Thursday, August 5, 2010

Student PLN's

Copied from my blog: Suter's ED620 Class Blog

In my previous post I discussed the possibility of having my students create their own personal learning networks for environmental science class. After pondering this for a while longer I have decided to start the year by having them take some initial steps in doing this. The first thing I am going to have them do is to create a wordpress blog (If blogger becomes part of the Google Apps for Education I will use it) like we are using for class. In fact, I have “stolen” much of the directions for this assignment from this course. I set up the blog assignment on an environmental website I have been working on for class. Students will be required to blog a minimum of once every two weeks. Students will receive class time every other Friday to read each others blogs and comment on them. I envision using the last part of these periods to have a group discussion about what the class has blogged about. I modified the rubric from class a bit and plan on using it to grade blog entries.

One of the big issues for me was determining how I was going to keep up with reading three classes worth of blog entries and also give the students access to each others blogs. I believe I have solved these issues. As for keeping up with the students blogs, I plan on subscribing to them in Google Reader. By making a folder for each class following their blogs via their RSS feeds will be relatively easy. When setting up the website I posted a google form with two questions. Students will fill out the form adding both their period number and blog address. Right below the form I inserted a google spreadsheet. Once the students add their information to the form it will show up in the spreadsheet. Until Google Apps starts to include Google Reader (which the tech guy at school believes will happen soon), I will have the students access each others blogs from this part of the page. Once Google Reader becomes part of Google Apps I will be able to aid the students in setting up feeds. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I could set them up and share them with the students.

In addition to blogging I am also going to have the students set up twitter accounts. We are going to start by just following all the students in the environmental classes. Twitter will be used for various class activities at first. When Google Reader is added, I might have students start following some environmental bloggers and tweeters to aid them in finding topics to blog about.

Why do all this?
  1. The first answer that comes to mind is that it will aid at bringing current events and expert opinions into the classroom. 
  2. There are a few major issues that act as an umbrella over almost every topic we discuss in class. Some students might find that they have a passion for one of those issues (recycling, global warming, etc.) and start to develop a voice and a love of learning for a specific topic as the year progresses. This is really the reason that excites me the most. I hope to find a few students that really become passionate about a topic in environmental science and start to apply themselves well above and beyond my expectations. 
  3. Even if a student doesn’t become an avid self-directed learner of environmental science, helping them to see the value of these tools, and the application of a personal learning network, might prove an invaluable skill they later apply to another field of study. 
Feel free to visit my environmental page’s blogging section and offer any suggestions about any of this. I am entering uncharted territory here and value the opinion of other educators.

PLN's and Students

Copied from my blog: Suter's ED620 Class Blog

I have been toying with the idea of having my junior and senior environmental science students create their own personal learning network next year. I have put a lot of thought into this but am still at a loss for a way to make this happen. Keep in mind that I am talking about trying this with approximately 60 students. I also want to point out that I do not want to do this because I want to use the tools mentioned below in the classroom. They are just a means to an end. I think the “big idea” here is to find a way to connect students to people working and writing about environmental issues outside the classroom. How do we tear down the walls and connect our students to a world that is already globally connected and discussing the same issues? Below are a few of the ideas I am working with right now:
  1. Have the students create Twitter accounts and follow me and each other. This way not only would they have an account to receive my class updates, but would be able to connect with each other and others outside of school. It would be cool to require them to make relevant tweets each week. My main concern with this would be grading them. They could post links to relevant articles and websites but the reality is that it could be very difficult for me to grade this effectively. I love the idea of using Twitter at the end of a class period to have the students post about what they learned that day. I also used Twitter last year effectively on a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay in which the students used their cell phones to tweet what they were learning about to a Twitter hashtag. At the end of this post I embedded a great video on using Twitter in a college classroom.
  2. It would be interesting to have students create a blog just like we are doing for this class. They could blog about websites or current events that relate to what is being discussed in class or blog about the many green initiatives that they discover in their area. Again, as I go to the blog address page on D2L and click through 13 other blogs I wonder if it would be possible to grade student blogging on such a large scale. Today, I went through all the class blogs and added them to my Google Reader. I then filed them in a folder called ED620 Class Blogs. This makes seeing updates so much easier and leads me to believe managing numerous student blogs might actually be possible.
  3. I am hoping Google Apps for Educators adds Google Reader to the education suite soon. If they do I think it would be cool to have students find and follow a handful of blogs dealing with environmental issues. If this requirement was done in conjunction with a requirement to follow similar people on Twitter it could be even better. By following some blogs and twitter users the students would undoubtably hit on great references to items that deal with class discussions. In turn, giving them an abundance of material to blog about on a weekly or biweekly basis. Not to mention Google Reader could be used to follow their classmates blogs and aid them in posting comments.
I see some real benefits to having students set up personal learning networks. First of all, the potential for bringing in real world current events that relate to class is enormous. There is also the possibility that some of the students will hit on ideas and topics that really interest them and encourage them to take part in some serious self-directed learning. I love that by publishing their writing to a blog rather than handing it in, we move away from an audience of 1 (the teacher) to an audience of many (peers).

There has been a lot of conversation lately in the education world about how wonderful, necessary, and beneficial PLN’s are to educators. I wonder why I haven’t seen more discussion on how to have our students create their own. Would love to hear some comments and ideas on this!