Published January 5, 2009 by Rick Biche
Others have told me their students are completely dialed in to the new technologies that permeate our e-connected world. I don’t know, maybe it is our rural location and the percentage of students who still suffer the pains of dialup, or no service at all, but other than MySpace an occasional Facebook account, and a lot of IM, my students are not too connected. Many are savvy, don’t get me wrong. They get that nothing online is guaranteed private. They get that what they say can stick around for a long time. And because of this they are careful. But what I am finding suggests that most students, upon finding something that works for them, stick to it. Lacking outside influences to change, they don’t. I saw this in the way they interacted during their first wiki experiences. These are my thoughts following a team approach to using wikis to create sites around the Amistad incident, a content specific unit in our Social Studies curriculum.
IM’s and text messages are just as much a way of life for my students as they are for most eighth graders. They know how to use different tools to send these short quick messages. Both IM’s and text messages share some characteristic qualities. Most importantly, both types of messages are direct, user-to-user. They are also very short and can work conversationally in that manner, more so with IM.
Allowed to choose their own communication technique on a wiki, all students chose to use the wiki mail feature. Many of them would send messages to the entire group even when responding to single individuals. Most initial messages were sent without a subject line (as one would for IM and texting). The result was full inboxes that took lots of time to sort through. Many kids just gave up on the inbox. I can’t say I blame them, although I have never done this to my inbox, I know an extended vacation from my reader will have me clearing out that mess quickly just so I can get back on track. Students did not intuitively use the discussion tab. If you spend some time going through one of our Amistad wikis you will see this to be the case. If students are to learn to communicate effectively in online communities they need to be versed in a variety of means of communicating. For a scholarly subject the wiki discussion is an excellent tool. However, the expectation of its’ use must be set.
Take time to see the big picture
As students began to produce the wikis, some students naturally accepted the role of organizer. While from a project perspective, having a few people checking the “big picture” is a good idea. When it comes to learning, all the students should have that view at some point during a project. The art of asking questions is often the art of noticing the missing. Unless one steps back to see the big picture it is hard to notice what is not there. This is a case where stepping in and guiding the students to not add content for some time was a useful task. Students were directed to not look at their inbox, not work on their pages, but to just read, look at the pages, follow links, notice words they wish they could click on. On the surface this may seem to be just an activity in publishing, but the learning was about getting the big picture stepping back, noticing what is not there.
The first time through its ok to drop a few of the traditional benchmarks
For teachers and students the first time working with a new tool and encourage new types of learning presents challenges. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a tech integrator working with you in your classroom for this first project, and unless you have unlimited time it is ok to miss a few things you would otherwise catch. For us it was the missing references. We just had to get over it and move forward. The next time through this type of experience we will get that worked out. You can’t learn everything in one project so don’t try.
We are not changing the world
In fact we are just adapting to it. Watching students take more control over their learning and over the end product was immensly satisfying. While what we did has been done many times before, this approach has not been used in our district yet.
Incorporate self-reflection and assessment into the product
What I like about wikis is that they can capture the learning process. If you get caught up in a content-driven end product you might be tempted to leave out the reflection and self-assessment, perhaps completing this in class through other means. Take the time to provide a light for the development of these metacognitive skills. Our aim as teachers is to lead learning, not the development of content products, so let the learning show through in every way possible.
So what was the learning?
I suppose I could drop in a list of state standards here. Clearly there was learning around the content topic areas. But that occurred before, when this was not a technology integrated unit.
- Students practiced communicating online for a learning purpose. I say practiced because we still need to get better at this.
- Students had an opportunity to take greater charge of their own learning, following specific subject areas of most interest to them individually.
- Students were introduced to one method of online publication, giving them access to tools that can give voice to their ideas.
- Reflection. Students learned to step back, and seek questions.
I really like the last one best, asking questions.
Filed under Technology Integration