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NCTE: Social Media and Learning

By Elizabeth Rich — November 19, 2010 3 min read
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Live from the National Council of Teachers of English, Annual Convention, Orlando

Greetings and apologies for the lack of posting from the convention world of Disney where things are not always “magical.” I’ve had a lot of technical issues which have made live blogging virtually impossible.

This afternoon I attended a session called “Designing and Assessing Student Learning With Social Media.” It was kind of like speed dating, as my friend Donalyn Miller pronounced it, so I didn’t get to every table but what I heard was interesting. There was more “designing” and a little less “assessing” from what I gleaned, but there was also more discussion around “how do we assess” the use of social media in the classroom? For the record, there’s not really one clear answer. For example, one table of teachers tossed around the question, are you grading on execution or are you grading for understanding. Let me explain:

Meredith Stewart, who teaches history and English and is also an active member of Jim Burke’s English Companion Ning, is super smart with technology. I remember this from meeting her last year at Jim’s Ning rendezvous at NCTE. She had her students design a war memorial (unfortunately, I don’t remember with what software or platform). The memorial had to be based on one of three wars that they had studied in class. They then had to write a letter to Congress (presumably someone from their district) to find support for the building of their design.

Question arose: Do you grade them for the idea and content and/or for the technical execution of the design? There was no clear consensus at the table. Your thoughts?
Another teacher shared the story of a trip she and her students took to Washington, D.C. They had to raise the money themselves, which they did from all corners of the country. When they returned they created a Voice Thread “thank you” for those who made their trip possible. They took photographs from the trip and voiced messages of thanks which they laid down as a narration track under the images. They sent every person who contributed to their trip a link to the Voice Thread. It sounded like it was a big hit with everyone. (And she did this in spite of her district discouraging her from using Voice Thread.)

Educator Jennifer Ansbach works used to work in a very poor N.J. district. Her current district doesn’t have enough computers for their students, so where most kids don’t have computers at home and they can’t regularly get on them at school don’t have ready access. In order to get on a computer, she has to make appointments for her students at the library. She walks them down there and prays, she said, that they can get online. Because of a system bug, if the district senses that too many kids are on a site at once, like 25 kids getting on a Ning, it shuts down.

Her kids enjoy blogging, which they are doing on a closed Ning that she created. (Nings are no longer free, by the way, instead there are tiered levels.) She takes the idea of her kids learning how to comment seriously. She believes it’s a really important skill for public discourse, which she said they love. She relies on good models to teach best practice for public comments--one of which is not the local newspaper where she finds the comments “inappropriate.” (And frankly, who can blame her? Have you ever read online comments for any newspaper?)

So, what do you do when you want your students to learn how to comment, but you can’t get them on computers regularly? Jennifer makes it work with paper and pencil—the old fashioned way. She lays the printed blog down on a desk or puts it up on the wall and provides space for her students to write their comments. They pass the document around and engage in a discussion on paper. It’s a transferable skill, as she pointed out, so it doesn’t really matter whether you’re online or off.

When the kids are online she said the grading process is “simplified” and a “faster exchange.”

There were a lot of interesting resources that were shared in the room. Here’s a list of some of them that you might find useful:

Blogs and Nings
Twitter or Hoot Suite (which is another path to Twitter)
Social Bookmarks
Voice Thread
Good Reads

No doubt you’re already using some of these and/or know about most of them.

More to come, including Gary Paulsen’s ALAN award speech this morning and an open session with Ed. Department called “Listening to Teachers” which is about to start.

I’ll leave it there...

Correction: Jennifer Ansbach asked me to make the above corrections that she no longer works in a very poor district and that her district has a bug that’s crashing their Internet; in other words, the district IT folks aren’t doing it intentionally.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.