Saturday, February 11, 2012

Using personal online conversations to help students achieve

    When students are engaged in an extensive research project, I want them to have a way to converse privately with the teacher, to reflect about what they’re learning, and to have an opportunity to get extra help.  I called these Private Journals to reinforce their private nature.   In the past, I’ve used separate threads in a single discussion forum for this task, but that didn’t provide much privacy.  Once I learned how to use the Online Text Assignment in Moodle, I switched to this instead. See:

    I’ve always thought providing this private communication channel was a good idea.  But I’ve found evidence that it’s even better than I thought. 

    After we finished the project, I asked students to tell me what worked well for them and what didn’t work; they answered free-form, not from a list.  Many of them spontaneously said they liked the Private Journals.

    I wasn’t even sure they were looking at my replies in the Private Journals, but then I checked out the Participation Report (under Administration >Reports) where I could see how many times students edited or viewed the entries.  (Thanks to Colin Matheson in the Moodle Mayhem Listserv  for this great idea).  Students generally wrote their entry without further rewrites,  but many went back to either 1) see if I had replied yet, or 2) read my reply several times.  How’s that for evidence that teachers matter?

    I really enjoy this part of the project, as it allows me to give undivided individual attention.
    Clearly students want this special attention.  I could suggest resources or search strategies, or give attaboys, or listen to some new cool fact they had learned, or just share their enthusiasm for what they were learning.  It was like having a mini-tutoring session with each student – without interruptions as well as with time for me to think. 

    I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get the conversation going when each Private Forum post was separate from previous entries; in each, the student speaks and then the teacher speaks.  This was more disjointed than using a separate thread in a discussion forum for each student.  But we still managed.

    I also learned to add the due date to the title of the different posts so that students could distinguish them.  (I had originally just posted four Private Journals for students to post to, but they found this confusing, and were posting in random Private Journals – lesson learned). 

    As in the past, when I’ve used this tool (along with making sure students have found a subject they really want to research,) the result has been well-researched and well-written reports from a great variety of learners. 

    I always thought this was a useful tool – I just didn’t know how much.

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