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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Etherpad in the classroom

Categories: s1 and s2, other
We tried etherpad in class with s1 yesterday on a tip off from Alan Parkinson's blog. I had never seen this before and I have to say I am very impressed. The most surprising thing is that it was not blocked by the school web filter, as it has a chat function built in. I felt that this was actually one of the things that the children responded to. Basically, etherpad allows up to 8 different users to edit the same page at the same time. It means that the students can see each others changes almost instantly. When I explained this to the class, one of the girls said, "So, it's like msn then?". We made a compromise and said that it was like msn meets microsoft word. This definitely appealed to the class. We had a quick discussion about proper use-issues around inappropriate comments and such like, but also, as the activity that we were doing was an anonymous online debate, about editing each others sentences. I like this feature of the application, but didn't think it would work in this context.
The Activity

I split the class into pairs and then gave them a web link to type into the browser bar. The conditions were that no names were to be used, as I wanted pairs to respond with their own views and not just agree with their peers. There were two debate topics, both based on work we've been doing, and especially in relation to the clip about gold mining in the Amazon from Bruce Parry. The first topic was:

Gold mining in the Amazon should be banned. Discuss

and the second,

Tribal Indians are the only group with a valid claim on Amazon land. Discuss

This was quite testing for an s1 group, but I was pleased with some of the responses to the first topic in particular. I also allowed chat as long as the discussion was ongoing in the main page. I just thought that if this was a class debate minus the etherpad, there would probably be a lot more chat going on that I couldn't monitor at all times anyway. Finally, I was able to monitor both discussions and offer prompts and bring people back to task if they were getting sidetracked.

The Results

Here are a couple of screenshots from the activity. Sometimes the text appeared fragmented in the page and occasionally there was a lag in appearance, normally associated with a loss of synchronisation (happened several times, but quickly fixed).

and then more sustained responses like this one

At times, the discussion also became quite heated- " No! Gold mining is wrong, wrong, wrong!" and sometimes more ludicrous and less practical- "make fake gold instead", but the exercise was generally a good one. The chat was utilised, but as I was able to monitor it, whenever I made a contribution, the students quickly got back to work :-) I think the class enjoyed the exercise and a couple asked if they could continue with it next period. After experimenting with this, there are a number of ways that this could be used, not just in Geography. More trials with this until the inevitable hand of websense falls upon us...


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