic of these questions on mid-term evaluations. More often, though, the questions simply go unasked and unanswered. But what if there were a site where students could send you those questions?

Formspring allows anyone to post a question to someone on the site, either with a log in or anonymously. It’s easy to sign up, either by creating an account or connecting with your Facebook log in. After that, you use simple forms to ask and answer questions. You can get e-mail notification of questions, so you don’t have to worry about missing them. There are even mobile versions to provide access to the site when you’re not at a computer. Getting Started on Formspring (PDF) has all the details.

Once you set up your Formspring profile, you can invite students to post questions directly to you. Questions go to your Inbox, so you can review them and decide which ones to answer. Nothing posts automatically, so you can skip repetitive or irrelevant questions. On your Profile Settings (located in the pull-down in the upper right corner), change the “Ask you about…” field to narrow the kind of questions that you will answer. You might choose something general for the entire term, or change the questions during the term to fit the current class activities with questions like these:

  • Ask me about English 1106.
  • Ask me about your research paper assignment.
  • Ask me about your final project.
  • Any last-minute questions about this week’s reading?

Just type in the kind of questions that you want students to ask, using a full sentence. Questions and answers can be cross-posted to Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Tumblr, a WordPress blog, or Blogger. Find the details in the Services section of your Profile Settings.

Check the Goodies section of your Profile Settings for buttons and widgets you can add to your Web site. Use the Respond buttons to add a button to a specific Web page. Say you have a class assignment or reading that you want students to respond to. All they have to do is click the Respond button to go to Formspring and post their response. The site posts answers with the link to the original page, so the connection is obvious. It’s a nice option for documents where the standard comments won’t work.

There are some criticisms of Formspring. The site has been used for bullying and personal attacks by some (typically younger) students. Kevin Hurt summarizes the customary issues on his Edumacation blog. Essentially, the ability to post anonymous questions and comments makes the site open to misuse. Users can post negative, critical, or inappropriate information. I suspect there’s less of a chance that college students will post that type of information. Just in case, however, there are simple fixes, available in the Privacy Options:

  • Change the option so that only people with a Formspring account can ask questions or so that you will not accept anonymous questions at all.
  • Protect your account so that only friends can see what you post.
  • Block anyone who asks inappropriate questions.

I like the freedom that anonymous and open questions allow, but if students are misusing that freedom, you can limit their access. The site also has Safety Tips that you can share with students when you introduce them to the site.

I think Formspring has potential for the classroom. Add it to your syllabus at the beginning of the term, and you can build a student-driven FAQ for your course. You won’t have to repeat answers to the same questions in e-mail or in class anymore. You can ask students to check your Formspring page for answers. Return to those answers later, and use them to shape assignments and your syllabus for the next term. It’s that simple.

Have questions for me? Visit my Formspring page or add a comment below!

[Photo: A Wild Question by [F]oxymoron, on Flickr]

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Categories: Student Success, Teaching Advice
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