I'm working on a doctorate in education, and my research focuses on potential uses of digital communication media (online discussions, blogs, wikis, etc.) in teaching writing. In particular, I am interested in how teachers of English language arts, humanities, or social studies might incorporate digital interactive writing into the writing process, such that online discussions might serve as a sort of pre-writing activity for essays, stories, or other written compositions to help students develop and articulate their ideas.

For example, students might use discussion forums to discuss debatable issues in preparation for persuasive essays on the same topics (which could potentially be published on blogs or wikis). Or they might use a blog post as a seed for an essay, inviting comments from other students to help them develop their ideas. Or they might begin to develop a story idea through an online chat in which they role-play characters in dialogue. Or they might use instant messaging to brainstorm subtopics for a class wiki involving collaborative research.

Has anyone used Web 2.0 media in this way with their students? If so, I'd be very interested to hear some of the details. If not, what do you think about such an approach? Many thanks in advance!

(For more on this topic, I invite you to check out my blog, Authorship 2.0.)

Tags: blogging, discussions, english, instantmessaging, socialstudies, wikis, writing

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Hi Marielle,
I haven't used any Web 2.0 applications in my classroom yet but I am currently an on-line student at UFL who is learning about such applications. Next year I am going to try to set up a wiki for my students to write fairy tales and myths (I teach sixth grade). I think it is going to be really neat to see how the story develops over time. I'm not exactly sure how I am going grade such an assignment or how I am going to keep up with who adds what but right now I'm just excited about the thought of them collaborating on something like this!
That does sound exciting, Jessica. I'm sure your students will enjoy collaborating on fairy tales and myths. Long before Web 2.0, my 6th graders used to author children's books (usually framed by a particular theme) that they then read to first graders. We also had them collaborate on some multimedia choose-your-own-adventure stories, which were complex, but fun. As in that project, I think it will be key to work out some of the logistical details in order to make your wiki stories work smoothly. Will you have them work in small groups? Will you have them do some planning together first to determine main characters, setting, and basic plot? Or will you just do those round-robin types of stories where one person starts and others add in sequence without any discussion? It does sound like fun, and I hope you'll keep us posted about how it goes...
For a great project on collaborate writing that draws in schools around the globe, check out ms1001tales.wikispaces.com
A little off track, but one site with potential for use as a locator to begin creating these valuable connections is googlelittrips.org. It lets teachers create maps following the adventures of characters in literature -- Candide, Aeneas, Amir in Kite Runner, the list goes on. Using the maps for guidance, innovative teachers and students could create social connections along those routes to learn about life in the places that show up in literature.
Sounds like a worthwhile research project. I hope you'll share your findings!
Thanks, Stacy, for these gems. I love the frame of the 1001 Flat World Tales project - what a fabulous integrated use of wikis and blogs to support writing instruction. The structure seems very generative, the peer review protocol pedagogically sound, and the concept highly engaging. This is a great example for Jessica to consider, either as a model or as a project to join.

Can you say more about how you envision using Google Lit Trips in teaching literature? What do you mean by "create social connections along those routes," and how might this be facilitated?
Inspiring... exciting... lifting us up and out the old ordinary (and un-engaging) ways of doing things! Thanks for sharing, as Marielle said, these many gems.
Hi Marielle

I just completed my MEd in this using blogs and skrbl boards in the classroom for collaborative writing. My thesis is posted somewhere digitally - I will find the link and add it to this post.
Hi Alison,
Did you post this link yet? Is it in your blog? I'd love to see your thesis.
Hi Marielle,

I launched into extensive use of classroom networking over the past two years, with last year being the year of "full immersion" in web2.0 technologies. Technology, nearly always on or available, became simply an extension of who and how we are as a learning community. All of your ideas are excellent, and do-able, and thrilling to put into action.

A network similar to this one functions as a central part of our class. Some of the things we've loved best have been current events discussions. They're digital, interactive, even multi-media "writing." They're like mini-reports on some event or discovery that's fascinating to the writer, presented with a couple of high-quality links and a discussion starter. I'd typically ask the students to write and respond to 2 or 3 a week. The level of discourse is simply amazing. It has grown dramatically over the year. As a language-arts teacher I could not be more thrilled, especially with the increase in student motivation to write. I think that to the students, writing has become very real, very meaningful. It truly is a discussion, something you're sharing with your learning community. You write to an audience you've grown to be connected to...

Another favorite thing has been "Ask Elders." Everyone in class has to interview an elder about a particular topic or question, such as "What music has been important to you in your life?" Students write up the discussion results, and read and react to each others' posts. What I love about this is the extended-community connections. Students are interviewing elders who live all over the place and learning from each other's interviews. Sometimes the students have ask the elders to respond to what other elders said, carrying the interview yet farther, interconnecting the learning even more.

I've notice that over time people start developing specialties as bloggers: things they're known for writing about, their topics, their styles. I have a couple of food bloggers, some travel bloggers, some nature bloggers, some political commentators. I have a couple of kids who do technology reviews on a regular basis. I often do website reviews.

Students post story-starters, post and react to the poetry assignments I give, and design their own assignments, too. Beyond the writing, we do podcasting of story-telling. We share class drawings and papers. Photos (too many!) are posted constantly. Games are played, tournaments are arranged. It's a happening kind of place!

I am amazed to leave the network alone for a couple of days, come back, and see how things have evolved. It's a fundamentally different experience in education... My class network is still going in the summertime. It kept going over vacations. When the children goes on a trip, s/he often will check in with class to share what's going on.

In my experience, it's really important that the students feel some ownership in what's going on. It's their network. Along with that ownership comes responsibility--one of the essential lessons in all this... Such great learning.

One of the amazing things about web2.0 is the way it can be a launch pad for development of a new sense of community. There's such power in formation of active, healthy, happy learning communities.

