Thursday, February 11, 2010

Getting Wiki With Research Paper Drafting

This year I'm having my students draft their research papers on our class wiki on PBWorks. And I'm loving it.

First, it solves the transfer problem of having to save files at home or at school. It's all online. Students can write in class, in the writing center, in the media center, at home, at the public library, and at Starbucks.

Since we have a campus license, I can set page-level access, so that everyone's draft is private. While all the tentative processes of rough composition take place writers can have their privacy (yet be visible to me for assessing their progress). When the first full rough cut is ready, I can open their pages to one peer mutually.

Moreover, I'm not collecting a variety of handwritten or typed drafts of intro paragraphs, counterarguments, supports and conclusions. All of their progress is not only visible but also documented as to when it was saved, thanks to a page history feature.  I can see everyone's progress as soon as he or she clicks save.  I can also gage each student's progress (or lack thereof) and add encouragement or warnings along the way.

Students report a few downsides.  If they don't save frequently, they leave themselves open to power failures and lost keystrokes (PB Works has a save-and-continue feature in their Beta editor, coming).  And they must have Internet access--not such a problem in this digital age, but still a factor for some that share their computers with family, or the power goes off (which did happen this year due some bad weather).

Still, the ability to work at school and at home in a common online medium has more pluses than minuses. Haven't we all heard the refrain "I can't write in class"? Indeed, some students are more productive at home, when they are alone and not hopping from one bell to the next. They can spread out their notes, sip coffee, and hunker down for some quality drafting. For instance, this year, in the week students were working our their first drafts, we had several snow days, and students could keep working away from school.  And from home, I could watch their progress during our time away from school and offer coaching in the comment fields. The connectivity seemed to motivate both student and teacher, while helping everyone to beat cabin fever during the blizzard.

As students finish their papers they upload their Word files to the wiki for peer editing thanks to Word's review and comment feautures. Then it's on to the next draft and submit to teacher in Word.  Having the papers in electronic form facilitates plagiarism checking; I can simply pass along the paper to a checking service if it looks too good to be true. 

Next, I use Word to add my comments and mark the papers, send the amended file back through the wiki, and wait for the third and final draft.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let it Snow!

Like many teachers and students in the Mid-Atlantic States, I've been experiencing a week of snow days. After quickly reminding my envious friends that I must make these days up on fairer days, I settle in to catching up on grading papers, replying to student blogs, and prepping for next week's classes.  Then calm.

A chance to think, to mull, to surf, and to read unlike what I had been accustomed to save my salad days of grad school or dog days of summer. Being unable to get out of the house, with two feet of fluff on the ground and a few more inches falling, I'm granted that rarest of commodities--time unscheduled.

Time to be reflective, creative, thoughtful, intellectual, sentimental, and focused.  I'm catching up with the September issue of Educational Leadership and the November issue of English Journal. I'm chairing a curriculum committee on 21st Century Learning Standards and both have periodical have offerings on the topic.

In EL, Terrence Clark's article "21st Century Scholars" tell of a program inspired by the curriculum framework of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. "The district's high school developed a program that gives students the opportunity to build an impressive electronic portfolio documenting an array of mind-stretching experiences, which take place outside of regular school hours in the afternoon, evening, on weekends, or during vacations."

In EJ, Jim Burke's piece for the English Journal's "From the Secondary Section" column, presents "Reimagining English: The Seven Personae of the Future."  He gives Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future an English teacher's perspective and profiles a lucky seven archetypes for the Millennials in our English courses.  These personae have one common denominator: imagination.  Burke lists:
storyteller, philosopher, historian, anthropollogist, reporter, critic, designer
It may seem that some of these are far afield from how we English teachers have thought of our craft. Burke argues:
This is the future we must imagine, the one in which our students will live. These are the personae they will adopt and adapt as society and the workplace evolve. Some will wonder where literature is, where culture can be found in this model. Yet I see our rich tradition of literature and language, rhetoric and composition, prose and poetry already existent in all these roles. It is simply time to reimagine how our discipline might be reenvisioned.  
Even without these personae in mind, many English teachers know that their work has helped students who have gone on to create, innovate, and cope with cultural change.  Now to remain relevant our cultural change Burke joins the chorus of Daniel Pink and Ken Robinson (and many others)  in calling us to make imaginarion, creativity, and collaboration the brain, heart, and soul of our courses.  More on the challenge of this in a future post.

Right now I have some shoveling to do.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Marvel of a Hand-Held Gadget

With the iPad introduced this week, I'm urged to publish about a strong competitor in the hand-held device market.

I'm in love with my alternative. Having an amazing ability to store and index information, it is not only user-friendly for reading but also great at catching my thoughts for when I want to jot and save short short notes, questions, musings and other marginalia. It also will store nicely small add-ins like sticky notes. I've tabbed the most commonly used information for future reference. One feature I really like is random access; I can bring up any topic, literally at my fingertips.

Green devices like this are all the rage these days. It's not great in the dark, but it's reading surface actually uses available light or solar to make text and visuals pop out in full color, so it never needs to be recharged. There are no cords to get tangled or that need to be toted about with it.

My model comes in a durable shell and I've found (by accident) it can withstand dropping from heights from as great at ten feet or more without damage to its core data. In fact, I think the data is likely to last for years and years . The information stays organized and never requires defragging.

Snazzy skins are available from the manufacturer, or you can make your own to personalize and for some added protection and style. Currently there are no known viruses and only some extremely rare worms that trouble the hardware, so I'm don't waste money on expensive security subscriptions.

These gadgets come in so many versions. There's one for just about every need. And the omnivore can also find ones that are have encyclopedic data. While such versions are bundled with a variety of data, most come customized to fulfill a particular need, so you needn't carry along a bunch of important data that you don't need.

Perhaps the greatest thing compared to similar data technologies is the price. I like it so much I've got shelves of them. Yes, there's nothing like a good book.

Image:  "The Sun in My Hand 1." By Whatever. 29 Jan. 2009. Flickr.  Used by permission via Creative Commons License: BY, NC, SA.