Middle School Lesson Plans for a Unit Studying History Makers

Unit Topic:  Changing History

Unit Description: This unit is designed to teach students about people who have changed history, and to challenge them to realize that they could change history too.

Audience: Middle School students (to be conducted during computer lab time, or in a classroom where every student has access to a computer.  Some of this will be done as a homework assignment)

Lesson Topic 1:  Who Has Changed History?

Lesson Objectives:

  • Define what it means to change history
  • Identify people who have changed history
  • Generate a collaborative online resource of people who have changed history

Social Media Tools: Poll Everywhere, LiveBinder

Justification for selection of social media tools Poll Everywhere increases student engagement by asking students their opinions.  It is also used as a brainstorming tool in this activity.  LiveBinder was chosen as a platform to gather Internet research collaboratively in a simple, straightforward way.

Student Activity Introduce students to the idea that history can teach us a lot if we study who shaped it, and how they did it.   Start by telling students that we are going to come up with some definitions of what it means to change the world.

Announce a brainstorming session.  Have students go to the Poll Everywhere website and answer the following question: What does it mean to change history? Help students access the site if they need help.

Once students have had some time to contribute their voice, break the students into groups of 4-5.  Each group is to take the poll results and create their group’s response to the poll question to share with the class.  The students are also given the following questions to consider while they are creating their definition:

  • Do you have to be famous to change the world?
  • How big does a change need to be to be considered world-changing?  Can a small acts change the world?
  • How are people who change the world the same/different than others? Do we always know that we are changing the world?

Students select one member of their group to read their definition to the class.   Instructor will post these definitions on the LiveBinder that is discussed next.

Once students have shared their definitions, tell them that the class is going to spend some time studying people who have changed the world.  Inform them that we are going to create something called a LiveBinder, in order to keep track of our research.

Explain what a LiveBinder is.  Give each student the global username and password and have them access it.  Show students the LiveBinder created for this project, which has been prepopulated with an “Instructions” tab, and two example tabs.

Start by reviewing the Instructions tab, which lists the details of the assignment.

Assignment: Each student is to add a minimum of three people to the LiveBinder – one woman, one man, one child (someone under 18).  At least one of these people needs to be relatively unknown (meaning most people would not know who they were if you said their name).  Students will get extra credit for adding up to two more people.  Have students add at least two websites (as sub tabs) for each person, as sources information about this person’s life.  Students are to create a summary form for each person that is to be completed and uploaded to that person’s tab.  This summary template is available for download from the instruction tab in both a Word and PDF format.  Tell students to upload their summaries as PDF’s (Word documents show up as a link only).  Include instructions on how to save a Word document as a PDF.

Ask students to consider a variety of fields:

  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • Technology
  • Medicine
  • Politics
  • Activists (people fighting for minority rights based on gender, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Philanthropists
  • Environmentalists
  • Explorers
  • Business People

Suggest that students use search terms like these:

  • ________________________ (e.g. people/women/kids/scientists, business people, etc.) who have changed the world/made a difference
  • Unknown people who have changed history

Next, review the prepopulated tabs.  Take students through the process of adding a third tab (steps below).  Webpages will already be open on the instructor’s computer for this example.

  1. Do a web search using one of the suggested term.
  2. Select an individual.  Once a person is chosen, tell students to do an additional search for that individual’s name to access more information.
  3. Review sites and select the best ones.  Use best judgment and select websites that are interesting and full of quality information from a reputable source.  Let students know that they will be graded on the quality/reliability of their links.
  4. Create a new tab with this person’s name on it (be sure to put your name or initials after it – more on this below).
  5. Add the best websites as subtabs (again, be sure to add your name/initials).
  6. Complete a Summary sheet for each person.  Add at least one photo.  Upload this to the main tab.  This means that when someone clicks on this tab, the first thing they will see is this summary.  Feel free to include links to videos as well as websites.

Demonstrate how to add a tab and subtabs.  Point out that when students add tabs/subtabs to the LiveBinder, they need to include their name or initials in parenthesis at the end of each tab or sub-tab that they create.   This is necessary because we are using the free version of the tool, which does not allow student accounts to be established.  All students will use the same account, so if they do not put their name/initials, the instructor will be unable to discern who added what to the LiveBinder.

Show students how to install the “LiveBinder It” button on their browser’s toolbar.  Have each student install the button on the computer they are working on.  (Include instructions for adding the button at home).

