A Popplet Has popped Up

Popplet is a tool designed for the web and for iPads to organize ideas efficiently with the use of virtual mind maps. People who want to work with Popplet can access it via every computer because it does not require any installation and does not cause any delay. The only requirement is to create an account, which gives the user a free use of 5 Popplets, with the possibility to delete and recreate any Popplet that was made within the maximum range of 5. There is even a short tutorial that guides new users if they feel that they need help to start working with that tool. Teachers have found it interesting for the purpose of a classroom because ‘‘ it works as a unique brainstorming or organizing tool when students write papers. With the ability to add links and upload videos, students can organize notes for a research paper or present their research findings’’ (http://teachamazing.com/popplet-visual-thinking-tool/). Individual brainstorming on a sheet of paper often lowers students’ motivation because of the lack of interaction and because they prefer to work with web tools. Popplet meets their expectations in the sense that students can capture their ideas in a personalized and interesting way. More precisely, they can modify the colors of their mind maps as well as their background, and add any link or video that is relevant to their task. Popplet is also very easy to use. In order to create a box (bubble), users only have to double click on the screen and it appears automatically. In addition to that, Popplet enables a cooperative feature that individual brainstorming has never succeeded to achieve before. In fact, students are given the opportunity to share their document with specific people or with the whole class with the ‘‘add user option’’. This permits a collaborative sharing of ideas and strategies for a project or written assignment.

‘‘Finished popplets can be exported as JPG and PDF files, as well as saved and printed. A new feature is a desktop application that can be downloaded and allows popplets to be saved for offline presentations.’’ (http://teachinghistory.org/digital-classroom/tech-for-teachers/25107). What is great with this tool is the simplicity to convert a finished or unfinished Popplet into a PDF file. Thus, teachers can ask their students to print the final version of their Popplet and to hand it in. In order to save as a PDF, users must click on the option ‘‘export as’’ and choose the ‘‘as a PDF’’ icon. However, it is not always a good idea for bigger Popplets, because when they are printed, their bubbles are too small to be able to read what is written inside. As long as the Popplet is not too long or too extended, it can be printed fairly well. Otherwise, the content is lost by the inability of this tool to print specific zoomed bubbles.

Another interactive feature of this tool is that ‘‘Popplets can be created in the classroom with the aid of your students, live on the interactive whiteboard.’’ (http://www.boxoftricks.net/2011/03/classroom-magic-with-popplet/). It represents a source of motivation for students who are usually passive recipients of information in a classroom. The fact that students come up front and write their answers on the interactive board is beneficial for everybody in the class. For instance, the person who is writing practices her cognitive language skills at the same time of her classmates who want to confirm or refute her answer. Teachers can take advantage of this situation to ask to the rest of the class if the answer is correct or not first, in order to promote collective peer-tutoring. Strategically speaking, if the other students are asked to correct the utterance, they become the teacher in a sense and they feel that their feedback is relevant. For this reason, learning becomes interactive and meaningful because the teacher only provides correction after students have debated and arrived to a consensus.

‘‘Popplet can be used in your classroom to ensure that visual learners can access the information. It is very common for teachers to forget to differentiate the curriculum in a way that students with a variety of learning styles can understand the information’’(http://msuportfolio2.weebly.com/popplet-in-the-classroom.html).  Obviously, Popplet represents an effective visual support for students who can follow the teacher’s concepts with the key words written on the interactive board. However, Popplet should not be treated as an effective tool for lecturing, because the only attracting feature in this case is to be able to move a bubble somewhere else on the board, which is quite boring. The primary goal of this tool is to organize efficiently ideas and brainstorms, so relying on this tool to build a whole lecture would only create an overload of bubbles on the screen. In fact, it will encourage students’ passivity because after having used this tool once, they will expect to be overwhelmed by keywords attached to other concepts. The strategy is to present short, precise and effective ideas with Popplet, not to teach long university lectures, since Powerpoint already exercises this function.

