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Over the last fifteen years I have worked closely with hundreds of schools, colleges and universities in the roll-out of eportfolios systems, curriculum mapping tools, audit frameworks and web 2.0 teaching tools. More information about my work can be found at www.danobrien.net. Activity Summary
This is my account of what happened when I took fifty “budding entrepreneurs”, gave them with a twitter-like tool and asked them to ‘tweet’ their way through a series of online tasks. I’ll explain how I kept learners focused using a specially created Wiki with videos, photos, downloads and links to relevant websites. I’ll describe the way learners responded when they were given short, online tasks in the form of mini-webquests with visible countdown timers (and how their responses were moderated of course!). I’ll discuss how the session was controlled in real-time using an interactive whiteboard and how the evidence of learning was captured and shared with others. I’ll also explain how I overcame the many safeguarding and security issues involved in using twitter in the classroom as well as the techniques used to make sure learners were able to use devices such as iPods, iPhones and mobile phones to record and submit photo, video and audio evidence of learning. Class or subject area: Cross-curricular (off time-table) event, focusing on enterprise skills and employability Grade level(s): All Specific learning objectives: • Improve learner’s enterprise* and employability skills • Enable learners to develop and apply existing ICT skills • Encourage learners to use phones, iPods, tablets and pda devices to capture evidence of learning • Allow learners to collaborate and compete in activities which are “fun” and “fast-paced”. • Provide learners with ‘exportable’ evidence they can use to further their education/career
Anniversary Book Project
Blending Twitter, Wikis and Webquests in a Collaborative (and Competitive) Classroom
By: Dan O’Brien Creative Commons License: CC BY-NC-ND Author contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Challenge I was asked to create and deliver an engaging ‘enterprise skills’ session to a group of fifty learners at Whitgift School in Lincolnshire, UK. During this technology-driven, online session, teams of learners would need to carry out web-based tasks which would guide them through the process of developing an idea for a commercial or social venture to regenerate a piece of wasteland in the local area. At the end of the online session, each team would present their idea (and evidence of learning from the previous tasks) to a panel of ‘judges’ comprising of a young person, a business person, an environmentalist and a town planner from the local council. The online session had to be “fun, fastpaced, collaborative and competitive” (competitive because the theme of the day was that teams were competing against each other, with only one idea chosen as an overall winner). My initial idea was to design a ‘real-time’ session where teams of learners would access a purposebuilt website (Wiki) containing background information and relevant tasks. The teams would then use Twitter to Tweet back their responses to the tasks on each web page. I would then ‘watch’ the stream of Tweets and use them as a basis for class discussion and feedback. After a few initial test runs, I realised there were a few problems.... • The website (Wiki) would need to be private and each team would need their own account (hassle!) • During the session, teams would jump ahead and respond to tasks on different web pages (chaos!) • Any responses sent by learners using Twitter could be viewed by the general public (danger!) • Twitter streams ‘watched’ in front of the class could be posted to by the public (even more danger!) Although the initial idea for the session was met with positive feedback - the problems associated with setting up a private website (Wiki) and using Twitter in the classroom meant I had to look for another means of achieving the same level of impact, engagement, collaboration (and don’t forget - fun!) The Solution I discovered a tool called ClassBubbles (www.classbubbles.com) which seemed to provide all the benefits of using Twitter in the classroom, whilst eliminating all of the risks. It had been purposely designed to function like Twitter - but in a closed, secure environment with added features for managing content and learners. Instead of posting “Tweets”, learners would post “bubbles” - hence the name “classbubbles”. I contacted them and found that I could pre-load the system with my own background information and tasks (like the Wiki I had envisaged) - plus I could deliver the session in real-time to our entire group of learners. Perfect! Creating the session and adding content Creating the session was fairly straightforward - it was just a case of completing a short web-form with basic information about the session I had planned. Interestingly, I was able to choose my own web address where the session would be accessed and protect it with a unique security key. [Fig 1] The screenshot to the left shows the web form used to create the session.
