Too much, too soon?
In my switch from Instructional Tech Coordinator to English teacher this year, I've been riding waves of emotions. I looked forward to the chance to have my own class, to use our 1:1 program fully, integrating technology into my program; I also realized this established curriculum meant following a set plan in terms of assigned books and assessments.
Yet, one of the missing links in our 1:1 program over the last few years has been helping students understand how to use various tools to learn. Teachers don't often have the time to teach and support, and this seemed a good opportunity to take the time, even if I had to squeeze some of the content.
As I look back now, I am glad I exposed the students to various tools, but I realize I often did too much, too quickly– with a sense of urgency that I would only have these ninth-graders for one year.
In a recent survey of students, we heard that they are often frustrated by being assigned too many places to go online, having to remember too many passwords, and having to learn too many new applications in addition to the content of the course. Some students, especially those who have gone through nine or ten years of traditional classroom instruction don't want to learn with technology. Many see technology as a burden, an add-on. But even those who enjoy learning this way find too many applications frustrating, especially if they haven't set up their laptops for efficient access with Firefox toolbars, widgets, etc.
And it's not that I don't value their opinions. I do. But being an early adopter means having to try things out. Since I wasn't sure what blogging platform to use, we started with 21 Classes. However, by semester's end, we had moved to our own WPMU platform (with the help of Jim Groom from UMW).
I know how valuable Twitter is to me, but I didn't want them "out there" quite yet. So we tried a private Yammer for a few weeks.
Then, when I wanted to teach online bookmarking, diigo was beginning a new educational version. Being one of the first edu accounts was exciting, but they hadn't quite worked out the bugs for those of us who had personal accounts. It's been a trying year, since I've ended up with two identical class accounts, password glitches, and lost bookmarks. Not diigo's fault, but frustrating for me to manage and straighten out. We still haven't decided whether delicious might be the better option–less functionality but simpler. At least two teachers have started their classes in that direction, so now we need to make a decision.
Though I had set up a ning account for my students in the fall, I didn't feel they should handle ONE more thing. But when the ninth-grade biology teacher set one up for them, it turned out to be the perfect way to organize the class. They preferred it much more than the wiki I'd set up (which was one more login and password they needed!) Upper class students also prefer the nings, but recognize that doing one in every class might get old.
We Wordled, wikid, blogged, and recorded as we read, discussed and wrote various genres of literature.
I know this is a process of learning what works well and what doesn't–for the students and teachers. But in some ways, I wish I'd been handed a plan so we could have organized this in a logical, less frustrating way for the students. Then again, something new will be developed next fall, and it might be the perfect tool. So learning to learn is a good thing.
My students do seem more comfortable with this self-directed learning, and the tools, for most of them, are becoming a valuable way to collaborate. Our goal is to create classes where students feel empowered to share their ideas, learn in ways that help them, and ultimately produce and create for a wider audience than the teacher.
They now blog and comment on each others work, learn when visitors respond to their writing, and feel at ease looking up information on the spot when there's a question in class. In history, science, and foreign languages, they've created wonderful visuals (videos, charts, graphics) to showcase what they know (I wish I had links to some of the movies). And the nings have been powerful ways to let them contribute to their classes by uploading videos, images, and other sites/research.
Though I now spend hours reading the blogs and commenting myself, it's far easier than collecting notebooks (so I do more of it). Checking their annotations in diigo takes time, but I can see where they are headed on their papers, and they can see what others have collected.
And truthfully, I WANT to read what they have to say. They are fascinating, fun teenagers who write with voice and style!
When I do my own end-of-the-year survey, I hope they feel that on balance, the frustration has been worth it. I know I do.