Sunday, October 30, 2011

Enough Time

This post is an homage to my cousin Luc who lost his life this Thursday, October 27th.   His courage and skill helped save the lives of others.

In the surreal moments, in the aftermath of a sudden and tragic loss, I found myself staring at the clock and thinking about time, about him and the time he no longer has, about his new wife and their baby, about his parents and their broken hearts and simply frozen but the immensity of what this all means for those he left behind.  Let me never say that I have no time.   Let us remember that we have time enough for the really important things because that's all we ever really have.



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Google Docs, Diigo and Debating

Everyone knows about Google docs.  I can hardly remember the last time I created a word document with Microsoft Word.  Google docs are my default now.
And maybe many people know about Diigo, the social bookmarking platform similar (but better) to Delicious.  Both of these tools (plus a wiki) are essential to my work and my learning.  I initiate as many students and teachers as possible to these platforms.  Google docs has simplified my work and Diigo has become my second search engine.

 Last year my philosophy students used these tools to plan and execute their debates.  Essentially, the research was bookmarked into our Diigo group and the arguments were built on a Google document.  Here were the steps:

1.  We decided on three topics; animal rights, euthanasia and taxation.

2.  We worked on the wording of the resolutions so that the issues were framed in moral categories.  For example, 'Be it resolved that taxation is theft'.  (I helped in the formulation of that one!)

3.  They formed teams of three.  I did not force my hand here and allowed them to self-organize.

4.  They chose which resolution they were interested in and then we flipped a coin to see which side they would debate.  I insisted on this because a critical thinker will be able to argue either side of the resolution, regardless of a personal perspective.

5.  Each student had to contribute two sources to the Diigo group I created for the class.  (I had previously taught the some basics about effective web searching and evaluating the credibility of web sites.  Here is the latest version of that lesson, improved upon by Alana King and others.)   Each contribution needed tags, highlighted text (the main idea of the article) and a sticky note that provided a several sentences describing the web site or text.  The purpose of this was twofold: a) I could check their sources and guide their research and b) the opposing team could guess about the nature of the argument their adversaries were building.  Using the comments feature, the students and I could 'talk' about the research and sources we were bookmarking.

6.  Then the students began building their arguments on a Google doc.  This enabled me to follow their thinking, watch them struggle with issues, comment on their work and guide them through the process.  I gave hints and help to both sides equally without revealing to either team where the opposing side was headed.

7.  I used the file history feature of Google docs to make sure that all students were participating in the work.  Sometimes when I entered the document to check up on them, I would surprise a student who was already on.  We used the chat function on Google docs to discuss issues and problems.  I really loved this part because it allowed a connection and opportunity for feedback that I can't get on the class wiki.

8.  When the debate day arrived, the students faced off with their Google docs open in front of them.  They used the chat window to communicate and plan refutations as they debate progressed.

It was a fabulous experience and I finally put it together in this video I hope you enjoy. (Some footage is jumpy and the quality is not the best but the point is to archive their work and this experience.)


The students were challenged to learn new tools and step out of familiar ways of operating to do something different.  I was not disappointed and once again, they reaffirmed by conviction that teachers honour their students when they expect them (and help them) to excel.

If you have ideas about how to improve upon this or just want to share how you use social media to animate learning in your class, please share here!