Ten Ways to Work & Play Well with Others Using Computer Technologies
This list is a rewriting and reformatting of a PowerPoint presentation from the 2000 Computers and Writing Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. Each point is followed by the discussion points from the session and at least one example classroom activity.
Closing: Play in education isn’t a new idea
- Play with technology is fine, but be sure it’s play with a purpose.
- Use technology to meet curricular goals
- Have assignments in place
- Teach skills in context of the assignment
- Don’t just poke about on machines for the sake of poking about
Goals: Critical Thinking & Learning How to Use a Piece of Software
Examine a program designed to help you complete a task such as write a paper, draw a picture, or calculate data in a spreadsheet. You might choose any program in Microsoft Office, PhotoShop, Word Perfect, Illustrator, Freehand, or Quicken. Take a close look at the program that you’ve chosenwhat does it do? What abilities does it leave out? Once you’ve thought about the program and the things that it does, analyze the designer’s vision of the task that the program is meant to help the user complete. How does Microsoft define ‘writing’ if you consider Microsoft Word as a writing tool? How does Adobe define ‘art’ if you base their definition on what you see in PhotoShop? What do the designers think is important, and what do they leave out? Look at the activities that the program supports, the ease of using the tool, and the way that the features are named. Your paper should analyze the task that the tool supports and the ways that it supports it.
[From the 15th List of Ten]
Structure play for the time and place
- Play in the classroom doesn’t mean anything goes
- Involve students in setting up structures
- Use scenarios to practice and discuss the situations they may encounter
- Ask students to think about what others see when they visit as well as what they want others to take away from the class.
Ask your students to work as ethnographers in the classroom explain the idea of participant-observers, and have your students observe the community in your classroom. What social structures exist? How do members of the community interact? How do the physical structures in the classroom affect the community? By comparison, you might ask students to observe the ways that computers work in other places on your campus what kind of community is built (or not) in public access computer labs, around workstations in the library, and so forth. Students might examine the differences: how does the community change, and why does it change? Assign students the task of writing a letter to entering students at your school who will encounter your computer-based classroom for the first time. What can they tell these new students about the space and how it works? What information do they wish they had had when they first began using the classroom?
[From the 1st List of Ten]
Set rules for the in-class playground
- Go over any institutional rulesIs there an acceptable use agreement?
Should there be one to protect you and your school?
- Involve students in setting rules for your class
- Give students responsibilityHave them help set the rules.
What is inappropriate or inaccurate? What about distractions? games, etc.
- Computers should not be used for things that can be done easier or more quickly by hand
- Talk about enforcement as you’re setting rules
What are the dangers of computers that are shown in the news, in advertisements, and in popular culture? You can begin your list with dangerous hackers, viruses, and hard drive crashes. And, of course, there’s a great deal of information on the possible troubles of the shift to the Year 2000. What is the point of discussing these dangers? What kind of language is used to talk about them? What are the reporters and advertisers trying to communicate? Analyze the purpose and audience for the discussion. What is the point of view? How is the point of view communicated? How does the point of view affect the way that the ideas are discussed? What details are included? What is explained and what isn’t?
[From the 15th List of Ten]
- Provide multiple points of departure
- Remember that change is threatening
- Allow for different learning styles
- Design for different technologies
- Remember that students are used to the routine
- Involve students in evaluating the changes.
Examine a program designed to help you complete a task such as write a paper, draw a picture, or calculate data in a spreadsheet. You might choose any program in Microsoft Office, PhotoShop, Word Perfect, Illustrator, Freehand, or Quicken. Take a close look at the program that you’ve chosen what does it do? What abilities does it leave out? Once you’ve thought about the program and the things that it does, analyze the designer’s vision of the task that the program is meant to help the user complete. How does Microsoft define ‘writing’ if you consider Microsoft Word as a writing tool? How does Adobe define ‘art’ if you base their definition on what you see in PhotoShop? What do the designers think is important, and what do they leave out? Look at the activities that the program supports, the ease of using the tool, and the way that the features are named. Your paper should analyze the task that the tool supports and the ways that it supports it.
- Talk about assessment with students before play begins
- Make sure the goals are clear
- Develop critical reflection skills for you and your students
- Provide a variety of ways to demonstrate knowledge
- Begin with the end in mind (Covey 1989)
- Give students a list of skills, a description of the end product, brainstorm and create a rubric. Be sure that students know what is expected.
- Reflection is perhaps more important than performance. Knowing how and why we have done what we’ve done is what helps us learn what to change and why.
- Remember that technology know-how shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of other goals-—unless learning the technology IS the goal.
"Talk Less, Ask More." I attended a keynote by Alfie Kohn last week here in Austin. Kohn urged us to "talk less and ask more" — rather than telling students what they have or haven’t done correctly. Ask them how they feel about their text, why they have included the details that they have, what they want to try next. Ask them what concerns they have, and what they think can be done to address these concerns. These techniques work best when you respond online in Daedalus Mail, in conference, or in a writer’s journal (see #10), since you’re asking students to share details about their writing.
Use a Writer’s Response Journal over the course of the term. It might be unfair to include this as technique. It’s a way to create on-going conversations with writers. When I am working in a computer-based classroom, I can use Daedalus Mail to enter into extended conversations about writing. When that is not possible, I use a writer’s response journal students turn in a journal with their drafts. In the journal, they should give me details about their text, questions they want to ask, and so forth. I include my response to their draft in their journal rather than as an end comment on the paper. My response is likely to include questions for them based on techniques like those above. As work progresses during the term, I encourage students to reread their journals and note changes they see. Periodically, I read back over older entries as well. The interaction in the journal is much like that of Daedalus Mail messages or conferences, but it can be a stronger tool in the long-run because it collects all the comments in writing and in one linear space. When time constraints or the workload make journals impossible to use for the entire term, I use them for a major project or research paper.
