K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 25/Using Distance Learning Techniques to Re-Invent K-12 Homework

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Using Technology to Re-invent K-12 Homework

Imagine having your students cheer when they’re given another assignment. Sound impossible? Well, maybe it is, but the technology middle school students use to keep in touch with their friends, download their favorite music, and take photos of their families can be put to use for homework, too!

Blogging can replace journal writing in almost every case. Several free services allow students to create and name their own on-line web log. Check into Blogger.com, wordpress.com, or livejournal.com to get started. These are just a few suggestions, there are many to choose from. Each of your students can create, name and customize his or her webblog to reflect their taste or interests. Students make entries into their own personal blog rather than writing with pen and paper. The entries can be used to answer specific questions from a reading assignment or to address current events or personal reflections. Photos or videos can be added to blog entries to amplify the messages. As the teacher, you simply subscribe to each student’s blog. You’ll be notified each time an entry is made or updated. You can review the entries from your own PC or laptop.

An expansion on blogging is to assign entries to one central, classroom blog or message board as part of an online discussion. Students can watch the discussion develop and make additional comments as the topic is explored. An online debate can be ensured by assigning certain students to take a “pro” or “con” position on a given topic. Be sure to establish rules for polite debating that must be followed even in the semi-anonymous realm of the internet. Personal attacks must be proscribed completely. Students will learn to craft their entries to have the maximum effect in the debate. You may want to limit the number of entries per student to ensure that all are heard.

E-mail can be used to send hyperlinks to your students. Links can connect students to desired websites. The opportunities are as limitless as the internet itself. Maps, news items, cultural institutions like museums or galleries, all can be designated as a reading assignment. To expand on this idea, assign articles from the websites of reputable news magazines. Ask students to summarize the main article and also expand on the background of the topic with additional web research. Ask students to follow ongoing news stories through a variety of websites. Perhaps look for variations in coverage from one news service to another.

Rather than the typical essay detailing summer vacations, ask students to create a slide show of photographs that carries the same meaning. The project can include shots from family trips, summer camp, or just time spent at the community pool. Students can use programs like Microsoft MovieMaker or Apple iMovie to piece their presentations together. Microsoft PowerPoint can achieve the same slide show type of presentation and may be easier for students to grasp the basics quickly. Online photo albums, like Flickr or shutterfly are another option. Digital cameras will make this project easiest, but photographs can also be taken on most cellular phones. The technology will allow them to create meaning through the use of a different media, other than the written word.

Encourage students to include images that capture the emotions that their time away from school evoked in them. A photo of a blue sky filled with balloons could be used to represent joy, for example. Other images could represent different feelings the students may have experienced. The students’ creations can be e-mailed to their teacher and shown in class. Consider using these same techniques for photo-journalism assignments. Ask students to capture images that tell the story of some event. This could be a local fair, high school sporting event, or a national news story. The same technology enables students to make meaning through media texts other than written or spoken words.

Lectures or project instructions can be sent to students via podcasts. Digital recordings can be created that will allow students to listen to course materials on their own time. You as the instructor decide what content to include. This can be your own lectures or assignment instructions, broadcasts whether they are current or historical, music of any type, whatever you decide. Podcasts can be used for video lectures, solutions of math problems on a white board, demonstration of cultural elements, virtually anything that can fit on a screen.The “podcasts”, in the form of mp3 files that you send out, are collected by students and played on an iPod or other mp3 player. Students will have access to the course content and your instructions whenever they decide to approach the assignment. You can prepare multiple units of study far in advance as you make lesson plans.

Many teachers have had success creating class wiki-books, like the one you’re reading now. A wiki is a website or collection of web pages that anyone can contribute to or modify. Depending of the amount of research required, students can be assigned chapters or sections of the wiki-book to create, edit, and complete. You can determine the topic, division of subsections, and length of the assignment based on the time allowed. Just like any other book project, students can add text or photos, but also video and links to other supporting sources.

Consider creating a class glossary by using a wiki-book. When students encounter important terms in their reading, reward them for adding the term and its definition to the wiki-glossary. With each assigned reading new terms will be added to the book. This will over time create a useful document that all class members can access to enhance their understanding of course materials. Future classes can rely on the same student-made text or create their own. Participants will be interested in their classmate’s entries and will understand that their own will be viewed by others. Hopefully this will encourage careful work. If necessary, glossary terms can be assigned to each student to ensure equal participation.

Consider using pdf’s (portable document format) to send documents and assignments home with students. The Adobe Acrobat file reader is available all over the internet for free. And, the pdf format makes send file attachments faster than sending other file types. Students can download the latest version to open and read documents you create. Not only will you save paper and time, but students will have direct access to the information you send them. Pdf’s can contain magazine pages, journal articles, maps, book chapters, documents that contain graphics and videos, and virtually anything else you wish. Each week’s assignments can be put neatly together in a compact file. These files can be sent to students via e-mail or added to a class website for students to access them there. It is still up to the students to open the files and read them, but the excuses about not having time to get to the library are a thing of the past.

Rather than arguing with students over and over to stop texting in class, harness that technical knowledge and put it to use. Look for ways to use the communication that is already taking place and apply it to group activities. Team building exercises can rely on cell phone, Blackberry, or other Palm device to facilitate communication. Students today carry powerful technology in their pockets. Much can be done to take advantage of these devices at no cost to schools.

Not all distance learning techniques rely on technology, the vocabulary lists that go home with students to be completed are a form of distance learning. These, however, are suggestions that require little more than a family PC and a digital camera of some kind. The affordances of broadcast e-mail, podcasts, pdf files, and digital photography can be applied to any subject. The only limits are the imagination of the teaching professional and the willingness of the student to pursue their education goals through participation in new delivery methods that reflect the demands of the future.