Sunday, March 04, 2012

Evaluating Web 2.0 Tools

The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.
~Peter Drucke

For a recent assignment in my Certificate of Educational Technology course we were asked to review three Web 2.0 tools and evaluate their worth to teaching and learning. A fairly straight-forward task and quite pertinent considering we make these kinds of decisions regularly in our classrooms. We had reference material to guide us, such as the revised Bloom's taxonomy and the NETS from ISTE, but I also wanted to see what others do ~ how do other educators decide which tools to use to support and enhance teaching and learning.  When I began this search I was surprised that I could not easily find many examples of evaluation tools available to educators. I compiled what I was able to find using Storify.

One of the most challenging aspects of this task was deciding upon the three tools to evaluate. How to choose, with so many available? So, I started with the obvious, the Web 2.0 tool my students and I use on a regular basis, Google Docs.

Description: Google Docs is a set of free online tools that allow you to create, edit and view your documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms and drawings from any computer or smart phone. All of these documents allow for real time collaboration and have privacy settings that allow you to control who has access to view and or edit the document. Simple to use and easy to download to your own computer or embed in another site, such as a blog or wiki.

Digital Literacy Value: While Google Docs can be made private and edited and viewed by only one user, the digital literacy value is in their ability to support collaboration, allowing groups of people to communicate and work together to create one document. When student groups use Google Docs to collaboratively inquire, they have opportunities to conduct research and apply critical thinking skills while sharing, analyzing and synthesizing their data. These are also authentic opportunities for students to develop their digital citizenship skills; learning how to treat others in a virtual space, respecting others’ contributions and using online sources ethically. I also love the fact that it helps our classroom to become a 'paperless' environment.

Examples of Use: My students have used Google Docs to support collaborative inquiries during smaller investigations to collate data and then to prepare reports, which allows me to provide feedback to the students on their work. Students also used Google Docs to support their investigations when preparing for the PYP Exhibition, which allowed them to share their progress not only with the classroom teacher, but with their mentors as well. I have also used Google Forms to collect information from my students. For example, we use this tool as a regular part of our math classes as a digital exit slip where the information helps me plan for next learning steps. Lastly, I have used the Google Docs and Presentations for professional reasons when preparing to facilitate a workshop with someone who lives in another country. 

The second tool I chose to evaluate was VoiceThread because it is one that has great potential and I haven't used it as effectively as I would like. After preparing this evaluation I have decided to use VoiceThread more often with my students.

Description: This is a wonderful tool to foster collaboration and sharing ideas around a topic or an issue. VoiceThread is like an online conversation where you can upload images and then leave comments about the content. These comments can be typed, audio recordings or video recordings. Participants are also able to draw or write upon the images as they share their comments. The best part about this tool is that participants can listen to comments and then build upon what others have said.

Digital Literacy Value: VoiceThread can be used in various ways that would support students’ digital literacies development. Using a teacher created VoiceThread could provide students with opportunities to analyse and evaluate content. They would need to understand the comments left by others and build upon this, justifying their own opinion. Having students create their own VoiceThread to show their understanding of a concept would require them to apply their knowledge in a different context.

Examples of Use: I have recently used VoiceThread with my students as a means for collaborative groups to share the central ideas they created with their classmates. Students had a set of success criteria and were trying to decide which of the statements best met the criteria and should be included as entries from our class in the larger ‘voting’ process for the Exhibition central idea. More recently we have used this tool to support a conversation about small group animations the students have completed for a unit of inquiry. We will be using the comments left by students as a mean of assessing their understanding of our central idea.

The last tool I selected for this assignment was Storify. I've not yet used it with students, but I've always liked the idea of compiling socially constructed information to tell a story. 

Description: This tool allows you to search social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google and Youtube to build a story around an issue or topic. Easy to use, you simply type in the subject you would like to explore and select which media you would like to search. You browse the links that appear in a sidebar and select the items you wish to include in your own story by simply dragging them into your workspace. These ‘stories’ are then hosted on Storify and you may share the link or embed them into your own site. You may go back later on and update any stories you have created.

Digital Literacy Value: While I have not yet used this tool with students, I have used it myself when exploring an idea. I like it because I am able to keep the sites I come across in various places together in a way that is easy for me to access. By reading a variety of perspectives I build my own understanding of an issue and it is an opportunity to evaluate what others may be saying. If done well, this tool could be used to create a ‘story’ that is either well balanced, showing multiple perspectives, or if your purpose is to persuade, deliberately biased toward a particular view. 

Examples of Use: I’ve created stories to capture my explorations of Twitter and the flipped classroom model and most recently, Choosing the ‘Right’ Web Tool. I found it helped me to read a variety of posts and view videos in a more focused, purposeful manner as I had used a ‘guiding question’ in the description of my story.

The real power of this exercise was not in my own evaluation of three Web 2.0 tools, but in the sharing of our thoughts in class. The resulting compiled list of tools, with my colleagues' annotations has become a most valuable resource and I would highly recommend such an endeavour.

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