Moreover, Popplet is a great tool for student projects. Interestingly enough, ‘‘Popplet also has the ability to be embedded into blogs or websites. It is relatively quick and easy to do as long as it is supported by the website (WordPress.com does not support it). If you have a class wiki or blog, students can post their Popplets for their classmates, teachers, parents, and other viewers to learn from as well.’’ (http://cis220spring12.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/popplet-a-multi-dimensional-tool/).  This way, parents can keep track of the work done by their children by accessing their blog directly (if the teacher uses the blog as a strategy for sharing pertinent information regarding class context and other academic fields). The only constraint is that Popplet cannot be embedded into WordPress, but otherwise every other blog should work. In addition, not only classmates can learn from the Popplet of their peers, but the teacher can use his own as a source of reference that will help for homework. Finally, this tool can be easily shared and permits people to keep in touch with school material done in class, either by the teacher or by students.

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PowerPoint Paralysis

The risk of using PowerPoint as a tool for enhancing learning in a classroom is to fall into the trap of PowerPoint Paralysis. ‘‘Triple “P” can be defined as the overzealous concentration on the utilization of PowerPoint, while concurrently disregarding the content being exhibited’’ (http://www.teach-nology.com/tutorials/powerpoint/). In fact, this tool is overused by teachers and they sometimes forget that content must be the priority of their PowerPoint, not delivery. Triple P comes from the business world, in which data and statistics are presented with point form on a huge quantity of slides. This technique is to be avoided by teachers, because static content and facts presented without any opportunity to interact will discourage students. Deepening students’ thinking process regarding content is essential in education. For instance, teachers must use PowerPoint to gain students’ attention, to communicate objectives and to stimulate prior knowledge. Including controversial or philosophical questions is an adequate strategy to have students use their mental processes to reflect on a particular issue related to the classroom. The best timing to ask those questions is to write them on the screen as students enter the classroom. This way, the teacher gains students’ attention because they feel that they are concretely involved in the material that they will explore in class. Questions must flow regularly in the PowerPoint so that students can hypothesize or try to predict where the teacher is heading at and why. PowerPoint is therefore a tool that must be used intelligently by teachers if they want to enhance learning and they must always be careful of not only reading what is written on the slides. Otherwise, students will see no purpose to come to the classroom or will only focus on note-taking without listening. In other words, an important tip for teachers is: ‘‘Use PowerPoint to prompt, not to tell. Limit the number of slides and the text on each slide.’’ (http://www.georgianc.on.ca/staff/ctl/wp-content/uploads/Powerpoint_2_8.pdf)

 

To focus on content is one important step, but to have interesting content is another one. Even if the PowerPoint is well structured to encourage interactivity and students’ critical thinking, it is completely useless if the content is not meaningful to students. ‘‘Presentations largely stand or fall on the quality, relevance, and integrity of the content. If your numbers are boring, then you’ve got the wrong numbers. Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure’’ (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html).  Since PowerPoint is more a passive tool than an interactive one, interaction comes from the interest that students will have to engage in the class material. For instance, using PowerPoint as a tool to convert uninteresting material into more meaningful one will fail. Teachers must never forget that PowerPoint is a tool to support their content, not the center of learning used as an end in itself. In addition, professionals recommend only writing key words and sentences no longer than 6 words, so only relying on PowerPoint to convey academic material will fail to put information in context and to establish relationships. Teachers are the ones who must create links and explain them through the use of key words to facilitate remembering when students will study on their own.

Previous teaching methods have always been teacher-centered and regarded students as passive recipients of information. One of the main challenges of a teacher in today’s modern education is to improve the audience focus as well as students’ interactivity and spontaneity. If the PowerPoint is not designed to concretely involve students, it will only decrease their talking time and the teacher-talking time will stay predominant. This is considered negative because the new aim of ESL education is to provide opportunities for students to improve their communicative competence in the second language. For instance, student-response clickers are a great interactive function of PowerPoint in which the teacher asks multiple-choice questions and students each have their computer and must answer anonymously. Teachers must install the Turning Point 2008 software. The way it works is that once installed, ‘‘A Turning Point icon will appear on your desktop when you install the software. Open Turning Point to create your clicker presentation, not PowerPoint. Turning Point uses PowerPoint and adds a Turning Point tab. If you have created a PowerPoint presentation and want to add clicker slides, open the file in Turning Point and insert the graphic slides.’’ (http://minerva.stkate.edu/internal/docroom_helpguide.nsf/files/clickers_create_slides/$file/Clickers_create_slides.pdf). This is a very effective strategy that can be used to practice for tests because results are then gathered and placed on a diagram. Clickers keep students motivated and engage them in the material while the teacher can evaluate his students’ understanding, which can be very easily illustrated with the diagram as a visual tool. The advantage for students is also anonymity, because more insecure learners tend to avoid opportunities to try out their answers in front of the whole class by fear of judgement. Therefore, clickers eliminate their barriers regarding their lack of self-confidence and enhance their opportunities to take risks and to benefit from the confirmation or the correction of the answers that they selected.

