The Great Debate – lessons learned Part 1

On January 17, 2011, in Madeleine Brookes, Strand 3, by Madeleine Brookes

We are in the final stages of the Great Debate where approximately 40 students from 4 classes in 4 schools (Beijing x 2, Antwerp and Vienna) took part in an online debate:

To what extent has the introduction of freely available online facilities and tools for publication (including desktop publishing and Web 2.0 forms of social media) been a positive step for society?

Full details can be found here. Here is a brief breakdown of the stages:

Using Voicethread for asynchronous debating

Stage 1: Students researched Web 2.0 tools and terminology

Stage 2: Using a scenario, students were put into 9 teams of 4, one from each of the four participating schools and asked to (a) produce a position paper with 3 or 4 arguments based on their role and (b) summarise the position paper into a Voicethread

Stage 3: An asynchronous debate with each student, in their role, accessing each Voicethread and particpating in the debate.

All of this lead to the culminating assessment: an individual essay based on the research and findings from the position papers and using arguments in the Voicethread debate and a test on Web 2.0 tools.

Lessons Learned – Part 1

  • KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!

Instructions for both students and teachers have to be explicit, simple and clear. Bear in mind that many students are second language learners. Ambiguity is always going to play a part – what you envisage is not always how you write it!

Solutions: Keep it simple, break down instructions as much as possible. If using a wiki, encourage the use of the discussion tab for questions, compile a list of FAQs (if this is required, the perhaps the task is too complex); create customised screen casts to produce videos of how to use the tools using contextual examples.

  • Teachers need to be on board:

Solutions: online meetings using tools such as Eliminate to have regular meetings, using google groups for email communication and googledocs as the basis for planning documents. If possible, Skype meetings into classrooms – if the time zones allow, have another teacher Skype into the classroom to respond to student questions and to also explain some of the issues going on their classroom. Also negotiate timelines and guidelines – establish who is doing what, the time and work commitments so that everyone know what is expect of them.

  • Time Zones

Time zones and asynchronous is problematic especially when trying to conduct a debate. Having a live debate in the classroom can encourage passive, quieter students to get more involved – the enthusiasm of others can be infectious. How does that translate into an online asynchronous debate?  With difficulty! So maybe have to set ‘participation’ targets for students – for example, they must comment on three arguments for homework.

Part II coming soon…

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