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New Canaan, Connecticut Case Study

Loosening the reins on social media use in the classroom is a huge success

In the New Canaan public schools in Connecticut, social networking and open source communities are having a significant impact on the way teachers teach and students learn.

At the high school level in particular, classes are welcome to permit students to join a social network if they choose to. Technology Integration Specialist Cathy Swan understands that many districts are afraid of social networks and adds, “They are doing a huge disservice to their students who already live in an environment of social networking and free Internet access. We believe we can teach kids to use them the right way.”

Swan goes on to share a number of specific examples:

  • The AP Statistics classes post surveys to Facebook* and get 500 sets of results in a week.
  • The bank traveled to Rome this year and spent a day swapping photos on Facebook.
  • A Spanish teacher is excited about the change in classroom dynamics when students use Facebook* for threaded discussion, messaging, and storage of resources.
  • Social Studies classes are using Wikia* to write historical novels about the revolutions in South America.
  • Students wrote in teams and were excited when someone from the outside world visited their novel and made changes.

The librarian hosts a website including a VoiceThread* reading list where students can record their reflections and recommendations about what they’re reading and select books based on the recommendations of others.

Many teachers host their courses on Moodle*, the open source course management tool that is widely used in the district. “Our goal this year,” says Swan, “is to have all students enrolled in the “library Moodle*.”

District teacher Kristine Goldhawk has done a lot to help her fellow teachers learn how to use Moodle* for their classes—including working with Turnitin* to refine a Moodle* module that lets educators and students check written work for improper citation or plagiarism.

Textbooks have not been abandoned entirely; many teachers still use them.

But a natural evolution is occurring, as described by three New Canaan teachers:

  • "The textbook has become just one of many various resources available to students."
  • "My students use voice threads, links to other teachers’ vlogs, and instant messaging to seek help and additional examples."
  • "I rarely, if ever use textbooks anymore. Using Diigo* or Moodle*, my students have access to rich sources that are more relevant to our study than the textbook."

Students can access textbooks online so they are able to leave a set in the classroom at all times. They can also access other supplemental materials online—so the textbook has played a smaller role in the class.

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