Whether you have one computer and an Internet connection or a lab filled with computers, you can use an Internet Teaching Station (ITS) -- a computer and large screen monitor or television connected to the Internet -- conduct writing activities with your class.
One Computer and an Internet Connection in the Classroom
In 1998, it was common to have only one computer in the classroom with a phone line and modem and no Internet access in the computer lab. For people who have far more options in 2004, this example is instructive of how you can use the Internet to create dynamic projects even with limited resources.
In the situation described, a teacher had two basic choices: (a) have students write individual stories and share the computer across 20-30 students or (b) write some type of collaborative story.
“The Oil Spill Mystery” that Barbara Schlulz and I created represented one possible solution to such a challenge. Mrs. Schulz had only one Internet connection. she had no Internet access in the computer lab. She did have a television monitor to connect to the computer so she was able to create an Internet Teaching Station to use in classroom. She primarily used the Internet as a communications medium between the students and me when we communicated online. In addition they all used the Internet for research.
The secret to the success of “The Oil Spill Mystery” was innovative classroom management. Barbara divided her students into six collaborative groups. One group was primarily responsible for research, a second group created math facts, a third group wrote the rough copy, a fourth became web designers, a fifth wrote the email messages to students helping us online, and a sixth was made up of students with artistic talents who handled the artwork for the story. Barbara could have rotated the students between the groups to give them experience with the responsibilities associated with each part of the project.
The ITS had two critical functions. It was used for communicating with the online writer and it was used by the entire classroom as an ‘interactive' projection system for making decisions about the writing-in-progress.
The ITS did much more than the overhead projector. The computer attached to the television automatically saved everything being entered into the system while the decisions were taking place.
Using the system also allowed the students and the teacher to jump on the Internet to help resolve any debates about ideas presented.
In Mrs. Schulz's classroom, the students first divided into collaborative groups according to the tasks outlined above.
While those tasks became the groups' primary responsibilities at strategic points in the semester, all of the students were actively writing throughout the project.The writing committee built the story after active discussion with the rest of the class. The stories were then presented back to the class for comment on the ITS.
Barbara had the option of discussing sentence structure and grammar, as well as the story, during these class-wide presentations. Because students were working on a common story, Mrs. Schulz could now either relate to individuals in very small groups or use the material as part of her daily lesson plans for the entire classroom.
The ITS plays a very important role in such classroom decision-making, such as determining the next step or scene in the story. You could also rotate the use of the ITS, so that each collaborative group gets a turn using it for a brainstorming and planning session. This allows 4-6 students to use the ITS as a data entry and projection system. Students could work through most decisions with pencil and paper in classroom sessions, but this more efficient procedure puts the electronic notepad and paper in front of the entire group, instead of in the hands of only one of the students.
After the students come to agreement on their brainstorming ideas, either electronically or on paper, each group can then enter its brainstorming ideas into an online journal, a blog or a writing space like the ones you will find in our online writing centers on the Writer's Corner.
The class can then (a) select the ideas they most want to use from the brainstorming sessions and (b) move the key ideas into a planning section in their online journals.
Students can enter the information either interactively in front of their classmates or offline for later viewing.
Make contact with the computer lab teacher and coordinate the project and your curriculum with him or her. If you have at least four Internet connections in the lab and if your students meet in the lab once a week, consider scheduling each group of four separately, using the four online computers. That way each group can actually meet online to write.
It may take some juggling of schedules with the lab teacher, to allow all groups to get a chance to meet their teammates in and online chat. If the whole lab is connected to the Internet, then this online writing can happen every time the class goes into the lab. You can then ‘capture' their chat sessions in logs and review them along with their brainstorming ideas and planning notes.
Excerpted from, Ost,
John and Barbara
Online, Learning in an Electronic Writing Space,
Beaumont Publishing Ltd., 1999, pgs. 49-50. I've modified
the text slightly to eliminate all web links no longer
active and also made the narrative more of a first-person
narrative by the authors.