One of the roundtables that I went to at ISTE was about an interesting research project that tracked how teachers and students used wikis and blogs in the classroom — Web 2.0 in the Classroom, Blogs and Wikis. What’s nice about the research-base of this presentation is that we got to see not just how things might be used, but what was actually used, and how people found it helpful. This was mainly aimed at K12 educators, with some lessons for higher education as well. Unsurprisingly, most teachers had trouble, at first, using these tools in a way that genuinely promoted student learning. But there’s a learning curve to using new tools. He found several main themes in how these tools were helpful.
1. Virtual class space.
For one, these tools allowed teachers to create a virtual class space, thus providing a digital repository for all things school-like, such as assignments, handouts, and resources. If a student was absent, he could go to the class wiki to find them. Teachers embedded useful tools into the class website, as well. MyUdutu is one such course authoring tool, which lets teachers embed interactive worksheets and other items. Quia lets you create your own online quizzes and games. Here are some example uses from some of the teachers he interviewed:
- A history teacher used a wiki to serve as test review for the AP. Students collaborated to create and review topics that would be on the AP, ending with a final site that was a useful review site for the AP.
- A lanaguage arts teacher created a wiki for students to share opinions and reflections about books they were reading.
- One teacher had a class blog and posted discussion questions for students to comment on before class. For example, before reading “Flowers for Algernon” she asked students to comment on the provocative question, “What is intelligence, and does it matter?” Students had a lively debate on the blog, and came to class prepared to learn about this story about a developmentally disabled man and his pet mouse.
- Students would hold blog debates about a topic. Students really liked these, and felt that they could participate even if they were too shy to speak in class. “One middle school class told us of a very headed blog discussion they had over the question of whether the Iditarod dog sled race was animal cruelty or not.” they wrote.
- One middle school art teacher first helps students learn to give and receive criticism about their artwork. Then, a student posts a digital image of recent work, gives a self-critique, and then other students post feedback.
These examples were successful because they were authentic and had a clear objective — a final project, or sharing of information for future assignments. One failed project is noteworthy — the teacher asked students to create a wiki about skin diseases, with each student covering a different disease. Students did not engage in any discussions on this project, because there was no real reason for them to care about reading, and commenting, on each others’ posts. Similarly, individual student blogs were not very successful, in part due to logistics of maintaining many separate blogs and commenting structures, but also there was little incentive for students to participate in the discussion.
Social media tools also allowed teachers and students to have relationships and conversations that extended beyond class time. Wikis, for example, can be collaboratively edited outside of class. Students can comment on blogs as part of an at-home assignment, and teachers can bring up those comments during class or respond to them from home.
Some examples of out of class communication were:
- One teacher made a class blog where students would post comments and questions as they developed their project (a “digital story”). It became a useful message center to post requests for help and comments. They used it mostly during the class period, however.
- A foreign language teacher created a travel blog, and asked each student to write an imaginary blog post about their visit to a spanish speaking country. The goal was to get students to write in spanish.
Both of these project highlight one aspect of blogging in the classroom that was challenging for teachers — the reverse-chronology listing of posts in a blog. This makes it difficult to access previous postings, but both of these projects didn’t require students to find and use previous posts.
A failed project in this study makes clear one of the teachers’ concerns — that for privacy and anonymity. One teacher tried to make a blog about bullying and asked students to blog about when they had been bullied or had bullied someone else. But students did not want to share this information in a public space, and did not contribute freely.
One a similar note, students didn’t really care about posting a blog post to the entire world – they cared more about communicating with people in their local community or classroom. They care about what those people think.
3. Making and Producing Stuff
Another theme was that students could make online books, voice commentary and the like through Google Docs and Blogster (for writing), Audacity (for audio), Newsmaker (for making your own newscasts) or Flipcameras (to make video). The good point about these technologies was that it limited the amount of time that kids spend on production, since kids can get (over) engaged in that. If you want to focus on the content, insist that kids do their project in just one take. These types of tools barely need any editing, so that’s very helpful in this way.
If the technology tool wasn’t easy, teachers didn’t use it, they found. Blackboard, for example, is difficult to share documents with others. So they use Google Docs instead.
So, some of the take-home messages are that:
- Most teachers are using web 2.0 to create a virtual reflection of their classroom. Students can find resources and a virtual community online.
- The task has to be an interesting topic, where kids have a stake in it. “Facts about skin disease” doesn’t fall under that rubric.
- Using blogs to reflect on one’s own learning, or to have a discussion, were useful. Individual student blogs didn’t. The best blogs were whole class blogs, where a teacher would post a question and students would respond via comments.
Daniel Light (the presenter) shared his very detailed paper with a review of how teachers used many of the different tools and techniques discussed in this blog post. Download that here: Web 2.0 in classrooms