[From the 4th List of Ten]
- Have systems in place for evaluating in the unconventional setting
- Rely on self-reporting and reflection, and explain their importance to your students
- Find structures that allow you to observe and evaluate students work easily
- Be able to explain the reasons for your choices and techniques
Have students read drafts written by students who worked on a similar assignment and/or professional examples. Ask them to create criteria for the assignment, and help them shape those criteria into a response template or checklist. Focus your response on the areas that they have identified, referring to the guidelines and examples that they identified in class.
Use a template that focuses on student-generated guidelines for the assignment. I have my students read examples of drafts written by students who have worked on a similar assignment in the past and/or professional examples in their books. They create criteria for the assignment, and we shape the criteria into a response template or checklist. The criteria might have broad categories such as "Readability, Clarity, Interest Level, and Organization" or "Ideas, Purpose, and Meaning." I focus my response on the areas that they have identified, referring to the guidelines and examples that they identified in class. Since the students own the guidelines used for the evaluation, I’m simply applying their criteria.
[From the 4th List of Ten]
- Remember that your behavior matters during play
- Observe your students at play (Kidwatching)
- Model classroom behaviors
- Coach as necessary
What do your students think you’re doing in your classroom? Ask your students to work as ethnographers in the classroom explain the idea of participant-observers, and have your students observe the community in your classroom. What social structures are in place? Have them write an analysis that shares their observations.
[From the 1st List of Ten]
- Beware the Magical Thinking Syndrome (MTS)—Vincent Flanders on Cnet
- MTS is the belief that just because a software product is installed on your system you will also somehow acquire the knowledge and talent to use it
- Be realistic about what you & your students can do
- Ask your students to think carefully about technological claims
- Play is good, but don’t let the ideal of play lead you down a path that has nothing to do with your end goalseven if it does look as if the software/hardware could be the solution.
- Think about whether you really have time to use technology in pedagogically useful ways.
Take a look at commercials for computer products like the iMac and Gateway’s Your:)Ware or software products like QuickBooks Pro. If you believe the commercials, what are the steps in using a computer? How do you go about getting online? Writing out an invoice? Paying your bills? Sending an email message? Write a paper that compares the fairy-tale world of the commercials to the experiences that you or your friends and family have had with computers. Why are computers and software portrayed the way that they are in these commercials? Are the commercials believable?
[From the 14th List of Ten]
- Allow for the unconventional and surprising
- Help students understand when they’re meeting goals. In unconventional settings, the achievements may not be clear.
- Be ready to think on your feet and accept new and unusual work from your students.
- Don’t worry about keeping up with your students’ skills. Just share the subject knowledge that you have that will help them with their tasks.
- Provide opportunities for nontraditional writing. Use the internet for brainstorming, to publish newsletters, do webbed literary journals, create a virtual tour of the geography of a reading.
- What if on portfolio due date you’re handed a floppy diskette instead of a paper-packed folder?
What if the student turns in an index card with a URL for the website port? (James Burke)
Assume the role of one of the characters who has a problem, and write a message to an online advice columnist asking for help. Email your message to your reading partner. Once you’ve exchanged messages, take on the role of the advice columnist by responding to the message you’ve received. A two-part assignment could have students first assume the role of a character in the piece who writes an advice columnist; then, they exchange messages and assume the role of the advice columnist by responding to the messages.
Meeting of the minds: Have students choose a historical figure they are interested in. Give them a chance to do some background research on the figure, and then tell them that their figures have been plopped down in your classroom. Ask them to write a paper giving their figures’ analysis of and reaction to the space. You might set some parameters to help avoid papers with too much make-believe—the figures know, for instance, that the space is used for education. The point of the assignment is for students to think about the computer-based classroom from another point of view. Students might participate in online discussion, in the persona of their historical figure (see Robin Wax’s "History Comes Alive on the Little Screen," NEA Today, Sept. 1994, p.25).
- Communicate with the community
- Provide negotiation strategies
- Show—don’t tell!
Invite administrators into your classroom.
The more you shift from traditional methods, the more you need to inform the members of the learning community
- Refer back to all the discussion of assessment that you’ve done with students. Community members need to know the same things!
- Need to sanction work at home that is unconventional.
Enter an online discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of the computer-based classroom. Ask students to use pseudonyms Your discussion should include campus administrators, teachers from other disciplines, family members, politicians, teachers from other schools, alumni, and students from other schools (including, say, high schools, other colleges, and so forth). You might assign roles or have students choose for themselves, but work for a range of aliases. Urge your students to think carefully about the point of view of the speaker that they represent. Before the online discussion, students might write position papers from their speakers’ point of view, to help gather their ideas and think through the opinions. You might use the transcript later analyze the range of perspectives, revise the position papers based on the group discussion, and so forth.
[From the 2nd List of Tens]
Life isn’t all beer and skittles, but beer and skittles, or something better of the same sort, must form a good part of every Englishman’s education.
Thomas Hughes (1822-96), English author
Tom Browne’s Schooldays, pt. 1, ch. 2 (1857)