George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I read many blogs and follow many tweets that suggest we should all connect, share, and collaborate more often. I agree. However, many times we say it and it sounds good, but we never get to see examples while trying to keep up with the real time tweet deck. It quickly turns into platitude chat. So I decided to welcome you, the reader, into my classroom and showcase what a typical, connected class looks like.

First, let me give you an overview of my class. The course is English 101: College Composition. I teach at Montgomery County Community College, in suburban Philadelphia. The class size is capped at twenty freshmen. We meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 3:05 -4:30. We have a room equipped with a smart board, mounted overhead projector, and a desktop PC running Windows 7. The campus has secure wi-fi throughout. About 8 of my 20 students have a laptop.

I started this class by handing out a paper syllabus. I noted that this was the only paper they would receive throughout the semester. However, I did manage to mess up the copied syllabus by some how not printing the first page of the reading schedule. Paper: Fail. Once the syllabus was out and I covered the basics, I showed the class our Wikispace. They were awestruck, gobsmacked, and engaged all at once. I was surprised that none of the students in the class had ever used a Wikispace, but they were all aware of Wikipedia. So it was easy to explain the Wikispace dynamic. The Wikispace houses everything: syllabus, calendar, student pages, archived discussions, and various informative links. Plus, we have a discussion board and an integrated email system. All of these rudimentary items were covered on the first day of class.

So, here is a typical class session...

Today I opened with this video:

I reminded the students that Information Fluency is the most important skill they can possess and briefly touched on the evolution of how we search for and locate information. We also covered the struggles of finding credible information and sources in a world of constant information where anyone can publish. I even briefly explained the Dewey decimal system. They were not impressed.

I played the video. A neighboring teacher came by and asked me to turn the volume down. I did. Once the video concluded, I had students write a reflective response. Students can write their responses on their laptops, mobile device, or note pad. I have a mix of students who prefer writing by hand than using any device. Some of the students texted their response to themselves and the students that used a laptop opened a Google Doc.

After a brief discussion about the video, I moved the discussion in the direction of information fluency struggles. I asked students to find a laptop and hover around it. They had three minutes to discuss their struggles with finding credible, secondary sources. Each group again opened a Google Doc and shared it with everyone in the group and me. As we were having this discussion, I sent out a tweet to my PLN. The tweet read:

#ipad2 #edchat PLN:Discussing information Fluency today with College Frosh.What are essential skills for combating Infowhelm? Use #eng101fc

(I was going up against an Apple product launch, so I decided to include iPad 2 as a hashtag)

As our conversation evolved, I brought up the back channel on the screen. I used Monitter for back channel screen sharing with the class. The students were engaged not only with expressing their own thoughts on the subject, but interacting with the back channel to provoke a new direction in the conversation. Some of the students spoke directly to the back channel, while others questioned it. Some of our immediate responses from twitter included...

@andycinek Essential fluency = knowledge management #eng101fc

@andycinek "find, evaluate, organize, synthesize, remix & re-purpose" via @karlfisch #eng101fc

@andycinek: re: Infowhelm -- Don't be afraid of being overwhelmed; rather, innovate yr way out of it. #eng101fc

These tweets kept the conversation fresh and provoked students to think further. Many of the students asked how I knew so many people. My answer. I rule. Laughter ensued. I briefly explained what a PLN is and I could see some heads nodding and flickering light bulbs throughout the room.

As we continued our conversation about information fluency, several students in the class were taking notes on a Google Doc. These notes will be shared with everyone in the class and me. I then post these notes on the Wikispace for students who missed class and for further reflection.

The information fluency discussion ends around 3:50. We will revisit this topic throughout the semester. On Friday, I will start the class by having students search for information followed by ways to use search tools effectively and efficiently.

We transition to the previous night's reading. We are covering the writing process in our A Writer's Reference Text, by Diana Hacker. I have the students reorganize in groups around students who have a laptop. The students spend a few minutes discussing the current reading and post all of their discussion points on a shared Google Doc. At the end of the time, I have each group present their takeaways from the reading. They can present the material however they see fit to the class. While each group is presenting, we stop for discussion and questions throughout. All of the questions and comments are recorded on the Google Doc. I also prompt the twitter back channel with updates of the class.

