Sunday, June 4, 2017

Highlights from NerdCampNJ: Part 2

Apologies for the delay in posting part 2! The end of the school year is so busy!

We also greatly enjoyed Kate Baker’s session on using technology to promote and assess student engagement with texts. Her quick, hands-on tutorials and models for using GoFormative, EDpuzzle, and ActivelyLearn have inspired us to try them out and share them with others!

All three of the tools enable teachers to embed the kinds of discussion prompts alongside a text that we advocate in our model for supporting student success with informational texts. All three also allow students to annotate texts as they read, view, or listen. And because we always advocate the use of multimedia texts, we of course liked how EDpuzzle allows teachers to embed questions and comments in videos at various stopping points that they determine. However, it was ActivelyLearn that particularly caught our attention.

ActivelyLearn allows teachers to embed questions and comments throughout single or multiple texts included in an assignment. Comments might be used to draw student attention to a particular text feature and/or direct students to turn and talk with a partner about some aspect of the text. Questions that teachers embed in the reading must be answered before a student can continue with the reading.

Students can also annotate and post questions or comments about the text as they read, even indicating parts of the text that they are struggling with. Teachers can immediately view the responses students have submitted, give feedback on them, and have students revise them if so desired. The paid version of the platform even includes a GoogleDocs add-on that allows students to import content from both readings and their own responses in ActivelyLearn directly into a GoogleDoc!

ActivelyLearn also struck us as a great platform for cross-disciplinary collaborative assignments or projects. The model that Kate shared with us, a unit created to support students in writing a research paper on the attainability of the American Dream throughout history, included a variety of informational and literary texts (see screenshot). 

Using Kate’s model as an example, an English teacher and a history teacher could have students read and annotate specific texts during their respective classes within the collaboratively created assignment. Students could then draw from all of their work in the ActivelyLearn assignment to create some kind of cross-disciplinary project.

One thing that Kate also noted during the session was the fact that smaller tech companies like ActivelyLearn (as opposed to, say, Google!) are very responsive to teacher interest and feedback. We experienced this ourselves when we asked, through Kate, about the collaboration functionality in ActivelyLearn. Natalie from ActivelyLearn responded the same day and confirmed that teachers on the paid team and school plans can collaborate by sharing and tweaking each other’s assignments and also by co-authoring lessons together. (With the free plan, teachers would have to share an account in order to create a lesson together.) We will be looking for an opportunity to try this out. If you are able to do so, please let us know how it goes!