Have a discussion with students about duplicates – have students decide what to do if students select some of the same people.  Decide as a group how to handle this.  For example, have students decide whether duplicates are allowed, or whether the first one to create a tab gets that person.  Add this information to the Instruction tab.

Point out the grading rubric.

If class time permits (and it probably won’t), have students get started.  Have them research and add one person.  The rest of the assignment is to be done at home.

Possible Challenges and How To Handle

There is no way to determine how students will handle these tools or activities, so the instructor needs to be flexible.  Spend more time than anticipated if students need it.

Students will be disengaged if the exercise is overly structured and formal.  Keep the emphasis on student involvement.  Allow the evolution of ideas and enthusiasm, while keeping the process flowing.

Make sure that the LiveBinder is set up correctly.  Practice in advance.

Unforeseen issues can arise, instructor must remain patient, flexible and adaptable to whatever comes up.

Evaluation The activities themselves are the evaluations.  The polls give the students the opportunity to think critically and express their unique voice and personally engage with the subject.  Students again demonstrate critical thinking and practice collaborative skills while creating their own definition of what it means to make history.  Instructor observes students as they walk through the example and evaluates how well students are grasping the process.   Instructor will check the LiveBinder daily to monitor the student’s progress.  If a student is not following the assignment, the instructor will coach that individual as needed.

Lesson Topic 2: My Favorite History Maker

Lesson Objectives:

  • Compare history makers and select personal favorite
  • Construct an online poster that demonstrates why the student favors this history maker
  • Evaluate other students’ projects to build collaborative and social networking skills

Social Media Tool: Glogster EDU

Justification for selection of social media tools Glogster EDU was chosen because of it ease of use, and because students can include virtually anything – text, photos, videos, graphics, sounds, drawings, and data attachments (the last two are only available with a subscription).  This tool facilitates creative expression and allows students to demonstrate personal understanding in a way that is exciting to most (if not all) students.  This tool also allows commenting, thus enabling instructor and peer assessments.  Finally, it is free.

Student ActivityOnce the LiveBinder assignment is complete, students are asked to review the entire LiveBinder, and then select their favorite history maker.  Their next assignment is to create an online poster that demonstrates why the student chose this history maker.

Have students access the Glogster EDU site.  Ask students how many are familiar with this tool.  Explain briefly what it is.  Have students click on the “Best Glogs” tab at the top of the page, and let students explore some of the glogs created by others.

Next, outline the assignment in more detail (give to students as a handout and post on the class website along with the grading rubric):

  1. Review the LiveBinder and select the person who inspires you the most (the person you would most like to be like).
  2. Give your Glog an attention-grabbing title
  3. Include at least one picture of the person
  4. Include at least 5 facts about their life
  5. Describe their contribution(s) that changed the world – what they did and how it changed the world.
  6. Keep text sections brief – people will not want to read too many words in one place.
  7. If design inspiration is needed, review other Glogs and ask yourself which ones are your favorite – and why.  See if you can use the same techniques on your Glog.
  8. Tell us at least two reasons why they are your favorite.  Let students know that this is the most important part of the assignment.  Encourage students to give this a lot of thought.  Let students know that just saying, “she’s cool” is not good enough.  Have students ask themselves, “Why is she cool to me?’  Other questions to ask:  What do her actions motivate me to do?  How has this person inspired me?  Do I want to change something because I learned about this person – if so, what?  Has this person caused you to think differently, if so, how?  What qualities do they have that you think are important?
  9. You are required to comment on at least three of your classmates’ Glogs.  Give students commenting guidelines (be nice/polite, begin with a compliment, ask a question or say what you liked about their work, write in complete sentences, and proof read before you send).

Show students a sample Glogster – the instructor’s favorite history maker.

Have students play around on an actual poster to get used to adding media.  Have then practice adding a photo, adding a video, changing colors and type, selecting a background, adding sounds, etc.

If time permits, allow students to begin the process of reviewing the LiveBinder and selecting their favorite.

Possible Challenges and How To Handle

Some students may need help with how to do screen captures, find audio clips, etc.  Let students know that you will help anyone who needs it.  Survey students to get an idea how many may need help.  Allocate more class time to work on this project if needed.  Students can also be encouraged to help other students.

Make the deadline for posting comments after the Glog deadline since many students will probably turn them in at the last minute.  Class time could be allocated for commenting.

