At a social event just before the end of term, I was approached by a young probationary teacher (I’ll call her Ann). She asked for some advice regarding using online spaces with her primary 6 class of pupils. She shares the class with an experienced teacher who had set up a class blog and wiki space. Each of the children has their own page in the wiki.
Ann is finding it difficult to understand the point in the children having such an online space. At various times throughout the week, the children are expected to add to their space during their timetabled visits to the computer suite. She is aware that some children are beginning to resent this (they seem to be mainly reiterating what they’ve learned in class) and she asked if it would be possible for us to meet up soon after the holiday season to discuss these issues.
I’m hoping that, by ‘thinking out loud’ via this blog post, I’ll be in a better position to offer advice. ….. Once again I’ve reflected on my CT Case Study. The bullet points below have been extracted from the dissertation in order to help me articulate what I learned from my own experience of using online spaces with children.
- Prior to the commencement of the research period for the dissertation, the children my Primary 7 class were encouraged to use the tools in class time, especially during our timetabled visits to the school computer suite. Occasionally the children were asked to incorporate a homework tasks into their blog or wiki. For example, each child had a recordable mp3 player and when studying World War 2, they were asked to interview an older member of their family (e.g. gran or grandad) in order to find out about life in the past so as to give them a sense of history. These were then shared with all the class members via the interactive whiteboard. Once the study began, however, I refrained from these practices so that the children might establish ownership of the tools. They were encouraged to use them when and how they wanted to.
- Each pupil personalised their blogs by choosing their own individual look and theme. All of them successfully created avatars and, in the case of the boys especially, the inclusion of pictures and videos in posts was very apparent. The children quickly established the different uses for the blogs and wikis. The blogs being used for reflections, thoughts, short pieces of writings and uploading pictures, and the wikis for more extended pieces of writing, such as imaginative stories – usually updated over an extended period of time.
- Buckingham (2008) argues that through using the new media, young people are learning primarily by means of discovery, experimentation, and play, rather than by following external instructions and directions.
- It was decided to adopt such an approach during the research stage and pupils were left free to choose the content of their blog posts and wiki writing. Guidance was provided through creating a sense of online audience by submitting comments on the children’s posts regularly. Offline, new interesting posts were shared with the children. The findings show that this had the effect of influencing others to add new blog posts on their own blogs – often on the same subject. The findings in this study show that by laying the foundations, then allowing the children the freedom to write as individuals, led to blog posts such as Maryam’s
- Giving the children the freedom to use their online spaces as they wished allowed a deeper insight to their persona. An online community did develop, but that was on the periphery. The sharing of thoughts, opinions, ideas and personal likes and dislikes began as online blog posts. These were then developed in the offline classroom setting, giving rise to opportunities to increase motivation by modifying the programme of study to one that was more ‘child led’. Early on in the study, doubts began to creep in about whether or not leaving the children ‘to their own devices’ might result in blog and wiki entries fizzling out. I felt despondent at the lack of written posts by the boys in particular. An entry in my online journal, however, describes the level of enthusiasm they displayed when demonstrating to adults how we use the new media.
- The findings show that the boys in the class were more interested in uploading pictures and videos than in writing blog posts.
- In her investigation of young people’s use of social media, Stern (2007) uncovered an explanation for the motives for including artwork and images in their blog pages. In the literature review, she was noted as arguing that the main audience for their blogs was the authors themselves and that they were self reflecting as they tested out different versions of their current and possible identities. She also maintains, however, that they were continually testing out other audiences too, and that they were hungry for peer approval.
- Typical examples of the children’s responses to being allowed to use their spaces this way are cited here:
- Other ways in which the blogs and wikis directly influenced teaching and learning came about after the sharing of blog posts in class. For example:
‘Yes, because in our own blogs we’re allowed to write about what we want to write, so we’ve got to know each other better.’
‘Some people in class don’t talk to me very much, but I can read their blog and find out more about them’
‘I feel that I know my close friends even more now because of what they write on their blog’
As the pupils began adding more posts about what jobs they would like to choose, we began to seek out people from the ‘World of Work’ to come in to class and tell us about their job. We interviewed them and posted the videos on the class blog
Some of the children shared their love of reading in their blog posts. As a direct result of those posts, a book club was formed. The club was run by the pupils themselves and they shared their favourite books on ‘library loan’ basis and discussed their favourites
During her placement, Miss L agreed to set up an art club. This arose because a number of the children had written blog posts about their love of drawing
Writing this post has definately helped me focus on what I’d like to say to ‘Ann’ during our meeting …… and I’m also delighted that my months of hard work collecting information for my research hasn’t resulted in my dissertation lying somewhere collecting dust 🙂