Adding Social Networking to Lessons

I often use variations on a jigsaw strategy in my history classes.  This strategy allows us to explore more topics in greater detail and provides an opportunity for students to collaborate when they share information. In my African American history class, we start the course by studying Africa. We have just completed a unit on geography and next week, we will look at cultural traditions and expressions.

I have tweaked this lesson to include the Web 2.0 site called Nota. After students have done individual research, they will collaborate to design a Notabook that showcases their learning and teaches their classmates about their particular African region. Notabooks are kind of like a cross between a webpage and a presentation. You can include graphics, text, hyperlinks, page links, and video files. They also offer a tool bar that allows users to directly access and embed content from Flickr, Wikipedia, Google Maps and Youtube. Alternatively, users can upload files from their computers.

Teams of three students will study one of the eight regions profiled on the PBS Africa website. This site is the web-companion to the television series PBS produced and aired a few years back. It is a rich resource, offering tons of information that is presented in varied ways. Maps, audio files, photostories, interactive quizzes and outside links are just some of its many features. My students are already familiar with this site as we used in during our African geography unit.

Each team member will be responsible for a particular element (or elements) of the culture from the assigned region.  Specifically, students will learn about the history, music, religious and cultural traditions of the people from various parts of Africa. Within the Nota application, students can simultaneously work on the same document, leave comments for each other on the pages and they can embed a message board to coordinate their work.

The goal for this project is for students to understand the breathe of cultural expression within the continent of Africa, to see the commonalities between diverse people and to further develop both their collaboration skills and their technical prowess with digital tools. Specific objectives include research and original writing about African cultures, effective teamwork and collaboration skills, mastery of this particular Web 2.0 application and setting up a logical and effective digital workflow.

After introducing the project, I will walk the students through the Nota website and will also discuss the “Best Practices” I suggested they use to streamline their workflow. After much deliberation, I have decided to set up student accounts myself so we don’t have to take class time. This also allows me to initially create all of the Notabooks so that I am the primary “editor.” Although you can add as many editors to a Notabook as you like, only the original creator can delete comments that are added. I want to be able to monitor their communications with each other and also track contributions. I used a great tip I found on this website to create “dummy” student gmail accounts. Even though Nota doesn’t ask for anything other than an email address to register, I thought this was the best way to go.

The students will be assessed with a rubric that includes categories for both content and process. They will also be responsible for peer and self-review as well as information from their classmates’ Notabooks. You can download the assignment sheet here.  I feel that I am taking somewhat of a risk with this tool because not all of the features work all the time but I decided to try it anyway. Troubleshooting with grace and innovation is a great skill to learn and I plan on telling the students that I’ve never used Nota with a class before and that we should brace ourselves for some bumps.



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