Determine how to set up student accounts since the free account does not have s student account generator.  Either students can sign up for their own account and share their url’s with the class (more challenging), or a new account could be created for the class, where everyone goes into the same account and creates their Glog.  If this option is chosen, students will have to make sure that they sign their names to their comments, so others know who the post is from.  A third option is paying for a subscription, as this would make the process easier, and is not too expensive ($30 per year).

Evaluation The Glogs and the students’ comments graded according to the rubric will serve as the main evaluation instrument.  Students’ skills in capturing and uploading media, as well as accessing and using Glogster will also be evaluated along the way to make sure that students have the technical ability they need to create the project that they desire.  This exercise adds to digital literacy, stimulates creativity, requires critical thinking and builds social networking skills.


Lesson 3: How I’d Like to Change History

Lesson Objectives:

  • Reflect on what has been learned about people changing history, and develop a presentation about how to personally change history
  • Evaluate other students’ projects

Social Media Tool: TED.com/YouTube Videos, Voicethread

Justification for selection of social media tools TED.com and YouTube videos show us that the world is full of people who have great ideas.  These videos show examples of people working on their ideas and making them real.  These videos are to inspire students to search for and pursue their own good ideas.  And of course they are free.

Voicethread is a tool for sharing presentations and conversations, so it is an appropriate tool to use for the final project in this unit.  Voicethread is easy to learn/use, and lends itself well to the topic of this project.  Allowing so many ways to respond, as well as showing all responses on one page, makes this a more personal project.  The Voicethread site indicates that every voice is great and worthy of the world’s attention.  That is exactly the message that this whole unit is trying to convey.

Student Activity Once the Glogster assignment is complete, students are ready to reflect and apply what they have learned to their own lives.  Their next assignment is to create a presentation (using PowerPoint or video) that describes how, if there were no limits, the student would like to change the world.

Ask students what good it does to study people like this if it does not cause us to look inside ourselves for our own greatness?  Does it do any good to look at these people and then feel small and insignificant in comparison?  Is it better to notice that these people are the same as you and me – regular people who took action in the direction of their ideas?  There are great ideas inside of everyone, but so many people seem content to complain.  Complainers don’t solve problems or make the world better – they are part of the problem.  Other people feel weak, small, or afraid.  All these people that we studied had these same feelings at some point, but they took one step, then another, then another in the direction they wanted to go.  So what holds you back?  Never thought about it before?  No ideas?  Too young?  No money?  Fear?

In this next assignment, you get to think about how you could become a history changer – in a small or large way.  Let’s look at a few videos for inspiration. Videos will be projected on class SmartBoard.

Video 1: This is a video about kids taking five minutes a day at school to make the world a better place.

Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day at School

Video 2: This is a clip from the movie Pay It Forward.

You Can Make a Difference (Clip from the Movie Pay it Forward)

In this movie, 11 year old, Trevor, started by doing three favors for people and asking them to do favors for three other people (asking them to do favors for three others.  This project ends up with the name “Pay It Forward.”   It’s a simple idea that could really make a big difference if it catches on.

Video 3: If you have a good idea, here’s a quick video that will show in a fun way, how to start a movement.

TED talk by Derek Sivers entitled, How to Start a Movement


Create a presentation that describes how you would make a difference in the world if you had no limitations.  Pretend that you have everything you need – nothing stands in the way – what would you do?  Use PowerPoint, or create a video.

In addition to describing the change that you would make, include at least two things that you could do right now to take a step in this direction.  Could you do research?  Or find people on the internet who have the same idea?  Perhaps you could join a group that is already working on something like this?  Write an email to someone who could help you?

Once you complete your presentation, upload it to Voicethread.  Have students visit the Voicethread website.  Give students a few minutes to explore the website and look at a few Voicethreads.  Next, walk students through the process of uploading a Voicethread by uploading a sample assignment.  Students are also required to comment on at least three of the Voicethreads posted by their peers, using the same guidelines from the last assignment (review the guidelines with students).  Give students time to view the sample assignment and ask each student to leave a comment on it, so that they can practice.

Provide a handout for students that are struggling with the assignment that contains prompts like these:

What makes you angry about your life?  About the world?  How do you think it could be better?

So many people want to complain.  If you see something that you do not like, instead of complaining, ask yourself, what do I want instead?  Is there anyone doing this now?  Can I imagine how this could happen?

What issues do you care about?  What are your ideas about how to change them?  What are people doing now?  How about these issues?

