What is the right balance between giving students freedom to explore the Web for research and providing them with structure and guidance?
This is a tricky question. The web is a big place with lots of great resources full of wonderful information, so what right do we have as teachers limit our students exploration of this medium? On the other hand, much of our Education Technology class’s discussions and projects have revolved around the idea that the web is also full of lots of disinformation. Teachers need to understand the absolute necessity of teaching proper information literacy skills to our students so that they can successfully navigate and interpret the web.
One way that teachers can balance open exploration and structure is by providing students with a reliable place to start their research on the web. In his book, Empowering Students with Technology (2010), November discusses such a place in the chapter about primary sources. November encourages teachers to incorporate as visit to the National Archives and Record Administration’s online database into their curriculum. November feels that a source like this allows students to explore a vast array of information but also allows for structure because the teacher knows that the information a student is looking at is for most part accurate (but always informative), and more importantly the teacher knows it is “safe” for the school environment. A starting place doesn’t have to be a primary sources database though, there are plenty of websites that contain a multitude of information that is relevant to school curriculum, and the great part about these types of websites is that every student can pull away unique information and insight, based on their different interest that lead them to use different search criteria. So in this sense students are still free to explore.
What is the role of the teacher in helping students to make meaning of primary source material?
The use of primary sources can be fun and exciting for student, November says the “fun and adventure of learning is in the
hunt,” (2010, p. 68) but at the same time they can be frustrating for students. Primary sources do not sort and organize information like textbooks do, and furthermore they may be written in a form of the English language that is foreign to our students. So although giving our students access to primary resources is a great way to immerse them in the perspective of the time period, we must make sure to structure and scaffold our student’s use of primary resources to ensure our students are getting the most out of the experience by creating relevant meanings (November, 2010).
The most effective way to help students construct meaning from a primary source is by helping them get into the shoes of the author. November suggest that the teacher can help a student analyze the primary source for context by guiding them through a series of critical questions. In one example November discusses four letters that Jackie Robinson wrote to four different U.S. presidents, and he suggest that we provoke are students answer questions like “What prompted Robinson to write the letters and telegrams, What were his expectations, Why was Robison so upset with Kennedy and pleased with Nixon, Which president did Robinson believe was the most progressive” (2010, p. 75). November goes onto suggest that eventually students will be able to create their own critical question that help them put the text in context and hence help them make meaning.
Another great resource for teachers are the National Archives and Record Administration’s worksheets. The worksheets structure a format for analyzing primary source document by forcing the student to answer some basic, but also very important questions. There are many types of worksheet, one for each type of document a student might find (picture, poster, sound recording, personal letter, map) and each one asks the student to analyze the document in unique ways that will help them create meaning and context.
To conclude I believe the following quote will help teachers better understand the role of primary sources in the curriculum: “In some cases we will have to teach the students to let go of the notion that the answers are more important than the questions and the process” (November, 2010, p. 69). I like this quote because it implies that student will need to think outside of the box, in new and exciting ways in order to make sense of primary sources. As students “hunt” through primary source literature they may be confused and frustrated because they cant find the answers they want, but they need to realize that through their search they are discovering new questions that may be more relevant and more useful for their research. This process can only help students develop the information and critical literacy skills that all good teachers desire to teach.
How can teachers use Podcasting and/or multimedia tools to promote collaborative learning?
Podcasting was designed so people could create and easily share information and ideas, and this is what the new online classroom is about. Students from elementary school to high school to college are using podcast to disseminate information about their school, about their classes, and about what their learning in those classes (Richardson, 2010). There is great potential in this for students to collaborate in order to enhance their education. I can imagine using podcasting in my classroom as a forum to have debates about the most controversial topics in science today. I would have my students research both sides of the genetic engineering controversies and then collaboratively compose their arguments in the form of a podcast. By using the online community of teachers I could get in touch with an agricultural education high school, and share my students’ podcast with them. My vision is that students at this Ag. Ed. School will have very interesting insights about the controversy since many of the latest genetic technologies are geared toward increased crop production or pest reduction. I could see the collaboration even going as far as having the two groups of students get together to synthesize their ideas into one very powerful podcast that they could then share with their legislatures whom may one day be faced with a bill that deals with this controversial issue.
By using podcast in this way students will learn a valuable lesson in the importance of obtaining different perspectives when they are composing their own personal opinions. I also believe that the use of collaboration and authentic audiences in this way will increase student motivation as well as understanding.