I wrote earlier this week to reflect on what my student end-of-year survey data suggested about how what we did with writing helped them as writers. And I’ll write later about how things went in terms of reading.
This post is about the digital tools we used this past year.
To begin, I’ll describe the digital tools we used this past year. My class hub is a google site for the class. I’ve been using this google site for five years now, and it’s become a huge resource for me. I can search through past lesson plans and assignment resources and everything I’ve used in those five years–this is way better than a physical file cabinet for me. In fact, once I started posting my lesson plans daily and publicly for my students and their parents, I stopped keeping a paper lesson plan book. That was kind of a big deal for me! (I DO have ALL of my previous lesson plan books in the top drawer of the file cabinet next to my desk…). The google site in conjunction with google drive and google docs makes up the trifecta of my class. All materials I produce for my students are google docs and I post links to them on my site. My students do most of their work in google docs as well, and they share a google drive folder with me that holds all of their stuff for a given class. These three tools (sites, drive, docs) really form the backbone of my classroom digitally.
We are an Infinite Campus district. Teachers post grades and students and parents access that information whenever they want. Some even have the IC app on their smartphones–they can set it to ping them when a teacher updates anything in IC for their/their students grades. I don’t really like this to be honest. Do students and their parents really need live, to-the-minute updates about grades? (No.)
A new digital tool this year is Trello. This is a free, online project management application. What you get is essentially a bulletin board (I set one up for each class) with “cards” that you put on the board. You make columns for the cards to move among. I set my columns as “drafts in progress,” “complete draft ready for Doc Z,” “feedback done–now revise!”… in other words, the different steps that papers need to go through in my class. Students make a card for each paper and attach the google doc for the paper to the cards AND set their own due date for the draft. In one glance I see the status of everyone’s work, and that has made it much more possible for me to keep track of all of my students across all of my classes working at their own pace on their writing.
We also blogged this past year. First semester I set up one blog for all 90 of my seniors (I had three sections of them) to contribute to together. Second semester I had each student set up his/her own blog. We used Blogger in both cases–since we’re a google district, this blogging tool is available to us and connected with their google accounts for school.
I also used a google site template for students to build portfolios during second semester. I had used this approach for my creative writing class for a few semesters–this was the first time through with the seniors.
Finally, I’m also on Twitter. This account is what I use exclusively for my classroom. I have another account that I use as my professional social media presence. Why the two different accounts? I figure that the teachers who follow me in Twitter aren’t necessarily interested in the Twitter chatter intended for my students.
Now that I’ve described
Which digital tools were helpful to you? (percent of students who said it was helpful)
- the SLCC website: 93%
- Trello: 92%
- Google Docs: 90%
- Google Drive: 89%
- Infinite Campus: 78%
- your individual blog: 25%
- our collective first semester blog: 23%
- your portfolio: 21%
- Doc Z’s tweets: 21%
I’m happy to see that my students found my course google site helpful. It usually gets to a point in the year where when students ask me “hey where’s that one thing?” they answer for themselves before I even have to say anything, “it’s on the website.” I’ve worked hard to make sure everything–and I mean everything–my students need to be successful in my class is there and that they can find it easily. So yes, this is good news that so many of them said that it was helpful. I do worry that visually it may be too cluttered and I want to work on that. I want it to be super simple for students to find what they need. I make changes every year when they tell me what’s difficult about navigating the site.
And I was pleased to see Trello rated so highly as a helpful tool as well. It was there where students would look to see the status of their work–what was finished, what needed more work, what was still waiting for my feedback. It kept things organized for me and I’m glad it did for them too. Seeing that google docs is the best tool for interacting with a writer over a piece of writing that I’ve ever used, I’m so glad to see students rated that so highly as helpful as well. From being able to track the evolution of paper through revision history to being able to collaborate with others to being able to capture the conversation students and I have over their papers via the margin comments–there’s just nothing else that works as well.
So the blogs didn’t rate well here either in terms of being a helpful tool for my class (see my post on what my students said helped them with their writing for more reflection on this). I definitely need to re-think how I’m suing blogs.
And the portfolio–not many students rated that as helpful. Again, I need to figure out the best way to approach this. I think the simpler portfolio my department and I built this past spring may be a better options. But we’ll see.
Finally, I’m not sure Twitter is the right social media platform for my classroom. Few students rated my tweets as a helpful tool. That means that either the things I’m tweeting out aren’t particularly helpful (definite possibility) or that I’m not using the social media tool that they’re using. I’ve been learning Snapchat this summer–that’s the one my students couldn’t seem to ignore during this past school year, so I’m wondering about its possibilities. Instagram too. Anyone using these in compelling ways in your classrooms?
Which digital tools were not helpful to you? (percent of students who said it was not helpful)
- your portfolio: 58%
- your individual blog: 58%
- our collective first semester blog: 51%
- Doc Z’s tweets: 18%
- Infinite campus: 9%
- Google Docs: 1%
- the SLCC website: 1%
- Google Drive: 0%
- Trello: 0%
The most not helpful tools according to my students: portfolios, blogs–by a majority. Again, more information that tells me I need to rethink how I use these or even if I will continue to use them at all (in the case of blogs, maybe not. In the case of portfolios–I’m not ready to give up on them). I didn’t talk about Infinite Campus above because, well, I can’t NOT use it. It’s not an option. I’m expected to have meaningful data for students and parents in IC pretty early on each semester. And again here–docs, drive, my course website, Trello–the power digital tools. Pretty strong mandate there to keep those all running.
And then there’s Schoology. We’ve just become a Schoology district. I’m not sure what that will mean for my digital tools. It won’t be a mandate that we use it, but if it’s a powerful tool that allows me to do things more efficiently than I’m doing now, why wouldn’t I use it? I know we’ll be able to continue using google apps, and that drive can be woven into Schoology. But what about my google site course website? Will it make more sense to move those resources to Schoology? I’m not sure yet. Will the blog embedded in Schoology meet my classroom blogging needs better than Blogger? I’m not sure yet. Will the benefits of being so socially networked in Schoology override whatever I might give up by moving away from my google site? I’m not sure yet.
But I do know that I need to evolve as the digital tools do. This is life in the 21st century. The tools are changing rapidly. It’s not important to be a master of specific digital tools but rather to be flexible enough to figure out how to use the right tool for the task. And Schoology might be that. What thoughts do you have out there about this? What powerful digital tools are you using?