  • Poverty
  • Hunger
  • Bullying
  • Gay Rights
  • Improving Schools
  • Recycling
  • Saving the Rain Forest
  • Animals

Would you like to invent something or start a business?

Would you like to change yourself in some way so that, if you were successful, you would inspire others to do the same?

Think about this quote attributed to Margaret Meade? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Possible Challenges and How To Handle

Some students will probably need help with the creation of their PowerPoint or video.  Additional class sessions will be allocated for working on these projects, and help will be available to any student who asks.  Students will be encouraged to help each other during class times as well.

To use Voicethread in an educational setting, it will be necessary to subscribe.  The cost is $60 per year (or $15 per month).  There are also school-wide and district-wide plans.

Make the deadline for posting comments after the Voicethreads are due, so students can have more choice as to whose Voicethread they comment on.  Class time could be allocated for commenting.

The instructor must have experience with Voicethread, PowerPoint, and basic video recording/editing skills in order to help students.  These tools must be available in the classroom.  It is important to stay aware of where students are with their projects and to help those who are falling behind.

Be aware that some students may not have PowerPoint or access to a video camera at home.  Survey students and find out whether students have access to these tools at home.  Add additional class time as necessary so that students can work on the project in school.

Evaluation The main evaluation instrument is the Voicethread itself as well as the students’ comments, graded according to the rubric.  The process of selecting the topic requires self-reflection.  The process of creating the presentation and uploading it to Voicethread builds computer literacy skills.  Student commenting improves students’ social collaboration skills.

A Kirkpatrick-style evaluation will be administered at the end to gather feedback from the students regarding their reactions and learning during the entire unit.  The results will be used to improve the unit in the future.


Reviews of Three Useful Social Media Tools

There are so many social media tools available today, that it can make an eLearning Designer’s head spin.  As mentioned in a pervious post, it is best to start with one tool at a time.  In this post, I’ll discuss the possible usefulness and potential disadvantages to  using three popular tools in your virtual classrooms.  Select one and try it out!


Twitter is a messaging service that encourages users to answer the question, “What are you doing?”  Tweets (the messages) are limited to 140 characters.  This is also known as microblogging.  Users can compose and send their own tweets, or repost tweets from others (which is called “retweeting”). Users can follow other users (similar to friending on Facebook), and then see those tweets in their “twitter feed” (like Facebook’s wall).

The Center for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT) has been publishing a list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning, since 2007.  Twitter has been the number one tool for the past three years. Since Twitter is so popular (many of your students are probably already using it), it is worth considering for use in online education.

I think that the best way to look at using Twitter in online learning is to examine whether the objectives of your course involve:

  • starting conversations (class discussions, critical thinking assignments)
  • creating community (the class, the school, the field, global)
  • research – learning new information or staying current in a quickly changing field (so many tweets contain links to published articles and information)
  • seeking opinions (polls, special topic conversations)

Twitter can be used as a course element if one or more of these objectives are present.  There are endless ideas.  Here are a few to get you started:

  • Create a network around a shared interest
  • Class discussion
  • Collaborate on a project
  • Research current information
  • Create personal learning networks
  • Communicate administrative details to students
  • Provide instant feedback
  • Create a global learning community

There are endless links for more information.  Here are just a few:

50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Education

Three Practical Ideas for Using Twitter in E-Learning (by Tom Kuhlmann)

The Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers

Twitter for Educational Purposes – A Tutorial (slideshare presentation)

As with every tool, there are some potential disadvantages to using Twitter in eLearning.  Make sure that you address them to avoid problems.

  1. Use Twitter yourself before incorporating it into your virtual classroom.  Set up your own Twitter account and really get to know Twitter before you start using it with your students.  You will look like an amateur if you jump in before you are ready.  You have to know enough to be able to help students who are new to Twitter.  Don’t start until you feel that you can help others.
  2. Have a strategy.  Carol Cooper-Taylor in the 50 Ideas in Using Twitter for Education link above writes, “without a strategy, it’s just typing.”  Without a strategy, Twitter can also waste a lot of time and distract you and your students from more important endeavors.  Decide how you will use it first.  Make your strategy realistic.  Don’t ask to much of yourself or your students.
  3. Tie it into grading somehow.  If a student is not graded somehow, at least on their level of participation, it can become a burden to them, and many will not join in on the conversation.

