I regularly look for ways to integrate 21st century tools and text in the English classroom, and have found myself using the following criteria for evaluating possible tools:
1. Free. I prefer using tools that do not cost me any extra money; therefore, WordPress, 21Classes, and Wikispaces are all great for my purposes. I do bring my iPod to class, but I would own it anyway. I also already have a web hosting account, so I’ll use free software on that if I need to.
2. No overlap with my personal / professional personas. I don’t use Facebook directly in the classroom because I use my Facebook identity to connect with friends and family, and I refuse to interact with students in that environment. Same with Twitter and my blog, where I connect with other teachers. I have considered the idea of having a separate “Mr. W” account for some of these services, but then we come to my next criteria …
3. Monitoring by a colleague or colleagues. I think it’s wise to make sure my online classroom is monitored by an administrator and/or colleague in the school. I like to work with tools where I can set up a guest account for these people to jump into the online environment at any point. It tends to reinforce the academic tone of the online space and is a measure of protection for me as a teacher.
4. Privacy. Although I bemoan many of the over-protective measures that our school board seems to adopt (and that students just get around), I still value and use private online classrooms. I do this in part for safety considerations, but also because a private environment is more conducive to genuine conversation.
5. Connection with curriculum expectations. This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. There is just no point in tossing new toys into the classroom without having a clear connection to curriculum expectations and learning goals.
6. Personal learning. I believe that I need to model learning for students, and the best way to do that is to let the class watch me learn to work with a new tool. It can lead to some spectacular failures, but then students need to know that success isn’t always easy in learning. So, while I’m tempted to fire up another Wikispace / 21 Classes environment for next year’s classes, chances are good that in at least a couple of courses I’ll be trying out Edmodo and/or BuddyPress.