On 4th Grade and Time-Shifted Conversation:
[EDIT: Suffering from TL;DR syndrome? Wall of text blocking your journey to understanding? Listen to the (less than) 6 minute audio version here.]
On Thursday my 4th graders were introduced to Edmodo. I was unfortunately not there to do it myself (see a previous post RE: wife’s health), but our band director loves Edmodo as well and he graciously stepped in to help out.
Now I am a fan of moderating/blocking only when necessary. The internet (and the U.S.) was built on the idea that censorship is wrong, so when I show Edmodo to a new class I leave it unmoderated until the first problems start to show up. When they do, we discuss the issue in class. It usually doesn’t take much effort for students to learn what kind of behavior is and is not appropriate.
Think of it this way: Turning moderation on is like attaching training wheels to a bike. They’re both steps in the learning process, and the idea is that the learners will eventually not need them any more. I know too many educators who think internet training wheels need to be welded on permanently. A few want the other wheels removed as an added precaution, but we all know that makes the bike/internet worthless.
So where were we? Oh yes, my 4th graders. Just before starting this post I opened up all their conversations since Thursday, removed their names and the various text snippets Edmodo adds (date/time, etc.), and plugged it into Wordle.net.
For those of you unfamiliar with Wordle, it’s a Java based website that takes text from more or less anything and formats it so that the more a word is used, the larger it appears relative to other words. The end result is a nice graphic that - in this case - is a perfect opener to our discussion in our next class.
As you can see from the above image, greetings won out against everything else. My students were essentially using Edmodo as a chat room. Now this is fine so long as you have two additional modifiers:
- There’s at least two students online who wish to have a discussion, and
- The discussion actually takes place.
Half of these requirements were met during my class time. For the most part, that’s where it ended. Students greeted each other, then moved on to greet someone else. Conversation eventually degraded into students asking who else was still online.
Oh my gosh this is so horrible students that young don’t know how to use the internet I’m wasting valuable class time that could be spent using typing tutors!
This was not a mistake. I expected it, just like I expected to fall off my bike the first time I tried it without training wheels, and just like I expect to have to deal with at least one incident of cyberbullying. (That’s a topic that deserves its own post, so it’ll have one.)
You see, dear reader, my students walked right into a teachable moment. Edmodo is one of the many sites that allows for time-shifting. What’s posted on it might not be read instantly. A conversation might go on for days, with the participants taking time to script meaningful responses in their replies.
This means posts like “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy” and “Who’s still online?” become almost as meaningless as taking out a classified ad in a paper to ask who’s reading the paper.
This also means that the quality of each posting can go up, because students know they have the time to think about what they’re typing compared to a chat room where prompt replies are expected.
And once my students know this, we can start to get some awesome stuff done.