Quizlet (www.Quizlet.com)

According to their website, Quizlet is the largest independent study site in the US with over 2.78 million registered users.  Quizlet uses flash cards (using words and/or pictures), quizzes and a collection of study games to facilitate studying online.  The quizzes and games are generated from the flash cards.  Users (instructors and/or learners) create flashcard sets that can be shared with the Quizlet community, and can even be linked to Facebook or Twitter accounts, or embedded onto a website.  Users can search for and utilize flashcard sets created by others.  There are also 15 mobile applications that use the Quizlet API, so that users can study from their smart phones, Palms, and tablets.  It is number 82 on the C4LPT list of the top 100 Tools for Learning mentioned earlier in this post.

Use this social media tool if your course content involves memorization.  Rote memorization can often be boring, and Quizlet aims to make it more fun.  Some subjects that would benefit from a memory retention aide include:

  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Foreign languages
  • Math
  • Chemistry
  • History
  • Any topic that has terminology and concepts that must be memorized.

eLearning Designers can incorporate Quizlet into their courses in many ways, including: instructor-created flashcard sets and review games, home study, tools for parents to help children at home, friendly competition (e.g. fastest quiz time).

Since this tool has a singular focus (assisting with memorization), there are few disadvantages.  It is fairly simple to use, but you do have to put both a word (or phrase) and a definition when creating a flashcard set.  This can be a drawback if studying spelling only.  For example, today, my daughter was notified of a last minute opportunity to participate in a spelling bee tomorrow.  She was given a list of 300 words to study.  I wanted to just enter the words, but Quizlet required me to enter a definition as well, which took too long, so I had to abandon the tool.  I also tried to use the spelling test option, which was supposed to speak each word, but this did not work for me.  This was yet another reason to abandon it for this particular project.  Other than my somewhat unique situation, I see few other disadvantages.

PollEverywhere (www.polleverywhere.com)

Poll Everywhere is a web-based polling service that allows eLearning Designers to engage students directly by gathering live poll responses and displaying real-time results on animated charts.  There are four ways to vote:

  • text message
  • smartphone web browser
  • Twitter tweet
  • computer web browser

Questions can be multiple choice or open-ended.  The results are immediately visible to participants either by projecting the results onto a screen or viewing the results on the web. Results can be downloaded to a computer, uploaded to a blog, posted via Twitter, or inserted into a PowerPoint.

Engaging students is the quest of every online instructor.  This tool provides endless opportunities to do this, and has almost unlimited uses in a real or virtual classroom.  Here are just s few ideas:

  • Ice Breakers – help students get to know each other via polls at the beginning of the course
  • Check students’ understanding of a topic
  • Collect data for a science experiment
  • Ask students what they are thinking about literally anything
  • Respond to a discussion topic
  • Brainstorming
  • Pop Quizzes
  • Offer a homework help poll where students can submit their questions about a topic or assignment
  • Class awards
  • Q & A
  • Feedback

There are few disadvantages with Poll Everywhere.  For some, the expense can be a factor.  It is actually reasonably priced, and free for up to 40 responses per poll.  The free account does not allow the instructor to approve/disapprove responses, so student guidelines must be established for open-ended questions in order to keep inappropriate responses to a minimum.  Also, it seems to be a bit tricky to integrate poll results into a PowerPoint.  Here is a tutorial.


So now you have three more options to consider as you strive to integrate more social media into your eLearning Design projects.  Which one will you start with?


Social Media Tool Search – Teachers . . . Have You Tried These Tools in Your Classroom?

With the plethora of social media tools available today, many teachers avoid using them because they feel intimidated or overwhelmed.  There are so many benefits from using these tools, that it is worth it to take a little time to get to know them.  Look at it this way – every journey starts with a single step.  Just focus on one tool at a time.

Here are three excellent tools that many educators are using, which means that there are lots of resources available – lesson plans, best practices, learning communities, etc.  Just pick one, incorporate it into one of your lesson plans, tweak it, and master it . . . then consider adding another.  Before you know it, you’ll be a social media master, and your students will me more engaged.

Tool #1: Voicethread (http://voicethread.com)


Voicethread is a platform where you or your students can upload all types of presentations.  Once the presentation is uploaded, students, family members, and teachers can leave voice, text or video comments.  The service has a free public version, as well as a paid, secure environment designed specifically for educators ($15/month).  Entire schools or school districts can also subscribe.

