Saturday, December 12, 2009

Digital Literacy in Action

I've been running the Digital Literacy project for a couple of weeks now and have been really encouraged by the level of engagement from the year 9 students. As usual it has not all been plain sailing but I think both the students and I have learnt plenty from it.

As per my previous post I have written a group project around the theme of Swine Flu. The Pigs Didn't Start the Swine Flu YouTube video ( with many apologies to Billy Joel ) had the desired effect of grabbing the student's attention. I went through the project and explained that I was introducing tools and skills that they would need to complete their Personal Project for the Diploma in year 10.

I decided to split the class into 4 large groups - these were randomly selected and then tweeked to make sure that I did not have any very weak groups. I allocated students to a group and their group Etherpad via a Word document and logged onto each of the Etherpads so I could monitor what was happening online. For my first class I gave them a blank Etherpad with the instructions to read through the tasks themselves and answer the following questions:

  • Who your team leader is going to be
  • How you are going to divide up the work
  • How you are going to plan your time
  • What your success criteria for the project are
  • How you are going to make sure that everyone contributes to the project
  • How you are going to communicate with each other
  • How you are going to document and organise your findings
  • How you are going to present your findings
I had created a Google Site to support the project

The blank Etherpad however proved to be too great a challenge and the chat side of Etherpad was seeing much more traffic - much of it non work related. They also seemed to have difficulty establishing what tasks needed to be allocated.

For my second group I made a couple of refinements. Students spent the first half of the lesson working on their own creating mind maps on or Mindmeister so that they understood all the topics to be covered. For the second half of the lesson they worked in their teams on Etherpad but this time I put the questions on the Etherpad for them. This helped them to structure their discussions and they were much more productive. Google Sites had also just released templates, including a project wiki which was ideal for the students to create a collaborative website

Each team allocated a person to set up the wiki and invite the rest. The room went quiet as they concentrated on communicating online. I was talking to one student about the wiki and he said 'I'll have to ask the team leader on Etherpad if I can set the wiki up'.

Both groups have worked well on the project. However they have struggled to allocate work among themselves. With both groups I have had to get the groups together at the front of the class to go through who was going to do what. I think is was important for them to go through the process of trying to organise themselves even it it was not successful this time. If students don't get the opportunity to try they will never acquire the skills they need to work collaboratively. Once roles had been allocated they were able to organise themselves on the task and monitor progress. Here's an example of one the Etherpads

Here's a screenshot of one of the wiki sites ( still work in progress )

We have not finished the project yet but it has proved a good vehicle for teaching a wide range of skills such as effective internet searching, checking sources, summarising information and presenting the information. The next focus will be on making sure that all sources have been referenced ( the group are using Delicious to keep track of the sites they have used ) and that the information has not been copied and pasted. It's a challenge to the students not to just take information from the first site that answers their questions and think that they have finished.

I had my last lesson before Christmas with one of the groups yesterday and had intended to allow the students the second half of the lesson to do some Christmassy animation on Scratch. However I looked up and there was only five minutes left of the lesson. The students ( and I ) had been so engrossed in what we were doing the lesson was almost over. Yes there had been some students wandering round the room but when I checked they were talking about the work to other students in their group and helping each other. Apart from one incident when a team got sidetracked picking avatar pictures for their profiles on the wiki they were self motivating and fully engaged on the task. I even had students calling me over to show me the work they had done. If I can get the same level of engagement with my other group next week I will be a happy woman going into the Christmas break.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

If Life Gives You Lemons

No sooner have I stopped ranting about Delicious pulling the rug from under educators by changing their sign-up procedures, which effectively barred their use in schools, than I've got a new issue to get all hot under the collar about. 

It was reported yesterday that Google had acquired AppJet I read the report with mild interest last night, not realising the full implication of this. Logging onto Twitter this morning there was no missing it - Google had murdered Etherpad No new pads could be created and existing pads would disappear at the end of March. Yet another tool I had introduced this term and written into SOWs had gone - and yet another rewrite ( and I hadn't actually got round to the last one ). Maybe I would have been better sticking to the National Strategy SOWs. 

I've tried out Google Wave with @whatedsaid and others and it was fun but very confusing and the thought of trying to use it with a class of 30 year 9 students just doesn't bear thinking about in its current manifestation. Added to which I do not have any invites, just an account so not an option.  

Twitter as usual has been full of suggestions for a replacement, Dabbleboard and Twiddla I had come across before, Scribblar and BeWeeVee were new to me. There is already a plan in place for an Edupad collaborate development for a replacement.

Early investigations indicate that there may be an issue with BeWeeVee as it needs Silverlight - may require a re-image of all the curriculum PCs. Concerns have been raised the the graphics content of Dabbleboard and Twiddla slow the response time which is an issue when using in the classroom. I need to go through a systematic evaluation as I did recently to find a replacement for Delicious.

Bigger issue is the disruption to students in having to move them from one application to another. My students appear to much prefer certainty to uncertainty - they want me to tell them what to do and not change what I say.

Which got me thinking. Am I not supposed to be getting students to think for themselves and be able to evaluate different applications? Maybe this is an opportunity to give my students a chance to evaluate applications for themselves and decide which application is the best to use in the classroom. It might also help them to appreciate that they need to be adaptable and accept change.

So tomorrow I need to put together a lesson which takes my students through the same thought processes that I've gone though with Delicious and Etherpad and will doubtless go through numerous times in the future with other applications. I will get them to try and set up a second Delicious account so that they can see the issue for themselves and then get them to compare the functionality of Delicious and Diigo. Next I will set them the challenge of finding a replacement for Etherpad - they can use the suggestions I've come across and / or find other online collaboration tools. We can then have a debate on which application becomes the 'official' replacement ( or whether we need to have a single recommended application ).

At the risk of appearing very Pollyanna tonight - If life gives you lemons - make lemonade.