Saturday, October 15, 2011

PE5 Wikispaces, part II

Hello, again! After showing my AP Biology students their new class wiki on Wikispaces, I'm more excited than ever about the prospects for our class discussion board.

For those new to my blog, a bit of exposition: I've decided to create a class discussion board for my two sections of AP Biology, in hopes that they will use it as an open forum to ask questions, share news, and keep each other updated.

I've used an AP Biology class discussion board in the past, but the students found my frequent assignments limiting and, ultimately, the board felt more like a way for me to collect written assignments than an organic platform for the students to communicate. I'm hoping to overcome that problem this year by making my discussion board assignments to the students less frequent and more open-ended. With this increased sense of freedom, they will (hopefully) feel more invested in their posts, and in the discussion board itself. With my old discussion requirements, the students rarely contributed to the board without being prompted. My goal is to create an out-of-class "place" where students can go to discuss the content when they feel that they want to--not when they know that they have to for a grade.

To get the ball rolling, I have created a fairly open-ended assignment (see image) for each student's first two posts. As they are currently preparing for their midterm exam in AP Bio, I will ask that they first post a question to the board about some topic we've already covered. Their second post will be a response to another student's question.

Friday, October 14, 2011

PE4 Wikispaces

Greetings! For my Relevant and Innovative Learning Scenario (RILS), I've decided to take my Advanced Placement Biology class wiki to the next level. I will use Wikispaces as my platform. Wikispaces is an easy-to-use wiki builder. Users create their own sites, invite members to join, and then enjoy shared access to discussion board and pages. With special deals for educators and easy-to-set privacy options, it's a really great site for teachers to use with their students. In fact, I know many teachers who build their primary Web sites on Wikispaces. (I use iWeb for this purpose, because I like the design options better, but there's no denying the appealing simplicity of Wikispaces.)

Last year, I created three wikis on wikispaces--one for every course I was teaching at the time (multiple sections shared the same wiki). My hope was to have a class discussion board with regularly assigned posts. The idea really only took off, though, in my AP Biology class, where I required students to post class summaries on a rotating basis. Really, I was being selfish in this assignment; I had grown weary from emails students sent me after they were absent, asking me what they had missed in a 75-minute class period. I figured that the class summaries would solve this problem, as absent students would have a place to go before approaching me with more specific inquiries.

The class summary assignments were never popular among my students, however, and so they felt that the class discussion board was redundant. (I did, after all, already have a vibrant class homepage that I updated after every class.) I was ready to abandon the idea, until taking the Emergent Technologies In A Collaborative Culture course at Full Sail. This inspired me to open up the discussion board to ideas originated by the students. My hope is that, without having so many required posts, the board will become a more organic platform on which students can share their thoughts and questions about the class.

To that end, I've gotten to work updating the wiki's homepage (see image). Note that the discussion posts you see are remnants of my last attempt at a class discussion board. I will continue to work on the page and build the discussion board. Check back to see how the RILS turns out!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

BP 4 Podcasting by Apple Education

Screenshot from GarageBand '11
I’ve been using podcasts in my classroom for about four years now. I share these podcasts with students. They usually feature my voice, or that of a colleague, demonstrating a basic skill that students must master, like how to use a microscope, or an overview of some procedure that students must repeat, like setting up their lab books. I post these podcasts to my web site so that students can access them at home or on campus. All of my podcasts thus far have been “enhanced,” meaning that they include images along with the narration.

The Apple Education web site is a valuable one that I know exists but seldom take the time to visit. (Yes, one of many such sites!) So, when I saw the link to Apple Education Podcasts in the Online Degree’s list of “100 Essential Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers,” I decided to take a new look. I’m glad I did!

The Apple Education webpage on podcasting focuses mostly on audio podcasts that a user can create using GarageBand ’11 (also known as GarageBand 6). In the past, I have had my students working in GarageBand 5, which, functionally, is very similar in terms of its podcasting capabilities. I have my students work in groups when they create podcasts and pose some sort of question, which they must debate in their podcast. For example, my teaching partner and I ask our freshman Biology students to take controversial issues in biotechnology—human cloning, for example—and hold a debate in about three to five minutes. One student always assumes the “pro” position, another the “con,” and the third student is the moderator. Students have created some amazing projects in the past, and it’s a much more interesting product to review than a paper analyzing both sides of the argument. To me, the assignment is a great example of using technology to complement and enrich a curriculum.

The reason, though, that I’m excited by Apple’s page on podcasting, is that it summarizes some new features that I think will allow me to make podcasting a more frequent component of my communication with students and their parents. Reading this site, I learned that Podcast Producer 2, built into OS X Lion, will make publishing my own podcasts, and those of my students, much easier. The new version (an improvement on Podcast Capture, which is included in OS X Snow Leopard) will enable institutions to produce and publish podcasts en masse—a feature that I’m hopeful my school will take advantage of, as we work to update our web site.

Currently, when I have my students create their own podcasts, it’s a very time-consuming process to download their projects and then post them to my web site. With the new features in Podcast Producer 2 (to which my school will upgrade in the 2012 school year), I will be able to streamline the process.

BP 6 Link to KatieRoss

Katie posted an awesome overview of a relatively new Web 2.0 tool, the kimtag. (Gotta love the name!)

Click here for my comment on her blog.

BP 5 Link to Affecting Eternity blog

Cynthia had some great things to say on the passing of Apple innovator and entrepreneur Steve Jobs.

Click here to see my comments on Cynthia's blog.