Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mock Trial - Trying new tools

     The good news:  having used Moodle all year has meant students continue to use it easily during our too-many snow-days.  The bad news:  getting kids to start using a new tool when they don’t have the chance to explore and experiment with it at school first (because of all those snow days) means the tool doesn’t get used much. 
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    Students are quite used to online discussions now, and used to online reflection, so these have continued without a hitch.  The problem:  I had wanted students to try collaborating online, using discussions which were limited just to team members; the plaintiff’s team for one trial had their own discussion forum (I would have given them a separate wiki, too, but the wiki in Moodle 1.9 is too anemic).

     Unfortunately snow days have prevented the time we needed in the computer lab to make students comfortable with this.  Prior problems with Moodle groups made us all a little gun-shy.  Students don’t want to expose their strategies to their opponents, and need to be assured this won’t happen.  This assurance comes easily from having everybody in the same room, trying it out at the same time; in 42 minutes we can all see how it works and build trust in the technology.  On snow days, having students working at home, at different times, it’s much harder to build that understanding and trust.  And since Moodle has 4 different basic varieties of discussions, before you even get into groups vs. no groups, it’s reasonable for students to be a little wary the first time they experience a new discussion wrinkle.  My more confident students are trying it out, but confidence is not always readily available in middle school. 

     During the most recent snow day, we tried  an informal chat using Moodle. We could all see the possibilities, but also the limitations – it often takes awhile between when you complete what you’ve typed and when it shows up, so people are frequently having several conversations at once.  But if we get too many more snow days cutting into the days we have left to complete the trials, we can try out a synchronous chat for at least part of a trial in each class. 

    It would be nice to say, “this is the Facebook generation; they are comfortable with technology,”  but there are huge holes in their skill set.  And while all of my students have internet access at home, not everybody brings the same attitudes.  For every 10 who will try anything and soldier through until they understand, there are 5 who give up easily.  I need for all of my students to be successful.

    Update:  as it happened, we got a respite from snow days (at least this week), so the trials finished in class.  But now students want to try out the chat.

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