Internet Collaboration


The Internet is evolving into what is referred to as the web 2.0. Some refer to it as the read/write web. It is a more interactive Internet. Blogs and Wikis with their forum-like features and interactivity capabilities are at the heart of this transformation. This really is not new, in fact the Internet began as a series of message boards; and message boards and discussion boards have been a part of the Internet throughout its existence. The technology available now has made it easier for Internet users to create, manage, and participate in these interactive types of web pages. The ease of use, interconnectivity, and RSS syndication features of these web pages has allowed people to create social communities online. While this concept is not new, current technology has made it easier and more efficient to connect with people via the Internet.




How do people collaborate on the Internet now? These examples show how people have already begun to collaborate outside of academic settings.

Discussion boards http://www.ptdoityourself.net/cgi-bin/yabb/YaBB.pl?board=Repair_and_Maintenance;action=display;num=1110170271

How to fix your car. This one was very helpful to me. You know how complicated it is to change the battery in a PT Cruiser?

Wikihow http://www.wikihow.com/Main-Page

You could find more examples of how people are collaborating over a distance to solve problems. It is really just a communication issue, but when we are talking about students needing to learn how to cooperate with a group, we need to remember how the groups they work in will be constructed. More and more companies are getting people in different parts of the country and world to work together.

Blogs
Blogs are web logs or journals. They are set up for an individual to post journal entries as often as possible. The person's friends can read their journal entries and respond by leaving comments, or writing a response on their own blog and linking to the first one creating a trackback. Because of this, blogs became a tool for developing online communities. This makes a blog a powerful tool for teachers.


The ability for students to leave comments can make a blog a great structure for discussions like literature circles or revising and evaluating writing.
A blog can also be used for students to detail their progress through a project or experiment.

A common use of a blog is a Literature Circle. Although the individual teacher can vary the structure of the blog’s design (Discussion Forum or Author Involvement), the concept remains the same: students are actively interacting with others to widen their knowledge base on a particular literary work. Here are some examples of how a Literature Circle could function:

1. Discussion Forum
The MISD 4th Grade ELA curriculum, first 9 weeks, deals with many novels, including Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. The concepts of its writing workshop cover “analyzing patterns in what you read” and “comparing organization of different texts.” As the teacher, you could set up your MISD blog as a major pipeline through which your students could respond to statements/questions regarding patterns and organization as they apply to this story. Students could either reply to your statements/questions OR they could respond to another student’s comment. It would be wise to set up the expectations ahead of time and make sure that students understood the requirements. Asking them to respond to each of your posts at least once (or another student’s comment to one of your posts) would be parallel to having students write in journal. It would also allow them to see what other students think about the topic, often those students who would not normally speak in class. This forum could then act as a centralized discussion area for important concepts, all of which are directed and controlled by you.

2. Author Involvement
Since Judy Blume has a blog of her own (http://judyblume.com/cgi-bin/dagongb/guestbook.html.php ), it is not inconceivable that she would welcome an opportunity to interact with your students. Again, it would be wise to set up the expectations ahead of time and make sure that students understood the requirements. Think of the impact it could have on your students to ask questions regarding patterns and organization to the author of the book. Students could submit their questions to you for review, and then either you or the students could send these to her through her blog. I would probably consider consolidating questions so that Judy isn’t hit with 22 questions a week from your students. To avoid conflicts with choosing a suitable question, you could have them submit the questions to you and then have the class evaluate the questions (names withheld) and choose a “winner.”

Either of these examples has added benefits: writing improvement and ownership. If I was a fourth grade student writing to a global audience rather than just my teacher, I would tend to be more attentive to my grammar and writing style. For a student to take ownership of his/her learning, there has to be value in it. Becoming part of the global community through the guise of a blog and/or interacting with the author of a book he/she is reading are powerful draws to encouraging ownership.

Where in America

A blog like the project below can be used with a geography unit.
http://magnoliaisdcommunities.org/communities/mystery/default.aspx
Here the students are posting requests for information. They are able to read each other's questions and the answers that they received to solve the mystery. They aren't working with a specific group on a specific project, but they were all sharing information with a larger group that shared a common goal.
This particular example was for our elementary GT program which was studying mysteries. It was an introduction to getting them to collaborate. After that one group presented a play via IVC one presented their mystery writing via IVC another presented a game show where in the world via IVC with two examples on the blog so that students could get used to the type of problems. I was very excited to do this project because it was the first time that we could really get a group of kids together from all campuses across the district. The real excitement came after we actually put up the first post because a large percentage of the inquiries came after school hours.

