Wednesday 9 March 2011

Collaborative research using

Having been alerted to this website via my Twitter PLN a few weeks ago, I have been waiting for an opportunity to use this to support teaching and learning.  Having already explained in a previous post that I am not one to try something new just for the sake of it, I waited for an appropriate lesson and class to trial this collaborative website. allows groups of people (in my case students) to work on one document at the same time, recording ideas, answers, research in real time.  With an extremely similar appearance to Word, a Pad is intuitively easy to use.  Having set up my account and assigned myself an individual site address, I then began to play around with the site myself, investigating the best ways in which the documents could be shared; giving the unique URL to the students to copy into their browser, e-mailing it through Titanpad or even assigning the URL through Frog, our VLE, in the same way as we would any resource.  Initially I decided on the first way for the time being.

For many years now I have watched, led and taught students to undertake research, sometimes individually or in groups and across the whole range of curriculum subjects, but all seemingly with very similar outcomes.  Great swathes of information cut and pasted into Word with little or no understanding, flashy PowerPoints with little relevant subject content and scrappy pieces of paper with scribbled notes.  Working in a Cooperative Trust school I now frequently observe excellent examples of cooperative and collaborative research; our specially adapted Sage, Scribe, Serf, Crusader model can be seen across the school, but I was looking for a way in which we could improve the quality of our research, how it is transcribed into note form and then retained for future use, e.g. coursework or timed assessment purposes.

I chose to trial Titanpad with an able Year 7 class in Humanities as part of their preparation towards meeting the author, Paul Dowswell.  As they were focusing on his novel Auslander and linking this to a recently studied topic on the Holocaust, I asked the students to work in cooperative groups and to record their research on a Pad; set up in advance and the URL given out as part of the task.

All went well at first.  The Year 7 students thought that this was a great way of recording their group's research.  They worked out for themselves that it made sense to subtitle their work, e.g. Name of student's group which ensured that their work was kept separate from others.  They loved the idea that each group/user was automatically allocated a different font colour so they could record their research quickly and easily.  It was all going too well.  The subject teacher was also excited and was given a brief demo on how to set up as a user etc.

Suddenly from across the LRC there was a call "Who has deleted my work?"  Uh - oh.  It transpired that one student had managed to delete all the class's work.  Instead of wasting time trying to find the culprit, I asked the students to begin again which they did willingly, possibly because it was a new piece of web 2.0 technology for them.   However a few pertinant instructions on the importance of saving their research as they went along didn't go amiss, although seeing all their work disappear before their eyes was certainly an inducement in this case.  I was then alerted to the comments springing up in the Chat sidebar; an unfortunate addition from a classroom point of view perhaps, but one which could be used productively.  The allocation of different font colours to each user helped me to identify those groups engaging in chat rather than research and a reminder that their chat would be forever immortalized on Miss's Titanpad account.

By the end of the lesson however each cooperative group had successfully completed their research task and I had an online Pad with an entire class's work in one place.  No scrappy pieces of paper or e-mails to have to read through; it was all on one document with different font colours identifying individual users so I could see at a glance if and how the lesson's learning outcomes had been achieved.  The ability to then export the Pad as a Word document, PDF etc is also useful.  This ensures that a Pad, collaboratively produced by a class, can be then used for individual study purposes; this negates the actions of those students who may not have fully participated in the lesson.

In conclusion?
A piece of Web 2 technology which I will certainly use again for collaborative research and indeed I have now created a Pad for a Year 9 GCSE science research lesson on Intensive Farming and the LRC Manager is using a Pad at her next book group meeting to record questions for Paul Dowswell . The ability to delete other students' work will hopefully encourage greater online social responsibility amongst students particularly as we, as a school, move further down the Web 2.0 road.  The possibilities for peer marking and editing are also intriguing.