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.

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