Since joining COETAIL I have made a conscious effort to include technology in my classes. I’m partly doing it simply for the sake of using technology, but it has benefited both me and my students: I find them more engaged when working collaboratively, and I have pushed myself and created new assignments because of my use of technology.
Over the course of the year, I used several technologies on which I polled my students:
Long story short, I’ve reached the following conclusions about my use of technology:
- Students enjoy collaborating, and do it more effectively with online tools (kind of an obvious conclusion, I know)
- Moodle is very useful for the students who choose to use it
- Although Facebook and Twitter are popular outside of school, students want to keep a separation between academic and personal life.
Student responses were as follows:
The use of Prezi and Google Docs was most positively perceived, followed by Smartboard activities and the promise of using a laptop in class. Moodle trailed behind, with 2/3 of students having positive perceptions. Facebook and Twitter hovered around 50% approval. What explains these numbers?
Students enjoy collaborating, and do it more effectively with online tools. The responses for Prezi and Google Docs are based on a smaller sample. Students used Prezi to create a question web (Example 1 | Example 2) that formed an outline for a current events presentation. They also used Google Docs to track their sources; a spreadsheet served as an online gradesheet where all members could see the work that others had done (Example 1 | Example 2 – obviously personal information has been removed). This meant that groups didn’t have to worry about losing work, could receive instant written feedback from me, and could collaboratively create their materials. Great success!
I also used Prezi with my 9th graders to create a timeline of the Crusades (Example 1 | Example 2). The best thing I saw was ALL students engaged in creating the product. With pen and paper assignments, one or students usually bear the brunt of the work while the others sit around. It’s not that the others are lazy; it’s that there is a physical constraint IRL that prevents more than a few students from simultaneously creating something, and this constraint is absent in the virtual world. So next year: more of these activities, contingent of course on lab time and bandwidth. The only downside to these were chronic disconnections from both Google Docs and Prezi at peak internet hours here.
Moodle is very useful for the students who choose to use it. While only 64% of students responded positively to Moodle’s utility, consider the following: this is exam week, and the study guide for the exams is posted on Moodle. Despite this, only 76% of my A1 class have logged into Moodle in the last week. Only 44% of my A2 class did, and 53% of my B2 class. Knowing that the presence of the exam study guide gives the Moodle relevance to 100% of students, I’d conclude that the reason for the relatively low perception of Moodle is NOT because it’s not useful, but because students aren’t motivated to log into it and therefore can’t form a positive perception. In other words, this is an issue of student agency and responsibility, not Moodle usefulness.
Although Facebook and Twitter are popular outside of school, students want to keep a separation between academic and personal life. This would explain the less positive perceptions of Facebook and Twitter (30% of respondents said they would NOT check a class Facebook page regularly). I didn’t actually create a Facebook group this year for my classes, although I had the idea of using one next year because my swim team uses one to keep in touch and the kids are really active on it. But swimming is an extracurricular activity, and the kids who are there want to be there. Students in a mandatory course might not appreciate the intrusion of academics into their personal space.
Twitter was not seen by the students as particularly useful. This may be because I posted infrequently to it; at the beginning of the year I posted daily homework, but in second semester I posted that homework to Moodle instead. I do find Twitter useful for posting quick reminders, and I have embedded my Twitter feed into one of my Moodle blocks, so I will probably continue this next year.
The results will inform my practice as follows:
- Continue using online collaborative tools. I’ll continue using Google Docs and Prezi, but would like to add other tools. I’ve heard good things about Voicethread. Dipity is another website I’d like to check out for the creation of timelines, especially for my 10th graders where chronology is especially important.
- Emphasize Moodle more in class, and drop my plans to use Facebook. I’ve been accepting assignments on Moodle only for Q4. It helps me keep hard deadlines and avoids arguments over what work was submitted when. But this hasn’t been enough of a stick (or carrot?) to make students check it often and take responsibility for their learning. So I need to model Moodle use on a weekly basis – by opening it to show the daily plan or to explain the homework, for example. I also need to revisit the layout and content to ensure maximum user-friendliness – this may bump up my Moodle utility scores.
I’d also like to use technology to support these other goals:
- Make research a larger component of my class. If we’re trying to create independent learners, they need to be able to explore topics on their own. I’d like to take my 10th grade research project model, scale down its scope and sequence, and apply it to 9th grade.
- Increase authentic assessments and professional products. I should be able to completely move away from cut & paste, crayon and paper activities and use tools like Google Docs, Office, Wordle, and easel.ly (which I used for the infographic above) for students to create engaging products that they are proud to show off. I’m also thinking about how to showcase student work better. One idea is to create a “Digital Museum” of student work, but I don’t think it would have many visitors. A Facebook page would be another way to do this; I’ll have to see if my survey results justify going this route.