Once I’d created the session I was able to use a wysiwyg editor to add a series of twelve content pages and relevant tasks. I kept the tasks short and to the point and provided extra “hints” so that learners knew the type of responses they were expected to make. [Fig 2] The screenshot to the right shows a panel of background information loaded onto the left and the matching task loaded onto the right. (In this task the learners had to post “bubbles” containing the start-up or running costs for their ideas - I took the screenshot after the session so you can actually see their real responses!). On the day On the day, I divided the group of learners into teams of five (one computer per team) and asked them to log in at the unique web address I’d chosen when creating the session. (I could have asked each learner to log in on their own and work independently - but I felt there would have been too many responses appearing on the screen at one time.) As each team logged in I saw their avatar (icon) appear across the bottom of my screen on the interactive whiteboard. Interestingly - I didn’t need to create any team or learner accounts prior to the session - they simply entered a team name and choose a password the first time they logged in. The teams could then log in with the same name and password at any stage throughout the day and it would remember their previous “bubbles”. [Fig 3] The screenshots to the left shows the difference between my screen on the interactive whiteboard used to run the session (top) and the learners screen on their desktop (bottom). Notice that on my screen (top) I have additional buttons and session controls whereas the learners have a box to enter their responses (their ‘bubbles’). I’d been given a few handy ‘tips’ from the team at classbubbles to help my session run smoothly. Firstly, I “locked” the information and task panels so whatever appeared on my screen (on the interactive whiteboard) also
appeared on the learners screens - this stopped them jumping ahead to different tasks. I also made it so that learners could not see each other’s bubbles - this stopped them typing in messages to each other and using the system like a private “chat room”. Setting tasks with count-down timers Many of the tasks that I had designed were short and to-the-point. The teams would need carry out some basic research (based on the content that I’d loaded onto the left of the screen), digest it, discuss it, then post their responses in the “bubbles” - which would appear on the interactive whiteboard. To make sure learners new how long they had to do research and post their “bubbles” I would launch the count-down timer which appeared on all the screens. [Fig 4] The screenshot on the left shows the top-right area of my screen where I could navigate through the tasks and set the count-down timer. (You can also see the padlock icon on the right which I used to “lock” all the screens on the same information and task). Learners post their responses in “bubbles” As soon as the task appeared on screen - learners would rush off to research and post their “bubbles”. The count-down timers seemed to add an element of urgency and focus - and there was a definitely competition between the teams to post the best or first “bubble”. In addition to text responses - the learners could also post hyperlinks and attachments. I took this into consideration with some of the extended tasks which required learners to produce a PowerPoint presentation and attach it to their “bubble” as part of their response. (I set the count-down timer to longer, e.g. 10-20 minutes for these tasks.) Blended learning with mobile devices to capture evidence Some of the tasks were designed to blend online learning with more traditional forms of of paper-based work, e.g. ‘brainstorming’, financial calculations and graphic design. For these tasks I created a series of printed templates which learners would complete alongside the digital equivalents. These seemed to work well with learners who were not comfortable using computers for long periods of time. [Fig 5] The screenshot to the right shows some of the printed templates used in-conjunction with the online
tasks. I did have an initial concerns that this paper-based evidence would be difficult and time-consuming to digitally scan and upload into the learners “bubbles”. However, as a high percentage of the learners had with them mobile phones or other devices capable of recording photos and sending them as email attachments - we were able to use a very innovative approach. Each task in the session was given a temporary email address which was displayed on the screen. This meant that learners could email their photos directly from their devices and they would appear instantly inside their teams “bubbles” on the relevant task. [Fig 6] The screenshot to the left shows a “bubble” which was emailed from a learners mobile phone. Capturing video and audio Amazingly, the same principle applied to video and audio content! Learners were able to record clips on their iPod and iPhones, trim or edit them - then email them to the relevant task. The clips appeared within a few seconds in the stream of “bubbles”, automatically converted - and ready to watch in an online flash player. Moderating, star rating and commenting on “bubbles” Our initial plan to use Twitter as the means for learners to post responses had met with criticism because of the lack of control over what was being posted and by whom. This was not the case with ClassBubbles, I was able to delete any ‘rogue’ responses (and block learners) as well as star rate or
comment on exemplary “bubbles”. On the day, I actually asked a colleague to act as an “expert” and post feedback messages on “bubbles” from a remote location. The learners were highly motivated (and intrigued) by this and very eager to receive positive comments! [Fig 7] The screenshot below shows how learners are displayed across the bottom of the screen and the buttons used to block them (which removed their message box) or find and export their “bubbles”.
Exporting “bubbles” When the learners had completed all the tasks they were able to export their “bubbles” and use them as a basis for a presentation to a panel of experts. Learners were able export a printable version of their responses or a zip file containing their “bubbles” plus all their file attachments. I was able to export “bubbles” and attachments from individual learners - or all teams in one go! Conclusion In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that the session was a huge success. The process of having learners perform their own research based on digital content (or signposted content on other websites) - digest it and discuss it within their teams - then post their considered responses in “bubbles”, which were reviewed and discussed as a class was pedagogically sound. I can honestly say that the level of engagement, collaboration and dare I say ‘fun’ over an entire morning session would be fairly hard to repeat. I’m now in the process of working with other teachers who are intending to use the same system as a means of delivering curriculum content in their lessons. We’re also experimenting with using content based on current affairs in the news as a stimulus for class discussion which can be captured in the form of ‘bubbles’. To obtain a release from the developer of ClassBubbles please contact email@example.com
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