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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Education and Technology:
Serendip's Experiences 1994-2004

Expanding the Conversation

Serendip was founded ten years ago in part as "a continually developing set of resources to explore and support intellectual and social change in education ...". Over the past decade, Serendip has been involved in an extended (and continuing) process of "trying out things" to see how the web can be used in education as have many others. This section of reflections on education and technology contains materials contributed by others reflecting on their own experiences.

Alice Lesnick, of the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program, is evolving her own approach to opportunities made available by the web. Her thoughts here are from a period of transition from the use of Blackboard to potential increased use of open web publishing in the classroom context.

New Tools. New Learning?

Alice Lesnick
January 5, 2005

As a teacher and educational researcher, I am particularly interested in the uses of writing and collaboration to foster and extend learning. Informed by my friend and mentor Paul Connolly, who used to say before he left this world that "people should do things together in classrooms that they could not do alone," I am curious about how computer-mediated writing might enable and enrich collaborative learning - a term that, to my mind, is another name for life.

I share here an article I've written with three colleagues and former students concerning the use of synchronous "chat" to enlarge academic discourse and author disruptive curriculum concerning a canonical text. The web medium that prompted this article is Blackboard, a course management system designed to accommodate teachers and students with little interest or skill in computer-mediated learning. The article discusses how, given easy access to basic and clunky web tools, we - students and teacher - quickly and sometimes accidentally uncovered powerful resources, including synchronous collaborative writing, the capacity to archive and later analyze written conversations, and the ability to choose between immediacy and deliberation (solo and choral) in collaborative curriculum design.

In addition to the small group project documented by this article, I have used Blackboard discussion forums for several purposes in my courses. These purposes include sharing ideas and resources for career planning in a course for second semester seniors; creating an archive of what I called "rabbits for the hat" - teaching strategies useful to carry into practice; and, perhaps most important, keeping an open space for students and myself to continue class discussion and return to issues, questions, and problems not addressed fully enough during class time.

This past semester, one of the most interesting and important discussions in my introductory course took place on Blackboard. It concerned the meaning and challenge of multicultural education in relation to a particular story a student shared in class of having studied and not been helped to understand Toni Morrison's novel Beloved. The online forum provided a place for another student to return to troubling and unanswered questions concerning the meaning of misunderstanding, resistance, and responsibility in teaching complex material. At one point, I printed out and used the Blackboard discussion as a text in class and asked students to analyze it using theories and experiences under study. At semester's end, excerpts from the Blackboard discussion of this topic appeared in several students' culminating portfolios; in two it drove the entire conception of the portfolio.

Since gaining access to web-linked teaching through Bryn Mawr's and Haverford's adoption of Blackboard, I have, with Paul Grobstein's encouragement, begun using Serendip in my teaching. You could say I have graduated to Serendip (cf. Education 200 and Education 225). I already feel my earlier hold on the value of password-protected web forums for courses loosening as I look ahead to the gifts and risks of worldwide access to my and my students' words. I will close here with some questions that seem relevant to me now, looking forward to possible dialogue with others interested in these matters:

  • What does intensifying the public dimension of the classroom through the use of the Web offer students and teachers (and the rest of the world) and what does it place at risk?
  • How can shared, in-person time in classrooms gain from what people do together online?
  • What does the fact that at the moment computers on earth are directing the movements of a robot on Mars mean for the use of computer-mediated communication in education?

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