Sunday, 17 June 2007

Which tool for an international school project?

We have applied for EU funding for a two-year project with a Spanish partner school. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will show us the green light in August!

If we are lucky, the next question will be: which on-line tools to use? I have used Moodle for the last two years. It’s OK, it has many useful features, and it is a secure space. Yet, Moodle looks a bit dull and unattractive - especially as we get to use it through another school district, and we can’t customize the basic settings of the page. What’s more, when a project is finished, we need to disseminate the results, and we want to share what we’ve done on the net, which spells more work in the form of designing a webpage. This is why I am now looking into other more flexible options that would be, at least partly public, on the net all through the process.
Last year we did a mammoth project with almost 300 students in 14 different schools around Europe and Asia. Although Moodle worked fairly well for the management, it was simply too big. The discussion forums were the best learning spaces for students, I thought, but I find uploading any files or pictures on Moodle rather cumbersome. Also with so many participants and not enough communication with all the teachers, I ended up keeping the strings tightly in my hands and managed the site on my own. I was afraid of somebody else accidentally deleting something crucial or basically messing it all up somehow. I must admit I am often too controlling with teacher partners I don’t know that well and have never met f2f… We didn’t really get into any true student collaboration during that project. Work was done in each school separately and then students got together in the discussion forum to share their ideas.

Next year, as there will only be two schools, and I know the Spanish teacher well after several projects together, I would like to venture into new areas and aim at enhancing collaboration between the students. As far as I have understood, a wiki would be a good tool for this. I have looked at some school wikis, but I must say I am not yet quite sure how it is supposed to work. Eg. can all the participating students have a username for identification, how about all the security issues, how to ensure that students understand all the copyright regulations, what to do to prevent just anyone out there changing what’s been created on the wiki etc. etc. etc? I have also thought about blogs, although to me they don’t seem to be quite as flexible for collaboration as the wikis.

It is a totally new concept for me to even think about an open, public forum to manage such a project. I used to think that school projects should be as carefully protected as possible, with registration done by teachers, entering the platform with approved usernames and passwords only and so on. After some research on the net this summer I am beginning to see the value of the new interactive tools that web2.0 offers.

But, but, but… I still have my doubts and reservations. I hope that somebody out there might read this and give me some advice. Any examples of clear modules to teach students about being responsible users of the net, for example? Anyone who’s done international school projects and used Moodle/blog/wiki and could give constructive comparisons of the three? I am also wondering how many problems would publishing pictures or videos including students create?

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