I have been wanting to blog about this project for some time but thought it would be best to wait until there was substantial student work to publicize it. Josh Grant, our AP US History teacher, came to me at the beginning of the school year and asked me if there was a way we could use wikis or podcasting to encourage his students to do more review of their notes. We discussed the idea for a while and decided to start with the podcasting idea first.
Our first attempt was something of a failure. I created a one page instruction sheet that students could use that explained how to record their voice using Audacity and then how to login to our website and upload it. The instructional activity was each student would be assigned a chapter and would take turns recording their chapter summaries. To kick this off I visited his class and went through the procedure with his students. A couple weeks later Mr. Grant approached me with a problem. Evidently six steps was too much to remember for students who did not have to record their podcast until weeks later. About the same time he approached me with this problem I learned about Gabcast from reviewing podcast presentations from the K-12 Online Conference.
The next day we set up a Gabcast channel for his AP US History students and linked it to the school website along with instructions on how to record a podcast with Gabcast. If you are not familiar with Gabcast it is a free service that allows you to record podcasts over the telephone. Students call a toll-free phone number, enter a channel number and four digit password, then have up to an hour to record their podcast. We demonstrated this tool to his class and let them play around with it. Then the podcasts started coming in. This is a still a work in progress as Mr. Grant's students will be using this tool all year but if you want to listen to some of these podcasts (or use them to cram for the AP exam yourself) you can find them at: http://www.gabcast.com/index.php?a=episodes&id=14547. This tool does two things for Mr. Grant's students:
- It forces them to review their notes for the chapters they are assigned.
- Students can download these files to an iPod or MP3 player to help them prep for the AP exam in the spring.
Our second initiative was a master class notes wiki. For this assignment we set up a free wiki with PBWiki, set up blank pages for each chapter, then assigned students a chapter to record their notes. A second student was assigned the same chapter for revisions, a third student was assigned the chapter for inclusion of hyperlinks to related online content, and a fourth student was assigned the chapter for inclusion of related digital media (pictures, videos, etc.). Each student was assigned each task on at least two different chapters (different than the chapter they were assigned in the podcasting assignment). Students are then assessed on the number and quality of posts on the wiki. This assignment forces students to review their notes, addresses the needs of visual learners, provides a tool for students to use who have to miss a class, encourages them to consult other sources, and forces them again to review their notes, and review their notes, and review their notes. This too is still a work in progress. It can be viewed at: http://aphistorygoodhue.pbwiki.com/.
So, how does a teacher track all this online activity without going mad? We set up an RSS aggregator for Mr. Grant to use to keep track of all postings to both the Gabcast channel and the wiki. We used Bloglines since I had already begun a school wide initiative using this tool. With Bloglines Mr. Grant is immediately notified when a new post is published on either of these sites and can review it for appropriateness, quality, and to give credit to the student publishing the post. Hopefully all this pays off in the spring when these students take their exam.