In My Classroom


I teach English and creative writing at Woodbridge Senior High School. Below are notes about how and why I use technology in my classes. Please feel free to leave notes, ideas, suggestions, questions, or challenges--either on this page or in the "discussion" section.

The online technologies I use with my students are centered around two websites:

WSHSVikings.org - The school's official website, soon to be running SchoolFusion, which allows teachers to create course pages to post information. SchoolFusion also has an excellent calendar system that collects all of the assignments and meetings for a student in one place.
  • This is good Web 1.0 stuff, and a step in the right direction, providing information and resources for students and ways for teachers to begin digitizing their work and making it available beyond their classroom
  • However, there's no interactivity (or very little) in this model, which is why I'm supplementing this site with the ones below

WSHSBeyond.com - This is the site I've created using Joomla that provides a social network/community, discussion forum, wiki, and draft sharing, built around a profile system. I really love this community, but it's currently working as a closed community. In theory, I could make the site completely open (required membership only for posting to the forum and blog, taking advantage of the profile system, and sending private messages). Questions of security come into play, though, given the amount of information students share through the profile system. At this point the site is private except for the wiki and community blog.
  • The hub of this site is the profile system (based on the component by Community Builder). The profile collects all the activity the student performs on the site, allowing anyone to visit a student profile and see what they've been writing and doing. Through the profile, students can also:
    • Add "friends" by making connections with other students
    • Leave comments for each other on their profiles
    • Provide information about themselves (about me, courses, links to other online activity)
    • Profile gallery to upload pics (limited)
    • Collect all of their forum posts in one place
    • Collect all of their community blog posts in one place
    • Collect all of their eWritings in one place
    • Link to any additional user pages they create
  • Forum - I started my venture into tech-ed with forums, and perhaps that's why I've seen the most success with these tools so far. On this forum, we have class boards (where students make assigned posts) and a range of other boards that students can use or ignore as they choose.
    • The class board assignment asks students to post 300+ words every two weeks over as many posts/replies as they like. The only condition is that the posts should relate to the theme for the course. For English 10, the theme is "the true, the good, and the beautiful." For AP English 11, the theme is "American Cultural Identity." In both courses, students are asked to think about popular culture and their everyday activities and conversations and then ask how these things relate to the theme for the course, discussing what led them to their conclusions and whether or not they agree with the ideas being presented.
    • The other boards include a general discussion area, a help board, boards for talking about literature, art, music, and film, and a "Danger! Danger!" board on which students discuss controversial issues. We also have a writing board for students to share and respond to writings, but this board is also tied to the eWritings section (see below).
    • The focus on the forum is on sharing and debating ideas. Unlike a blog, where the development of the student's voice and thinking is happening over time as s/he interacts with others, the forum is about the conversation and the ideas being discussed.
    • Any forum entries that students write will be listed in their "Forum Entries" tab on their profile.
  • Community Blog (categories, tags)
    • Joomla's inherent editing system can work as a blog if you give "author" permissions to the users. Users can then submit entries from the frontend and have them collected in blog format. There are also components/modules that help facilitate using Joomla as a blog. Entries can be sorted by both categories and tags. I define and control categories, and sort them by class. Students can assign their own tags to their posts.
    • Any entries that students create will be listed in their "Blog Entries" tab on their profile.
    • I've been thinking a lot about how to use the blogging ability of Joomla, and think I've decided to use that blog mainly as a place for posting announcements, either related to the site specifically or just issues I think students (in general) would find interesting. I'll also encourage students to add their own posts if they have similar ideas to share.
    • However, Joomla isn't a good multi-blog solution. It would serve fine as a community blog, but I want to do more than that with my students. (Which is why I'm adding an "elggspaces" site to WSHSBeyond).
  • Wiki
    • I have a MediaWiki port wrapped into the Joomla site. I like using this because it's what Wikipedia uses, and therefore trains students on the software. I am somewhat hesitant, though, because MediaWiki isn't as easy or as elegant as services like WikiSpaces, PBWiki, and others.
    • I'll use the wiki for collaborative projects (with a focus on developing voice, examining revision and how the revision process works, and collaborating to create a product).
  • eWritings
    • A nice component that allows students to post, read, and review each-others' writings.
    • I want to use this feature to have students from other classes and grade levels reading and critiquing the writings.
    • All the writings a user submits are collected on h/ir profile in the "eWritings" tab, so they can keep track of their major writings and revisions.
    • GoogleDocs might be a challenge to this feature, as it lets students collaborate instead of just review. However, sometimes individual work is important, too! Also, I like how easy it is for students to find the works of other students using this feature (rather than the sprawling and non-centralized organization of GoogleDocs).
  • Additional User Pages -This is a feature that allows students to create personal pages to display content. The pages can be standard HTML pages, photo galleries, RSS aggretators, or MP3 collections. The possibilities for using this as a "portfolio" system certainly seem pretty great. I haven't worked with it yet, but will be soon.
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* Joomla also has the ability to wrap videocasts and podcasts, and I may take advantage of that for "showing off" good student work using the main blog. However, for individual student videos and podcasts, I think we'll rely on elggspaces. I'm not positive about this yet, though, and will pursue other solutions as well ...

WSHSBeyond eStudio - Built on elggspaces, this is the blog, e-portfolio platform that allows students to have personal learning spaces.