That said, it can't be denied that great teachers know how to make use of great resources.
I thought it could be useful to share some of the fun and interesting technologies that I learned about at the VSS. I believe that, used wisely, these tools add value to online learning with their potential for creativity and collaboration:
- Kristin Kipp, National Online Teacher of the Year (mentioned in several previous posts on this blog), has her students use wikis to create collaborative pages on the literature they are reading (she used Hamlet as her example). As she spoke, I was struck by the notion of dozens of Jewish Day School students nationwide collaborating on creating a wiki on, say, Sefer Shoftim (The Book of Judges);
- Tara Park, a teacher at the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, demonstrated several online tools that her students use to create fun, interactive materials with which to share what they have learned. Her wikispace demonstrates several of these services, and itself is a great example of cool things that can be done online- tarapark.wikispaces.com
- Glogster - creates online, interactive posters that are great for arranging research, incorporating video and audio into a visually attractive but simple presentation format- Tara Park's wiki space is actually a Glogster poster. I was skeptical as to the value of this service until she showed us a Glogster made by a student that turned a science report into a visually engaging, warmly personal online presentation;
- Blabberize - I just noticed this one on her site- a goofy but sort of fun service that takes a still photo and turns it into a talking head, using audio that you upload or record directly into the site;
- Wordle - creates a word cloud from any text- a nice visual representation of key themes in an article, essay or web page. This could be used as a creative addition to a written assignment, or maybe a way to launch discussion on an established text. Here is a Wordle I made on Genesis, chapter 1 (JPS 1917 edition!) ;
- Voicethread was actually suggested to me by Esther Feldman from Lookstein. This fantastic service takes an image and lets users create what is basically an audio daf gemara, adding their voices or text as commentary on the photo. This is a wonderful tool for collaborative projects- many people can add their comments to the core "text," creating a vibrant online conversation.
Shimshon Stu Siegel is director of Impact Boston, a residential service learning program for Jewish teens. He also coordinates online learning for the Brandeis Office of High School Programs.