They needed to frame their own questions according to the information that they needed. They get a lot of experience sorting through clues that they are provided for them to solve puzzles, but they need to get practice generating questions to get a specific piece of information.

The teacher is able to edit each question before it shows up on the web page so that the question and answer are both part of the same comment. You can also hold back on approving some answers so that others can have more time to solve the mystery.

Natural Resources

This blog can be used for this activity from the 3rd grade Social Studies curriculum guide.

Suggested Activity: In pairs students review a several pictures from magazines depicting different environments. Students describe the environment in one column and list possible modification in another column.

Place a picture of an environment as part of the post explaining that you want students to leave a comment describing the environment

Interview

Another example is this effort from DP109.
http://blog109.org/communities/atrudeau/archive/2006/09/12/3888.aspx
This class used the blog to pose questions to two businessmen in different parts of the world. They were examining globalization and how it affects the workplace. Students posted their ideas of what questions should be asked. The teacher put them together and came up with a list of questions they would ask in a Skype interview with the businessmen. The teacher then asked the students to formulate a thesis statement for their paper on globalization and post it.

The questions could have been submitted and answered though the blog. It isn't the same as the discussion was, but a few more people might have been able to participate. The students could have asked more questions to clarify, and if the businessmen had a blog, they could have received notification about any new questions. The dialog might have been able to continue throughout the project, and the businessmen could have tracked the project as it progressed. The students could have discussed their conclusions and even shared their paper where the businessmen could access it.
A blog is a very easy way to place information on the Internet. The interface, called a wysiwyg looks like a word processor and saves directly to the web page. The information is also organized in an easy to read structure.
A post is an easy way to store links for Internet research, scavenger hunts or even webquests.
The ability for students to leave comments can make a blog a great structure for discussions like literature circles, revising or evaluating writing.
A blog can also be used for students to detail their progress through a project or experiment.

Video Conferencing

Another common tool for distance learning and collaboration is instructional videoconferencing (IVC). MISD has an IVC system on each of its campuses, so availability is not an issue. Let’s look at a few examples of how the IVC system could be used in conjunction with the ELA curriculum.

1. In the Third Grade ELA curriculum (2nd 9 weeks), one of the foci is on “Cultures, Analyzing Characters.” This provides ample grounds for utilizing IVC to bring your students together with a class from another part of the country/world. Any work that you choose could be the subject of the IVC session(s). Once you have decided upon a work and delineated the goal of the collaboration, the MISD Educational Technology Department would find a partner for you. It is best to allow at least two weeks lead time to secure a partner (a month is better).

Here is how it could proceed: You select a novel/story with an outcome project based on character analysis and cultural differences – the project could be a PowerPoint presentation, an oral presentation, or a poster with accompanying oral description. Then, you would inform the MISD EdTech Department who would then find a partner school. Once your partner is selected, you would proceed through your unit and prepare your students for the culminating IVC session(s) where they would share their project with another class. During the entire process, you will need to be in contact with your partnering teacher to insure that your outcomes are compatible and that time is used effectively (the EdTech Department can assist with this).

It is recommended that, during the course of the selected project, the students on each end collaborate with one another through e-mail, blogs, wikis, or good old snail mail. You could organize the collaborating students in individual pairs or groups, but it is important that you, as the teacher, keep control of the communications to avoid any missteps. The culminating IVC session would consist or students sharing their projects back and forth.


2. Another possible IVC session(s) could focus on the analysis of poetry, its elements, or dramatic interpretation of a poem. Here is a template that you could use for a poetry slam: http://mail.magnoliaisd.org/~cbrown/poetry.pdf. As you can see, this could also be modified for other genre of literature as well as any other aspect of a particular work (character analysis or cultural differences, to name two). This type of IVC session provides many opportunities for writing, speaking, presentation, and project construction.

An IVC session(s) is a powerful tool that your students can use to explore your assignment as well as the way others see the same topic with a different flair.

