Posted on March 29, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
While I’ve written about the benefits of using comics with students before, I thought I’d outline several sites that allow students to create professional looking comics without needing email addresses or requiring students to create user names. In fact, all of these sites allow students to create comics without providing any personal information at all. This can be really beneficial in protecting students identities online but it also creates some inconveniences. The sites do not allow students to collaborate with peers on their comic creations and do not permit the work to be saved to be revised later. Do not be discouraged, however. Each of these sites offer loads of features to create comics and provide rich educational experiences for students.
If you’re debating whether you should use comics as a form of assessment with your students, consider all of the different skills and talents that students have to draw upon when they write a comic. Besides selecting images and backgrounds, students write scripts that convey the mood and storyline of the comic. I read an article in Wired magazine a few years ago that challenged conventional views of student writing. While some scholars bemoan that students are writing less than ever, Clive Thompson argues that we need to expand what we count as “writing.” When you consider all of the different forms of writing that our students do (texting, blogging, emails, etc), Thomspon writes, students are writing more than ever. The Internet (and sites that allow comic creating) offers exciting new opportunities for students to write and express themselves.
Lego City Comic Builder
Want to create a single or multiple frame comic with Lego characters as the central figures? Check out this site from Lego City. It’s really easy to use and offers several different backgrounds, characters and accessories so students can create a variety of different stories. Check out this mini-comic I created to promote the 8 Blog.
Marvel Create Your Own Comic
This site features many of the Marvel characters (Iron Man, Spiderman, etc) and offers a variety of villains for students to stage their own battles. With the latest comic book and super hero craze hitting America, the site would be a great way to engage students and motivate them to do some writing.
Make Beliefs Comix
While this site does not have Marvel or Lego supporting it, Make Beliefs Comix is a really strong application. It offers twenty different characters each with a variety of poses. The site does not offer many background choices (only colors) and only provides a handful of objects. While some may see this lack of features as a downside, it may actually help to focus students solely on the writing process. Here is an example of a comic I created using Make Beliefs Comix.
This resource from the folks at ReadWriteThink is supported by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English and receives funding from Verizon. Unlike the other sites featured in this post, the focus of Comic Creator is much more on education. The site offers suggestions for using Comic Creator with different grade levels and provides scaffolds and prompts to help students with their creations. While it may lack some of the flash of the Marvel and Lego sites, it is definitely a useful resource even if only to obtain comic integration ideas to use with other sites.
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Posted on March 22, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
Last week, Google announced the addition of Discussions into their Google Docs suite. In addition to the other collaboration features (chat, comments, etc), Discussions now gives users the ability to have threaded conversations about their documents. Each Discussion thread gets time-stamped and includes profile pictures which helps to foster more authentic communication between editors in a document. The other nice feature is that users can set up email notifications with Discussions so that they can be alerted when someone has contributed to a discussion thread. Sadly, the Discussion feature will only appear in new documents that you create in Google Docs. I was hoping that the feature would be supported in existing document files but it will only be available in the new documents that you create. To see a short demonstration on the new Discussions feature in Google Docs, check out the tutorial below.
If you haven’t used Google Docs before, you need to. While I’ve been a long-time user of the free Office suite and I’ve written about Google Docs before, I still find Google Docs amazing, especially for educational purposes. With Google Docs, I can assign a collaborative assignment for my students and they can interact and contribute in real time with one another. I can monitor the Revision History to track who has contributed to the document and identify each student’s individual contributions. Now with the Discussions feature, I can see the conversations that students have as they’re working on their assignment and see what areas they’re struggling with. Besides offering more communication options for users, the Discussions feature gives educators more opportunities to assess student understanding and monitor their learning.
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Posted on March 8, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
“Meet the students where they are.” I’ve heard and said that phrase numerous times over the last few weeks and it appears to becoming a central part of the teaching and learning dialogue. While some may misinterpret the phrase and believe that it advocates for dumbing down the curriculum or reducing standards, I see it as a call for educators to be more aware of the students with whom they work. We need to understand our students’ learning styles, their culture, their prior knowledge and the tools they use. While many of us might believe that we teach content, we really teach students. If we’re motivated to promote student learning, we as educators need to know a lot about our students and be prepared to meet the students “where they are” educationally.
Besides asking us to be knowledgeable of the students with whom we work, the phrase is also a call for us to incorporate new teaching techniques that can tap into students’ cultural backgrounds and their talents. StudyBoost is one tool that can help educators accomplish this. StudyBoost allows educators and students to create study questions online that can be sent through instant messaging, through text services or even through Facebook. It works like this: A student sets up a free account and then creates some study questions. After setting up their preferred messaging system and scheduling their questioning, the student will start receiving questions. The student can set up their timing specifications so they receive a question every hour or numerous questions through-out the day. They can even set a scheduled cram session right before an exam. The best part is that the questions can be shared with others. This feature allows an educator to create a batch of questions and share with an entire class. StudyBoost is a great way for an educator to “meet their students where they are” and help them interact with content in ways in which they’re familiar. For some help getting started, check out the following video:
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Posted on March 1, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
The Internet is flooded with free stuff. Look around and you’ll find a multitude of applications and sites that offer all kinds of content for free. But the model has been changing recently and sites that were once free are beginning to charge. Hulu and Ning are great examples of this. Both sites offered their services at no charge but found that they could not support their work on advertising alone. So, the sites (and many others) moved to subscription based models where users had to pay to use the site which drove some loyal people away.
In the present economic climate, however, you rarely hear about for-pay sites suddenly becoming free. Wikispaces has just made this almost unprecedented move. After years of offering free wikis to K-12 institutions, Wikispaces is now offering free private wikis for Higher Education users. Now, to be completely fair to Wikispaces, they’ve always offered free wikis to educators working in colleges and universities. These free wikis, however, could only be public or protected, meaning that they were either totally open for anyone to edit or open only to select editors. Either way, however, the content on the wikis was open and viewable by the general public. In a private wiki, users need to log-in before they can even view the content on the site. This offers a degree of privacy and security for those of us who want students to be able to contribute and collaborate in a wiki. With a private wiki, students won’t have to worry whether the whole world is watching while they complete their work. The move to free wikis for higher education will save the average educator about $60 for every private wiki they manage through Wikispaces. To date, Wikispaces has given away more than 400,000 free wikis to educators, which will only continue to grow now that they’re offering free options to both collegiate and K-12 institutions.
For those of you who might be new to wikis, be sure to check out my blog post from last summer where I explained the educational value of wikis as well as some applications. There’s even a great video from the In Plain English folks which will help explain wikis conceptually.
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