Introduction To The Project:
Over the past couple weeks I have been tweeting about a Voice Thread project that my senior Spanish class has undertaken. We have studied works of Spanish artists such as El Greco, Velazquez, Goya and Picasso. For the big unit project, the students researched a Spanish artist that we had not studied in class. They were then supposed to create a Google Presentation about this artist. The presentation needed to include information about the life of the artist, the historical context of the artist and details about three works of art by that artist. The trick of their presentation was not to use more than one bullet note of text per slide. I wanted them to find the images that could tell the story of the artist. The students uploaded their images to Voice Thread where they narrated over their slides. Essentially, they created their own mini documentary. Last year this project was a poster project. This year we’re trying to adapt the concepts to the 21st century.
Issues That Came Up:
1) Allowing the Images to Tell the Visual Story
As the students went about creating their google presentations that they loaded up to Voice Thread, one of the big problems that came up was overusing text. The students bulleted out all of their text on their slides like they have been doing in other projects for their classes. We discussed that Voice Thread projects are similar to a documentary in that the images themselves can tell the story with help from audio narrations. The challenge for the students then became find the right images to represent the text they created for their narration. What images do you select to represent the bibliographical information of Diego Rivera? What images do you select to best visually communicate the ideas of the social conflict in Mexico during the life of José Clemente Orozco? Can your images tell the story without the narration? This type of thinking seems to incorporate a lot of the Right Brained thinking skills that Daniel Pink talks about in A Whole New Mind. The images that the students chose were a good starting point, but there is much work to be done. Their narrations help fill the gaps, but next time I do this project I will stress “good image selection” as a major goal of the project.
2) Question of Pseudonyms vs. Full Real Names Posted to Internet
As we came close to finishing the project, the debate about using pseudonyms or full names for the students came up. As I asked around my department, I found that folks were not sure as to exactly what school policy might already be in place. I walked down to my principal’s office and she said that she wasn’t sure what stance the school had officially taken either. Later in the day, the principal came to my room and showed me that parents had currently signed documents stating that their children’s first names’ could be posted to the internet for educational purposes only. I then asked if students 18 years old or older could choose for themselves and I’m still waiting to hear on that one. This seems to be a discussion that needs to happen district wide. The benefits of a student posting their whole name relates to the benefits of them creating a positive identity for themselves online. I want my students to post work their proud of so that if a college were to google them, the college would find a wonderful piece of work from school. I want the kids to have to take responsibility. I want them to own their identity and market themselves in a positive way. However, what are the legal obligations that the school has in this situation? What is an appropriate age for students to start doing this? For now, my students are just using first names. Could the projects done in my class give my students an advantage over other students in the world trying to get into college if those other students have no online identity?
3) IT Issues with Opening Websites and Bandwidth
The basic stance that my district has taken on protecting our network is to block all sites initially and piece by piece start opening up sites that teachers find beneficial to education. As I was fooling around with Voice Thread in a graduate course that I’m taking on technology in the classroom, I found that we had trouble uploading presentations to Voice Thread when more than 15 people tried to upload presentations at once. I contacted our district’s IT person. I passed along the sites that needed to be available to my students so we could successfully use Voice Thread’s web site. I also told him the day that I planned to start my project. He then unblocked the sites for Voice Thread in our network. He also switched all document uploads through Voice Thread to a faster connection than typically used in our network. This allowed all my students to upload documents at once with no problem. These changes will help any teacher in our district who choose to use Voice Thread in their class. This all happened within two days. I learned that it’s important to understand the IT system in your district. It’s important to understand who to contact to trouble shoot specific tech problems. Ask the appropriate people the right questions and try to push your district through the evolution to 21st century.
In addition to teaching my students about google presentations and Voice Thread as great collaboration tools, I taught myself a lot about big tech questions in my district. I learned trouble shooting tricks. I discovered some big questions that my district will have to answer. My students enjoyed this project and constantly talk about “how much easier last year would have been if they had known about these skills”. That said, this project wasn’t about last year, it’s about next year. Will my students and I be able to take the skills from this project and use them to create better products in the future? Will my district be able to learn from this project? What will be my next project?