Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Archive for the tag “online learning”

7 classroom uses for forums and discussion boards

These days, discussion boards and forums are pretty ubiquitous.

You can find discussions on almost any kind of website — about products to buy, music to listen to, food to eat, other websites to visit. There are probably discussion boards about discussion boards somewhere.

They really do highlight what we know and love about the modern Internet. They’re instant. Anyone can join the discussion (most of the time). We create and interact with content instead of just consuming it.

That’s why they’re perfect for classroom use. They hit many of our students’ strengths. Many of our students have never known of information sources where they couldn’t interact. (Except maybe those pesky textbooks.)

And they’re very accessible. Several course management programs such as Moodle, Edmodo and My Big Campus already feature them. They’re easy to set up. They’re easy to monitor. And the student collaboration possibilities are huge.

Discussion boards are even available for the less-than-tech-savvy educators. It’s called flip chart paper. Butcher paper. Chalkboards. The “graffiti on the wall” concept. Pose a question and let students discuss.

Here are some ideas for using discussion boards in the classroom:

1. Student opinions on content. After studying a concept, let students talk about it. There’s a lot we can learn from this collaboration — what they don’t understand, what stimulates them, what we left out of our teaching, etc. It may also encourage some peer teaching, which we know can often be more effective than teacher instruction.

2. Hypothesizing. Take an idea from your curriculum and turn it on its head. How would life be now if the Cuban Missile Crisis hadn’t been resolved? What how would the story be different if the main character hadn’t died that tragic death? This touches on some of the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

3. Vocabulary practice. Let students create a story together using new vocabulary — one line at a time, adapting to each other’s posts. Post a picture and have students write creative sentences/thoughts about it using vocabulary. Play with language.

4. Quiz show. Have students develop their own questions for each other from material you’ve been covering. They pose them to each other and answer in the comments section.

5. Anticipating. Stop in the middle of a story or chapter and, before proceeding, have students anticipate what is coming next. History, literature and so many other things we examine in school have such strong ties to students’ lives. Let them (or help them) make those connections.

6. Solving problems. Students can tackle the problems of the world, big and small through discussion boards. Pose a question relevant to what you’re covering and have them present well developed solutions.

7. Support. Offering a discussion board for students to ask questions about homework, a reading or a topic from class discussion opens up a potentially 24-hour help desk. Students can help students, or the teacher can provide help, too.

Things to consider — The level of privacy is crucial here. Discussion boards, I believe, must be closed to anyone who isn’t involved with the class. They can be opened to a whole class or grade level,MIT never to the public. It is up to us to protect our students’ personal information and protect them from predators.

Also, keep a close eye on what students are saying in these discussion boards, either from your own computer or by watching over their shoulders. This helps to ensure the integrity of your activity (avoiding student talk about how the cheerleaders look in their new uniforms). It also protects you and your students from the repercussions of inappropriate posts.

How do you grade these discussion boards? Often, in my Spanish classes, I just require a number of posts or comments and type my own comments to point out grammatical mistakes or ideas they may have missed. A rubric could be developed to pinpoint your expectations for students. Or it could simply be a class discussion tool for no credit or extra credit.

When done well, discussion boards are meaningful, interesting activities that take little preparation time and engage students.

In fact, you might save enough time to read (and re-read) all of my posts at Ditch That Textbook!

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Is Wikipedia reliable?

(Creative Commons photo of Wembley Stadium / Nicholas Babaian)

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re standing in the middle of the biggest stadium you can imagine. (I’m thinking of Wembley Stadium in London, which seats 90,000 people.)

You’re getting ready to give a five-minute presentation on a topic with which you’re fairly comfortable.
But there’s a catch.

