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.


3 thoughts on “Too much, too soon?

  1. Our students feel much the same. I don’t thing they are educational digital natives as much as they are socially natives. Part of the educating we have to do is on how to use it in educational ways and with purposes above socializing and entertainment. We have to show them how to use it wisely and responsibly – and I think that means taking on digital citizenship in the social realm too. We are finding that we shouldn’t prescribe tools or talk about how to use them as much as tell them that they need to do a certain task and offer suggestions of tools. The skills are transferable or transcend the tool and they don’t go around talking about another animoto project or slideshare project. Obviously there are some places you have to put them all in one tool. We, like you, are finding nings are great. They don’t necessarily like to interact on a wiki but they do understand the value of using it for collaboration. Our seniors who are our least tech savy and sometimes really resistent to it have really enjoyed creating their own text – a wiki book in a history elective – We haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped on blogging in a meaningful way.Perhaps next year we can have our 9th graders read some of your kids blogs and your kids could read ours- Be good if there was a common topic at a common time or some logical overlap.
    There is just so much to learn and so much to do. It is overwhelming for all of us at times. I’d love to sit in on your class (perhaps in May?) as I’m sure its fantastic. You certainly have a great set of teachers- I enjoy following them on twitter and reading blogs. Looking forward to May!

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Elizabeth. You are doing great things with your staff and students, and I respect your opinions. Your comment about not teaching the tools–I found that if I didn’t “teach” and give time to learn, they just didn’t do it. In fact, no one used diigo until we said they had to, that we would check their annotations. Once that happened, they started to see value. But I prefer the idea that they find the tool they need instead of requiring one. You went with delicious, right? Are you finding that some people are using diigo instead? Please plan to visit in May. I won’t be teaching, of course, since we’ll all be in the PLP, but let’s sneak into a class so you can visit with the kids for a few minutes if you want.

  3. I hear pen and paper are making a comeback. That’s what my dad told me while talking on his rotary dial phone.

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