Here is my final project video:
As I noted in the video, this process has been very worthwhile in spite of some hiccups.
One hiccup was students’ readiness for commenting. Some students had viewed their blog as a closed space, and were uncertain about using it as a platform for sharing ideas with their classmates. Others were hesitant to post sketches that were not polished, “finished” products. But most of the students didn’t seem to mind the idea, and once they got started they seemed to enjoy writing comments to each other and reading the responses they received. I’m sure it helped that the students already knew most of the kids they were giving feedback to in the other classes, and in many cases were friends.
As for the content of this feedback, I found that most students were able to point out specific aspects of the sketches that they felt were successful, and were able to offer suggestions for improvement in a kind and positive way. Without being explicitly told to, many students did use key vocabulary words in their comments. And students certainly took the feedback into account before moving on to the next stage of their projects. Still, a number of students did post somewhat vague comments, so I think further discussion and practice giving feedback will be needed.
Another issue was timing. It took longer than expected to have students set up categories for each course and tag their posts correctly, which needed to be done before I could set up the links on each website. And students’ level of familiarity with blog features varied, with a surprising number of kids not seeming to realize that comments needed to be approved before they could be viewed by others.
Still, I did gain a much clearer picture of each student’s level of understanding and skill than I do with face-to-face peer feedback sessions, and I think it will be good for students to be able to go back and review the paths they took to reach the finished product—and to be able to show that process to others.
I am planning to continue this process, with some changes. Next time I will have students set up their blog categories at the very beginning of the semester, so I can get the structure in place before the feedback sessions need to happen. I will also have them take a break from the first project to sketch ideas for the second and post them to their blogs. That way, there will be time to give and receive feedback without the time pressure we experienced this semester—where students were waiting for other classes to comment before they could start working on their final project in earnest.
Next time I will also engage students in discussion around the concept that blogs are meant to be read by others, perhaps tied into the idea of digital footprints. I will also give explicit instruction on how commenting works. I will try having students narrow the focus of their feedback to a specific element or principle of art. And on a technical note, I will make sure students outline their sketches with a marker before photographing them, to make sure the pictures show up well on-screen; it was hard to see the ones that were just drawn in pencil.
I will encourage my colleagues in the middle school to try this with their students. I think it would work well for most subject areas, and I think the more the students engage in this sort of activity, the more comfortable and skillful they will become. I have already shared my experience with some of my colleagues, and I am planning to post this to the faculty Learning Hub for others to see.
Next year I am planning to take the feedback to the next level, and do a blog-commenting exchange with a school in India based around our 7th grade Hiroshima trip and their school’s Peace Week. Now that I have been through it once with all of my classes, I have a much better idea of how to make it work.
All in all, I would say this process was definitely worth the time and effort it took, and it did allow me to meet my goals. This type of peer-to-peer feedback between classes would not have been possible without the technology, and I would not have been able to get as clear of a picture of students’ learning as I did. I learned a lot, and I think the kids learned a lot too.
As for COETAIL as a whole, I would say the same thing–it was hard work, but it was worth the time and effort. I am much more aware of issues surrounding 21st-century education than I used to be, and I am better informed about areas such as copyright, privacy and censorship than I was a year ago. I also feel that I have an expanded sense of what is possible and a lot of new ideas that I can use in my teaching practice. Not only that, but I have gotten to know a variety of great educators from schools all over Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama. Their feedback and contributions to class discussions have been invaluable.
Thank you so much, Kim! And thank you to all of my instructors and classmates. COETAIL has been a really practical, relevant and inspiring learning experience for me.