Cloud Computing | Feature

Creating an Interactive Classroom

An Iowa high school teacher is using cloud technology to encourage collaboration among students.

Sharon Padget remembers a time when her high school science students drew out concept maps by hand, on paper. The exercise--which found pupils drawing diagrams illustrating the relationships among concepts--was highly individual, and involved little or no collaboration between students.

"I gave them feedback and then handed back their papers," said Padget, a science teacher at Ottumwa High School in Ottumwa, Iowa. Already using Inspiration Software's visual learning tool, Padget tested the vendor's Web-based product, Webspiration Classroom, with the aim of making classroom projects more interactive.

Putting Collaborative Software into Practice
Using the online writing, visual thinking and collaboration tool, students create their concept maps on computer screens, and the hit the program's "collaborate" button to share their work with the rest of the class.

For a recent unit on genetics, for example, Padget had students look up definitions for a list of difficult vocabulary words online or in their textbooks, and then map that information using Webspiration.

When students hit their "collaborate" buttons, Padget was able to review the students' work and provide feedback via the Web-based solution. Pupils then revisited their work, collaborated with one another to come up with the correct answers, and then resubmitted their concept maps to their instructor for a second look.

"As soon as they press the collaborate button, I'm able to look at their progress and offer instant feedback," said Padget. "If I don't understand the connections they've made between the concepts, for example, I'll point it out and have them go back and rethink their maps while the students are working on them."

Classroom and Small Group Collaboration
Because her classroom is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, Padget can also collaborate with her entire class at one time or with a small group of students who are working together on specific projects. Padget said the setup encourages students to put their heads together online and in the classroom--a far cry from the days when pupils toiled over their individual papers and projects.

"We've done assignments as an entire class, with every student coming up to the whiteboard and contributing to the projects," said Padget. "Once we hit the 'collaborate' button and select all students as participants, everyone has a copy of exactly what we did in class."

Cloud technology also works for smaller groups. "I've had pupils sitting side-by-side, looking at the same concept map online, and discussing what could be included or removed from the project," said Padget, who added that while the collaborative solution is based online, it goes a long way in stoking increased classroom discussion over scientific ideas, vocabulary words, and other concepts.

Padget said her department switched over to the Web-based system specifically for its collaborative qualities. If two students are working together on a class project--and if one of them is absent--then the other one can continue working. And because the software resides online, it can be accessed from anywhere.

"This isn't something that students need to take home with them; they can work on it from their own computers or their parents' laptops," said Padget, who likes being able to quickly evaluate student progress online. She uses the solution for formative assessments, and to tell whether or not students can show mastery of certain topics.

"It's a pretty powerful classroom tool," said Padget, "that gives us yet one more option for determining whether the kids are 'getting it' or not. We can act quickly to work with those that need more help, while allowing others to work ahead."

Padget hasn't faced any significant challenges using the online program but said a lack of adequate technology could make it difficult for some teachers to utilize the hosted solution to the degree that she does. With eight computers in her classroom and access to 24 additional PCs plus another 24 Macs in a computer lab, Padget said, getting multiple students online at the same time during class is fairly simple.

She advised other instructors to line up the infrastructure before attempting a collaborative solution in their own classrooms.

"Not all schools have the computers and Internet access that we do," said Padget. "That's definitely something to take into consideration if you want a smooth experience that engages all of your students effectively."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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