Reflections on this semester’s love affair with technology

Othello wordle

I could use the extended metaphor of a torrid romance with a sexy bad boy to describe my experience with technology this semester, but that might a bit overblown and, some might argue, a product of my students’ obsession with Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. Zombies are also trendy right now, but I don’t think brain is equipped to fashion that metaphor right now.

So, let’s get to it.

As I finish up this semester I’ve had some hits and misses. If you’ve read some of my other posts this year (and I know, they have been few and far between. New school, new challenges, new excuses), you’ll know that I approached my classes with year with a kind of outlook that can only be described as naively optimistic. I saw rainbows and puppy dogs everywhere I looked. I assumed my students would be putty in my hands because they were digital natives and I GOT them. So, in summary:

Stumbling blocks:

  • I didn’t consider that other members of the staff might resent the fact that two English classes were scheduled in a computer lab every day when access to computer labs is already at a premium. Not my fault, but it didn’t really matter.
  • Although my students are digital natives, they were not all tech-savvy
  • Although most of my students use social networking sites and web 2.0 apps on a regular basis, a number of them balked at using these tools for educational purposes
  • Many students were opposed to sharing their work (even though many of them are okay with showing inappropriate pictures on facebook!)
  • Some of my students have adopted anti-technology positions in, what I can only assume is, a desire to please authority figures who condemn technology as frivolous or non-academic.
  • Paper: I still need paper for some things, and for some reason I feel like I’m being judged as a bad teacher if my students don’t have any paper handouts. I’m working on it.
  • Oh, and apparently I adopt every new tool that interests me.

Now, for the good news:

  • Some of my students changed their minds. I had a student tell me that initially, he was “creeped-out” by edmodo, because he didn’t really understand what it was. He is a thoughtful cautious student who has taken to heart all the warnings about the dangers of posting too much information about yourself online. As the student learned that social networking sites can be leveraged for positive purposes, he came to love edmodo because he found that he could access assignments and send me messages using a tool he was already using (um, that’s the internet if you’re wondering. Or the “the infornet” as my mother-in-law calls it).  Edmodo has been a huge success. It’s eliminated a great deal of paper–not to mention excuses.
  • Ning: I used Ning for a number of different purposes. At first I didn’t really know how I’d use it (I’m finishing my action research project on this and I’ll post it soon so I won’t go into great detail here), but eventually the most significant use became blogging. Some of my students were skeptical about the Ning at first, but their work stands for itself. They shared and read ideas they would have never otherwise encountered. They also reached much deeper levels of synthesis and analysis because their posts were not “published pieces” in a traditional sense.
  • My website and class blog. I did a pretty good job of updating my class blogs on a daily basis. Now when I scroll back through my posts, I have a wonderful series of snapshots of my semester. It’s fantastic. I never managed to update my “daybook” or planner the way I’ve kept my blog up to date.

In the immortal words of Joss Whedon, “Where do we go from here?” (Oh, Buffy, how I miss you)

  • I’m going to use Ning even more, and try to do even more with student blogging now that I have evidence that supports its effectiveness.
  • Edmodo: I need to do more training at the beginning of the semester so that students use edmodo properly. (How to submit an assignment vs. how to send a link)
  • Use less paper. I can do it!
  • Bring in Diigo. Love Diigo, but didn’t really get a chance to try it.

I think that’s plenty for now. I’ll keep you posted.

I promise.

No really!

Getting in the Car: An Analogy About the Perceived Risks of Using Web 2.0 in the Classroom

carphoto source

I know many teachers who are concerned with the idea of having an online identity. Their discomfort is such that they attempt to keep their digital footprints as small as possible. I’m aware that I need to remind myself that some teachers haven’t had enough time to spend thinking about this issue, and so they’re not aware of a lot of the fear-mongering that exists in the public and also within our profession. They also have legitimate concerns that could be addressed, in many cases through some conversation and practice.

But before teachers buy in to web 2.0 they need to see the benefits. The need to see these benefits so they’re willing to weigh the risks. So I plan to make one of my professional goals to model effective use of web 2.0 with my students and in my professional practice.

Another thing that I find helpful is using this analogy:

There are a lot of dangers that I risk when I chose to drive my car. I could get into an accident. I could hurt someone else. I could get lost and not be able to find my way home. I could drive to the mall and spend all my money on cute shoes (okay, some risks are greater than others). But I still get in the car because it’s an effective way for me to get from point A to point B. It makes it easier for me to get to work, and I can go to the mall to buy cute shoes (Many of my analogies include shoes). I know a lot of things that I can do to help reduce my risk when driving and I do those things. I’m not prepared to give up driving my car because of the risks associated with it.

For me, the car= web 2.0. Simple.

Wikipedia and Knowledge Elitism

I was at a workshop where a teacher got a little irate when discussing using wikipedia for research. She said that her school does not allow students to include wikipedia in their works cited lists. She was not entirely opposed to students using wikipedia as a starting off point for research, but that it couldn’t be considered a trusted source of information and that many academic librarians would agree with her.

I used to share this teacher’s view point and role my eyes with disdain whenever I saw a student using wikipedia for research, but now I’m not so sure.

From what I understand, educators are concerned about their students’ use of wikipedia, because a wiki, by its very nature, can be edited by anyone.


I think the anxiety that arises from this stems from the fact that most teachers are control freaks. They have to be. I remember having a nightmare before my first day of teaching where I asked the students to work on some activity and they all refused and then left my room and what could I do about it. We work so hard to establish routines and rules in order to have orderly classrooms so that we can then focus on the actual teaching. Of course we’re control freaks!

But the thing is, what makes a wikipedia article, which can be edited by anyone, less valuable than a published book. Let’s consider the accessibility issue for one thing. I think some people would argue that because getting your work published in a traditional form like a book is less accessible to the general public, the information contained within the book is more reliable. In order to be published, the book must be edited and contain a list of works cited, so our students can trust the information within the book.

I argue that this is an awfully elitist way of looking at knowledge and information. I think that in the years to come, there will be a shift away from this line of thinking. 

I propose that the very fact that wikipedia can be edited by anyone and that there are thousands of volunteers who maintain the site may make wikipedia more trustworthy than many single-authored books that are currently sitting on library shelves with copyright dates older than most of our students. And yet I’m sure that most teachers would be more comfortable with the mildew scented book, because that’s what we’re used to.

Wikipedia itself states that it should not be used for primary research, but then, what source should be used for primary research? We want our students to look at multiple sources of information. I wouldn’t want a research paper with one book in my student’s works cited page anymore than I’d want a student citing one wikipedia article.

I say rather than make value-judgements about “good” and “bad” sources of information, we should focus our time teaching our students to make those distinctions on our own. We should also educate ourselves about sources of information like wikipedia. 

I think it’s a great idea to direct students (and yourselves) to the following page so you can see what the advantages and disadvantages of wikipedia are. It will also help answer some questions and give you some good guidelines to share with students about evaluating the credibility of wikipedia articles and about research in general.

Here’s an interesting article to consider: How (Much) to Trust Wikipedia