Some Ideas for Web 2.0 Collaboration

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.

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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.

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6 thoughts on “Some Ideas for Web 2.0 Collaboration

  1. This is a really interesting perspective. I like the idea of taking the teaching beyond the actual school although it leaves me wonder how far we can take participation until we do not add any more to the learning experience or at least make the learning very eclectic and inefficient. I guess, the boundary will be somewhat dependent on what is being taught. If you are learning how to do multiplication, how much does a contact with some class in another school really add to the learning outcome?

    I would be interested in hearing specific examples of projects that you are referring to as your “most successful” ones in which you linked several classes.

    • One of my projects had students creating their own Latin manuscripts, taking photos of them, and posting them online into a private social network that we shared with two other classes. The other classes did the same thing, and then my class translated the manuscripts from other classes and helped other classes translate ours. We also did collaborative work where my students would compose some Latin, send it to another class, and that other class would design a manuscript for it, and vice versa.

      Another project was a shared evernotebook that my class shared with college Latin students from Carleton College. Every Monday my students would write the college kids a note detailing what they were currently learning along with any other academic or non-academic news. They would also ask questions about studying Latin in college, being a college student, etc. On Wednesday the Carleton kids would get back to us, responding to all questions, giving us practice sentences based on what we were learning, and asking us questions in respond. This was arguably the highlight of the kids year, and they looked forward to every Monday and Tuesday with gusto.

      We also did a shared evernotebook with another classroom to co-construct an encyclopedia of Roman emperors, and we did a shared evernotebook with another class to do a sort of “pen-pal” exchange from the perspective of ancient Romans.

      We also combined forces with three classes to make a google map tagged with the locations of extant Roman ruins.

    • As per your question about multiplication – that’s an interesting one. For me, it has less to do with outcome and more to do with the process. If students get good at multiplication but end up despising math and looking back on the time spent learning it as crummy, that’s a bad outcome from a number of perspectives. The possibility of collaborating with another class might greatly increase the enjoyment of the process, and probably yield gains in terms of motivation that are different from learning outcomes. Just thinking out loud, but I might link up with another class and have my students construct word problems for them while we solve the word problems that they come up with. I might also create a shared blog where students from both classes post articles having to do with “math in the real world”, as well as posts about problems the class is having or sharing tips for memorization and practice.

  2. Gabe, thanks for the thoughtful post. In regards to your comment about the goals being somewhat unambitious: Although the article was published in 2012, I wonder when that research was conducted. These tools move very quickly and it seems that one has to be constantly upgrading the tool kit to stay current.

    As a teacher, do you encounter dogmatically strict internet policies? My education experience consists of only university level where it seems (almost) anything goes. I think the changing role of the internet in education with regards to administrative policies really interesting for precisely this reason. The people making the rules are often so out of date or sluggish when responding to the these changes. I’m excited to hear your thoughts.

    • Good point about the need for a constantly upgrading toolkit.
      I am lucky to have had not experienced dogmatic strictness re: internet policies, but the complaints of teachers on the Twittersphere definitely inform me that I am VERY lucky in this regard. The rules at many schools actually preclude anything exciting from happening on the internet. My girlfriend also teaches and she spent a month getting wordpress approved at her school….and just HER OWN wordpress blog, not blogs for the kids!

  3. Gabe, you’ve described some terrific projects, and it’s all the more impressive because they’ve been done with junior high and high school kids. The strict Internet policies are very common (and frustrating) in public schools, so I guess you were fortunate because you taught at a private school? It’s usually not an issue at the college/university level. I’d be curious to see how your projects would work with college “kids.”

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