I use a great many websites to teach. I do so as I’m focussed on preparing my students to think critically in a world that finds content everywhere, digital, experiential, even emotional. There is no analog vs. digital, just life, in all its messy glory.
Still, I always imagine my digital tools are going to organize themselves in ways I find useful. Hubris, my friends.
Two quick examples: TurnItIn let’s me set up Peer Reviews, which offers marked improvement over the “everyone bring 3 copies, one for me and two for your review partners” days of yore. In that world, only one copy would show, students would spend 5 days emailing back and forth, and I’d be referring grades for non-compliance. Now, the student finishes the draft, uploads it once, and the exchange part is taken care of. Except, when, say I tell the software to automatically assign two papers to each student to review and it only assigns one. Or I want to modify the peer review and I can’t because the assignment date I set has passed. Some of these issues are technical and some user error, but all of them have yet another learning curve for effective teaching.
Another learning curve is happening right now with my world 2 class. They’re building exhibits using Omeke.net. I’m proud of the work they’re doing. However, a minor technical issue results in students who want to modify the site to make it better, but can’t because I can’t give them permission to do so without letting them also delete other student’s work. TurnItIn and Omeka are teaching me that the only way to actually have a community of learners is to have a community first, built on trust, and not on a benevolent digital dictator. I’m not going to go soft, start passing out gold stars and hugs for rubbish work. But the more structured learning software gets, the more I’m convinced that “open” isn’t just a technical feature, it’s a philosophy that takes time to consider and apply.