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I am a firm believer that asking teachers to do more with technology is the wrong approach to renewal, unless you are removing old habits, old methods and genuinely improving outcomes. In sessions I run for teachers, I believe that it’s more effective to change the culture and narrow the participation gap between autonomous and co-operative learning. By establishing a few simple norms – for spectacular results – especially in 1:1 technology situations. To achieve this, I’m proposing 3 tools, and  dropping some old approaches to get a performance gain.

1. Use reflective, self-reporting activities

The internet is a complex and diverse environment – simplify it for students. Use technologies that accurately reflect classroom activity and narrow the gap between what you want them to do and what they actually do – and save a heap of wasted or off task time. Diigo is the tool for this. Use it to model resources for students (lists); ask them to justify their own explorations (bookmark); and reflect on group learning (forums). Diigo is not a bookmarking tool! – It’s a learning management system and should be central to online learning.

2. Students must believe their choices and opinions matter

Probing questions in online spaces, allow teachers to discover student opinions; use a weekly question in your Diigo forum to ask them a probing question that allows them to express their feelings. Encourage participation by engaging in socio-centric conversation with students in the online space – as an aside from the rigor of the syllabus routine.

3. This week matters, because there’s another one following it.

Use TodaysMeet to create a simple question and answer page that expires after a week. Let them know that information is not persistent; but needs application to become knowledge. Encourage them to take turns in using it for passing notes and asking questions. Allow them to answer them and then at the end of the week, ask them to write a weekly journal entry – by asking a driving/probing question. Students are often poor a daily journal writing (you just get recounts) – make each week a process of leveling up to a Friday summit question. Base your assessments on summit questions.

4. Make authentic connections

Bring external voices to your classroom via technology, even if it as simple as using Google Chat, or finding a voice from YouTube. Locate an authentic dimension to problems. One great way to do this is to find your schools entry on Wikipedia – and make it better!

5. Build Vocabulary Bank

Each week a student is asked to find one word that relates to the week learning. Make one page in PBWorks, and ask them to add to it – alphabetically.

•    They have to give the meaning and how it relates to the discipline.

•    They should locate a web-reference of this being applied

These two actions provide continuous formative assessment of their ability to learn, comprehend and apply – digitally and conventionally.

What does this do for learning and engagement?

These 5 things, as a norm, repeated over a semester, promote socio-disciplinary learning. For the teacher it represents a very small change to promote the read write process in their learning and welcome students with a positive approach to learning with technology. Students will begin to select when and how best to use these spaces and  replace some of the tiresome activities of writing in Word, printing it out, collecting it or transferring it to flash memory or via email. Rather than think about ‘new’ ways, this appraoch blends existing, successful practices that allow technology to augment learning, keep students on task, be accountable, and interested in working online – though teacher facilitation and communication in those spaces. Doing this over and over, insisting and persisting; will create that norm – and may take several weeks to embed in student behaviour. Don’t fall into the trap that many another technology might work better – after all for the last decade, students have used little more than office automation and Google Search. Give them and yourself time to adjust and to be confident.

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