Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Setting up Student PLN's

This year I am experimenting with setting up student PLN’s in my environmental science classes. We are using them to follow people via Twitter and Google Reader that post information about environmental issues. Students will browse their PLN over a two week period to come up with a topic that relates to class, in which they will write about using blogger. We are going to set aside every other Friday to read each other's blogs and use them to have a class discussion.

Our first blog was due last week and I have to say it was quite the success. I was very pleased with their posts and how they related them to class. The wonderful thing is that they will only get better! Already students are incorporating different forms of media into their posts, as well as linking them to relevant websites. In the beginning I had a few students question if they could just google “environmental issues” to come up with their topic. The way I explained it to them was that their PLN will be a group of experts in the field that are locating and filtering the best information on the web and then sending it right to them. By incorporating these tools they are essentially eliminating the need to search for articles and rather are focusing more on finding the ones in which they are interested. After the first blog was due I had a few students tell me that they are really starting to understand the benefits of using the PLN and are loving the project.

I thought I would dedicate this post to how I accomplished aiding the students in setting up their PLN and the tools I used to make following each other a bit easier. To start off I put together a page on our class website about setting up their PLN. Directions, how-to videos, and other sources are included on the page. I also included a Google Form for them to fill out to turn in their screen names, url’s, and other information. Right off the bat I will admit that following directions has been the biggest hurdle in the project. Apparently a little knowledge can be dangerous, and most students figure they can set up a Twitter account without reading the directions. Unfortunately, since I was requiring them to use specific screen names this created problems. The other major obstacle I have run into is students entering information (such as a password) and immediately forgetting it. Frustrating! It was quite the headache to get every student set up and running with a Twitter, Blogger, and Reader account. It can be done, but I spent many hours working with individual students to do it! You can find my directions here: http://environmental.hanoverpublic.org/pln-and-blog-instructions

After getting everyone up and running I wanted to find an easy way to have them share their information with each other. To do this I entered all of their blogs into my Google Reader account. From there I sorted them into folders by periods. I then used the period folders and created a subscription bundle for each class. Links to each bundle were posted on the website. With a single click students could subscribe to everyone's blogs. I had my students subscribe to all periods. 
I was able to accomplish the same goal for Twitter using TweepML. With TweepML it is easy to create a list of twitter users that can be shared with others via a link. They can then follow the entire list by clicking the link you provide.  Links for each class were posted to the same section on my website. I named this section of the site Follow and Join the Discussion. Not only can my environmental students use the links provided, but I encourage others to follow and joint the discussion as well. Hopefully we will start to see some comments from parents show up on the student blogs. You can find this page here: http://environmental.hanoverpublic.org/follow-and-join-the-discussion

Due to my wordy introduction to this project I started to get the feeling the students were having trouble deciding exactly what I wanted in their blogs. To aid the students I added the following page to the website in which I tried to briefly outline the blog requirements. http://environmental.hanoverpublic.org/class-information/blog-requirements

There is a lot of thought going into this project on my part and I am honestly really excited about it. I will try and post more about this project as the year progresses.  I think by incorporating these technologies into the classroom I will find more wonderful uses for them. I already suspect that Google Reader will open some new doors due to its sharing abilities.

I would love some feedback from anyone doing a similar project. One of the big questions I am researching right now has to do with comments. I would love to read all the comments students are leaving on each others blogs but have yet to find a good way to do this. It is too bad that this is not an option in reader. It would be really nice to be able to view and leave comments right from Google Reader. Although any web app that will allow me to follow and read comments would work! Any ideas?

Below are two examples from the first round of blogs:

Disney saves Bahamian coral reefs!!!!

Old Shows are still around and Fighting the Environmental Issues