During a poster presentation titled “Technology Tools for Project-Based Learning and Student Collaboration” at FETC 2015, Kristin Harrington, instructional technology program specialist at St. Johns County School District, Fla., highlighted two of her favorite tools, Microsoft OneNote and Padlet, for engaging elementary students in authentic, collaborative learning experiences. Harrington, formerly an elementary school teacher in the district, earned many technology grants for her classroom. Her advice during the FETC poster presentation was borne of her experience.
With OneNote, teachers can create a collaborative environment for project-based learning. Students and teachers can log into the OneNote Notebook from any device in the classroom. Because of the cloud-ready nature of the Notebook, content is readily available and instantly updated for all members of the project team and the teacher. OneNote benefits teachers by saving them time and enabling them to grade student work without having to carry home reams of papers. For students, OneNote allows them to see feedback as soon as it is available.
In OneNote, Harrington created a Notebook for each group of students doing a project and then shared the Notebook with the students. “In the Notebook, I included all my directions,” she explained. “I typically created a Job List, which listed all the students and what their role was on the project. I also included a To Do list, which was a list of tasks. By looking in that To Do list, I could see what each of the students was doing and easily track progress.”
When each student was ready for the group to review their effort, they moved it into one location in the Notebook. And, when the group believed it was ready for Harrington's review, they’d move it into another area. “I could post an audio comment,” she explained. “Then they can go back and move this to ‘in progress’ again and make some revisions to address my feedback.” Receiving synchronous feedback—feedback that occurs in the same time period and medium through OneNote—can dramatically shorten the learning cycle, giving students immediate opportunities to correct misconceptions or move ahead.
For Harrington, the appeal of OneNote is that it provides an easy way to manage all information relevant to a project in one place, aside from some multimedia files that might be too large. “The kids can see it. You can see it,” she said. “If they type something, it will show their initials so you know who contributed what.”
Harrington also recommended Padlet for promoting collaboration and project communication. Padlet is an Internet application that allows students to easily express their thoughts on a common topic. It works like an online sheet of paper, on which people can put any content—including images, videos, documents, and text. Padlet offers both free and a premium version, called Padlet Backpack, for educators.
Harrington suggested that educators using the tool to support project-based learning can create a project wall on which student can share to-do lists, project updates, and feedback. She also indicated that she used the tool as a less intrusive way of moving projects forward. “In the middle of a project, students will typically get antsy,” she recalled. “When I first started teaching, my tendency was to go around and nag. When you do that, though, you’re not really facilitating learning.”
“With Padlet, you can stop the class and say, ‘I want you to go on the Padlet and give me three sentences. What are you doing right now?’” she said. “Even if they weren’t on task, this will bring them back on task. You can rein them back in without having to be ineffective."