For my Digital Teaching Methods class I was assigned a number of articles about Web 2.0 and the effectiveness of implementing things like Flickr and Blogs in the classroom. Most conclusions seemed to offer a cautionary thumbs-up, but it’s difficult for a teacher on the ground to draw conclusions about their own use of such tools. I thought the examples in the articles (a shared class Flickr photo library, a class publishing articles to wordpress), were actually a little unambitious in scope and could have been modified to make the activities more authentic and collaborative.
Instead of creating a Flickr photo library that is created and viewed just by one classroom, I would encourage teachers to use the web (Twitter) and link up with other educators in their discipline. Usually you can tell from someone’s tweets if they would at least entertain the idea of getting their class to link up with yours and work together on creating something. If you can’t find an educator online who teaches your discipline at your grade level, you must be teaching something quite strange. Anyway, together you and your newfound colleague could facilitate a cross-classroom project. This sort of project makes the classroom feel a little less limited by the walls of the classroom; work is being viewed in a context beyond those walls. It is also a good chance to see how your class is at basic netiquette and web appropriateness, and it is a good opportunity for you to negotiate with another colleague about your goals for the project and the methods for achieving them. I think that with enough forethought, there is a good chance that your combined efforts will yield unpredictable, pleasant results. You can have your students post original work, post comments on the other classes work, organize the photo library, and, if it’s your wish, invite outside viewers.
In another article the researchers discuss the use of WordPress in a class. Instead of just having the students post what they would otherwise submit by paper to a blog, I would take this to the next level by having the students actively seek out readership by tweeting links to their articles to people on twitter who might be interested, asking them to leave feedback, join the debate, etc. It’s true that once posted online anybody could see it, and this might make students more conscious about what they post, but for them to be seeking out readers and self-promoting adds a new dimension of responsibility and could cultivate quality.
Consistently, my most successful projects as a teacher have been those that link my middle and high school students to parties that are outside of their classroom. Sometimes it’s another class at their level, sometimes it’s a group of college students, sometimes it’s a class below their level. However it’s set up, there are opportunities for collaboration, teaching, learning, and fun. I have only ever seen the majority of the class eager to come to class when they know they are going to be working in that kind of space. If your school would be hesitant to embrace this kind of social, online activity due to some nascent, ill-formed internet policy, be sure you advocate for a policy that would allow this kind of activity to take place. Also, do the requisite due diligence on the online environment to prevent any inappropriate behavior, etc. Not doing those things out of fear of inappropriate behavior, though, would be doing your kids a grave injustice.