National Writing Project

Hudson Valley Conference Focuses on Teaching Writing in a Web 2.0 World

By: Bonnie Kaplan
Date: April 22, 2008

Summary: At a site's technology conference, teachers learn how to use wikis, podcasts, and other technologies to enhance their teaching, allow collaboration among students, and make the educational process more meaningful and effective.


Bonnie Kaplan's Digital Storytelling Collaboration

Kevin Hodgson was speaking of blogs and podcasts, of wikis and digital stories. Hodgson, a technology liaison at the Massachusetts Writing Project, was on a mission. As the keynote speaker at "Beyond the Web: Connecting to the World," the Hudson Valley Writing Project's (HVWP) first technology conference, he told the 70 conference participants—some eager, some reticent—that Web 2.0 was changing the way students learn.

Web 2.0 is the general term for the Internet technologies that allow users to go beyond simply reading content created by others to actually contributing their own content—whether it's text, audio, or video—and collaborating with others.

Hodgson's talk was filled with examples. He spoke of how he had put a National Writing Project minigrant to work to develop a blog that allowed students from six school districts, both urban and rural, to share personal narratives and other forms of writing. He told the story of a science writing blog in which middle school students from a number of schools collaborated on the same experiment, shared results, and wrote abstracts of their results for review and comment by all.

"We need to find ways to make the educational process more meaningful for our young learners," said Hodgson. "We need to make it so that they can access those tools to build a successful life and become active, compassionate leaders of the future."

One high school teacher commented that she had filled a notebook with little lightbulb drawings, each representing a new idea she had drawn from Hodgson's talk. Even some of the more technologically timid noted that a shift was happening in the world and that they wanted to learn more about the impact of that shift on student learning.

Integrating Technology into the Classroom

But in a world where the exponential growth of technology can be overwhelming, how can teachers sift through the various tech tools and use them effectively in the classroom?

The rest of the conference included sessions, facilitated by members of the HVWP tech team, to help answer that question. HVWP teacher-consultants Steve Masson and Julie Jee, both high school English teachers, guided participants through their use of wikis in the classroom.

Masson showed the wiki for his class's study of Romeo and Juliet , which included everything from links to a guide to Elizabethan language to a Romeo and Juliet trivia quiz.

Jee's use of wikis was inspired by one of Masson's presentations at a HVWP tech team meeting. She created a similar wiki for her class on King Lear , including such elements as an opportunity to earn extra credit by analyzing certain words from the play in the context of the situations in which they are used.

During the session, Jee showed teachers how to set up and manage their own wiki space and demonstrated using wikis to enhance classroom discussions and group work.

They simulated exercises in literary character analysis, poetry contests, and word trace assignments.

"We were out to help those teachers with little technology in their classrooms understand that they could benefit from these tech tools," said Jee. "They needed to know that wikis can be accessed from home computers, so discussions and projects can continue outside the classroom. Some teachers were particularly interested to learn that wikis can be used to keep track of the class calendar as well as class notes."

Jee took the participants through a number of activities to help them understand classroom applications for the wiki. They simulated exercises in literary character analysis, poetry contests, and word trace assignments.

The session provided fertile ground for teachers to come up with their own ideas for putting wikis to work. "One teacher wanted to use the wiki to allow her seventh-graders to interact with elementary school children and work on a nutrition unit together," said Jee. "Another wanted to use the wiki to enhance discussion among her middle school students for their next book."

Additionally, there were sessions on podcasting and on the effective use of blogs as a tool to generate feedback by classroom peers and by the teacher. A session on digital storytelling allowed participants to create communal multimedia presentations.

Web 2.0 and Teaching Writing—the Journey Continues

This technology conference didn't just happen. For a year previous to the event, at regular Saturday morning meetings sponsored by a Technology Liaisons Network minigrant, the HVWP technology team had been exploring the teaching and learning potential of Web 2.0.

"Our monthly Saturday morning sessions were marked by lively discussion," said Masson. "It was refreshing to be in a group of like-minded professionals who were willing to wake up early on Saturday morning and discuss how technology is shaping the educational landscape in general and our personal practices in particular."

As the conference ended and the technology team sat together to debrief before returning to waiting family, it was clear that the year of exploration was only year one on the Web 2.0 highway for the team and for the Hudson Valley Writing Project.

Just one week later the team presented its work at the National Council of Teachers of English conference, to another room filled with educators confronted by the challenges of making sense of the technology shifts in the world, in and out of the classroom.

The team will continue to help teachers explore technology—and keep exploring emerging tech tools themselves to ready themselves for Web 3.0, whatever that might be.

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