Tuesday, May 30, 2006

After ten years… It still might work!

I should be doing other work. However, I have an overwhelming urge to tell this story. I have been doing quite a bit of reading on Web 2.0 the past several months and the stories I read are fascinating. They also remind me of a project a former colleague and I once pulled off some ten years ago.

Allow me to set the stage for you. The year was 1995 and I was teaching Technology Life Careers (TLC) at Peoria Elementary. My student population was the entire 7th and 8th grade and I saw all the students 4 days of a six-day rotation. (Please don’t ask me to explain how that works.) My lab consisted of 33 Macintosh computers. Most of these machines were the little Classic II (Still one of my all time favorite computers) I had two LC 580’s and one LC 575. The lab was networked with phone net connectors to a Digicard network.

During a Professional Development day, all the TLC teachers were required to attend a workshop at the Cholla Training Center. (This also happens to be where I work today.) Ladd Bausch introduced all of us to a Bulletin Board application called First Class. (http://www.firstclass.com/) This system allowed eight (yes 8) people to connect to the Bulletin Board system using a dial-up phone modem. Once connected users could participate in various dissuasion boards, collaborate on projects, transfer files and even email each other. Talk about cool!

During this workshop, I became very excited about the ability to communicate with people on another campus using a computer. (Now, stop laughing, this was really cool in 1995.) A few days later, another TLC teacher and I were having a phone conversation about the workshop we had attended. Mary was just as excited about this new technology as I was so we agreed to take a day off from our classrooms and write a new project; a project that would require our students to work together to solve a problem.

You will need to forgive my memory, as I don’t recall the details of each scenario. I will however explain our process.

We began by creating four specific scenarios to be solved in a team approach. Each team consisted of eight students, four at my campus and four at Mary’s. We also created an artificial communication problem. For example, one team worked in the United States and the other worked in New Zealand. Because of the time shift, they would not be able to communicate via the phone. We did allow them to use the mail, however the scenarios did have a deadline to meet and international mail packages took 5 days to deliver. (In district mail was over night, but we would hold the package ourselves to make the project more realistic.) As you can see, we had created a communication nightmare for the students to navigate. Enter First Class.

Using the email feature of the First Class Bulletin Board System, the students were able to send Microsoft Works 3.0 documents to each other. (Technical Issue – we only had one computer with a modem and at that time and the students didn’t have personal accounts.) At the beginning of each class, one of the students would log onto the system, (using a classroom account) download and print each teams email. The teams would then work on the project during the class. Towards the end of the hour, one student from each team would quickly type up a status report to send back to the other team again using First Class. The entire project took 3 weeks to complete and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable units I ever taught. Our students not only worked together to solve a problem, they worked with students they did not know and in most cases, these students never met in high school. In many ways that project in 1995 resembled Terry Freedman’s recent project “Coming of Age: An introduction to the new worldwide web” (See my blog entry http://shawnwheeler.blogspot.com/2006/05/coming-of-age-introduction-to-new.html)

Consider for a moment the communication tools we have at our disposal today. Our students have access to web pages, blogs, text messaging, video conferencing, VOIP, SKYPE, email etc… With these tools, there is no reason we cannot have our students participating in similar assignments. Only this time…. Let’s have them work with students who really live in a different part of the world.

No comments: