Springing Into Digital Research Projects

Over the last 18 months in Media 21, students have created a variety of learning products:  traditional research papers, collaboratively written research papers, digital learning portfolios (which included multigenre elements), and information dashboards (Netvibes).  In thinking about this spring’s research project on veterans’ issues and how to meet our students are their point of need while pushing their thinking, Susan Lester (my co-teacher) and I decided to go focus on students creating a digital research project (see details above in the embedded project document).  After engaging in presearch for three days this week, students will choose a topic and then be grouped by common research interests.  Like last semester, these teams of students will collaboratively investigate a common list of of research questions developed by Susan and to create a digital research project that reflects the findings of their research.

This concept of a digital research project is inspired by our own previous efforts, Jim Burke’s musings on digital essays, and the wikified research project at Learning and Laptops.  Students will use Google docs to draft sections of the text (see page 3 of the project document for the organizational structure of the “text”) and share the final drafts on their group created research wikis (we are using Wikispaces).  Within each page or section of the research project or “paper” on the wiki, students may include hyperlinks to their original sources or embedded multimedia to help enhance the reading experience of the audience.  In addition, students will embed one mulitgenre element in each section that represents some key insight, understanding, or knowledge related to their research in that section.  Groups will also use the discussion feature of their wiki instead of WordPress this time to centralize their learning reflections.  Groups will be responsible for all decision-making as to coordinating the sections and responsibilities of the digital research project.

Here are a few other changes to our spring project from previous research endeavors in Media 21:

  • As I blogged last week, we are using Symbaloo for an information dashboard instead of Netvibes, and students will use this tool as an organizational tool rather than final learning artifact like last spring.
  • We are using NoodleTools instead of Evernote this spring for notetaking—since students are collaborating on the Works Cited page, we felt they should also work collaboratively on their notecards, and NoodleTools provides an easy interface for doing that with shared lists.  We also felt that based on their work last semester, our students need a little more assistance and scaffolding in improving their notetaking skills, and we feel NoodleTools will support these efforts.
  • Students will not present a final “presentation zen” style presentation; however, the tradeoff is that we are creating an entire week for peer review of digital research projects and self-assessment (more on this aspect to come in late April).

In this process of letting some learning activities go while adding others, I’m looking forward to seeing how these adjustments work for our students.  The only change I’d like to have made with this project was to have given students the opportunity and strategies to have developed their own research questions to facilitate somewhat more authentic inquiry; however, I am hopeful that we will be able to open up the inquiry process a bit more in 2010-11.  I so appreciate Susan’s willingness to pilot this new model of “research paper” as students will not submit a paper document, and once we learn what works well and what does not, I hope to scale this out to other teachers/students in all subject areas.

I’ll be sharing update on observations and student work/insights in this space over the next six weeks, so I hope you’ll stay tuned as we being our next journey of learning!

The Seeds are Sprouting

Yesterday, we began an American author research project with Erika Carden and her students; most of our Media 21 students from 2010-11 now have Carden as their English teacher.  After reviewing the pathfinder, students settled happily and busily into the virtual and print resources as they began their research.  To my delight, I noticed several of my students opening and using their  Evernote and Diigo accounts with no prompting; they were using the tools out of an intrinsic motivation, not an external one (like a project requirement).  I also noticed some of them showing their peers how to use these tools and saw the peers jumping headfirst as well.

What happened next is the stuff of which my teaching dreams are made:  Carden noticed students using these social bookmarking/notetaking tools and asked two of the students to go around the library and share their expertise with peers.  The students became the experts and taught their peers how to use the bookmarking/notetaking tools to meet an information management need.  Consequently, more students discovered the joys and benefits of Evernote and Diigo.

Seeing these students apply the use of these learning tools from an intrinsic source of motivation and then becoming the experts to teach their peers is probably one of the most gratifying experiences of my career—I hope that the work I’m doing with teachers this academic year will help plant more seeds for learning experiences like this for more students in 2010-11!

Guest Post: Susan Lester Reflects on Media 21

Susan Lester is my co-teacher in Media 21 and partner in the trenches!  In this post, she adds some additional reflections to the initial Media 21 Report posted earlier this week on this blog:

Buffy noted in the first round of conclusions that a small group of  students were overwhelmed by the learning environment we provided that gave students both more freedom and responsibility.  As a classroom teacher, I think it is important to note that ingrained poor work habits of these students were actually what prevented some of them from maximizing their use of cloud computing and web 2.0 tools. Furthermore, even though some students were more engaged in learning than ever before, they still could not handle the responsibility of managing their learning even with these tools because of their inability to finish projects they started.   The point is that even though engagement may increase with this model of learning,  it is not an  overnight “no cure” for a lifetime of deficient work habits for some students.

A major cornerstone of Media 21 is the collaboration between the school library media specialist and the classroom teacher.  The collaboration between media specialist and classroom teacher only works when the two share a commitment to similar teaching strategies. Our collaboration succeeded because we share a commitment to collaborative , inquiry-based teaching and learning that is supported by cloud computing and web 2.0 tools. During our collaboration, our sophomore students made progress as independent learners and critical thinkers; this progress has been very gratifying to see. It has been quite a stretch for them to move from “learned helplessness” where they are totally dependent on their teachers to “resourceful thinker” where they can access information and accept responsibility for their own learning. I look forward to another collaboration with Buffy next year with seniors.

As Susan has pointed out, one of our challenges for next year is to explore alternate strategies that might help those students who have difficulty following through with projects and managing their learning environment.    I have some ideas in mind that I will share with you next week here on the blog as well as some other directions and ideas I’m getting ready to kick around with my collaborating teachers for 2010-11!    For now, I have pressing and important  library administration and management tasks that must be completed before the school year ends; once I can finish devoting time to those, I can get back into teaching, collaborating, musing, and planning mode!


Learn More About Media 21: Two New Interviews

In the last week, I was lucky to enjoy three amazing opportunities to share more about what I, Susan Lester, and our students have been doing in the Media 21 program.

The first opportunity, an interview facilitated by the wonderful Shannon Firth of findingEducation’s Digital Teachers’ Lounge (affiliated with findingDulcinea), provides a great overview of what has been happening with Media 21 in the last year.


findingEducation’s Digital Teachers’ Lounge » Educators That Rock!: Buffy Hamilton via kwout

The second opportunity was truly a thrill as I was interviewed via Skype by the amazing Howard Rheingold, someone whose work and ideas have greatly influenced my thinking and practice in the last year.   You can see his post and the video interview about the Media 21 students’ use of Netvibes as  information dashboards.


Librarian 2.0: Buffy J. Hamilton | DMLcentral via kwout

The third forum for sharing more about the Media 21 project is not yet published, but I will blog about it once the podcast is ready to go.  In the meantime, I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to both Ms. Firth and Mr. Rheingold for providing space for more people to learn about Media 21 and how teachers, students, and school librarians can work together to create powerful learning experiences!