Today in my history classes, I had my students close their laptops for a few minutes, and we talked about what they were learning.
We did not talk about ancient Rome much.
We did talk about the nature of learning via wiki. They mentioned that they were hunting through Wikipedia a lot more carefully, looking for answers and photographs that answered the questions I posed to them. They were looking at their classmates’ work more frequently. They were adding definitions to words they didn’t know.
They mentioned how happy they were that their work was lighter — to carry their computers room-to-room, instead of a massive textbook. They liked reading primary sources, with Wikipedia as a backup, and the work of their classmates, instead of a bad textbook.
Tonight’s assignment was to add 10 definitions to our classroom wiki, to correct ten grammatical errors, and to add ten links. I’m able to monitor the wiki from home, and I can see that no one has added anything tonight. I find this dismaying.
In class today, a group of students discovered that YouTube was unblocked, and were watching funny videos instead of working on our class projects. On the one hand, I understand you can’t focus on classwork all the time. You do need some time to relax and re-focus.
But this amounts to a lot of wasted energy. And I wonder how to bring us back on track. I know my school’s metrics-and-assessment administrator, and he’ll not be pleased if he thinks my class is goofing off. I have to get these guys back on track.
At the same time, I feel like a new kind of learning is going on, and I don’t know how to describe it or assess it yet. I know I’ve done a lot less lecturing. I know I’ve done a lot more mini-lessons — how to edit HTML code, how to add a wiki link, how to add a picture, how to search the wiki for a specific page. These mini-lessons are adding up, and a lot of kids are now teaching each other to use these new tools. I’m the leaven in their dough, or I was; now they’re teaching each other.
When does this hit critical mass? How do I accelerate it?