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Learning with Web 2.0

In this post I’m just going to share the different Web 2.0 tools I currently use in the learning processes in my classes.

  1. Wikispaces . The class wiki for each of my classes is the center of our online learning environment. The students get almost all class information and due dates here; they complete class activities and discuss various topics; they collaborate with partners to achieve goals for projects; they share and comment on information provided by me and other students, and they embed and link to work here from other Web 2.0 sites. Links to my class wikis: Asian Studies, All grade 9 Asian Studies, IB ITGS.
  2. Diigo and Delicious. These social bookmarking sites are used to collate resources for my classes. I bookmark sources relevant to the different content we cover and tag each source with a certain tag which causes the source to appear on the class wiki through a link roll. At the moment, I do this link rolling process through Delicious. I’m in the process of moving all social bookmarking process to Diigo. In Diigo, I’ve created a group for each of my classes. The students join Diigo and become members of our class group so they can share resources with each other and collaborate in the research process. Soon, I’ll be showing the highlighting and commenting functions of Diigo that make the bookmarking and sharing process even more dynamic.
  3. Google Docs. As a collaborative writing tool that stores documents in the cloud, I use Google Docs on occasion to have students complete written activities they do in a group context. I also have them do collabortive planning here, as well. Here’s an example of a collaborative piece of writing my IB ITGS HL students did. All the assessment is done right on the document- no printing, no converting to a MS Word file.
  4. DropBox. This is a fantastic online file storing and sharing application. It looks and works just like a Documents folder on a computer. The difference is that it’s connected to and syncs through the Internet to other computers on which you have DropBox installed. Alternatively, you can access your files through the secure Dropbox website. You can also share folders and files with others who have a DropBox account. Any kind of application file can be shared. I’m doing this process with five IB extended essay students where they save all work in a shared DropBox folder. The IB coordinator is also part of each shared folder. We can view their work whenever we want, and give give feedback that the student sees as soon as we save the file. It’s a wonderful tool.
  5. Issuu. This is an online publishing tool. You can publish any kind of document here that then appears in a beautiful and easy to use viewer. Documents published to Issuu are completely searchable through web, so they can be considered officially published to the world. In my Asian Studies class, grade 9 students who had chosen to do a magazine article for an assessment had their articles collated and published through Issuu. See an example here.
  6. YouTube. I don’t need to explain what YouTube is. For the same assignment where grade 9 students were able to choose to do a magazine article published through Issue, the other students chose to do a documentary style video that was published through YouTube.
  7. Xtranormal. This is a site about which I recently learned. This is a simple video creation site (cartoon-like) where all you have to do is insert some text, chose a character and background, and you end up with a cool little movie. I will have my grade 9 students use this site as supplement to an opinion (for/against) paper they will write on a controversial topic about which they will be studying. They will take their for/against arguments, make them sound more conversational, insert the text into the script for two different characters on Xtranormal, and create a virtual debate between the characters. Here’s an example I created for the students to view.
  8. MindMeister. This is a cool collaborative mind mapping tool. I just used it for the first time with my IB ITGS class. They used it with fellow group members to brainstorm ideas and start planning for a group project. It worked out well and allowed the students to easily complete this task outside of class since each person could access the centrally located mind map online.
  9. Gliffy. Gliffy is an online, collaborative diagram software. It allows you to create professional-looking flowcharts, diagrams, floor plans, and technical drawings. As part of the same project for which ITGS students used MindMeister, they used Gliffy to show the layout of the network they are creating as part of their project. Gliffy has nice, visual icons for many different contexts. For the network layout, it provides icons for servers, computers, firewalls, hubs, etc. Here’s an example of a group’s work in Gliffy.
  10. VoiceThread. This is becoming a very popular medium for presenting work at all grade levels. VoiceThread allows you to share images, documents, PowerPoint presentations, and videos. The great thing is that you can do this collaboratively with anyone with an account anywhere in the world. Moreover, you and your partners can narrate on top of the images or slides. Here’s an example from a global collaboration project my IB ITGS students did last year with a school in Shanghai and Helsinki, Finland.
  11. SurveyMonkey. This site does exactly what its name says- surveys. I used this to do a student-teacher feedback survey I’m required to do each year. I also used it once to do a low-stakes, formative assessment quiz. It worked very well! We were able to see a summary of the class results within seconds of the last person finishing the quiz. We were then able to discuss immediately why any question was missed, thus giving immediate feedback to the students in the process.

Social Asian Studies

For the last 5 years the grade 9 Asian Studies teaching team at my school has closely collaborated in building the curriculum, content, and common assessments in the course. We feel that we’ve created a relevant, challenging, and authentic social studies course that not only prepares the students for the social studies courses ahead of them in high school, but also for life in the 21st century.

