I am trying really hard to find the leverage promised by things 2.0. Here’s the starting list of things I can do with emerging technologies that I couldn’t (easily) do otherwise. You’ll notice there’s nothing revolutionary here, but I nevertheless count these as very valuable:
Have students take notes collaboratively. Of course, students have always been able collaborate, but wikis and platforms such as Google Apps or Zoho, among others, make this a whole lot easier. And easier is an important advantage in the classrrom. Wikis seem best here because they make organizing and referencing a collection of notes simple.
case: During our study of Shelley’s Frankenstein, I asked each Grade 9 student to make an oral presentation on key elements in a chapter of the book and then lead a follow up discussion. The rest of the class took notes and I filled in philosophical and historical background when needed. Afterwards, the presenter posted his or her notes to the class wiki. Then, every other student in the class was asked to make edits and revisions so that as a class we had the best possible set of notes. The point here was not to teach note-taking, but to create the best understanding of the novel. I see now that I should have spent more time coaching the kids on revising the notes–most material went up verbatim. But the practice nevertheless made a huge difference for the students. Because they were collectively responsible for note-taking, the students were individually relieved of the worry of missing something important in their own notes. That let them all be more focussed on the class discussion.
Use IM to hold brainstorming sessions. Students are masters at handling multiple simultaneous conversations online. I’ve found IM to be a clunky tool for working through linear problems–walking students through a procedure like setting up a wiki page. But in a freewheeling session the medium seems to encourage playfulness and greater intellectual risk-taking. But, most importantly, any IM tool keeps a transcript that can be review, searched and mined for data and ideas.
case: Eight of my Grade 8 and 9 students are working on a project for WikiEducator, as I reported in my blog post IM-mediate Observations. In three, three-hour online sessions. The students found it frustrating to have to figure out complex problems such as uploading and linking images to a WikiEducator page (this may not be a bad thing in the long run, as they ahd to learn patience and perseverance). But they were impressed that they could go back and look over the things they said when we were brainstorming ideas. I ran another experiment with a whole class of English students in IM and found the same results.
In the words of one of the students: “Instant Messaging for classes I find is a good way to share each other’s ideas because everyone can speak up whenever they want; it is very flowing. I like that people comment on each others opinions. Whether they disagree or agree it all adds something to the conversation that is not recognized very much in class. It would be good idea to have an order people speak in and you would say pass if you had nothing to say. [But] this eliminates the idea of flowing comments. If you have to say something you are forced to remember all your comments until it is your turn. It is very limiting. Obviously IM won’t work for all classes but we can experiment with it. I think IM will work best for discussions.”
Use IM to include students who are absent. Mostly my students want to come to school and hate missing classes. IM can hook them up when they’re away. Says one student, IM “is also very useful for people that are not at school. Whether they’re sick or on vacation they can participate in the class.”
case: The student quoted above was home sick but online when I started a class in IM. She jumped in on her own accord. A second student, also home sick for several days, was careful ahead to get the times for an upcoming WikiEducator session so she could participate from home.
Use IM to answer homework questions. This requires setting something like office hours so students know when they can get answers. The phone would also work, but it only allows the teacher to talk to one student at a time. IM lets a teacher have multiple conversations simultaneously or to hold group chats around the same problem.
case: Our math teacher uses IM extensively to answer simple questions outside of school hours. He finds he’s able to turn around what would otherwise be a frustrating homework session for some students. I’ve done the same, but I’ve been more jealous of my time than he.
Use Skype to hold parent-teacher conferences. You could also use Google Chat.
case: We’ve used Skype to run several parent-teacher conferences. In each case, the parents said it gave them a greater sense of being in the meeting than they could have had from a telephone conference.
Use Diigo collaboratively to build bookmark libraries. Diigo is a great tool; and the developers are sympathetic to the security concerns of schools. In the same way wikis help groups build pools of notes, Diigo helps them build pools of references. The annotating feature is outstanding and it’s easy to build topic-specific groups for organizing bookmarks.
case: I set up my Grade 9 students with Diigo accounts. We first built a library of references for Frankenstein. Later I set up my grade 8 students with accounts. Now, any time I need to send my students a url, I add it to one of our Diigo groups. I can also highlight key points on a web page, annotate it, leave directions on the page in a sticky note etc. The Grade 9 students took off on their own, collecting and annotating web pages for their Masterworks projects. (In Grade 9, the graduating year at IPS, each student takes on a project of his or her own choosing. We give them each committee of one faculty and two external advisors who meet with them six times over the year. n June the students publicly present and defend their work, which is typically a 25- to 35-page paper or equivalent creative project, such as a play.)