29 September 2009

Reflection on Week 6 Teaching

In my class we contribute to a wiki, http://thescienceclassroom.wikispaces.com. I introduce this to students, not as a research paper, but as a website creation. I have found that students are much more willing to produce good, academic writing if they are putting it on the web, rather than simply writing for the teacher to see.  I talk a lot in the introduction about writing to an audience. When I show them how many people have visited our wiki in the last year and their locations, they are very interested in writing for someone who is on the other side of the world. This project literally lets students write to a global audience.
Another part of this project is the use of social media during the project, specifically social bookmarking. We use a site called http://delicious.com which allows students to set up an account and a network of peers (and me) through which they can share their bookmarks. This allows students to easily share website which may be useful to their peers (synthesis). It also allows me to see what resources they are bookmarking so I can keep an eye on their resources. I will look at their sources and visit with them individually about the (lack of) validity. Students really enjoy the social aspect of this and are more willing to share resources, whereas they wouldn’t normally make a point to give someone a website address if they were “doing this type of research the old way”, i.e. without social bookmarking. We have developed a specific tag for our bookmarks: “pcwiki”, which is attached to every bookmark and makes it easily searchable for this research project.
I am doing this much differently than I did last year. I found that on the first day of the project, I tried to give them too much information. Previously, I introduced the wiki, had them set up a wiki account, introduced social bookmarking, had them setup a delicious account, introduced research and had them start looking for a person/topic to research.
Today, we spent more time on social bookmarking. We talked extensively about Wikipedia and whether or not it is useful, both as a primary and secondary source. I shared the analogy (via @mishelleyb) of using it like a Reference Librarian: it’s a good place to start, but not something/someone you would cite in your paper. It has a lot of good information, but probably not enough to be detailed/in depth about your subject.
I didn’t even let them do any creation on the wiki. It is just too much to take in on one day. They get overwhelmed and discouraged and that’s not a good way to start a project. Thinking about today, every class was engaged, they kept up with me on the creation of an account, and I didn’t have to say anything to anyone about being on a site they shouldn’t be on. This is huge! Normally, the very first thing many students do is find a proxy server and go to http://myspace.com which is a major no-no in my class (and in the whole district, for that matter).
I am assessing my students by checking that they are actually setting up an account and beginning to contribute to the wiki. I grade their writing for content, grammar, and style. They are instructed to consider their audience when writing. I require them to do one section of the wiki each week (introduction, insight and influence, major contributions, etc.) and encourage them not to look at the entire project. I try to get them to focus on small pieces of the pie, not the entire pie.
This is only the second time I have had students work on this project. I taught this lesson 3 times today and didn’t change anything from 1st block through 3rd block. It works well and I feel I have found my grove on this particular project.

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