Interview with Lori Rosenkopf of UPenn
Professor Lori Rosenkopf teaches at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was previously the senior editor of the journal Organization Science and served as a consultant to the National Academy of Sciences.
Why did you decide to experiment with social collaborative learning in the classroom?
Well increasingly what happens in the classroom is either about very specific technical knowledge or about much broader experiential knowledge. And so in my case I was in the second category, we were trying to help our students understand what the Silicon Valley ecosystem was all about, and that's something that's not deeply technical— there's just so many pieces of information that no one can really be a master of them all.
So in the class we really wanted to create a learning community where everyone was bringing something to the table, because each student has different sorts of exposure and different ideas based on whether they've had a job out there, whether they've studied something else in another class or whether they have a brother or a sister who has taken an internship out there, whatever it is, everyone has something to contribute to the story, and so it would not be a traditional classroom setting where I as the professor have this expertise that I'm trying to impart to students, but rather that everyone is just trying to grow their knowledge from wherever they're at.
So a lot of my job is less about bringing specific information to students and more about allowing them to learn from each other and share and really grow from all the collective knowledge that does exist. So in that kind of setting and with those kind of expectations, an application like Yellowdig really gave us the room for people to share their ideas as well their resources that they were really getting their information from. And to my taste, it was in a way that was much more compelling and engaging than former technologies that we had been using in our classrooms for this purpose.
Do you feel it's important that a classroom-based technology resembles that of social media networks that are already out there?
Yeah, I think it gives students a level of comfort [in] knowing how to process the information and a greater likelihood that they're going to come back once the assignment is finished.So let me detour for a little bit. The way that we made ours work, the TA and I, we just gave the students two rules. We said: You have to post an article that's relevant and in 250 words tell people why you think this matters for what we're studying. And rule number two was that you had to comment on two other people's articles. Again, 250 words. That's all we did.
And we put up one article as an example the first time. And then in the second class we linked everyone to the same page so they could see all the old ones. That was all we had to do. And then it just started happening. The students were concerned about their grades obviously. They want to fulfil their obligation and our hope was that in doing so, they would say, you know, I'm learning a lot and this is interesting, I can suddenly go to this special add-on and see stuff that might be more compelling or more interesting for me. And so it just went from there. We could observe them. And they were extraordinarily constructive in the ways that they chose to interact with each other and we really liked seeing that.
So it really just had a natural kind of flow to it and people picked it up. Did you have any hesitation or doubts before you got started?
Not really. I knew I wanted to do this technique and I would have done it using the older technology. My only worry was was this gonna bomb out when I showed it to the students for the first time in class but it was fine, it all did work out. And that, of course, was at the earlier stages of Yellowdig and so Shaunak and his team of developers worked hard to make sure that it could do what we needed it to do in a timely way. So it did all work out. But no, it was super easy to jump in.
On the social-media “feel” of Yellowdig in the classroom:
I was surprised by the norms that emerged in the system, [they] were a little bit surprising to me. I mean I expected the students to follow the directions because they're doing it for grades, you know, so they would certainly comment on each others articles, but I was surprised with how positively they interacted with each other. Let me say this differently—they were so encouraging to each other. If you look at my page, you'll see students say, "oh, Linda, thank you so much for posting this article. I really enjoyed it for this reason" or they'll say, "you know James, I was thinking about the exact same thing and I came across this article." They were just really talking to each other. It wasn't just that someone would comment kind of in a more sterile way. They always talked personally to the other student who had posted it. And again, I think that's the social media feel of it, because everyone who's posting is posting with their picture there. I told them that they needed to load up a picture on it. So you realize that knowledge is social in a way that when you just have words on the screen it doesn't feel that way.