We are constantly evolving lessons and assessments to be more relevant. For example, in the last unit (Power & Conflict), we did two major assessments– formal oral presentation and timed writing. For the oral presentation assessment, the students did a 5-6 minute presentation with support slides in front of their class of grade 9 peers. They chose one of five broad topics that they then narrowed down so they could go into more depth rather skim across historical detail. They also had the option to create their own topic for their presentation if they came across something interesting in their content research throughout the unit. This year we kept the same topic options as we did last year. What we changed, however, was our approach in educating the students in how to prepare for and use effective visual support in a presentation.

In the past, we encouraged the students to use images in their slides, but we still ended up with students presenting with mostly bulletted, text-based slides, which caused the slides to drive the presentation in many cases. If you follow the world of presentations, you may have heard of this type of presentation as “Death by Power Point” (of course, there are other presentation qualities that ‘kill’ the audience along with bad slides). This year, we chose to take the Presentation Zen approach in educating the students. Presentation Zen is a book written by Garr Reynolds where he emphasizes strong preparation and design princlples in both creating the presentation and the slides that support. We used some of his suggestions for preparation, but we really took inspiration from his design emphasis on slides.

On my class wiki, I put excellent examples of Presentation Zen-type slideshows from SlideShare that the students could view. I also found examples of great presentations from YouTube, made them into a playlist, and embedded a playlist player into the wiki so students could watch those, as well. The students were required to view the videos prior to practice presentations and respond to some guiding questions on the discussion tab of the respective wiki page. I also did an activity called “Extreme Slide Makeover” where the students took poorly designed slides about the life of Gandhi and made them more ‘Zen’ like. They produced some fabulous results! In their final presentations, almost all of the students produced wonderfully designed, visually oriented slides that truly supported their presentation. The content and other presentation skills will very strong, as well. Of course, presenting is a skill, so the students are still developing some qualities, but overall they showed vast improvement, and the audience was usually engaged during each of the final presentations. No more Death by Powerpoint! All the students said they feel more confident as public speakers now and understand how to better engage an audience with the interaction of their content and slides.

The other assessment was a timed writing. In the past, we did a traditional pen to paper multiple paragraph essay in 45 minutes for this assessment. We had largely done this as a foreshadowing to IB expectations they would have in a couple of years. This year we decided not to think about tests like the IB any more as motivation for what we do. Instead, we decided to focus more on information fluency/literacy, strengthening the students’ online research skills and emphasizing how video sources can be just as valid as text-based sources. Over the course of the unit, we introduced the students to Google Scholar and Books as more reliable sources to search before a ‘normal’ Google search. We also showed them how to use YouTube and other video sites like AcademicEarth for educational purposes. Our school just got a subscription to Safari Montage, so that was heavily used in the process of learning. Lastly we showed them iTunes U for all the great video and audio podcasts it stores for educational uses. It was amazing how many of them did not know about iTunes U despite being iTunes users!

For the written assessment that replaced the timed writing, we gave the students a prompt relating to the content they had studied throughout the unit. With a laptop in hand, they then had an open Internet they would use to find evidence to support the points they would write and explain over two paragraphs. No more rote memorization and regurgitation here. They had to properly parenthetically cite any information used from the web along with providing a full MLA formatted source entry at the end of their writing (we’ve been practicing this citation process the whole year). They also had to explain how they found each source and why they felt it was valid and reliable for the task. The students were challenged in this assessment, but they completed it well. This skill of information fluency is something they will always need in their life.

For our next unit (Change and Modern Society) we will be bring together all grade 9 students together in cyberspace. There are 9 sections of Asian Studies spread over four teachers. The wonderful world of Web 2.0 will allow us to break the walls of time and space so we can get the students collaborating and communicating with their other peers that are not in the same class section. We’ve been doing this the past two years on a wiki. We will continue to use this same wiki for discussion, sharing of research, and presenting of various activities. All of this work will culminate in a group discussion on topics the students will have chosen. In the discussion they will support and debate one side of their topic, after which the group will work on solutions to the problem within the topic.

This year we will be adding the use of Diigo to the research and collabortive process. As a social bookmarking Web 2.0 tool, Diigo will make it easier for students to share resources with each other since they will be members of an Asian Studies Diigo group. They will also be able to use some great features of Diigo like the highlighting and commenting functions which will allow them to highlight pertinent information in a source along with with having discussions right on the webpage. We will also show and explain how Diigo can be used as a search engine to find sources that other Diigo members found as pertinent, valid, and reliable to topics they follow. They will continue to learn the importance of tagging. We’ve also gotten the librarian to be a contributing member of both our wiki and Diigo group, so between the Web 2.0 tools, all grade 9 students, the teachers, and the librarian, the students will be part of collaborative research powerhouse! We look forward to using these tools during this last unit. I’m sure the students will understand the great benefit it will bring them as 21st century learners.

Asian Studies has been a great course to teach. It’s wonderful to work with flexible and forward-thinking educators in making the course what it is today. Having the wonderful social tools of Web make it even greater. Of course, the students are the ones who make it really happen in the end.They are great.

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