Which tools to use…

Posted: January 26, 2008 in Social Media
Tags: ,

I got a question earlier today about which of the tools we are using in the Social Media session I have found most useful in my classroom. I am, in some ways, reluctant to answer the question but I don’t want to ignore it, either. So here are my thoughts.

First of all, I have to give you an idea of my setting. For the past six years, until May, I taught ESL to students hoping to enter a small seminary college. Their goal was to become Catholic priests.

When I started at the school, we had limited access to technology, but gradually our access increased. I began to use sites like Nicenet as a place for my students to comment on each others’ work and as a way for them to turn in electronic copies of their writing and reading assignments. Then we got Moodle, and I began to develop more and more online activities for them.

I have used blogs and wikis with my students quite a bit. The results weren’t always very good – especially with the blogs. I never quite got the hang of getting them involved. The wikis worked better. It was, I think, because the assignments were better. The students seemed more comfortable with wikis, too. I think part of it had to do with the fact that our wiki felt more closed, more secure. My students had heard of the “dangers” of the Internet and were reluctant to get involved with the blogs. With the wiki, I linked to it straight from Moodle, and they didn’t get the feeling that they had switched sites. They weren’t “exposed”.

I have used Flickr as a teacher, using Creative Commons licensed photos to prepare materials ro use in my classes and in an online course I have helped develop. I have not had my students use the site.

I think that there are few right answers about what to use with students. Most of it depends on your individual teaching situation and on your personality. I am a very private person, so the 43 Trio of sites don’t really appeal to me; I don’t share a lot of details of my life easily. But others love them and can use them effectively with students.

And, if I am to be honest, I guess I am more comfortable with the sense of familiarity and control that blogs and wikis provide me — as opposed to 43 People, for instance. I would really have to think hard to come up with ideas of how to use 43 Places and, if I did, how would I evaluate students? (Yes, I know! That is a terrible reason to dismiss the idea. But coupled with my own preference for privacy, it is a strong incentive!)

The trick, I think, is to take advantage of opportunities like SMiELT to try out different tools and find where the fit is. I can almost guarantee that there are tools out there that you will like, that you can enjoy using with your students and that they can learn from. I congratulate all the participants in SMiELT and in the other EVO sessions for making the commitment to start looking!

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