Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Am I Still Using Paper? I Need a Mural (ly)

So I had this strange epiphany this week. I asked students to create a poster for an assignment in my Marketing class. It's something I've always done, and find the finished products turn out to be of fairly good quality. However, I also always seem to wonder how I can make it better; make it more visually appealing and creative; make it easier to cart around to mark; make it less of an issue to post so the class can see their peers' work. And then it hit me - why am I asking students to still create work like this on paper? I have my students create presentations online (Prezi), write experiences or answers to questions online (blogger), collaborate & discuss (wikispace), so why don't I have them create posters as well? The reason has simply been that there has not been a great tool to do something like this. Prezi is great, but it's a presentation type tool, a blog is really just for text and so you can't get all that creative, wikis are great but very basic and not very visual either. So what can I use? Well I think I found it -

I've been messing around with the site the last couple days, and feel this is exactly the thing I can use. Now at first I was very disturbed by their lack of support for Internet Explorer (all of our school computers use IE, and I would guess most others do as well); however, this is a problem they are currently fixing and will soon be supported; so don't worry. Once I logged into the site and began to just 'play', I found that there are so many uses for this tool. I love the pre-existing templates they have, and the possible applications they have for the classroom. What I like most about them is the fact that they are all visual. Most students I find are visual type learners and if I can provide them with a tool like this where they can organize their thoughts, goals, ideas, events, work, in such a visual way, I can only imagine how much they will find it beneficial too. While using it I began thinking that this can be more than just a useful tool for presentations, and thus began to realize how much it is different from Prezi (and maybe better?). Now don't get me wrong, Prezi is great; but the fact that Prezi is all about following paths, and zooms in and out so much, means it is a little more complicated than it needs to be for certain tasks. Thus, might just offer more applications for classrooms, and can be used easily by our students.

So here's what I think could be the top 5 uses for in the classroom (besides using it as another presentation tool):

  1. Poster - Yes this is a very basic use for the site, but why cart around bristol boards, or even 3-panel boards anymore? Students can arrange their information and visuals in the exact same way, and you don't have to fill up your back seat of your car with student work!
  2. Ongoing Learning Page- With my marketing class, I'm always asking my students to share advertisements, products, or anything else they find that relates to marketing. I've thought about using a wiki, but just don't find it visually appealing enough for what I want. With however, we can create a class collaboration page where they can post pictures of advertisements, videos of commercials, articles discussing new products, and just about anything else they want to share. I'm thinking this is a great way to get them to always be learning and looking for items to post.
  3. Group Work - provides a template for this very task, and I can't think of a better way for my students to work together on their summative then to use this site to do so. The template already has a structure to it that allows for students to organize their information in a easy-to-follow way. Students could arrange their information in any way they see fit, and the fact that they can work together on one site to do so (rather than email back and forth) makes it just that much more effective.
  4. Online Portfolio - Many teachers use portfolios of student work for their final summative. This gives students a chance to really show off what they've done all year/semester. The problem with many portfolios, is that they are a combination of digital, written, and visual. I think provides an opportunity for students to organize their work in one place, and they don't have to worry about the mix of examples they use for their portfolio
  5. Unit Review & Concept Mapping - This also may seem pretty straightforward or simple, but why not have students provide examples of concepts covered throughout a unit using this tool. As the unit is covered, post the concept on, and have students look online for examples of that concept - whether it is videos explaining it, pictures of it, text gathered from other sources, etc. This gives the students an opportunity to really apply what they've learned, share their knowledge, and use the page as a great study aid prior to an assessment. For flipped classrooms, this could be a great way to organize all videos pertaining to a unit in one easy to manage website. Students wouldn't have to search through Youtube, or other video hosting sites; they could just log onto the 'mural' and all the videos for the unit would be there, as well as text, and other sources of information to support all learning styles.
I think there are probably a hundred or more ideas out there, and this is just a very basic list. In due time, I'm sure the uses of will be well known, but in the mean time let me know what you think?