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Three Tools for Improving Student Work

Teaching with Technology

Three Tools for Improving Student Work

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So many educational technology tools, so little time. From word processing to citation tools to storyboards to blogging to graphic organizers, the list of tech tools that can potentially improve student work is extensive. Three tools, in particular, that will enhance students' work and the quality of their writing are word clouds, Voki or Tellagami speaking avatars, and Padlet, a collaborative whiteboard.

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So many educational technology tools, so little time. From word processing to citation tools to storyboards to blogging to graphic organizers, the list of tech tools that can potentially improve student work is extensive. Three tools, in particular, that will enhance students' work and the quality of their writing are word clouds, Voki or Tellagami speaking avatars, and Padlet, a collaborative whiteboard. Word clouds Word clouds are visual representations of the frequency of words in a source, such as an article. The most common words in the source appear largest, going down proportionally to the least common word. These clouds are generated by software found online such as Wordle, ABCYa!, WordItOut, Tagxedo, Jason Davies, and Tagul, just to name a few. The benefit is that seeing the most common words in a source often provides insights into major themes in the work that can help guide students' own analysis and work. In my writing comp class, I asked students to create word clouds of two articles before they began writing an analysis or synthesis essay. Some students copied the article into a word cloud generator, and others reviewed the article and decided what the key words and phrases from the article were and entered them into a word cloud generator. In class, I had students share their word clouds of the two articles side by side to think about the key concepts and similarities and differences in the articles so they could begin writing their essays. Their essays, for the most part, were better than in the past because this activity required them to think and prewrite before drafting their essays. In class, I've also used word clouds as a formative assessment for students to demonstrate that they have done the required readings before coming to class. Word clouds brighten up an online class, and I use them as introductions to a new unit or to showcase students' writing in a unique and colorful manner. Or you can use a word cloud as an assessment, asking students to identify the unit, historical document, or novel that is portrayed in the word cloud. Some educational technologies, such as Poll Everywhere, have an option now to turn students' words into clouds. If you don't know about Poll Everywhere, you should; it's an audience response poll system that uses mobile phones, twitter, and the web to improve student engagement. You can embed the polls in your presentations, and Poll Everywhere creates charts and/or word clouds of your students' responses to questions. Avatars: Voki and Tellagami Avatars are a great way to instill in students a sense of the fun of writing. Voki (http://www.voki.com) allows you to choose a character and record your own voice or use an animated voice. The character options include historical figures, animals, monsters, and cartoons, just to name a few. You can choose the background—rural, suburban, or abstract—and the character's voice—gender and accent. Voki is free for the basic version; you can upgrade for longer recording time, as well as for Voki Classroom, Voki Presenter, and Voki Teach. Tellagami (https://tellagami.com) is a similar technology although it's available only as an iOS app and has many fewer options for character and background. To improve students' writing, I've had students read back their essays as a Voki or Gami and then complete a rubric and make comments on their essays based on established criteria. This a great way to help students revise their writing; you can even ask them to attach the Voki or Gami to the essay so you can assess multiple revisions. I've also created avatars of students' written summaries and paraphrases of articles, and we've examined them as a class. Vokis and Gamis can add variety and engagement to your online courses. Instead of a written announcement to students, I have recorded my voice as a unicorn avatar to explain the directions to an assignment to keep online learners on track. I've used a sunflower avatar to summarize the key concepts expressed by students in an online discussion forum. Talking avatars are valuable tools to use for feedback, revision, and instructions. Collaborative whiteboard: Padlet Padlet (https://padlet.com) is a digital whiteboard that allows you to post text, documents, images, and videos. It's a great tool for feedback, discussion, blogging, brainstorming, sharing ideas, and assessment. Padlet is free to educators yet provides premium paid packages for schools, businesses, or individuals. Padlet has apps for both iOS and Android and can easily be used on mobile devices. In my classes, I use Padlet for prewriting, feedback, and collaboration to enhance students' writing. Before students start their research papers, I have them post their topics on a Padlet that I have created so they can view each other's topics in order to offer ideas and to share research. As a prewriting assignment, I've had students create their own Padlets to brainstorm ideas; these ideas can be text, links to articles, or images or videos related to the assignment topic. Before students leave a face-to-face class, I'll post a QR code of a Padlet and ask them to post their reflections on the topic of the day in the form of questions left unanswered, muddiest point of the day, or the concept or idea they found most surprising. If you search, there are many existing Padlets you can use in class. For example, there is an educational technology Padlet that I use when my education students study technology in classrooms. Padlet's tagline is “Welcome to the easiest way to create and collaborate in the world,” and I agree. Together or separately, these three tech tools can refresh your students' work in your online, blended, or face-to-face course. Word clouds, talking avatars, and collaborative whiteboard spaces are unique tools to encourage, enhance, and improve student work in fun, engaging, and collaborative ways. Madeline Craig, EdD, is an assistant professor of education at Molloy College.