Social networking is not a bubble filled with colleagues we know. It’s precisely the opposite – an enormous, continuously changing environment in which we choose to collaborate and learn from people we may not know personally. It’s a new pedagogical ecosystem that takes down classroom walls and makes our teaching transparent. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to appreciate the power of social networking in education. Unfortunately, many teachers are afraid to take that risk today.
Edmodo is a great example of a dynamic online environment that helps build a learning community in which every member is given a voice and empowered to influence another. I’ve used Edmodo for two years, and I find it to be a perfect platform for teaching digital literacy and writing. Either it’s a brainstorming activity or feedback on a rough draft, Edmodo offers features to do it effectively and efficiently. There is something special about being able to post a question, sit back, and watch kids think and communicate online. I know who my students truly are because Edmodo conversations let the students run the learning show while I am offstage, assessing their skills and academic performance. I love the annotating tool within assignments, too. This feature allows me to comment on student work submitted in any format (documents, Power Point presentations, images, and etc.), converse with a student about mistakes, and continue a one-on-one writing conference in this manner. One click, and students are able to see my notes, start revisions, or ask questions. As each draft improves, Edmodo keeps track of all submitted versions which enables me to see how well students analyze feedback and are able to improve own work. In addition, a few Edmodo apps that support writing instruction in a classroom are available for purchase. Teachers can join Language Art or Writing communities to collaborate with other professionals on specific topics, strategies, or lesson ideas.
To me, Google Docs are a well-packaged collaborative platform, and its possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. I know many of us create documents and presentations to share with others, but we often forget the purpose of this tool: creating something together, revising, and perfecting it. I imagine Google Docs being an engine for writing instruction. For example, a document can be a place for groups to brainstorm ideas, categorize them, and develop a plan in the pre-writing stage. While writing rough drafts, students can evaluate each other’s work using requirements of a rubric and provide specific feedback to improve it. Writing itself can be collaborative: students may work in pairs to develop a story. Teachers would not need to carry thirty composition books home to read and comment on student writing. Instead, they can dive into it with Google Docs, comment on strength, and define weaknesses upon which students can act immediately.
I also imagine teachers writing together with Google Docs. Why not to set up a document that would serve as a lesson plan template? Teachers can divide and conquer multiple subjects or units at the same time. While one is developing lessons for math, another teacher finishes language arts activities. With no emails or hard copies, both have access to the ready-to-go lesson plans. Google Docs can help us teach kids how to plan, execute, and evaluate work that is accomplished collaboratively. The same approach can be implemented when developing teaching or professional learning resources. Collaboratively created presentations and documents can then be implemented in classrooms and/or become a part of the school resource library. Below is an example of a short presentation that offers some suggestions on how technology can be implemented in writing instruction.
Honestly, I do not even remember what I did to gather and record information before I learned about Google Forms. Did I take notes on every response and then manually combined them into a data sheet? That’s a scary thought…Today, I use Google Form almost everyday. For example, I fill one out every time I observe teachers and provide feedback on their technology integration strategies. I have developed a simple form and set it up so the feedback is automatically emailed to teachers as soon as I click the submit button. The feedback is immediate, and I have a summary report for every observation I conduct. Then I analyze the combined data, represent it in numbers and graphs, and share it with the staff. I have implemented other forms for the kindergarten registration process, app suggestion surveys, the end-of-the-year technology check list, and many more. Just like social networking tools, Google Docs are a convenient way to support creativity, communication, and collaboration among teachers, students, and parents.