After returning from winter break in January, I decided to introduce my students to discussion posts on Canvas. One of my goals for this year has been to move away from the traditional weekly reading log and give students more alternatives to document their individual reading. My students have been using Canvas all year, but this feature was one I had yet to use with them. However, the idea of interacting with each other online was not entirely new to my class. I have used the Peer Editing feature on Canvas and even posted a blog about it earlier - Peer Editing Post.
I created two posts for them. One post was for a book of their choice that they read during the 3rd quarter. The other was a post about a novel study they did with their class book club. I set up the discussions in January at the start of the 3rd quarter and after about a month I started receiving notifications that things were being posted. Along with posting about their book, they also had to reply to at least two of their classmates regarding their posts. This is where the flaws in my plan and my lack of lessons and modeling caught up with me.
Our school district has put a lot of effort into educating students about digital citizenship and being safe, responsible, and respectful online. The district has created courses for K-12 students to go through during the year and have also provided several opportunities for students and teachers to continue this discussion once the courses are completed. I went through these courses at the beginning of the year and would consistently address various digital citizenship issues afterwards. When January came, I assumed the students would be able to handle posting and replying in an online setting.
The initial posts were fine with the exception of a few students who chose to just copy and paste a summary from a site such as Scholastic or Goodreads and pass it off as their own. This was a small problem and addressed on an individual basis.
What became a big problem was with the replies students were posting to each other. I did give them some guidelines as to what they should include in their response and also reminded them of how to act in an online setting. What I forgot to address was what they should not do, or include in their replies. Some students took it upon themselves to become the teacher and pick out every spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistake in posts by others, as well as, harshly critique the content of the post. This then lead to retaliation by the other student who in turn did the same and others also joined the replies to defend their classmates.
I was amazed at how quickly this spread and got out of hand. A year or two ago, I would have probably closed the discussion and stopped doing it entirely for the remainder of the year. I chose to go the other way and make it a learning experience for all of us. We quickly had a class meeting to discuss what had happened and how it made everybody feel. This was a great learning experience for all of us. The students realized how important it is to be aware of the differences between an online response and talking face to face. They have done peer editing with each other, but it was done as a spoken activity and not online. They were able to use facial expressions and tone of voice to get their meaning across without sounding too critical. This is something they can't do online and they realized that even though they did not mean to sound so critical in their replies this is how it was perceived. I also learned their perspective on social media and how they think you should react to others online. I was surprised at how they felt they needed to fight back and retaliate if someone attacked their posts. The idea of ignoring the post, unfollowing, or blocking the person was not even considered.
Following our discussion, I taught and modeled how to reply in a respectful manner to other people's posts and also used some images that colleagues created to teach this concept. I wanted to post this to share how Canvas is a great tool for allowing students the platform to practice this kind of online communication and collaboration. We all make mistakes as we learn something new. For my students, taking part in online scholarly discussions was something new and something that will require some time and a lot of opportunities for them to get it right. Canvas gives them the platform and the safe atmosphere to make these mistakes, learn, and improve.