One brief note about the slide deck: There are a few slides at the end that deal with Zotero, which we put after our contact information knowing that time would likely be tight and we wouldn’t get to those slides. So, if you’re perusing through the slides and wondering about that odd addendum, that’s the answer. If you are interested in Zotero — which I strongly encourage you to check out, particularly if you’re an upper school or university-level teacher (or a student at one of those levels) — take a look at their website, which has a number of nice tutorials and explanation videos.
The session was ultimately a success, which is primarily attributable to Russ’ organization and preparation — he conceived and organized a great session, and I was thrilled when he asked me to collaborate and help present and share some of my insights about using these tools (Diigo, Google Reader, Zotero) in the upper school context. Moreover, the audience, whose questions, comments, and willingness to share their resources and experiences, also made the presentation a success and helped drive the conversation in a number of interesting directions.
As I’d hoped, many of the participants’ questions get me thinking about how I use these tools in my own classroom and how I go about structuring research projects. In particular, the question of what forms, other than the traditional (which I took to mean argumentative essay), could one’s research take, got me thinking about how I could integrate additional (and likely smaller-scale) research projects into my class that wouldn’t culminate with writing. I’ve dabbled a bit with Voicethread and using Flip Cameras to record and present arguments visually and aurally, and this is something I’ll strive to continue exploring in this upcoming school year.
The other question that I’m still mulling over dealt with how we as teachers assess students’ research process and the material that they make transparent via Diigo’s notes. While I’ve typically seen this process as a completion-grade assessment (e.g. I’ve assigned you to take 15 notes over three different sources and you either did it or didn’t), this assessment could also be qualitative and assess how well those students took notes. Are their highlights pertinent? Are their annotations addressing the key materials?
Alternatively, it is also interesting to consider whether an element of peer-review could be brought into the research process as we have students evaluate one another’s annotations and provide feedback. Obviously the challenge with this approach is time and finding a way to integrate that step in what is often a harried process. Not only will this step require time for the students to comment on each other’s work, but it will also require time to talk about how to assess and evaluate a good note and annotation versus one that isn’t as strong. These are important and worthwhile conversations to have, but we also have to address the reality of deadlines and the host of external factors that push us to consistently move forward with our curricula.
While I love Diigo’s ability to make research transparent to other students and the teachers, I still think students largely see the process and its end result as an individual product. Therefore, I suspect that students might be resistant to assessing their classmates’ research as they’ll feel that doing so is taking away from their limited time to work on their own research project.
Ultimately, as a graduate student who still embarks on research projects, I sympathize with this sentiment as I think about allocating my own time to reading, research, synthesis, and writing. As a deadline bears down toward the end of the semester, I have to admit that, no, I really don’t want to read all my peers’ work. Perhaps that’s just my inherently parsimonious nature. Or, perhaps my attitude about that would change if the end result that came from research were more varied (e.g. beyond the essay). Needless to say, that issue (like most that I think about re: teaching, assessment, research, and the like) remains unresolved and is one with which I’ll have to continue grappling.
So, in short, thanks to all those who attended and participated. And thanks again to Russ for inviting me to co-present and to Christopher Rogers and Shelly Terrell for their outstanding work organizing and facilitating all these excellent Reform Symposium presentations.