Free resources for using Voicethread in K-12 eLearning Design:

A collection of scholarly articles and studies about the use of Voicethread in K-12 – Click here

How to Use VoiceThread from Edutopia’s New Teacher Bootcamp – Click here

Voicethread 4 Education Wiki – Click here

Here is a link to a voicethread where teachers are asked how they will use it in their classrooms:  Click here


Easy to use, which keeps the focus on the content instead of the tool

Encourages collaboration and conversation

Multiple ways to interact (voice, video or text)

Can engage shy or uncomfortable students

Gives students a voice

Multiple uses – for storytelling, personal narratives, lectures, research, stimulation of deep thinking/creativity, communication, feedback, and assessments, just to name a few

Can accomodate multiple learning needs and styles

Facilitates student-centered learning by making students’ voices heard

Helps build students’ confidence by showing that their work is great and worthy of the world’s attention


Time to learn it and integrate it into the curriculum

The cost

It does not upload complex PowerPoint presentations very well

Tool #2: LiveBinders (www.livebinders.com)


LiveBinders offers free digital three-ring binders, which serve as a way to collect, organize and share online knowledge. Each binder is given a unique URL for easy sharing.  You can add a “LiveBinder It” button to your browser’s toolbar so that it is easy to add information to your binder as you are surfing the web.

Free resources for using Livebinders in K-12 eLearning Design:

Free Tool Challenge # 15: Organize and Share with LiveBinders (from The Teacher Challenge) – Click here

LiveBinders: The Educative Tool Teachers Should Not Miss – Click here

LiveBinders Blog – Click here


It is free!

Accessible anywhere – since it is online, all that’s needed is an internet connection

Really easy to use, especially if the “LiveBinder It” button is added to your browser

Flexible – educators can use it for anything they would use a real three-ring binder for

Students or instructors can create them so it facilitates many instructional goals

Can use it on iPads


Taking the time to search for information and keeping binders up to date by deleting dead links

Information overwhelm (too much information for you or your audience)

Taking the time to narrow it down only keep the best

It takes making a decision to integrate it into your lesson plans and stick with it (a new habit can take time)

Tool # 3 – Weebly for Education (www.education.weebly.com)


Weebly for Education is a free platform for creating websites.  It has a really simple drag and drop editor and lots of templates, and provides a managed, protected environment for students.  Teachers can use Weebly to create a classroom website, student e-portfolios or websites for assigned projects.  Teachers can also allow students to create their own websites.  Here is an example of the website that I created for my daughter’s 4th grade classroom.  Weebly also has a blog option that can be added.

Free resources for using Weebly in K-12 eLearning Design:

Slideshare Presentation entitled, Weebly Education Website Building – Click here

How to Set Up Weebly Student Accounts – Click here

Detailed Weebly Tutorial with lots of examples – Click here

Weebly Forums – Click here

Weebly Blog – Click here


It is free for up to 40 student accounts.  They do have paid options, and the ability to purchase and host a personalized domain name.

Accessible anywhere – since it is online, all that’s needed is an internet connection

User friendly and intuitive interface

No advertisements

Unlimited bandwidth and pages

Secure, reliable and flexible

Students or instructors can create web pages


As with the other tools, it takes time and commitment to decide to do whatever it takes to use to implement this.

Learning curve.  It takes some time to learn how to use this well, especially if you have no experience creating a website.

Keeping the website current.

There are a lot of technical shortfalls listed here, but those who need a simple straightforward website will not encounter them.

So there you have it – three options for dipping your toes into the wonderful world of Web 2.0 media with your students.  Remember, pick just one to start.  You can add others later.  Good luck!

Social Media in Student-Centered Course Design

My Very First Blog Post Ever

The debate about whether and how to include social media in online learning is more robust and contentious than it needs to be because of one thing: digital immigrants. The terms “digital immigrants” and “digital natives” were popularized a decade ago by Marc Prensky in his seminal 2001 article entitled, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (www.marcprensky.com). Digital immigrants are people who did not grow up with technology surrounding them. Digital natives have known nothing else. Almost all young people today are digital natives, and almost all those who are teaching them are digital immigrants.

This makes me recall the time I history when cars were invented. All the carriage makers and farriers probably thought the whole idea of moving around like that was absurd and would never catch on. They were also afraid that they would be out of a job.  It is the resistance to accepting a new reality that makes it harder than it needs to be. Imagine 20 or 30 years from now, when all the digital immigrants have retired, and all the digital natives are running things. The debate of whether to use social media will be over, and the entire focus will be on how best to use these tools to facilitate learning.

