In Kettle Moraine, Wisconsin, the ‘Create’ school has literally taken down the walls that used to divide classrooms. Over a hundred students work together in a beautifully designed open space with lounges, round working tables, and discussion pods. The teachers’ office is in the center of things, a quiet glassed space.
What keeps this number of students closely connected with their teachers and each other is a ‘social learning’ platform, Scholar. Created by Dr William Cope and a team of researchers at the University of Illinois and Common Ground Publishing, R&D for Scholar has been funded by IES/SBIR and the Gates Foundation.
In Scholar, teachers and students hold discussions in the ‘Community’ webspace - imagine a cross between a blog, Facebook and Twitter. A student says, “In the legacy classroom, only one person could talk at a time, but on Scholar, more than one person can talk, they can branch out and share their voices.”
Students also do multimedia web writing in Scholar’s ‘Creator’ area, including live links uploaded images, embedded videos, audio, even sometimes datasets or math. Every work goes through stages of drafting, peer review, revision and publication to each student’s web portfolio. Here is teacher, Jessica Harroun: “It’s facilitating peer feedback and collaborative knowledge production. These kids are finding the resources and suddenly they become curators of all these web sources - the synthesis alone, is just amazing.”
In the era of social media, teachers are looking for ways like this to engage their students in a more connected peer-to-peer environment, and also one that allows them to represent their knowledge using a full range of contemporary media. The business of writing is being transformed, not just in English Language Arts, but also Science, Social Studies and other subject areas.
Then, there’s Scholar’s big data ‘Analytics’ area, tracking thousands of data points through every student’s project. Jessica Harroun again: “Analytics is allowing us to have insights that we never had, when with one teacher and a bunch of papers, it was just too overwhelming.”