Students are not as tech-savy as one might think. They can thumb with lightening speed on their cell phones and they can download videos and music, but there are a lot of skills that don't rise to the surface when they make their personal priority decisions. I discovered this in an assignment that was due yesterday by my 9th-grade biology students. An article by Prof Hacker today, On not assuming students’ technical skills, has prompted this reflection.
This past summer students collected, identified, and created displays of insects. To continue the learning, I asked students to take pictures of their favorite insects and create a field guide of their catch on Wikispaces. The assignment I gave started with a class period of everyone simply signing up for a free wikispaces account and requesting to join the insect wiki I had previously created. (This took an entire period only because of the poor internet service in my classroom and the sharing of ten laptops by all students. Some students waited over five minutes just to log onto system.) The second step was to create a page using a template I had created. Thirdly students, in pairs, were to research and complete the required information, citing all sources, and finally they were to add pictures to the wiki. We will work on tagging posts later. At each step, I projected on the screen the webpage and demonstrated how to complete the task. The assignment was broken down into these pieces and students were given a week to complete. I work in a district where 99% of the students have computers on internet and the vast majority have cell phones.
My surprise came when students began emailing their files or turning in paper versions of their report. Reasons for not filling in the wiki came in the form of "I couldn't find the page" (there was a link on their school webpage assignment), "it wouldn't let me edit" (they had not confirmed their account through their personal email), "it kept disappearing" (click save), "how do I add the picture?" (showed the icon again), "my picture doesn't show" (the add picture instructions say double-click), and so on. As students came to me with their problems, I pulled the page up on the screen, would have the student log in and talk them through it, using their example to guide others in the class and having the student "drive" through it, so to speak, always being supportive and understanding of the problem so the student did not feel like he or she had a stupid question.
Although the assignment was due yesterday, I gave the non-honors students the weekend to complete the assignment. Giving a couple more days to feel successful is more important to me than an arbitrary deadline. I am still looking forward to this field guide.