This fall I am again teaching an online graduate class for Seattle Pacific University, Issues and Advances in Educational Technology. Like last year, I am trying to use open/free tools that students could use with their own students. So, we are using delicious.com (to record and share weekly research of online resources related to the weekly theme), typewith.me (to collaboratively reflect on the links shared and the weekly theme), blogs maintained on wordpress.com (to reflect on the learning for the week and provide feedback), Google Sites (to develop a collaborative project), Google Docs (sharing documents for feedback, and forms/spreadheet for weekly grades), and one of the digital storytelling tools (to develop a digital narrative).
Last year, we also set up a private Google Group to communicate with the students and to maintain a record of communication for the students. This year, however, I was asked by the university to use their Blackboard server for communication and grades. I must admit it made the beginning of the class much smoother (not having to get the students to sign up for the Google Group). However, one week into the class, I am feeling like there is less collaboration: the email is from me to the class, but there is no online record of the communication; when the students respond to my emails it goes to me not to the group, so the students can't support each other. It puts me at the center of the process, which I don't want or like. In the third week of the class, our topic is "collaboration" and I think I will move the class email over to another private Google group. We have also set up a grou.ps "Ning-replacement" that we might use as an experiment. I might have the students use that site for discussions and my announcements in future weeks.
I have also noticed that the students' initial writing in typewith.me looks like a series of short monologues (very much like a Blackboard discussion) rather than like a collaborative discussion. Old habits of online discussions are hard to break. But it is fun to explore these new tools with these graduate students. Each week we cover one of these themes: reflection, collaboration, 21st Century Learning, critical thinking, online safety, copyright, productivity, change, innovation. These themes correlate with the new Washington state Educational Technology Standards for students. My goal is that these future teachers are aware of these standards, and the many free tools that are available. I am finding that there are many perceived barriers, so it is interesting to explore the opportunities as well as the challenges!