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Monday, March 19, 2012

5 Ways You Can Use Wikis

Today I had the privilege to participate in Discovery's Beyond the Textbook forum. One of my take-aways from the day's conversation is that most of the technologies that we want to use to make textbooks interactive and meaningful for students already exist, we just need to organize and utilize them in a way that makes sense for teachers and students. I've combined that take-away with a recent request from a reader to delineate some ways that teachers can use Wikispaces to create this list of ideas for using wikis in classrooms. Please feel free to add your suggestions, with links if possible, in the comments below (please note, I'll be on planes for the next 18 hours so there will be a delay between your comment submission and its appearance on the blog).

1. As a digital portfolio of student-created videos.

2. As a place for students to share notes on each unit of study in your courses.

3. As an alternative to textbooks. Work with colleagues in your school or department to create a multimedia reference site for your students. Include YouTube videos that use the "choose your own adventure" model to allow students to pursue areas of interest.

4. As an alternative to textbooks. Have students create reference pages for units of study in your course. When you do this students become responsible to each other for creating accurate and meaningful content that they can refer to when it comes time for assessment. For example, when I get to the 1920's in my US History curriculum I have each student create a page on a wiki about a theme from that decade. Some of the themes that the students cover are fashion, entertainment, and sports. I mentioned this briefly on a podcast that will be published soon by Steve Dembo and Dean Shareski.

5. As a place to track, document, and manage on-going community projects. In my district every student is required to complete a community service project before graduation. As a homeroom or "common block" advisor teachers are supposed to help their students take the necessary steps to document that work. By creating a homeroom wiki you create a place where students can make weekly updates about what they have done to complete their projects.

How are you using wikis in your classroom? Please leave a comment below. 

If you're not quite sure what a wiki is or what makes it different from a traditional website or blog, watch Wikis in Plain English from Common Craft.

Graph Words - An Instant Visual Thesaurus

Graph Words is a neat little site that provides webs of related words. If you're like me and you tend to use the word "awesome" a lot and want to mix it up, type "awesome" into Graph Words to see a web of alternative word choices. Click on any word in the web to generate a new web of more related words. Give it a try with this web based on the word "awful." Your webs can be downloaded as a PNG image.

Applications for Education
Using Graph Words could be a nice way for students who are stuck in a rut using the same words receptively to find new words to work into their writings and conversations.

Three Ways to Watch Videos & Discuss Them in Real-time Online

YouTube can be a good place to find educational videos to support your lessons. We've all had students who struggle to hold their comments until the video has stopped. One strategy that many teachers have used in those cases is to tell students to "write it down." The web makes it possible to take that strategy a step further and have students not only "write it down" but also enable teachers to instantly respond to students' comments while watching a video. Here are three tools that enable users to watch videos online and discuss them with others at the same time.

Synchtube is a free service for watching videos and chatting about them at the same time. Here's how it works; find the url of your favorite YouTube, Vimeo, or Blip.tv video, copy that url into Synchtube, and begin chatting with your friends while the video is playing. You can comment on the video and share thoughts inspired by the video while you're watching it.

Watch2gether is a neat site through which you can watch YouTube videos and host text chats about them at the same time. It is really quite easy to use Watch2gether. To get started enter a nickname for yourself (it could be your real first name) then search for a video or enter the url of a video that you have previously bookmarked. When you have found the video you want a chat column will be present on the right side of your browser. You can invite others to chat with you by sending them the url assigned to your chat. Together you can watch a video and discuss it.

Google+ Hangouts provide the option to watch YouTube videos with a small group. Now that Google+ is open to anyone over 13, this could be a good option for high school use.

Finding and Diving Into the Mariana Trench

The Mariana Trench is more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is tall. Filmmaker James Cameron is planning to dive to the bottom and film it. National Geographic has released a couple of preview videos about the dive. The two videos, embedded below, provide a couple of quick lessons about the deepest valley on Earth.

Sounding the Bottom is a short explanation of how sonar is used to measure depths.



The Long Way Down offers a nice visual perspective of just how deep James Cameron will be diving.


H/T to The Adventure Blog

Three Tools Students Can Use To Collaboratively Organize Online Research

One of the challenges that I always give to students when they work on collaborative research projects is to "go deeper than you would if you were working alone." The idea that I try to convey to them that the purpose of working together is not to make the assignment easier it is to make it possible for them to discover more information than they would if they were working alone. If the students are researching a topic online, often a series of emails with links to useful materials gets bounced between them. To alleviate the inbox flood, here are three tools that students can use to collaboratively organize their online research.

Diigo is my number one choice for collaborative bookmarking. Students can create groups or you can create groups for them to which they contribute bookmarks. Bookmarks can be annotated with notes about what makes that bookmark useful for the project that the students are working on. My friend Mary Beth Hertz wrote a nice overview of Diigo a couple of years ago, you can read that post here. The video below provides an overview of Diigo's features. 

Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

Think Binder is a website that gives students a place to create online study groups. In each group students can share files, share links, chat, and draw on a collaborative whiteboard. Students can create and join multiple groups. As you will see in the video below, getting started with Think Binder takes just a minute.
Embedded below is my brief video overview of Think Binder.


Searcheeze is a relatively new and neat service for curating the web with your friends. Searcheeze is basically a social bookmarking service with an extra publishing feature added to it. Here's how it works. Searcheeze provides a bookmarklet for bookmarking the things you find online. When you click the bookmarklet it opens up a sidebar to which you can drag as much highlighted text as you like from the webpage you're viewing. From that sidebar you can specify which of your collections of bookmarks you want send your highlighted content and bookmarks to. Then back in your Searcheeze account you can arrange your content and publish it for others to see. If you want to curate content with other Searcheeze users you can do so by sharing a collection and working together to add to it.
Searcheeze has been shutdown. 

The video below offers a short overview of Searcheeze.

Searcheeze - Search collaboration made easy! from Searcheeze on Vimeo.

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