Moreover, PowerPoint requires no assistance or experience and even teachers who are not very acquainted with technology can easily use it on their own. Clearly,‘‘PowerPoint makes it easy to build slides. And the content in slides and the slides themselves are easily editable or copied into other PowerPoint slide decks, which makes revisions and reuse of content simple’’ (http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/using-powerpoint-effectively-in-your-courses/).  The main advantage of PowerPoint is to be straightforward and to be easy for users to modify, copy or delete slides. Teachers always have plenty of liberty regarding background or writing colors, and can add any image or video that is on the web by copying and pasting it. PowerPoint thus organizes ideas effectively and increases visual impact on an audience by incorporating multimedia.

All in all, teachers must be very careful with PowerPoint and try to avoid the PowerPoint Paralysis influenced by the business world and its endless listed facts. Relying on this tool only to turn uninteresting content into interactive and meaningful is not a good strategy, because PowerPoint is dependent upon the content to be effective.

Students As Significant Peer-Tutors With Google Doc

Google Doc is certainly the most impressive tool in a classroom when it comes to peer-tutoring and editing tasks. Students are able to comment instantly the work of their classmates and keep record of those corrections and by who they were made. Google Doc is accessed via Google drive. To create an account in Google drive is very easy because it only requires a Gmail address and  a password. Once logged in to Google drive, clicking on ‘‘create’’ will enable multiple options, such as creating a folder, document, presentation or spreadsheet. In addition, Google Doc automatically saves everything that is written on a document, which forbids students to lose important work as it happens sometimes when the computer crashes with Microsoft Word.

Teachers must consider the utility of Google Doc for improved writing. For instance, ‘‘it improves student writing since students are not only writing, but also thinking about how to improve a buddy’s essay [and it] dramatically improves students’ attitudes toward writing and revision’’ (http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//educators/learning_materials/WR_cribsheet.pdf). By enhancing personal feedback between students, they have the opportunity to fulfill the role of meaningful tutors rather than to act as traditional passive students who are in competition against each other. This individualistic system mostly aims at discriminating students and classifying them on a academic scale, which does not necessarily promote success of the whole class. With collaborative peer-tutoring, students provide direct feedback to their peers and the group’s level of performance exceeds individual talents. In addition, teachers can take advantage of peer-tutoring by mixing weaker students with stronger students, and this exchange in knowledge will result in lowering the gap between them. It is also beneficial for teachers in the sense that their correction work load decreases because of the peer-tutoring done between students. Therefore, students’ work quality increases through collaborative peer-tutoring.

‘‘Since Google automatically saves documents whenever changes are made, you can have a nice list of revisions to tell you how your students work and the thought process that they go through. By gaining more insight into their workflow, you can be more personal with how you work with them’’ (http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/10-google-docs-tips-for-teachers-go-back-to-school/). Teachers are thus able to monitor every student at home and via any computer before receiving final essays. This is very useful considering the fact that instructors can point out what are the major improvements to be done in an assignment while students are actually in their writing process. Interactive discussions can easily be initiated in Google Doc by using windows for comments in the margins and the author of the comment is always identified automatically on the page while he is writing.  The only requirement is to be a collaborator with the person who is doing the work, and this is done by sharing the document with peers using their Gmail addresses in order to add them as collaborators. The advantage for teachers is to be able to keep track of the work of their students and to show them where they made grammatical errors even when they are at home. Nate Green, an educator in the field who effectively uses Google Doc explains himself: ‘‘By meeting students in their documents, I assure that I see their work at least once before they turn it in. Therefore, if they are headed in the wrong direction, I can steer them in the right direction before the essay is due. In the end, when students turn in their papers, this process assures that I receive better work, as I have already addressed any major problems.’’(http://www.edsocialmedia.com/2012/02/the-advantages-of-google-docs-in-education/) .  In this sense, one-on-one tutoring with the teacher is replaced by interactive online discussions that occur directly on students’ assignments. There is also no need to meet in person, since teachers have access to everything done by their students.  Teachers must be ready to be more available for their students at any time, because they have to monitor the process of their writing in addition of correcting their final version.  However, some students may not be comfortable with the idea of constantly being read by their teachers during their writing process, since it is does not reflect their final product. More accessible monitoring by the teacher certainly gives more opportunities for students to improve their work, but their privacy becomes violated in the sense that their teacher could be reading their text at any moment. This would tend to intimidate more insecure students.