Wikis

Wikis are slightly different from a blog. A wiki may or may not allow users to leave comments. They are not organized in as strict a structure as blogs. They are as easy to publish as a blog because they generally have a wysiwyg also. Wikis have a more interactive ability. Another user can actually edit the document.
Use a wiki for groups to work together on a project. Group members can work together to add research data, type a project, or prepare a report from any computer that has Internet access.
Wikis can be used for translating a foreign language, practicing sentence editing or proofreading. The following resources are provided should you want to conduct further research.
http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/augar.html
http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/163/244
http://www.wikipedia.org/
http://www.wikiville.org.uk/index.php/Main_Page
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikibooks_portal

A Wiki is another tool to collaborate across a distance. A wiki is a bit more versatile since anyone can edit it, so students from across a great distance can actually work on the same paper or project. A 3rd grade class in our district and another 3rd grade class in Avon, Ohio are working on writing a chapter book together. They set it up for the students in Magnolia to write the first chapter and then the Avon students write the second chapter, and so on.
http://avonmagnolia.wikispaces.com/
That could be easily done though a blog with the students leaving comments for the writers to edit the chapter, or with a wiki, the students could actually edit the chapter that their counterparts wrote. The students could read their partners chapter and add a paragraph that makes an important twist in the story smoother.

Some students used wikipedia for a project to tell about the Pitot House in New Orleans, Louisiana.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitot_house
Some community members picked up the project and made it a part of their project to promote New Orleans.

In the Flat Classroom Project a class in Georgia and a class in Bangladesh participated in a book study of Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat.
http://flatclassroomproject.wikispaces.com/
Each student was paired with a student at the far site to write a "paper" exploring some of the topics in the book. The "papers" were wikis.

An interesting project using a wiki is the Nutmeg project. This project allowed students to write guides to the books that had been nominated for the Conneticut Nutmeg Children's Book Award. Their goal for the project is displayed below.

The goal of this project is to create an encyclopedia for the Nutmeg Book Award 2008 nominees. Each book will have its own page full of information related to the book. As they read the Nutmeg Book Award 2008 nominees, participating students are encouraged to add information, ideas, comments, opinions, pictures, maps, and anything else related to the books. Students will collaborate on the same pages, editing, enhancing and revising each other's content where they see fit.

This same idea could be conducted in Magnolia with the Bluebonnet Book Award.


A wiki would be an excellent tool for teachers who want their students to work together to learn and practice writing skills. First grade students could type their stories in the wiki. Then second grade students could edit their stories to show the first grade students how to expand and elaborate in their stories. This would demonstrate where could they add details and what words might make their stories more interesting for others to read. Students in higher grades could continue to expand these stories. What a great teaching tool for creative writing!

Propose Colonization of an Area

This wiki will assign an area for development. Have students study cities built on similar areas and explain how the environment contributed or restricted the growth of that community. Then propose the industries that could be promoted and tell how the city could expand as well as the issues that city will have to deal with.

The guiding questions from the 4th grade Social Studies curriculum guide are as follows:


1.) What is the climate of Texas?
2.) What are the different regions of Texas?
3.) Why are some areas like Houston heavily populated
and other areas not?
4.) How have people adapted to modified their
environments in Texas past and present?



Online E-Learning Platforms like Moodle

The Process of Creating a Constitution

http://moodle.magnoliaisd.org/moodle/

Students draft their own constitution, then consider the different issues that the framers dealt with and add to the document to take care of issues and till keep the core issue of freedom.


Social Bookmarking

Another powerful tool for teachers is social bookmarking. Social bookmarking is a tool for people to share links to websites. One of the more popular social bookmark sites is http://del.icio.us delicious

Syndication

Blogs and wikis aren't just for creating content and working together. Perhaps, the real strength of these pages is the way that everything can be connected with RSS feeds.

Conclusion

Distance collaboration is a tricky issue to tackle, but one that is entirely possible without requiring much more time than the usual project. The concept is much the same as any other project. The teacher just has to analyze how the students will interact and structure the unit of study in a way that supports that interaction. If you have much experience in creating webquests or have ever sat down and analyzed all of the steps that go into a project-based unit of study, then you are most of the way there. All you need are the tools. If you want students to contribute or discuss but not edit, then use a blog. If you want students to be able to edit and completely share in the construction of the project, then use a wiki. Either way the opportunity is amazing for you and your students.