All of those thousands of people listening and watching have smartphones. And they have the capability to send text messages to the enormous video screen in the stadium if you make a mistake to correct you.
Makes me sweat a little just thinking about it.
But what if you were the information receiver instead of the information giver? There’s a pretty good chance – although not 100 percent – chance that an “expert” and thousands of amateur editors could get the facts straight, right?
Welcome to the world of Wikipedia, bane of many a teacher’s existence, salvation of many lazy students with research papers to do.
Countless educators have told their classes, “Wikipedia does NOT count as reliable research!” And, to some degree, they’re right.
But should we just drop it from consideration entirely?
Here’s your one-paragraph background on Wikipedia: it’s an open-source article database, meaning that users can add, delete and modify its content. Its array of topics is vast, and its contributors (called “Wikipedians”) number more than 16 million (in number of registered named accounts).
It’s the open-source part that many educators take issue with. If anyone – an expert in the field or some guy who wants to pull a prank – can modify the articles, how can they be reliable?
The short answer is that Wikipedia’s articles aren’t guaranteed to be reliable. But they come pretty close, according to some research.
The main study cited in the Wikipedia reliability argument was published in 2005 by a journal called Nature. Nature submitted articles from Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica — considered a more traditional, reliable source — for experts in those articles’ fields to review for accuracy.

The experts reviewed and returned 42 articles, and the results were interesting. Eight of the articles total from both sources had what were called “serious errors” — four from Wikipedia and four from Britannica.

The rate of average factual errors in those articles was pretty similar (at least, depending on your perspective). In those 42 articles, Wikipedia had 162 factual errors (3.86 errors per article), while Britannica had 123 factual errors (2.92 errors per article).

Wikipedia’s founder told CNET he was “very pleased” with the results, while Britannica’s president claimed that the study showed that Wikipedia was a third more inaccurate. Again, it depends on your point of view.

Other similar studies are posted on Wikipedia’s own Wikipedia reliability page (a page on Wikipedia about Wikipedia alone makes me a bit skeptical).

As an educator, these findings tell me a few things.

One, we shouldn’t rule Wikipedia out as a resource for conducting research. Again, think back to the speech in the stadium. With so many observers watching — even more now than when that study was done in 2005 — the chances of accuracy are pretty good. Sure, they’re not perfect, but even trusted information sources make mistakes.

Two, that still seems like a lot of errors to me. And if Britannica — a source I’ve trusted for years — can’t be any more accurate than that, we had better verify with multiple sources. There’s a rule in the newspaper business: always verify your facts, even if your mother said it. We need to teach our students to find truth online, not just find the first “fact” that they can.

Which begs the question, “How do we do that?”

The website for the “Dummies” how-to books offers some tips that go beyond “just dig until you’re sure.”

  • Look for a slant, especially in one-source articles.
  • Consider the source. Sometimes information is taken, but unfairly and inaccurately.
  • Look who’s talking. If you can ascertain that a source is an expert, that increases credibility.
  • Wikipedia should be a starting point for research. Footnotes give links or information to the article’s sources, allowing readers to do their homework.
  • Beware of “edit wars,” where two contributors with opposing views change each other’s content. This can be viewed sometimes in the edit history of an article.

So just because it comes from Wikipedia, that doesn’t mean it’s likely to be inaccurate. We can’t make those kinds of assumptions anymore.

But it does mean that we should verify our information before we announce it to thousands at Wembley Stadium.


BONUS LINK — Wikipedia’s 5 Pillars (the fundamental principles by which Wikipedia operates): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars


A month of Web 2.0 apps

Digital Learning Day is upon us. For those of us that love to dabble or delve into technology in our classrooms, it gives us a chance to hone and refine our skills, add new tools to our arsenal. For the ed tech newbie, it’s a great opportunity to jump right in.

The Indiana Department of Education is offering 29 days of useful Web 2.0 apps with tutorials and tips for use — a new one each day of February. I’m a teacher in Indiana, so this applies directly to me, but teachers in any state of the US or in many countries around the world can join in this, too.

Even the most seasoned technology-using educator will likely find a new site or app that he/she can incorporate. Check it out — idoe29dayweb20challenge.blogspot.com.

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