Moreover, Google Doc is not only a tool for writing and sharing assignments. Students can also create and share PowerPoints and insert videos. What is very interesting is that every member of a team can be working on the same PowerPoint at distance, and be able to write comments to their peers with the same process than with written assignments. Teachers also have the chance to build online quizzes that autocorrect students’ answers. For instance, ‘‘Google Forms (a part of Google Documents) can be used to create and post short quizzes online. Forms can be embedded into blogs and websites or simply posted online as standalone pages. When students complete the quiz all of their responses are captured in a spreadsheet for easy viewing and grading’’ (http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2012/04/google-docs-for-teachers-free-ebook.html#.UvfXEBruJCJ). If teachers feel comfortable with using Google Doc for collaborative peer-tutoring in class, they should try to build some of their evaluations via this tool. They only need to pass their own test once in order to establish the good answers and then save it. Therefore, they avoid a lot of correction and students feel as comfortable completing a paper copy as answering multiple questions on a webpage. Students can also see their marks directly after having done the test, which provides an immediate feedback that confirms or corrects their learning output regarding the content that they needed to acquire.

Managing all classroom assignments via Google Doc for beginner teachers may be difficult and stressful. In fact, documents are very easy to share but when they end up in teachers’ email boxes, it requires a lot of organization. As a solution, John Miller suggested that ‘‘Teachers create and publish a Google Form to be used as an In Box. When it’s time to turn in a Google Doc, students complete the simple form and submit a link to their Google Doc. The information submitted by students automatically populates a spreadsheet to be used by teachers to keep track of assignments and also to quickly access those assignments for grading and review’’ (http://gettingsmart.com/2012/12/5-ways-to-use-google-docs-in-the-classroom/). The concept of the drop-box for teachers is essential if they want to manage all submitted assignments effectively. Teachers should also ask students to save their work with their name and last name, the title of their work and the date, which would surely help them retrieve everything in order. If teachers are not ready to find strategies to organize themselves and to keep track of every assignment online, they should not use Google Doc.

All in all, Google Doc enables academic work to be automatically saved and to be easily shared and peer-tutored between students and the teacher that are collaborators. The strength of this tool is to improve students’ writing because they have been edited and reviewed by their peers or by their instructor directly on their document. It also initiates the evolution of a totally paperless classroom and greater academic performances are achieved. Even evaluations can be prepared via Google Doc, which results in less managing and less correction for teachers. Peer-tutoring between students appears to be very effective and this is certainly an area to explore in education because students’ feedback is very valuable and usually better targets the needs of other students. This is why Google Doc is an interesting tool; it provides a concrete collaborative approach online that focus on the importance of a good writing process and how major problems can be avoided by receiving feedback directly on students’ assignments.

YouTube as a Tool for Collaborative Learning

‘‘More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month. ’’ (http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html). Youtube is the most popular website for sharing videos online and is part of students’ Web 2.0 habits.  Why not take advantage of that opportunity for educational purposes?

YouTube gives students freedom of speech and allows them to influence or impact viewers who come from everywhere in the world with the creation of a video. However, there is an ambiguity. ‘‘Because of YouTube’s ad hoc epistemological structure, the site is much more likely to reinforce stereotypes than to encourage critical thinking appropriate to the classroom’’ (http://learningthroughdigitalmedia.net/youtube-pedagogy-finding-communities-of-practice-in-a-distributed-learning-world).  For instance, YouTube follows the principle of popularity, so the most watched content does not reflect necessarily educational purposes. It is controlled by mass culture, which reinforces stereotypes and norms of the virtual community. As a teacher, it is absolutely crucial to be aware of the rhetoric of community norms, because they are selective of the content that will appear as significant and YouTube is not designed primarily for displaying academic content.

