Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Story of an Hour

Today I showed one of my sophomore classes the This I Believe site on NPR. We looked at and read together two of the hundreds of essays available on that site (by Alan Lightman and Bill Gates). I had planned to have them listen to the authors reading their essays, which worked for me last year, but today the Windows Media player on my greying iBook decided to get balky on me, and to make matters more interesting, when you click on the button to listen to the Alan Lightman essay you get taken to another page where Victor Davis Hanson is reading HIS essay. So we wound up looking at that one and listening to that one, since the Media Player decided, for reasons I am going to assume were probably not political, to allow Victor Davis Hanson to have his say.

Then I asked the students to do a short brainstorming exercise where they had to come up with a list of at least five sentences beginning with "I believe in..." or "I believe that...." Then I had them work in pairs, with one student being designated to be the questioner for five minutes, keeping the other student talking about his/her beliefs by asking followup questions. After five minutes, they switched roles and talked for another five minutes.

The examples from the web site, the brainstorming exercise, and the dialogue exercise, were all by way of setting up the homework assignment, which was to write a one-page "This I Believe" statement and then post it on the wiki I have put together to serve as a common space for sharing our work individually and for collaborating on group exercises. (I'd post the link, but right now, at least until we get going and I am able to get permissions from the students and the parents to go public, it's a closed site. We're just getting started with a schoolwide initiative w/r/t sustainability, and since that is a public site I can offer that as an example, albeit one which is just getting started.)

I look at the wiki as a step forward from the bulletin board program I was using last year for students to share work. The bulletin board was much more sequential and hierarchical and trickier to navigate, and the wiki (one of the freebies available to teachers through wikispaces ) is a lot more flexible, both because it's visually appealing and easy to edit, and because it allows for both individual posts and true collaborative writing.

Bven the wiki has a lot of built-in structural limitations. The page templates are limited, the wiki-language allows only certain kinds of formatting, you can't do simultaneous collaboration as you can, for example, in Google Docs. I'm hoping that in the next year or two or three even more flexible spaces will become available where students can post exemplary work in a variety of formats, collaborate in real time, access archived work by other students, communicate with students in other schools pursuing similar interests, and so on. Sort of a combination web site/wiki/blog/Googledocs/whiteboard/mySpace/database application. If any of you are working within such a framework, or have had success bending one of the current options in the direction of such convergent technologies, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

I did find my way today to a link, sent me a week or two ago by our tech resource person, called podomatic.com, which allows for pretty fast and easy (and free) online podcast creation and archiving. It also allows you to email your podcasts or post them to a blog. I'm still trying to get up to speed with podcasting and its possible applications in the classroom. I actually wanted the students to have the chance to record their "This I Believe..." speeches and post them to the wiki as well, and this may work: starting from scratch with no prior knowledge, I got into the site, registered, got up and running and created my first podcast successfully, all in about ten minutes.

So there it is, in a nutshell: one day, one class, one hour. It has taken me longer to write about it than it took me to live it. Now I get to sleep. : )


Clay Burell said...

Hey Bruce,

Chris Craft told me to check out bitweaver.org for the best wiki he's found, but i haven't gotten round to it. It may be install-only, for all I know. (Down the road, my goal.)

You also may be interested in ZohoWriter's collaborative docs. Some high-speed, dazzling options Google Docs only dreams of.

Love to hear your reactions and ideas about these. I'm too buried right now to snoop.

Bruce Schauble said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm getting bogged down too, but will check these out asap. Also have your students' four-week comments bookmarked to go through when I have a chance to breathe...

- B

Mr. B-G said...

Informative post. I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. There's a lot of really rich material here.

I too am looking for the sort of interactive blog/wiki/Google Docs/MySpace online "place" you speak of. So far I've been working with Blogger. I'm looking to tackle a wiki next.

Thanks again!

Peter B-G