Tools for Next Year (Part I)

Nancy McKeand's recent post has motivated me to start thinking about the tools I am going to use next year in my classes. I know that blogging will continue to form a significant part of the course. I will incorporate blogs "as key, task driven, elements" of my curriculum. I will once again use blogs to create a community of writers. This year, however, I want my students to engage in more research. This has led to some thoughts about the tools they can use to make their work sharable, visible, and interactive.

First of all, I would like to get students to use TagCloud to create a visual representation of student work (from both individual blogs and as a community). This would be a great introduction to tags and also a wonderful way to show students that writing can be "visible" in a fun, interactive way. I also want my class to use this application to see patterns and trends in their own writing (individual tagclouds) and in collective work produced by all of its members (community tagcloud). I'm hoping that this tool will emphasize the interconnectedness of their work and make it really "visible" to them. (Amazing things happened last year when we looked at some visualizations of writing: here and here).


I'm also thinking of using Furl or another social bookmarking application. What I like about Furl is that it would allow me to comment on individual bookmarks saved by my students and, of course, allow them to construct repositories of materials to be used in projects or their blogs. One of the strengths of this application (and social bookmarking in general) is that the collected information can be easily shared with one's peers. I want my students to use this tool to not just collect valuable resources but also categorize them and annotate them (using the comments field) before adding to the database. I want them to read/skim the electronic resources they find and then categorize and annotate them based on that first reading of the text. What I am hoping to see is Furl collections driven by genuine interest in a given topic and sharing of resources among students researching similar topics. (Shadows, which I discovered this morning, could also be interesting in getting students to write and exchange comments about online resources).

In short, I am interested in exploring students' TagClouds, Shadow Pages, or Furl databases as evidence of learning. They can all demonstrate individual engagement with the studied material while being firmly entrenched in and continuously expanded upon by a community of learners.

I still need to think long and hard about the place that these tools will occupy in my classroom. I know that they will have to be, much like blogging itself, driven by student interest. I don't think I am going to force my students to use these tools. When tools of this sort are embedded well pedagogically into the curriculum, students use them because using them seems natural.