There’s No Place Like Home

October 5, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

(post authored by Mary Vosburg)

Literacy is constantly changing.  Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and photo streams point the way to the future of communication.  What was once spoken in class is now written down in the digital world.  However, some people fear that new technology will seduce kids away from books.  But do online discussions promote literacy?

In the article “Blogging is History: Taking Classroom Discussions Online,” the story of an AP American history teacher was told.  In 2006, Eric Langhorst had his students read Guerrilla Season, by Pat Hughes.  Instead of solely discussing this book in class, he setup an online blog book group.  His 300+ students could all discuss this book 24/7.  Not only were his students allowed in blog, but also parents of the students.  Each week, Langhorst posted several discussion questions. Students were encouraged to make their own posts along with commenting on other student’s posts.  This online discussion allowed students to openly express their thoughts and opinions without the structure and time restrictions of the classroom.  Students were reading the thoughts of other students instead of listening to them.   The students gained a good understanding of the book through reading and responding to other people’s comments.

Online discussion allows students to interact with classmates outside class. There is no set time or fixed space for students in an online discussion. Students can log on at any time and from any Internet-enabled computer.  A successful online discussion has the same effect of group or in-class discussion.  The conversation should build on the students’ perspectives to gain a deeper understanding of the materials.

Clarence Fisher, a Canadian teacher, produced an informative video/podcast (http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=50) that is worth viewing.  It documents where literacy has been and where it is going.  Literacy in the classroom will come in the form of many web 2.0 tools (wikis, blogs, digital photos, etc.). He also believes we need to teach students about options they have for producing content. How do they learn to choose an effective medium in the midst of so many possibilities?

Online classroom discussions allow every student to participate in the class without being forced to come up with an immediate response.  Some students need time to think before responding.  Online discussions allow those students more time to think.  Moreover, online discussions allow students to participate in classroom discussion even on days that they do not have that class.  Since discussions are text-based, students can easily save entire conversations and access them at a later time.  Many times when I have been in class a thought about a particular conversation does not come to me until hours later.  This form of communication allows those thoughts to be expressed and discussed.

There are a couple questions that come to mind when thinking about adding online class discussions to my class.  Do all of my students have access to the internet?  If not, what should I do then? How can I make sure that students are doing background readings? These questions are things teachers need to consider before adding online class discussions.  I believe it is the future of the classroom to go online for certain sections of the class.  More and more information is being found on the web instead in hard copy articles.  Giving students the ability to express their opinions on certain topics online at home it the future of classrooms.  After all, there is no place like home to do some school work.

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  1. Mary, you make some very good points supporting the value of on-line discussions. Even I, the class relic, am experiencing the advantages of communicating to fellow students on wikis and blog sites. As you say, these media are flexible in time and space. One can offer comments at any time and from most any place. A student who might not participate in the classroom could more comfortably take part in an on-line discussion without worrying so much about what others might think or say. Another one of your strong points is that it does give students some time to think and respond, as well. Many people have cognitive revelations at odd points in time or a long time after class. They could then hop on their computer and share their thoughts with the community rather than waiting until the next class when another topic is likely under discussion. Additionally, there is another huge advantage gained from all the different perspectives that are now available on a topic. This results in a wider scope of understanding. Also, people from all over the world can communicate on a topic. Access is not limited to a classroom.

    In another vein, there is a distinct advantage in on-line discussion because all comments are captured in writing. If someone is interested in referencing another’s comment, they can go back in the text, find it, and use it or comment on it. Verbal discussions in class usually have no documentation, so many points are lost. You also have a valid concern for those students who do not have access to computers. This situation is likely more prevalent in homes where the parents either cannot afford computers or they are not technologically savvy. Teachers can play a big role here by helping students gain access while they are in school or after school.

    There are a couple of issues to be wary of, though, when using on-line written communication. While working for several years in the corporate world, the main form of written communication was email. In terms of the written text transferred, there is little difference between email and blogs or wikis. Usually it was effective, but I can remember some situations where it was disadvantageous. What is lost are the gestures and intonations that are a strong part of communication. Written statements can be interpreted in many different ways. There were many instances where people just decided to get together and talk about an issue rather than continue to write about it.

    A second issue I recall was that if a group of people really needed to come to agreement on or decide something as a team, it was far more effective to meet and talk about it rather than cascade a set of notes a mile long. I am particularly reminded of the physical technology project that a team of four of us did in GMST 560 last semester. We used a wiki as our form of communication. I think we generated something like 137 entries over the course of three weeks. The team persisted in communicating in this fashion and it eventually worked out. But I cannot help but think that a couple of one hour meetings face to face would have cut down on this significantly.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am a big supporter of using wikis and blog sites for on-line communication. I think they are far better than email because a whole community can interact dynamically. I am even a Facebook user now and enjoy it. I am only saying that there are times, when they must be dropped for face to face communication, especially when topics are emotional or need to be consolidated. Aren’t we concerned that we will get to a point where we will not really talk to each other about topics or issues anymore? Sometimes I not only want to read what someone else is thinking, I want to see, hear and feel what they are thinking.


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