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Real Life Stories

Published February 27, 2011 | Multidisciplinary

Netvibes: A Tool to Focus Attention during Inquiry-based Learning

Hello, my name is Silvia and I am a recovering lectureaholic. For several years I have wanted to incorporate active learning strategies into my teaching of Biology. However, in a traditional classroom set up with a podium in front and students sitting in long rows facing the front, I always resorted to lecturing.

Last semester, I decided to place myself (and my students) in an environment in which lecturing would be difficult (a computer lab) and used a form of problem-based learning (PBL) promoted by Yves Mauffette at UQAM (in French). Basically, I created 5-member teams of students and after briefly introducing the topic for the day, challenged the students to collaborate on completing a set of activities on the topic. As they worked on the challenge, using their text book, materials prepared by me (including learning objectives), and electronic resources, they learned the required material. This worked for many of the students, especially those that were both motivated and able to focus on synthesizing multiple sources of information into a coherent response. However, I had to continuously circulate among the groups (somewhat like a sheepdog) and channel their attention to the relevant information. That is, I had to help them deal with information-overload.

While I was reflecting on this problem, I discovered a video by Dr. Michael Wesch in which he described how he uses social media to teach students anthropology, media literacy, and critical thinking.

Lecture given at U of Manitoba by Dr. Michael Wesch on how and why he uses social media to teach anthropology at Kansas State University.

One of the tools he uses is a portal or dashboard to aggregate the information sources, tools, and RSS feeds relevant to his large University class on anthropology. I zoomed in on the video frame and saw the footnote powered by Netvibes. So I googled Netvibes, and found dashboarding. A digital dashboard is an interface consisting of user-defined windows which collect and present resources to viewers. So I decided to use Netvibes to create a dynamic portal for my course for next semester.

The dashboard contains two tabs (pages).

The General tab contains 6 windows.

Dashboard of the General tab

  1. The Course Calendar contains links to each class' activities and documents which can be downloaded by student.
  3. The Our Work Space links to the social media workspace (Open Text Social Media) we are using at Dawson College. This is a secure space requiring a login. Students can create Communities, join pre-existing Communities, and work collaboratively on wiki's and documents. 
  4. The Today's Suggested Links contains links that are useful in completing the activities for this class.
  5. The Video Player and Playlist contains videos that are relevant for the class. In some cases the activity on a given classes, explicitly states that students should view the video and collectively summarize it, critique it, etc.
  6. The Power Point Video is a video of any Power Point slides I may have used to introduce the class.
  7. The Class Web Site contains the web site for my course which students can use as a resource to complete the activities. It also contains the learning objectives for each topic that can help students focus on what "I" think is important.

I presently hold a PAREA grant, Learners not Lurkers, in which we are working on adding "an engine" that will dynamically populate the windows with the content that is linked to the date selected on the calendar. In this way, students will be able to review or anticipate classes. At present, it has to be populated manually for each class.

The Tools tab contains tools that the student may find useful. For example, Search engines for Web and Videos, a To Do List, A Web Note application, and a Practice Test. It also includes a Clicker Questions window which connects to the Turning Point ad-on to Power Point (if it is on the computer) which allows me to poll the students on their conceptual understanding and display the results immediately.

Presently, the dashboard is a work in progress. It has been shown to a number of faculty and students who find it Cool. I will be using it next semester and will have feedback from teachers and students on its usefulness. I fully expect that it will provide teachers and students with the security and focus to venture out and explore alternate ways of learning.

Click here to go to my dashboard and "take it for a spin". I encourage you to go to Netvibes and explore this as a tool for your classes. I also encourage you to comment on this article as well as on your experiences "shaping" student-centered approaches.

2 comment(s)

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    Rafael Scapin wrote November 22, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    Congratulations Silvia on the nice and interesting article. It's so great to see teachers using new tools to improve their classes!

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    Elizabeth Charles wrote November 22, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Silvia, Thanks for sharing your experiences with implementing PBL in your classroom. And, showing how we can be creative in finding a solution to issues related to the less than optimal classroom design many find themselves in (i.e., desks in long rows).


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