This week, in my AP English Language class I dabbled in a bit of 21st century learning. Having assigned a text to read as homework, I had students discuss it-not face-to-face as we normally do in class-but online using a wiki. Working in teams, they collaboratively analyzed the texts, arriving at a deeper understanding of the text.
Here’s what I did:
- One student in each team, requested access to the wiki. I then approved their access from my teacher computer, allowing them to create an account and join the wiki-which allows them to edit the page to add new content.
- I have four student computers in my classroom, so we were able to do this activity without leaving the room.
- I created four wiki pages: Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, Team 4.
- I wrote instructions atop each page for adding content to the wiki page.
- I wrote a question to which they were to post a response on the wiki page.
- Each team discussed their question and then wrote and published to the wiki page their response to the question.
- We then started the discussion, having teams read one another’s responses and add comments.
- I joined the discussion from my teacher computer.
Here’s what the students said:
- When asked which they prefer (face-to-face discussions or online discussions), they were split roughly 50/50.
- When I asked what they didn’t like about the online discussion, one responded she didn’t like it when other people were overly critical (not her exact words) of what she writes.
- Another said it was hard-that in a face-to-face discussion you can just throw out ideas, not having to think how to word them to make them clear.
- Another said it’s a bit intimidating having to put your writing out there for everyone to read.
- One said he liked the back-and-forth dialogue.
- Another said online discussion weren’t as boring as face-to-face discussions in class.
- Another said it was fun.
Here’s what I like about the activity:
- More students were actively involved in the discussion. A face-to-face discussion allows only one person to talk at a time (in theory-when they’re following the rules!); an online discussion gives multiple students simultaneous voices.
- Writing their responses forces students to go beyond verbalizing incomplete, not yet fully developed ideas. It forces them to discuss the ideas more fully and then synthesize and organize their ideas to express them in a clear, coherent way.
- It is fun. Students love the socialization of online discussions. Using the comments feature of the wiki creates a chat- room-like feel (one with a purpose) as students immediately see and respond to what others are writing.
What I learned:
- Students, even gifted ones, need explicit instruction in discussion skills-how to give and receive constructive criticism, how to piggyback on others’ ideas, how to ask questions, how to disagree in a nice way, how to push another’s thinking by bringing in other connections.
- Students need explicit instruction to understand how online discussions differ from face-to-face conversations-how removing body language and voice tone can lead to a misunderstanding of tone and intent, making it especially important to choose one’s words carefully. Using emoticons can be helpful.:)
- Today’s students are social creatures.
- Today’s students want to have fun.