Ten years ago the Internet was pretty limited on what it could do and who actually used it. I remember when the Internet started to get plugged into schools. It was 1996 and I was in my senior year of high school and we just passed a bond placing Internet access in each classroom for students to use. Each student was also given his or her own email address. This was back in the day when Eudora was real popular and webmail was not around much yet. Few people had email address and if you did you were lucky. Now days everyone has some sort of email and access to the Internet, even if it is using it at your public library. This is even true for teachers. They either have it at home or in their classroom. Now while I was barely brought up in the digital age, and educators older than I were even less so, students of today and tomorrow are definitely being raised under a digital umbrella. There are lots of things that the Internet can be used for in the classroom.
- Creating websites
- Social Networking
When you hear the words Facebook or World of Warcraft, what comes to mind? Or have you even ever heard of them before? Well I can tell you that your students certainly have heard of them or even use them and they for sure have opinions about them. Part 1 of this series is not about the technology that they use on a regular basis, but on the technology that you can use in your classroom to help facilitate learning. Now we all know that we can use the Internet for research but how about in collaboration. Well of course we can send emails back and forth, but imaging 30 students in a single class sending emails back and forth about a specific topic and you the teacher trying to keep them all straight. That is a lot of emails. There has to be a better way. Well for certain there is. There are lots of tools that people can use for this. Two I am going to cover in real depth are:
Blogs are a great way for a teacher to make a general post about something. Let’s say since I am a science teacher the topic is on stem cell research. The teacher wants their students to have an online debate to get ready for an in-class debate later on. The teacher would take a neutral stand and ask the students to take a stand, either FOR or AGAINST stem cell research and to have fact supporting their side. (This is where the research comes into using the Internet.) Students could gather their research and make their post for their side. The teacher could then see all of the student’s opinions as well as the students could see each other’s. Well what about being anonymous? We will cover that later. When all is said and done, students would be using blog posts to discuss their thoughts and opinions and maybe even through this some might be persuaded to switch sides before they even get to the in-class debate. So what else can a blog be used for? Well I have used it for posting homework. I would make a post of the nightly homework and students would then have access to it. Ok, well can’t the students just write it down in their notebooks before they go home? Well sure they could, if they did. A lot of students forget too, but you already knew that. This is a backup and a way that parents can see what is assign to their child. In addition, lets say they are having troubles with one of the problems on their homework. They could quickly jump onto the blog and make a post on the homework asking for help or seeing if others are having trouble as well. The teacher can then make posts as well on the blog giving hints about how to solve the problem, (talking problems since I am chemistry teacher and we deal with lots of problems that deal with math) and all of the students can read what has been posted and get help at the touch of their fingers. One handy thing about this is that if you teach the same subject year-after-year, and you assign the same homework, current students can access the previous years posts, so they can see what troubles or help they had the previous year. Another way to use blogs is for each student to have their own. I will talk about how to set this up later. But essentially students can have their own blog and blog about whatever they want that deals with your class. Yes you will have to put stipulations on what they post but I will leave this up to you on how you deal with that. Maybe they use their blog to post their research paper and other students are required to read three papers, or however many you decide, and help peer edit them and give suggestions (constructive). So what is the plus to this? Well since when I have students write papers I like to have them do a peer edit before they turn in their final draft. That is a lot of paper being printed out that students will just look at their edits, fix them, and then ditch the draft and print out another to turn in. Students rarely hand write their papers now days. I never do. I draft better on computer and constantly make my edits in there. This is one way that teachers can help keep printing costs down, which I know that is not what this article is about, but the more we do now the less we have to do later.
Wikis are a great way to collaborate as well. Have you heard of Wikipedia? Of course you have because almost every single educator in the world says, “Don’t use Wikipedia as a source!!” Why not use it. Teachers need to be educated on how Wikipedia gets its information. For the most part Wikipedia is very accurate. Against the popular belief that anyone can post anything on Wikipedia and most is invalid, is completely untrue. If it was true, I would have my own Wikipedia page where I would post all my accomplishments including being the President of the United States, but you can look, you won’t find me at all on there. So then how does Wikipedia get its information? Well it does get its data from collaborators just like you, but unless it sounds valid it will not stay on there for long. At the bottom of each Wikipedia article you will see a list of sources. These sources all come from what teachers would call, valid sources. These valid sources are what make up Wikipedia. If there is a statement in a Wikipedia article that does not have a valid source, you will see the following [Citation Needed]. This is what should be avoided. If you see this then don’t use that fact because there is no source to back it up. So should students use Wikipedia in their research? In my opinion yes, but not to use Wikipedia as a cited source, rather use the sources on the bottom of each article as the source, because realistically all Wikipedia is, is a collaboration of sources. Ok enough about my rant about Wikipedia. So back to the task at hand, how can you use Wikis in your classroom? Well any wiki is pretty much the same. People can post and make edits, yes edits, to the content that you originally posted. Can you go back to the original post if someone really messes it up? Yes you can. Students can use Wikis in groups to collaborate on a project that you might be having them do in class. It is an easy way to have students collaborate on a research project. Students could post all of their research on their wiki where all team members can see it and then all of them could work together to write different aspects of their project. Teachers can then see which members are doing the collaborating and which ones are not. This is a great way to track participation in this manner. Ok, I am sold. What do I need to get started and is it free? Well all you need is a computer with Internet access and yes it is free. In order to use blogs in your class there are lots of places that offer free blogs for you to use. LiveJournal, Blogger, or even WordPress. I thought WordPress was software you had to install? It is but you can also use WordPress on their website to remove the technical difficulty. Each of those places offers free blogs to users and you can setup in a matter of minutes. As for wikis, probably the best free resource to host your wiki is Wikispaces. They have a free plan as well as a cheap upgrade. Currently at the time of this post Wikispaces was giving away upgraded accounts to educators.
Q: So what if I want to use my own domain name to do all of this?
A: Well you can still do all of this with your own domain name, but then it is no longer free and it requires some software install. It gets quite difficult to do this. I personally do this myself, but it adds a lot of hassle sometimes and quite frankly is not with the effort to get the same result.