Posts Tagged ‘google docs’

Earlier in the year, I posted about my attempt to encourage wide reading with junior students via the Taieri Hotreads blog. As the year thunders to an abrupt halt, and after sharing this information at a recent Educamp session in Dunedin, I thought an update was timely.

Firstly, I used wordpress! No surprises there. I chose WordPress because I have experience using it for on c21learners for personal reflections. Anyone interested in using this platform just needs to visit WordPress online where online tutorials take you through the basics. I find it easy to post to, add links and tags and embed images and videos.  I’m aware that other schools have blogging facilities available through LMS systems, Google and Onenote. These would be great if you want/need to keep your site private and could well be easier for students to use if they are already familiar with those systems. I opted for a public site in the hope that it might attract comments from a wider circle of people than myself and classmates to further inspire/motivate reading.

I started by introducing students to the concept of blogging, discussing how blogs differ from other formats, showed them examples and discussed in groups acceptable rules for commenting. Those rules were then displayed in class to ensure we were all on the same page. This seemed to work well as there were no silly/nasty incidents (phew). I also created a handout summarising the steps in how to write and submit a post which they referred to while blogging (happy to email that to anyone if you are interested, just leave a comment here with your email). I know handouts are old school but when you’re working with 30 kids in a lab and they are all asking the same question three times an hour, “refer to handout” is the way to go!

Students were invited to join the blog via their school email accounts. Initially I set deadlines (2 posts and 2 comments per term) and displayed their progress on a chart in class. We used our school labs and library for blogging but ideally, my aim was to get them blogging independently.  Some did and are still happily blogging away, others have struggled to complete blogs for a number of reasons. These include lack of familiarity with using digital tech, literacy issues (writing is not a forte for some) and the fact that some of them are not reading independently beyond set class texts. At all.

Successes have included:

  • students who have become engaged in blogging and are writing good posts on their own
  • students making links between texts
  • students engaging in conversations about books
  • students learning how to be good digital citizens
  • students having an opportunity to write in a new (digital) format
  • students discovering new books to read through the site
  • Students loved getting personalised feedback on their posts, I’d always comment before publishing a post
  • Encouraging critical analysis of texts and introducing the making links concept is a good way to prepare students for NCEA tasks and terminology
  • Using tech angels – students who had successfully set up posts, added links or pics were able to help others
  • Encouraging problem solving – when there is one of me and lots of them, sometimes they have to work things through
  • creating a culture where the importance of reading is regularly, passionately and unreservedly promoted and rewarded

Downsides have included:

  • students taking ages to sign up due to inexperience using school email accounts
  • students inadvertently setting up a blog site rather than accepting my invite (easily fixed by deleting the site in settings options)
  • students defaulting to visual texts (I relaxed rules to allow one each when it became clear some would never experience blogging at all if I was too rigid and stuck to novels!)
  • too many posts on the same text  – not sure if this is a negative in terms of my aims but it did make the site repetitive for our followers
  • cutting and pasting comments on novels/films from the internet into posts – Grrr. The old authenticity chestnut but again, good for junior students to learn about this issue now rather than miss a senior assessment later for trying the same
  • overly simplistic comments – “cool” “nice one Snoop Dog” “you rock” etc etc. Because I was the site administrator, I would  go back to the author and request better responses
  • students not having the confidence to experiment with the full range of functions available such as adding hyperlinks
  • having to moderate each post and comment – yes time consuming

What would I do differently?

  • ask students to supply the email account they know how to use – gmail, hotmail, whatever
  • ensure students are invited as contributors not followers
  • create credit card sized cards for each student to record their user name and password on – so much time was wasted having to rest passwords! Suggest they make it the same as their email accounts so this is less likely to happen
  • create categories together to ensure everyone is using same archival system
  • limit tags to text titles and authors to avoid tag cloud explosion

At the end of last term, the most prolific bloggers were rewarded with a book each in recognition of their efforts and next week, I’ve organised a pizza lunch for those who met the deadlines. It would be great if students continued blogging at the end of the school year (that’s my utopia!) but I won’t hold my breath. I will certainly keep sharing my (young adult) reading with them over summer and if it inspires even one student to pick a book they might not have otherwise read, I’ll call it a win.

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Friday. Students currently enjoying coffee and croissants supplied by me (on World Teachers Day too!) as inspiration for an afternoon of feature writing with a 4pm deadline looming. So a chance to reflect on digital technology my students have embraced independently to enhance their learning as part of a Media Communication course.

It was with some delight I learned at the end of term one when conducting a survey on their study habits that several of the keener learners had been connecting outside the classroom via Skype. Now Skype (or a Voice over Internet Protocol VoIP as it’s technically known) isn’t new.  But what has been interesting is how my students have utilised this tool. It has been hugely significant in terms of reflecting a transition towards taking more responsibility for their own learning which has been a challenge for many of them this year. While the keener learners set it up, the less engaged were also using this option by the middle of the year when they could see and hear how the rest of the class were benefiting from it. Skype has enabled them to :

  • clarify ideas/concepts discussed in class
  • brainstorm story ideas
  • share ideas/networks for interviews
  • develop their intro writing skills through the “tell a friend” approach
  • learn how to give constructive criticism of their writing
  • test their knowledge of key terms and concepts
  • revise for tests

Yesterday they started work on a class newspaper with their peers in Christchurch.  Coordinating a class newspaper with a team of fledgling reporters some 350km apart is a daunting prospect (for me at least).  They met for the first time via video conference and learned when trying to allocate roles that paper-scissors-rock doesn’t work via VC due to broadcast delays!

That afternoon, they quickly set up a google docs account where they are building a bank of story ideas, allocating pages and assigning tasks.  Again google docs is not new. It enables users to create and edit web-based documents, spreadsheets, and presentations as well as store documents online and access them from any computer. I am interested to see how my students are using it to their advantage.  Our chief reporter is currently watching the ChCh-based editor type feedback in real-time as they refine story ideas together. Simple.

And while I have used Moodle this year for extension work, sharing readings, assessment updates and to send email messages to students, the ChCh group has used Facebook.  Straight after yesterday’s first VC my students were added to the ChCh group and can now instant message their peers to keep each other informed of progress, share ideas and give encouragement.  Perfect.

So while producing a 14 page, tabloid newspaper with a group of students based in separate cities who have never met might seem daunting, suddenly thanks to digital technology, social media and good old Kiwi ingenuity, anything is possible!

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