Online Collaboration Project – Frustrations

Recently, I decided to have my students research topics of their choice (relating to weather) with the goal of producing a product designed to educate their classmates on their chosen topic.  I wanted students to work in groups so they could bounce ideas off each other, critique each other, and divide the work load so they would end up with a high quality product.  Yet, we all know that group work often leads to one student completing the project (or making all of the decisions) and the other group members contribute only passively.  To avoid this problem, I decided to allow students to choose their own groups with one catch: they could not work with any student that was in the same science class period as them.  Naturally, the students were confused, but I reminded them of all the online collaboration we have already done, and we discussed some of the ways they might be able to work on a project with students who are not in their science class. 

Before this project (see links below), the students had used several online resources collaboratively – Gmail, GoogleDocs, a class message board, and blogs.  Additionally, the students had discussed the particle nature of matter, air pressure, the water cycle and other concepts necessary to understand weather phenomena.  Also, I have worked to help the students become critical analyzers of their own work – by providing extensive feedback during previous projects and having students reflect often on the quality and progress of other projects and their learning in general.  I note all of these things to point out that I am not just throwing students out there to flounder, rather I have worked to prepare students for this very open-ended project and would not try such a project near the beginning of the year.

The link below is the project guidelines.  This website outlines some of the expectations and provides some direction for the students as they work on their projects.

Collaborative project guidelines

The next link is a resource page for the students (the previous site also links to this site).  This site has links to some instructional videos to help students get started with some of the unfamiliar technology (these were made using Jing, a program I discussed in a previous post).

Student Resources for Project

The students have been using the technology named in the project all year.  Unfortunately, when my students logged in today, new network filters installed last week prevented students from accessing Gmail, the class message board, and many other essential web destinations for the project.  Needless to say, I am beyond frustrated.  Yet, I am hopeful I will be able to resolve the issue and will post the link to student completed projects in a future post.

When discussing this project with a friend, he noted that having the projects online is not necessary, yet the online nature of the products does allow for work at home.  Other benefits of the project include increased individual accountability because within each class period each student is working on their own project, increased need to communicate effectively in writing (emails and final product).  Also, students will need to make decisions while realizing the affect on others.  Additionally, when we discuss the projects in class later, each student is a representative to their class period so they are more accountable to the project.  Also, each member of the group brings in perspectives from their own class period (not all classes are identical as the  students and discussions are not identical).  Lastly, the project is asking students to find and organize information in meaningful ways as well as connect the new information to past learning (of course the online/collaborative components are not necessary for this).

While their are many benefits to this project, I want to discuss some negative aspects of the project.  Some drawbacks include: students cannot discuss problems/decisions in real-time, students may believe that collecting info equals learning, student expression of understanding is limited by the use of digital medium and familiarity with the technology and others unforeseen effects.  Generating negative aspects seems to be significantly more difficult.  I hope that many of you will be able to add to these thoughts and make suggestions.  This is the first time I have tried this, and am excited to see how it turns out.  I’ll keep you posted.

Please feel free to use any of these ideas or adapt them to your own projects.  I hope you will share my blog link with your colleagues – the more comments we get, the more I and everyone else benefits.  Also, on a selfish note, the more visits I get, the more motivated I am to post! :-)

Sorry for the long post, I probably could/should have written even more.

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5 Responses to Online Collaboration Project – Frustrations

  1. Sarah B. says:

    I think a lot of my curiosities would be satisfied upon seeing a completed project, but just seeing the description and a brief rationale, I am left with lots of questions.

    My biggest question is regarding the “big idea”. Is the goal to get students to learn about the weather topics they are researching, or is it to see how the topics you covered prior to this work together to create weather phenomenons and climate? How do you encourage students to utilize their prior knowledge of pre-explored topics like the particle nature of matter or air pressure? With the wealth of weather facts available on the internet, it seems like it would be very easy to simply gather facts on something like tornadoes without having to apply prior knowledge or use higher-order thinking. Is there anything built into this project that requires students to interpret, process, and present their findings in light of what they know, or are they simply researching and sharing their findings?

    My more frivolous questions are:
    Doesn’t free-choice group formation between different classes get messy?
    How long do students get to work on this?
    Are they expected to get together outside of class or just work collaboratively via the internet?

    Obviously you don’t have to explicitly answer these questions, I know I ask questions about everything – they are just things I was considering while reading. I hope you do post student projects!!!!

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    • jerridkruse says:

      I tried to address your questions below (I copied and pasted the questions in the reply and your questions are in quotes):

      “Is the goal to get students to learn about the weather topics they are researching, or is it to see how the topics you covered prior to this work together to create weather phenomenons and climate?”

