How can educators best meet the needs of students in a 1:1 laptop program? Will technological tools which are specifically designed for education be the most beneficial, or will adapting non-academic technological tools be the best solution? This article examines the process one high school took to integrate technology into the classroom using both academic and non-academic online programs.
In the spring of 2007-2008, Edgecombe Early College High School (EECHS) shared Lenovo T-61 laptops with its entire student body which allowed the school an opportunity to address various concerns. Although one of the concerns was communication, a greater concern was how to integrate technologically centered lessons into each of their classroom settings. Three technological tools, Moodle, Ning, and Twitter, were used by the faculty, staff and student body, which have not only increased the ability of EECHS to communicate, but has also provided a medium for new literacy to be addressed.
New literacy can be loosely defined as increasing a person's store of information via computer-based mediums of communication. This includes reading news and correspondence online, as well as connecting with others through various online or digital tools (Leu, 2008). Teachers should identify, adapt, and integrate new technologies for use in the classroom. This is important in order to increase students' abilities to meaningfully interact with peers in a technological society.
The general purpose of the adoption and adaptation of these technological tools was to examine the benefits of integrating technological tools specifically designed for education and those that were initially designed for other purposes. The technological tool designed for education used was Moodle. The traditionally non-academic technological tools utilized were Ning and Twitter. Students were given the opportunity to engage with these technologies through classroom assignments designed to increase their level of technological literacy. Ning was accessible and used by the student body, faculty, and staff at EECHS while the use of Moodle and Twitter were restricted to one ninth grade AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) course.
Will technological tools that students find familiar engage them more than traditional academic technological tools? This question will be answered by examining the quality and frequency of student interactions with particular technological tools. We believe that if a student does not engage with a technological tool, that technological tool was probably not meaningful for that student. Likewise, if a student engages with a technological tool but does not give quality responses, that technological tool may not have been meaningful as an educational tool.
Summary of Applications Utilized
Moodle, a course management system (CMS), was the technological tool selected to encourage students' engagement with traditionally academic online applications because it allows teachers and students to interact beyond the time constraints of the traditional school day (Cowan, 2007). This asynchronicity allows teachers to generate a collection of tasks that students can engage independently. Through the use of a CMS, students are able to work with a concept as long as they need in order to establish full mastery. As web based technologies become more accessible and more cost effective, colleges are utilizing more CMS based classes (Herman & Banister, 2007). Some colleges offer an introduction to online courses. However, without an introduction to CMS in high school, some students may be left unprepared for post secondary online courses.
The two tools chosen to represent traditionally non-academic technological tools were Ning and Twitter. These two technological tools are considered to be social networking tools. Many students' learning styles may be addressed through social interactions. In light of the ability of new technologies to extend and enhance content based social interactions, students should be provided with the opportunity to learn from a technologically based social system whenever possible (Bai, 2003). The main goal of these tools is to bring groups of people together within a given social group, but these tools can be adopted and adapted beyond their original intent with creativity on the part of educational users.
Ning is a social networking web site that allows administrators to setup private networks where students may interact with each other in an advertisement-supported environment (Bianchini, 2008). The creator of the network may set various levels of privileges for each user. These privileges can include giving administrative rights to responsible individuals, banning irresponsible individuals, and blocking access to users who are not part of the school. Users can then elect to receive e-mail updates to forum posts, comments on their blog postings, and a wide variety of other occurrences on the website. This allows an individual instance of the Ning technology to be a central hub for public communications and evaluation.
Twitter is a method of instantly disseminating information to a select group of students. A service such as this is called a micro blog. That is, a blog that should not exceed a length of 140 characters. When one joins the Twitter service, he or she can subscribe to the blog postings of other users. This process is called following ("What is Twitter," 2008). Typically, Twitter is used for the same purpose as a traditional blog: Users log into their Twitter account, update their peers regarding daily events or important ideas, and check the updates of others.
With an instructional use of Twitter, teachers and staff can monitor students by following them, and can rapidly provide answers to questions. Students are then able to access the answers to those questions when they log in to their computers. Access to Twitter is persistent, meaning that students can examine a backlog of tweets (users' updates) to find answers to questions previously addressed.
Trials with Individual Conclusions
The controlling question. Students need to be able to interact with academically based online applications in order to remain active learners. Since the controlling question is to compare academically focused with non-academically focused technologies, students were taught how to engage with Moodle. The students' assignments were graded and the results were recorded in the standard record book for the AVID class.
Learning objectives / classroom goals. Given that most students will be engaged in some kind of online course before they complete their college degrees, we believe that students should be able to engage in online learning in a scenario that is typical of most online courses. With this in mind, students in the ninth grade AVID course were taught how to engage in a Moodle course specifically designed to help them learn how to take an online course. The outline of the course was a four-week set of assignments that were designed to be completed during the school day. The students were offered two forms of after school support: in-person and digital support via e-mail with the instructor.
The technologically based learning objectives for this lesson were:
The learner will demonstrate application of interacting with an online CMS with 100% accuracy by posting four assignments assigned and completed online.
The learner will demonstrate comprehension of online material by meaningfully responding to articles online with 100% accuracy.
The controlling goals for this lesson were to increase students' awareness of online CMS and to help the students learn how to engage in an online course.
Methodology and results. This Moodle course was designed with the concept of New Literacy in mind. In an effort to ascertain if ninth grade students participating in an AVID program were able to complete the work required for an online course, a Moodle course was configured and designed to give the students assignments that met the goals of a standard AVID curriculum.
The students were evaluated for this project on several criteria. First, did the student complete all the assignments? Second, did the student complete the assignment as it was given? Third, did the student give a cogent response? Assignments were given and explained in Moodle. In order to increase student's familiarity with online-only coursework, students were encouraged to interact with the instructor regarding the Moodle assignments through e-mail or chat. Twitter had not yet been introduced as a class tool at this time, so it was unavailable for questions regarding Moodle.
The assignments for this four-week Moodle course included two forum based interactions and two blog postings. The students were given instructions on how to login to Moodle and how to find the assignments. All further instructions were provided online in Moodle. Each of the assignments required the students to engage in forum-based discussions regarding the assignments, and asked the students to complete their forum postings in a thoughtful manner. Explicit instructions stated that students were not to repeat comments or to simply express that they agreed with a previous post.