Here are some notes on my talk at the last FGSDH meeting on teaching with digital tools. Please share your experiences with these tools in the comments.
The students in my “Tales of Gotham: NYC in Fiction” are reading some great books this semester, among them Mark Helprin’s A Winter’s Tale and Toni Morrison’s Jazz. They’re also developing expertise with digital tools they’ll likely need to know how to use in the real world and that they can use in other classes, too. These include WordPress, Zotero, Prezi, archives and databases, basic text analysis tools, mapping, and the rich resources for writing and collaboration on GoogleDrive.
Who’s teaching them how to use these tools? Not me. They’re teaching each other while they also think and talk critically about the texts we’re reading. All I did was divide them up into small groups of three and four, and assigned to each group one of the following roles described on the Infographic below. For the groups assigned a particular tool, such as Prezi or WordPress, they taught the class how to use it. The Discussion group not only taught the class how create a Prezi, they collaborated on one to support a discussion on the semester’s first reading, poetry by Walt Whitman. In addition to demonstrating how to use WordPress, the Blogging group had to explain good academic blogging practices. They then modeled those practices with posts about Whitman’s poetry. Other groups, such as the Activity and Wild Card groups, were given free range to explore digital and nondigital ways to engage the class with course material. So far, this approach has been successful: my students are animated in class and we’re having fun as we learn together. No boring lectures about literature from Prof. Cornell. Right now, two of my classes are using GoogleDrive’s presentation software for collaboration on an annotation project for A Winter’s Tale.
In their written reflections to me on the first round of group work (groups rotate roles), many students admitted to initially having strong reservations about working together, only to discover how much they enjoyed it. This was due in part to their online collaborations. That is, not everyone had to be in the same room at the same time for work to get done. For example, they’ve discovered the ease of communicating and sharing editable documents and presentations with each other (and me) using GoogleDrive. Moreover, they are pleased to be learning together ways to use digital tools that they may well need expertise in when they look for jobs. Finally, they like teaching each other and taking the lead in discussions and activities.
Here’s the Infographic describing each role that groups will undertake during the semester. Students have access to the graphic in the private space of the course website.