Youtube stays a very useful tool to put online lessons or tutorials. It enables students and teachers to create short videos about specific aspects of their course such as problem solving or grammar. Students benefit from this opportunity to learn or to study independently and outside of the traditional classroom context. For example, this original and pertinent tutorial gives the viewer the freedom to choose what content he wants to explore by clicking on the person directly in the video, which creates a personalized and meaningful learning output ‘‘(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrsdLou4IeU#t=12)’’. This is very pertinent, because students provide opportunities for learning and practicing class material to other students who are not necessarily enrolled in the same school. Meaningful tutorials intended to other students reinforce the principle of collaborative learning Web 2.0. In fact, the collaborative approach emphasized by the Québec  Ministry of Education increases through the use of social and sharing networks like YouTube.

‘‘The concept of social learning is the creation of understanding through interaction. Social learning focuses on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ of education and emphasizes the need for students to be able to participate in study groups and the interchange of knowledge’’ (http://www.academia.edu/906679/USING_YOUTUBE_AS_AN_INNOVATIVE_TOOL_FOR_COLLABORATIVE_LEARNING_AT_UNDERGRADUATE_LEVEL_IN_TERTIARY_EDUCATION). YouTube therefore provides the explanation of the ”how” through the academic tutorials that are reinforced by meaningful social interaction. For instance, the Net Generation is considered social, experimental and team-oriented, which reflects a need to experiment learning by doing with the help of social support. Socialization with YouTube is primarily done by sharing videos, but also by leaving comments underneath the videos. It is not mandatory to create an account in order to watch the content of YouTube. However, it is necessary in order to comment or to like and dislike content. In a classroom context, students can discuss the work done by their peers, or simply post and debate about any significant topic by creating personal profiles on YouTube. In addition, the teacher can select different educational videos related to the same topic and regroup them on a Play List in order to organize the educational material.

At King’s College and Rowan University, the ‘‘Youtube Project’’ was a real success with the students.  Teachers emphasized that ‘‘Learners need to be actively engaged in processing information, to transfer it from short-term memory to long-term memory, and recall of information is facilitated when the learned material is encoded in some way’’ (http://journals.cluteonline.com/index.php/TLC/article/view/1110/1094). Consequently, YouTube becomes a very useful tool to emphasize long-term memory with the collaborative task of creating a video and making it public. Students who work together in this project are motivated by the same goal of sharing their particular point of view on a topic addressed in the classroom. YouTube becomes a tool to enhance collaborative learning with the video task, which develops creativity, awareness and confidence among students. They become alert citizens with a footprint to share to the world.

Moreover, Youtube is new pedagogical tool for teachers to explore because ‘‘Using YouTube videos allows for authentic material to be used in L2 courses, in order to work on signal decoding and meaning-building’’(http://ictrev.ecml.at/Portals/1/documents/Using_YouTube_in_class.pdf).  In an English classroom context, the development of the target language is essential. When showing videos that are only in L2, students can benefit from that opportunity to improve their communicative competence by listening to the right pronunciation of words in the video. Students appreciate to learn content through the lens of a camera, because they are used to watch television and to have access to a computer in their personal lifestyle. In addition, videos are a lot more interactive and dynamic than the explanation of the teacher alone, which represents a new meaningful learning style. However, to be able to use YouTube in a classroom, schools must have internet connection, speakers, and LCD projectors. This depends upon the factor of budget, and differs from one school to another. When a teacher uses YouTube, he must be conscious about the possibility of having problems with Internet connection, speakers or the projector itself. This is why teachers need to always have a plan B if they intend to use YouTube for educational purposes, and should test it beforehand.

In conclusion, even if personal profiles created on YouTube become icons for publicity campaigns to recognize what are viewers’ interests, YouTube is still a powerful tool for education. For instance, students can share tutorials and videos that they created for a particular educational task. In this perspective, YouTube becomes a tool for students to be present and to have an influence on a worldwide virtual scale. It also enhances collaborative learning both virtually and in a school context, because they work in teams to accomplish the task of creating a video project and they comment or discuss other videos made by their peers on YouTube directly. Teachers provide appealing and authentic audiovisual material when showing videos that are relevant to the course. All in all, the teacher must expect students to get easily distracted because of the predominance of entertainment and popularity on YouTube and it is his responsibility to keep them on track.