Incorporating technology into our teaching is not always easy or simple. Technology for its own sake does not enhance learning. We need to find the right technology to engage our students and enhance their learning. Another component has to be our own comfort with using the technology. For some of us, that may mean using the blogs and journals found in Blackboard. For others, branching out to incorporate some Web 2.0 tools into our current teaching style, subject matter, and assignments. The technology should not be an added burden, but should be a tool to augment learning and teaching. That it can add elements of engagement and even fun should be bonuses. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, reminds us that “digital learning starts with teachers, whose performance is enhanced by technology—not the other way around.”
I enjoy scouring the Web for innovative tools to share with students and colleagues. In searching, I keep in mind the goal of locating tools which will be easy to use, free, and, primarily, enable students to learn. In several recent workshops, I have shared some tools to aid in teaching and learning.
Last fall and this spring, I have facilitated workshops with new faculty and long-time faculty, both part-time and full-time. On all those occasions, my objective included demonstrating Web 2.0 tools that work well in the classroom and that lend themselves to meaningful assignments. I choose tools that I have used successfully in the classroom and ones that students have shown they can use easily—and that they enjoy incorporating into their work.
In the recent workshops, I have shared JogtheWeb, InstaGrok, Themeefy, Linoit, Wordle, and Glogster*. These Web 2.0 tools are free or have a free component, sufficient for our use.
On the home page of JogtheWeb, we learn Jog the Web “is a Web-based tool that allows anyone to create a synchronous guide to a series of Web sites.” What does that description mean in terms of our using it, however? By creating a free account at JogtheWeb, we can collect Web sites on specific topics, add pages with our own content, and share the link with others. I created a jog on Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a short story about soldiers in the Vietnam War. The sites collected include O’Brien’s home page, history of the Vietnam War, soldiers’ accounts of their experiences in the war, and a reading guide. I added questions for students. The questions and readings helped students understand the story fully. JogtheWeb also allows students to comment on the sites, another possible component of an assignment. One of the most enjoyable jogs I have assembled has also offered an opportunity for students to learn firsthand how unreliable information on the Web can be. I chose sixteen bogus sites for that jog. Students in groups of three had to evaluate three of the sites. After we had discussed how to evaluate sites, students turned to the jog, not knowing all the sites were fraudulent. The students reported to the whole class on their sites, explaining why the sites were legitimate or bogus because some of the sites were persuasive enough to make students believe they were legitimate. That assessment provoked yet another discussion about determining legitimacy in sources.
InstaGrok, a search engine, allows users to create a free account and keep track of Web searches. It yields better results than Google, Bing, or Yahoo, but users still must evaluate the sources. The key features include an interactive “concept chart” of results on a topic, history of searches, and a journal. Clicking on a circle in the chart will produce additional results. The searches return Web sites, videos, and images. InstaGrok will also create a quiz on material from the sites. The journal permits users to click Web sites to “pin” Web sites, videos, and images for further study and reading. Perhaps as important, the journal also allows users to write their own notes. The journal gives us one more way to remind students that keeping notes as we read is a useful way to remember and incorporate ideas.
Using Themeefy, students and faculty can create online magazines consisting of Web sites, videos, images, and their own text. The magazine is attractive and interactive. I created a Themeefy magazine about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The magazine included information on Shelley herself, the story, and other tidbits to enhance the reading for students. For a recent workshop, I created a magazine on hypertension. Themeefy offers another way to pull material together to engage students—and faculty. We can have students create their own magazines on specific topics.
A number of online bulletin boards are available for our use, but Linoit has become one of my favorites. It allows anonymous posts, but I prefer having students create an account so their names appear on their posts. On Linoit, we can put notes, questions, videos, images, and links. We can have boards on the open Web or keep them private. Recently, I created a board for a Comp II class and invited the students by email so only they and I could see and post on the board. I put questions relating to a story they had read and asked them to answer the questions, post a picture relevant to the story, and respond to a classmate’s post.
I am sure you have seen word clouds, groups of words that form an attractive picture. At Wordle.net, we can paste words to develop a picture. I use the snipping tool in Microsoft Office to turn the Wordle into a PNG which I can then insert into Word, PowerPoint or Blackboard. We can have students write their own text and put it into Wordle; then they can identify repeated words, or words that stand out over the others. While you can think of ways to use word clouds on your own, at 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning by Michael Gorman, read “108 Ways to Use Word Clouds in the Classroom…Word Clouds in Education Series: Part 2.”
Are you tired of PowerPoint for presentations? Try Glogster! Glogster is an online poster site. Users can put videos, links, pictures, and text onto the posters. I created a Glogster assignment so online students could introduce themselves to the rest of the class; students had to incorporate specific items and they received a grade on the Glog. In a Strategies class, students taught a simple component of the class using Glogster; the students had to consist of an appropriate video, pictures, and text to demonstrate their subject such as note taking, or test-taking skills.
JogtheWeb, InstaGrok, Themeefy, Linoit, Wordle, and Glogsterl allow us to engage students by using technology that lends itself to helping students learn. All of these tools are as useful as we make them. I challenge you to choose two of the tools and create an account so you can fully investigate the opportunities the site offers. We could begin an online repository of assignments we share across disciplines. Attend the next workshop to learn more about Web 2.0 tools; the list of tools available continues to grow, expanding our opportunities to engage our students and enhance learning for all of us. These tools are all part of the social networking that our students use and know, so these tools allow us to meet the students on their own turf. Perhaps you already have your own favorite tools to share.
*URLs for the tools listed: