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Using Technology to Foster Creativity and Authenticity

4 Aug

Many stages of the ILP provide fantastic opportunities for students to really show off some of their strengths while they simultaneously demonstrate their learning. Technology tools can give students options beyond using physical materials in their classrooms. Furthemore, online tools can help students reach authentic audiences beyond the classroom using mediums that best meet that audience’s needs. Technology tools can also be used to creatively share teacher reflections and best practices with colleagues and members of a PLN. The tools that we will highlight here have proven especially helpful as learners begin to contribute to the information on the web.


Perhaps Prezi’s most impressive feature is its ability to manipulate space. Many people equate it to a souped up version of Powerpoint, but that really is limiting the features that Prezi offers. Starting with a single canvas, users can add text, images, sound, and videos of varying sizes and orientations. The challenge is to organize all of those items in some way to demonstrate a topic or an argument; Prezi is an awesome tool for students to demonstrate their thinking as well, showing similar threads between ideas. Users can zoom in on different elements, and pan out to reveal how they all connect within the larger element. While this often requires the presenter to be there in person, it does have a sharing feature that allows a creator to grant an audience permission to the presentation after it is given.

Prezi also has a collaborative option so users can access and edit a presentation at the same time from different locations and assigns each user an image that indicates where in the canvas the user is and what he or she is editing. Sample Prezi


A tool for presenting images, Voicethread offers collaboration and audience participation features that make it a great option for group and individual activities and presentations. Students who are working with visual texts find it particularly useful as it allows them (and their peers) to analyze a text in multiple ways. With every image, participants can leave spoken commentary, record a video of them explaining their thoughts, write analysis, and point to specific elements of the image by drawing right on it.

Voicethread is also a fantastic tool for full classes or inquiry circles to use with a common visual text. In a Freshman Humanities class, students who were studying the Reconstruction Era for social studies and its artistic and literary counterpart, Realism, for English, used Voicethread to analyze elements of a painting as a text.

They synthesized their analysis of the painting with information they gathered from their history textbooks, a video about Reconstruction, and Realistic short stories, sparking discussion about the potential influences of historical events on literature and vice versa.

Video Editing Tools

Our world is increasingly visual; therefore, encouraging students to present their learning as videos is not only an accommodation of learning styles but also a necessity for future success. They can use images, videos, music, voiceovers, and text to analyze their work or create a product for the “So What?” Three of the more common tools are Movie Maker, WeVideo, and iMovie. Movie Maker is free editing software that can be downloaded from Microsoft; it often comes with Windows, so many students may have access to it. Movie Maker also allows students to upload their finished product online. WeVideo has a similar interface and tools, but is web-based through Google, which means it can be connected to Google Drive, Facebook, Instagram, and other applications for access to videos, pictures, and documents. In order to upload a video or share it with others, a small fee is charged, but there are educational accounts that can be created at a discount. Many students in Meg’s HIP class used WeVideo for their end-of-course “So What?” because it allowed them to show images of their learning plan, pictures of the class, and add voiceover explaining what they learned about themselves and inquiry. iMovie is Apple based and many students who are MAC users have access.


Probably the most well-known, most commonly used wiki is Wikipedia. It’s a starting point for many of our students when they don’t know where else to begin with research. With crowd-sourced articles and linked references, it typically provides thorough information about all kinds of topics. Similarly, wikis can be developed by students to share what they have learned with a broad audience.

Wikispaces is a platform that our students have used individually and in groups to create original content and provide references for their topics. One American Literature class created a reference page for their peers in other classes who were learning about different literary eras. See Figure 10.10 for a snapshot of their page about the American Enlightenment. In order to move away from simple reporting, they included sample texts for each period with brief teasers to their content, author bios, and potential text pairings.

Wikispaces page from an American Literature class:

These are just some of the many, many options available, and even considering a single tool, there are likely many, many uses for it, certainly ones we haven’t even considered yet. What are you using and how are you using it?

Collaboration and Communication

28 Jul

We’ve previously written about the importance of building a learning community. Students, teachers, and librarians should work to challenge each other, share experiences, and grow together. Technology tools can facilitate the ability to create that community because they offer options to connect, share, reflect, and question.

Blogs with Aggregators

Blogs allow writers to reflect on current issues, share their thoughts, and initiate conversations by asking questions of their audience. They are unique mediums because they also allow writers to link to other writers’ works, alerting them that a conversation has begun. When I first started blogging at Flying Off the Shelf, I blogged with Cathy and my students. We encouraged them to write anything that they realized about themselves as learners, and we did the same. The posts weren’t graded. They were simply outlets. We know what you’re thinking–what’s the motivation for them to post anything? Truly, it was the accountability to the rest of the class. I then created a page on Netvibes, an online aggregator of published materials. I simply added a link to each student’s blog, which appeared as a small widget with the most recent posts for each student site. I then shared the link to the Netvibes page with the students in each class. Continue reading

“Tell me something good”

12 Jan

When things get tough, as they often do in teaching and in life, my good friend Mary and I ask each other to “tell me something good.” Sometimes we struggle for a second or two, but we can always find something great to share. Let’s face it, even though we encounter a lot of challenges, teaching is a pretty awesome profession. In September, I started this practice with my students at the beginning of each week, too. From them, I’ve heard everything from “My sister had a baby last night!” to “I ate the most amazing ice cream” and “I woke up at 3:30 to watch a rocket launch.” It’s been awesome to open the week with fun stories because we get to learn so much about each other. So, one of my goals this year is to think about the “great” each day. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts here and on Twitter using the hashtag #goodnewsedu. If you’re so inclined, feel free to comment on the blog or tweet at me (@stutz01) with something good happening in your classrooms. Let’s fill education chatter with great things.

The Text Assistance Request Form

7 Jul

Though we might imagine that giving students choice opens a beautiful rainbow-colored door through which they can’t wait to enter, students often struggle with the freedom that choice provides. Therefore, scaffolding is a necessity. We have created guides that provide resources for students to use as they make choices about their inquiry. For example, our American and British Literature LibGuides put all of the relevant resources into one place.  In addition to providing guides, we created a Text Assistance Request Form that students can use after trying all available resources. The first question ensures that they did indeed try to find resources on their own. The second question helps them to articulate their information need and prepare us to help them. Through these two questions, we are able to better understand how students are searching and to make our assistance more focused on their actual need.

text request form

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