Oh--one more thing to talk about at some point: shifting learning over to "problem-based inquiry" for some really exciting lessons... Have you done or studied that?

Wonderful questions, thanks for asking... keep the questions coming, and please share what you're learning in your studies!

Thanks so much, Connie, for sharing these wonderful examples of how your students are using Web 2.0 media to publish and discuss their writing within what is essentially an authentic community of practice. I used to do a fun local history project with my students that involved interviewing community elders, but it was before Web 2.0, so they had to publish and share their work the old-fashioned way - in print. I think that the more educators share specific examples like these, the better. Which tool(s) do you use as the backbone of your online network? Is it closed to your students, or can others outside the classroom read and comment on their writing?

I am interested in investigating the relationship between interactive online writing, by which I mean two-way written communication, and more traditional composition genres, such as the essay or the story. So, for example, if students discuss their views on a literary or political topic in an online forum, does that result in more effective independent, free-standing writing on the same topic by the same students? Do you ever ask students to write about something independently AFTER they have discussed it online with others? If so, do you notice improvements in quality compared to what you might find if they had those pre-writing discussions face-to-face?

It's my hypothesis that because interactive online writing shares some affordances with oral communication (e.g., audience presence and reciprocity), and other affordances with traditional written communication (e.g., a material graphic record), it can, in the context of effective instruction, potentially support “writing as inquiry” (Hillocks, 1984; 1986; 1995), providing a bridge between speaking and writing that promotes audience awareness and facilitates substantive, interactive idea development.

While many educators and researchers extoll the virtues of using such digital communication media to support student writing, few have systematically demonstrated their impact on students' written products. There is clear evidence that such activities can engage students in writing in exciting and important ways, but not as much documented evidence about how specifically they improve student writing. I am interested in probing that question...

Does that make sense? Have you observed any specific improvements to written products as a result of incorporating Web 2.0 media into the writing process?
Hi Marielle _ I used blogs as reader response journals for film and novel study. the students responded on my blog initially and then set up their own. One of my main findings was that when I responded to their comments on the blogs, the students responded back. However the students who kept paper logs never responded to the written comments I made on their logs. Anyone could respond on the blogs (not private).
You can view examples of these from the links on my 2007 blog - http://blog-mrs-c.blogspot.com/

I also used the skrbl for collaborative essay writing - where 3-4 students worked on one essay writing task collaboratively.

Thanks so much, Alison, for sharing your experience with online reader response journals. They are really interesting to read, as is your reflection that the online journals generated more dialogue from students than the offline ones. I'm wondering if you encouraged students to reply to each other at all, as I think that could be generative, too. What were your criteria for journal entries? Did you provide any guidance about what you expected in terms of form and/or substance? Did you ever ask students to write literary analysis essays on a book (or film) that they reflected on in their journals, and if so, did you notice any differences between the two groups?

I'd also be interested to hear more about what you did with skrbl. You might also want to check out Buzzword, as I think it's quite a powerful tool for collaborative writing.
Hi Marielle,

Your studies are so important. Please keep us informed about what you are learning.

I'd like to react to what you wrote:
"I am interested in investigating the relationship between interactive online writing, by which I mean two-way written communication, and more traditional composition genres, such as the essay or the story. So, for example, if students discuss their views on a literary or political topic in an online forum, does that result in more effective independent, free-standing writing on the same topic by the same students? Do you ever ask students to write about something independently AFTER they have discussed it online with others? If so, do you notice improvements in quality compared to what you might find if they had those pre-writing discussions face-to-face?"

I've found that overlapping all forms of learning is the most powerful. We will, for instance, put up our network on the SmartBoard and discuss what's happening, face-to-face. We'll evaluate the types of responses that make us want to keep learning more, and the ones that put a brake on things. We'll brainstorm aloud possible spin-offs, new directions we can go in, reacting to a particular posted response, or a category of responses (such as current events or ask elders). Then people go off during class and at home and extend the learning we did face-to-face. So yes, they write about things after they've discussed it online, and yes, they write about things after they've discussed the online things f2f. It all gets interblended.

I'd like to investigate this with you... I wonder many of your same questions. I think students are engaged in writing in so many instances much more than they ever would have been if it had been just papers circulating back and forth between teacher and student, or papers posted on the wall. But do I have clear evidence? I think so, but you can test me. There's much, much more to learn.

In class, we talk about how everything is just a work in progress, how everything can be conceived of as a draft for the next stage or product of learning. Students' essays get reacted to, and the reactions reacted to, and new ideas for learning come up which makes the student who posted the original document or question refine it and come back for more...

One thing, I like to point out that in my view this could only work in a highly-supportive learning environment. That's the key. People have to learn to be unafraid, have to be able to take risks and know their learning community will overall be supportive. I do find that students become very nurturing and accepting of each other. I emphasize being supportive and reinforce it constantly. I'll come down hard on someone who seems arrogant or snooty in their criticism... we all have to be humble, we can all improve... let's have fun with this...

After a while the student who can't spell, who can't punctuate, who can't get his thoughts out smoothly learns to open up and just try. That same kid will have, over time, developed a rounded experience within the Whole of the learning community and will have had successes highlighted in a variety of places and forms so being not-quite-as-able in one kind of learning is just the way of things, we're all like that.

Oh, there's so much to discuss about the possibilities of learning in a networked community. What you said, about forming "a bridge between speaking and writing that promotes audience awareness and facilitates substantive, interactive idea development,"--yes, absolutely. And think of the meaning of writing itself changing. Is a multimedia production with writing, music, and pictures in it still "writing"? Is a podcast or vodcast with comments, writing? Do we ever do things and then are done or is everything a work in progress?

Thanks for this forum, and the deeply thoughtful questions you're investigating.




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