There are some forward-thinking digital immigrants who are already out there. They’ve accepted the new reality, and know that they need to become as fluent as possible to keep up with this new world.. These are the immigrants who push themselves to use the new media, to experiment with it, and to find the best ways to incorporate it into learning of all kinds.

It’s not hard to determine whether you are a digital embracer or a digital obstructer. If you are a digital immigrant, are you trying the social media yourself?  Have you blogged?  Commented on a blog?  Participated in an online community?  Added to a wiki?  Created your own website?  The list of possibilities is long.  It is my goal to become fluent in as many Web 2.0 technologies as possible.

These technologies require students and instructors to assume new roles and responsibilities.  Here is a table that discusses these new roles:

Web 2.0 social media and the role of the instructor and student in a student-centered course design

Course Component Role of Student Role of Instructor
Development of the course content Students should not be shy if they are interacting with course content that they find boring or unhelpful.  Instructors and institutions need this feedback, as well as students’ ideas, even if they do not seek it.Students should also understand and embrace the importance of learning to collaborate with their fellow students, since this is a key skill for thriving in the future.  The best students will take responsibility for milking as much as they can out of every course they take, especially by actively participating in learning communities. Develop learning outcomes with the student in mind.  What does the student need to be able to do at the end of this course?  Give as many options as possible in order to address varied learning styles.Be open and flexible to student feedback.  Make sure every activity addresses a specific learning outcome.  Take some structure away – just keep enough structure to keep students on track.  Use real-world activities, case studies and simulations whenever possible.  Tie course content in with the social media – send students there often so that they get lots of practice.
Learner interaction (learner-to-learner and learner-to-instructor)
 Learners are responsible for knowing the course requirements, finding the time, posting using forethought and proper netiquette.  Students should look to make interesting points, ask thoughtful questions, and seek clarification where possible.  Accept that thoughtful interaction and collaboration are important factors that contribute significantly to their learning outcome.  Make an effort to get to know your classmates wherever possible.  Be sure to contact the instructor if you are struggling or have questions. Set participation guidelines.  Allow students to negotiate some of them.  Create opportunities for students to get to know each other with ice-breaker activities.  Set the tone.  Respond quickly to student emails.  Consider virtual office hours within 24 hours of assignment due dates.  Have an equal presence in discussions, and do not dominate.  Get involved if students are getting off on the wrong track.
Use of social media in the course Embrace whatever social media are used in the course.  Seek to master it.  Take the time to create thoughtful, detailed responses and questions.  Do not be afraid to disagree politely – this is where a lot of learning occurs. Include at least one social media technology in every course possible.  In a specific program of study, for example, use Twitter in one class, in another use a blog, in another try a wiki, and so on.  This way, students will have exposure and practice in all the key social media.  Know the medium personally.  Keep up on the latest research.  Be flexible and open to feedback in order to continuously improve how these tools are employed to facilitate learner engagement and knowledge creation.
Implications of social eLearning courses to the institution Social learning increases student engagement and improves learning outcomes.  Institutions that incorporate social media appropriately will most likely experience increased student retention, an improved reputation, which in turn will attract new students. Instructors will be required to accept and participate in the new digital reality and will develop their skills in utilizing Web 2.0 technologies.  Instructors will also have to learn their new role as facilitator and mentor.   The most cutting-edge schools will require this new type of instructor.

So no matter whether you are a digital native or a digital immigrant, the responsibility for learning is shifting to the student, allowing them more control over their experience.  This can be scary for some, but those who embrace it will be richly rewarded by being well-prepared to navigate this quickly-changing landscape.

How I set Up My First Blog

  1. Did a search for best free blogging sites.
  2. Found a site that rated the top 10 blogging services as of Jan. 2011
  3. WordPress got the highest rating, so I decided to use that.  The next three included TypePad, Squarespace and Blogger.  If I don’t like WordPress, I’ll go down the list.
  4. Went to www.wordpress.com and signed up – my name was available – jillmcnair.wordpress.com.  Had to go to my email and click a link to activate my blog.  Clicked the link and it took me to my blog’s dashboard where I control everything
  5. Went to the Settings section and set it up as I wanted, including uploading a photo (which I had to find on my computer)
  6. Went through the “Get Acquainted” section to familiarize myself with the options.
  7. Then searched for a theme that I like and activated it.
  8. Started typing my first blog ever!  I like WordPress!