Friday, October 4, 2013

Student use of communication, collaboration, and publishing in Web 2.0 applications

             As educators in the world today we are surrounded by technology and initiatives to use educational technology in our classrooms.  Our students are adept at using this technology, even if we are not.  If you spend any time in a high school, or even travel to the mall, all you see our young people with their focus divided between their friends and the phone in their hands.  Students today have grown up using technology, and want its inclusion in the classroom.  By using Web 2.0 activities, teachers allow students to use the resources they use every day.  By purposefully incorporating these activities into the curriculum, teachers meet the needs of their students by allowing them to become digital citizens, and providing opportunities for students to use the technology that they have come to incorporate into their daily lives. 

That being said, I am left thinking about what is an educator in this digital age to do?  The answer to my question was provided when I came across the National Educational Technology for Students (NET-S) guidelines for “digital age learning.”  These guidelines, developed in 2007, layout six expectations that students should be able to accomplish.  These categories are:

1. Creativity and innovation         4. Critical thinking, Problem solving, and Decision making

2. Communication and collaboration                       5. Digital Citizenship

3. Research and information fluency,                      6. Technology operations and concepts

These six categories point us educators towards the categories that are deemed valuable to students in the 21st Century.  If technology is to be used the classroom, it should be based on and fit with one of the six categories listed above.  These general suggestions are furthered refined by the NET-S student profile.  This profile is then broken down by grade levels and provides suggestions for experiences with technology and digital resources.  These suggestions are then aligned with the guidelines I referenced earlier.

                I have found that the best way to incorporate these technology standards into my curriculum, is not to follow my district mandates, but to incorporate Web 2.0 activities.  While ActiveVotes and being forced to create a website, CAN add to student engagement, in reality they only provide a meaningless hoop for teachers to jump through.  Only through authentic integration of technology into the classroom is actual learning and 21st century instruction going to take place.  Only when the teacher WANTS to integrate technology into the classroom, are the best most authentic means activities used and created, meeting the standards laid out in the NET-S. 

                Web 2.0 resources, like Wikispaces, Edmodo and Google Docs allow for instantaneous communication and collaboration by students from anywhere in the world.  The use of these resources together allows for students to actively collaborate outside of the classroom.  When I presented my students with the challenge of designing a wiki, I have found the results that are produced are often times greater that I could have ever imagined.  The extra time to collaborate and share information through these resources, and the creativity provided often triggers students to do more than is required.  Besides this enthusiasm for learning, these products when complete, meet requirements in all six of the categories of the NET-S.  As an example of some of these criteria that this project meets, just look at the NET-S student profile.

1.       Select digital tools or resources to use for a real-world task and justify the selection based on their efficiency and effectiveness.

2.       Employ curriculum-specific simulations to practice critical-thinking processes

  1. Model legal and ethical behaviors when using information and technology by properly selecting, acquiring, and citing resources.
  2. Create media-rich presentations for other students on the appropriate and ethical use of digital tools and resources.

5.       Configure and troubleshoot hardware, software, and network systems to optimize their use for learning and productivity.

In just this one assignment the students are able to meet all six guidelines for technology use in the classroom, and hit five specific goals in the student profile.  With just a few projects scattered throughout the year students are able to actively engage with the learning, by assuming the role of teachers to their peers and others in the community with the publishing of their work.

                While I have mentioned only one project and three sites, there are countless numbers of projects and resources provided for educators.  As our society becomes more and more technologically dependent, we owe it to our students to work to incorporate these technologies into our classrooms.  We are not only going to provide them with a more authentic lesson, but we might, and I stress might, just spark their imaginations and set them off on a path of learning that is driven by their imagination and interests.  After all, is that not the goal for all teachers? 

Questions and Concerns of PBL in the classroom

                As I sit here, reflecting on PBL and how to best implement this teaching strategy in my class, I am consumed by many different emotions.  These emotions range from excitement to fear at the prospect of what my classroom will look like, but more importantly what will my students actually gain from this process. 

                The challenges that I foresee, leading to my sense of fear, are around the students themselves and their willingness to go along with the process.  We all have those students who will do anything we ask of them and those that would stop breathing just because you told them to take a breath.  My fear is based around those students who are either so put off by school that they are completely apathetic or are so angry that they will not be willing to try something new.  How then can a teacher who has five classes of 32 students motivate the one or two students a period that fit this category?  These students provide a challenge, not only to me the teacher but to their group as well.   If they choose not to participate then the group they are with will be resentful towards the project, because they will have to pick up the slack for others.  This snowballing affect is the biggest struggle that I foresee during this process.  Those students that are engaged should not be penalized because another in their group is not.  How best to deal with that issue is what I struggle with as I get ready to introduce a PBL activity to my classes.

                I know that along the way numerous issues will pop up that I will not be prepared for.  However, in teaching I find that most days the students come up with questions and comments that I had not thought of or anticipated.  For that reason, my confidence level in trying something as radically different as PBL is high, in regards to the management of the process.  I also have the luxury of being a new teacher in my building, so if something does not go smoothly I can always blame it on being new. 

                The final, and obvious, management issue is time.   Yet, this is not going to be the big issue that others might have to face.  My administration wants us to implement at least one PBL activity a semester.  This means that the time needed to work on these projects is already understood by the administration, so no justification is needed for a long thought provoking unit. 

                While I have many fears as to what can go wrong with this unit, I am focused on the positives that can come from the projects successful completion.   These benefits, which have been proven through research, are pushing me forward into changing my classroom and my role as an educator.  I am positive that the teacher I become, as a result of this experience, will be one that allows students to express themselves individually and will surprise and shock me at every turn.