      Both, if they are truly going to learn about the weather topics, they must connect it to their prior knowledge. I am using this project as a way to push many of the students, and also find out how well they are able to make connections to the prior learning on their own. If we never push the baby birds out of the nest, they won’t fly :)

      “How do you encourage students to utilize their prior knowledge of pre-explored topics like the particle nature of matter or air pressure?”
      While it is not explicit in the guidelines (although there is mention of prior ideas in the grading section), when introducing students to this project, I made clear that because of their understanding of particles and how particles can explain various phenomena such as pressure, they are in a place to understand most any weather related phenomenon. Their challenge will be to learn about the phenomenon and be able to explain it based on their understanding thus far. I’m glad you pointed this out, as it does need to be more explicit in the guidelines, but I will fix this when I create the project rubric later this week.

      “With the wealth of weather facts available on the internet, it seems like it would be very easy to simply gather facts on something like tornadoes without having to apply prior knowledge or use higher-order thinking.”
      This is not a question, but is worth addressing. Many students will start off this way. I will need to monitor progress carefully and provide formative feedback on their projects. Also, because the students know their product needs to be designed around teaching other students, they will be encouraged to not just list facts, but to help build understanding with their projects. Most of these discussions will take place as the project is going on. After about one work day, (when students have collected “facts”) I will engage them in discussion about how when I teach, I am not just presenting facts, then ask, “what do I do to help you understand the concepts?”

      “Is there anything built into this project that requires students to interpret, process, and present their findings in light of what they know, or are they simply researching and sharing their findings?”
      I’m not sure how to interpret this question. It seems the first part is a summary of the project goals, and the second part is how the students could take the easy way out. Of course, I worry about students trying to do as little work as possible, and some will try. This is why I will need to monitor their work closely as they work, not just their final product and encourage them to “interpret, process, and present”. While I could make my guidelines infinitely more clear, I want the students to have to deal with ambiguity – and I don’t want to limit those who will take this and run. I can provide formative feedback to those who are struggling during the work time.

      “My more frivolous questions are:
      Doesn’t free-choice group formation between different classes get messy?” Life is messy :) – and they have to form and sign up for groups outside of class, no class time is given for group sign up.

      “How long do students get to work on this?” They will get 5 days of classtime – however, we will discuss how to improve projects on some of those days so they won’t get the full day everyday. And because they get 5 days and each partner is in a different class period, they are actually getting up to 25 work hours, whereas if the project was in groups within the class periods, they would waste much more time than otherwise. (that is the thought, we’ll see how it goes)

      “Are they expected to get together outside of class or just work collaboratively via the internet?” Both, if they need to get together outside of class to make a quality product, they should, if not, good for them.

      You raise some interesting questions – many of which I have glossed over by simply saying “I address that verbally”. However, as I said earlier, I welcome the ambiguity and the learning that happens from student -teacher interactions as suggestions and questions are asked about the students’ decisions. Furthermore, your questions demonstrate the need for methods instructors to be able to accurately model how to engage students in the kinds of things questions ask about. If a methods courses were simplified to only materials and activities to be used, they could be implemented in nearly any fashion imaginable. Even an activity I designed specifically for higher-order thinking could be interpreted in a way that equals fact hunting – the difference is the teacher, the difference is always the teacher and what they DO in the act of teaching.

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  2. Sarah B. says:

    I figured you had all your bases covered, I just wanted to know how. I think my inexperience makes me uncomfortable with ambiguity, so your positive spin on it has given me something to think about.

    I don’t understand what you mean by this:
    “Furthermore, your questions demonstrate the need for methods instructors to be able to accurately model how to engage students in the kinds of things questions ask about. If a methods courses were simplified to only materials and activities to be used, they could be implemented in nearly any fashion imaginable.”
    A criticism of my interpretation of the lesson? Confusing.

    Like

    • jerridkruse says:

      Not a criticism. Just a random thought that popped into my head as I was typing. Many times methods courses turn into a series of “here’s a bunch of activities to do when you get into the classroom” and the instructors feel they have prepared the pre-service teachers because they have given them activities. Yet, from your comments, it is clear that just the activities do not automatically translate to “pulling it all off” – there is a lot to teaching that cannot be demonstrated in the activity sheets which is why methods instructors ought to be able to effectively model “pulling it all off”. Hope that made more sense.

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  3. Krista Spahr says:

    Hey, Mr. Kruse,

    I am doing a presentation for a group of administrators and lead teachers next week on using technology to differentiate instruction. May I cite your project as an example?

    Hope you are doing well,
    Krista

    Like

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