Thursday, September 1, 2011

Facebook Meets Face-to-Face, Week 1

This summer, we made a decision not simply to open social media sites like Facebook and Twitter but to essentially hijack them as learning spaces. Because this is such a hot topic, I've decided to chronical it as the year goes on in a weekly blog entitled "Facebook Meets Face-to-Face". Here's a look into the first week of school at Grandview!

Setting Up: We set boundaries to limit FB use to upper school students in order to be ethically compliant with age requirements. We are also looking to use Google+, especially for hangouts in our blended learning classes (called Flex classes), but when school opened, the age requirement was 18. Now that it is 13, we will look to use this as students settle into a groove. We've learned that too much, too fast can be overwhelming, and our students are still trying to get comfy in the new spaces. We set up Facebook pages for many of our high school classes using the Groups feature. This feature allows for collaboration between people who are not Facebook "friends", something which was key to us as our teachers are not "friends" with our students. Instead of Facebook or Google+, we are using Edmodo for middle school and lower school. Because I teach one middle and one upper school class, I use both as a teacher, and each has its advantages/disadvantages. We also set up Collaborize Classroom and Edublogs depending on the blogging needs to accompany the interaction on Facebook and Edmodo. Some classes are also using Glogster.

Tech Boot Camp: Last year, when we implemented Google Apps, we set aside one day as Academic Boot Camp to train the students on the use of these tools. This year, in addition to more training on these tools, the students attended workshops on responsible use of social media and collaborated in drafting responsible use agreements. They set up their Edmodo accounts, Collaborize Classroom accounts, and joined the appropriate Facebook groups.

Flex Class Flow: Our first flex classes met last week. These classes are blended face-to-face and online classes for seniors. Students are expected to attend on seminar and workshop days in person but can work at their own pace and attend online chats from home on other days, coming into school a little later on those days to attend their traditional classes. On average, the classes are meeting once or twice face-to-face or through video chat (in my case since I live in New York and my students are in Florida). Facebook has proven incredibly helpful in these classes because the teachers can post the assignments for the day or links. I create a video for my students on flex days and then also post the necessary explanations below it. One other teacher (Sam Berey) and I are using this model and both jump online to help students through video chat, IM, and FB chat if they run into issues. Students can choose to come into campus and work in a lab space for additional support.

Lessons Learned Week 1: My week taught me that students are not used to reading directions, something I knew, but my assumption was that if they could not ask questions face-to-face, they would read the directions. This was a false assumption, and instead, many students just asked each other and remained collectively confused. Or, they scrambled online to ask for clarification through chat or video conference before reading the assignment. Next year, I will spend some time in the beginning of the year practicing taking written information, processing it, and turning it into pointed questions for further guidance. On a positive note, this platform is really forcing students to learn the 21st century skill sets of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. There is a lot of learning through action. I've also realized that I need to give shorter assignments and only one at a time. At first, I was giving a list of tasks, and this proved confusing and overwhelming for my students.

Looking Ahead: I am so excited for this year! I have to say that one thing I have noticed right away is a rise in connectivity to my classes and throughout the school. The downside is setting boundaries so that students don't always expect an immediate response, but the upside is we can see students sharing and communicating about important topics way beyond the classroom walls. Further, many kids who are normally on the fringe of participation or disengaged feel more comfortable or excited about participating online.


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