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Monday, August 13, 2012

Tool #6: Web Tools for Discussion

Online discussion is so much fun and there are so many options out there to fit a variety of formats, learning styles, and moderator preferences. Here are some of the tools I have used over the last several years:

Think of this as a sort-of educational Facebook. The interface is a little different, but the idea is the same. I LOVE THIS TOOL. It is a secure site, and students need a join code to participate. There is also an option to have a parent join code for parents that like to monitor their kids' online activities. I like this first because of its convenience. Students can post their questions as they have them, which keeps them from forgetting to ask in class the next day. Posts can be private to the teacher or to the entire class. Sometimes, the students even beat me to the punch and answered public questions for their classmates.

This tool also allows for assignment creations and grading. You can also use it to send out mass group messages or alerts.

Probably the best thing, though, is that this tool allows those kids that are a little quieter and a little reticent to participate in class discussion to gain some discussion confidence. Some of my shiest students were the most active in the online discussions that we had on this site.

This is a great tool for gathering quick information and feedback. I used it to ask for open ideas on a certain topic from students. Students in my classes have also set up their own Wallwisher sites to get information from classmates that goes beyond basic polls. It does allow for anonymous posts, so those have to be monitored. It is probably a good idea to tell students to at least label their posts with their first names and last initials to help with the monitoring. Also, make sure to save the URL of your Wallwisher someplace convenient for easy access.

Poll Everywhere
I have used this in the classroom (with high school students) and in a professional development setting. For classroom use, I wasn't a fan. I had too many students without access to cell phones, which is one of the perks of this system. Students can cast a vote by texting their response to a designated poll number, which is generated by the site when you set up the poll.

For professional development, I really liked using Poll Everywhere. I set up some polls at the beginning of a session that helped spark some discussion. I do recall having some glitches with getting data to display both times, so this is definitely something I recommend playing with before you take it live in a classroom or professional development.

Adobe Connect
Adobe Connect allows you to set up virtual classrooms with a variety of components. You can use a webcam to add the visual component of the teacher in the classroom and use a mic to make talking to students a little easier. There are chat pods, where students can post questions and discussions. The moderator of the room can clear discussions at any point. There is also an option for private discussion between the teacher and student. There are quite a few options for additional pods, but I found myself using a share pod (place to put documents for discussion) and the video pod most often. There are also pods where you can share links to external sites and upload documents for your participants to download later.

I recommend taking some time to explore your options and pod-layouts before attempting to run a course. It is also a good idea to have someone more experienced with the program moderate with you for the first time or two as you work out the system. This also gives you the benefit of an extra person to assist with posting resources or manning the chat board.

There are a few others that I have used, but those are my favorites. I am planning to try out Open Class and Cover It Live in the future. I think Cover It Live will be a great option for covering large conventions. I'm also only using Diigo as a storage place at the moment, so I would like to make this a more group-oriented tool as well.

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