When our discussion is finished, I have each group save their doc and then post to the classroom wiki archive. This archive will not only serve as a digital pathway for our class progress, but a supplemental resource to the textbooks we are covering. The final product of the readings in A Writer's Reference will be a Facebook group that the class creates about the writing process, grammar, and information fluency. The students will own the group and present it to their peers for feedback and further discussion. They will use the archived notes from readings, discussions, and tweets to provide the group's content. The students will present the group as a writing resource on Facebook that all students can access for writing needs and information.

Teaching the writing process, grammar, and mechanics can be boring for anyone, however when you allow students to use Facebook to discover these essential skills, the engagement factor increases. Plus, they are creating their own resource. They own it and they understand that others will view it.

I wrap up the discussion reflecting on my takeaways from the class discussion and the previous night's reading. Students offer final comments and suggestions on what we just covered in class today. I let the students leave class at 4:29.

As I reflect on this class dynamic I am constantly trying to find new ways to connect my students. Additionally, I am seeking new ways to give them more autonomy throughout the class session and remove myself as the sage on the stage. Similarly, I want to give them work that has a purpose. Creating a Facebook group for writing and grammar resources will hopefully elicit intrinsic motivation and give the students something to own and share with their peers. Throughout the class students were engaged and constantly working. They were listing, recognizing, summarizing, inferring, sharing, editing, comparing, linking, commenting, posting, moderating, wiki-ing, and publishing. Not every student possessed technology. Not every student needs technology. It is plausible to connect students without technology just by letting them migrate from their desk and sit next to another student in class. I encourage you to find ways to connect your students and I invite you to follow our class' progress on Twitter and via our Wikispace.

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Sandra Deline's picture

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. I have just started using wikispaces myself. What is back channel screen sharing? I have so much to learn.

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and Co-founder, Boston, MA

[quote]Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. I have just started using wikispaces myself. What is back channel screen sharing? I have so much to learn.[/quote]

I will sometimes ask a question and post it to twitter while the students are discussing in groups or we are having a class discussion. I will project the twitter feed on the screen and we interact with it while discussing. This allows us to expand the scope of our conversation and possibly provoke some new ideas. I will sometimes do this with Google Docs as well.

Audrey Mclaren McGoldrick's picture

Hi Andrew - your post couldn't have arrived at a better time for me. I am just beginning what I call my journey into Web 2.0. In January, I started blogging about what I'm doing in my class, because I thought it would be useful to chronicle what I am actually doing with my kids in my classes. Today I just happen to have posted my feelings about the whole process, and the post is called "Just tell me what to do". I could have called it "Just show me what to do" and lo and behold your post is the answer!
Thanks so much for this!

David's picture

This was a very engaging and informative piece on the intergration of technology in the classroom. I wonder if some of these techniques could be used in a middle or secondary classroom.

Cecilia Evasco's picture
Cecilia Evasco
ELA and Health teacher for NYC Dept of Ed

I've done tech integration work in the past. I find web quests to be an extremely effective way to infuse technology into a content area classroom. Web Quests tend to be highly structured and tend to provide enough scaffolding information for students to work independently or collaboratively on self directed tasks. Students can connect with other students around the world for help in completing a task.

Since the finished products are usually showcased online, students tend to be more motivated to do their best.

Amanda's picture
High school social studies teacher

This seems like a great way to get students to dive into their material. We are pushing to get laptop carts in our high school. This would be great to use for a project here or there; the students would love sharing what they learn in this way.

Yaa Adoma's picture
Yaa Adoma
Rethink education/teaching/learning in Mali; aiming to change the statistics, one child at a time.

Thank you for being so candid. It means a lot for a rookie like me to read the mistakes of the "superstars", not just their successes and philosophies.
You wrote: "..I sent out a tweet to my PLN". How do you build a PLN on Twitter? Or on Google+

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Hi there, building a PLN on twitter takes time, but it's worth it. There are many ways to do it, and each educator after using twitter for a bit, starts to feel comfortable with their own way, and what they take away from a PLN. For myself, I joined twitter 2 years ago and started to join many edchats. I joined them based on topic of interest and met some amazing people in this way. Then I started to blog and that also helped in creating more connections of people that relate to my work and vice versa. My number one tip is to engage, twitter is great for lurking and just taking in all the information, but to get the most out of it, engagement helps to build a strong PLN, because then people will get to know you. I wrote a few tips for new teachers on twitter here if you're interested: I am also @RusulAlrubail on twitter if you'd like to connect there :)

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