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Pros: Private and secure site complements classroom instruction and gives all students a voice in classroom discussions.
Cons: Success with this platform assumes all students have consistent internet access, both inside and outside of school.
Bottom Line: As a free tool worth trying, Collaborize Classroom aims to increase engagement with online discussions in a social media-like forum.
Online discussions can start in the classroom, and even continue after class ends. Teachers can also opt to start a discussion online and then, based on the results, carry it into a non-digital, real-time classroom discussion the next day. Generally, the latter option may work well as a way to engage students in meaningful talk and discussion. Once students have had a chance to engage with the material online -- as well as have their thoughts and opinions validated -- they're typically much more willing to share out loud in class, and often in very thoughtful ways.
Another nice feature is that teachers can also ability-group assignments -- such as literature circles -- through the site. Specific projects can be assigned for collaborative completion. Collaborize Classroom also features built-in messaging so teachers can reach out to individual students who may need support and feedback. The site’s Topic Library is an excellent resource for downloadable lesson plans and discussion ideas, including articles about appropriate online discussion behavior.
Using a social media-like approach, Collaborize Classroom offers a secure online antidote to uninspired, disengaged classroom discussions. Teachers post discussion questions and set specific response options; multiple choice, yes/no, comment-based, or poll-based. At the conclusion of a discussion, teachers and students can access the results for review, reflection, and extension. The site also tracks participation so teachers can quickly assess comprehension as well as engagement.
Should teachers want to differentiate or group students within a class period, they need only create, and post within, new categories. Collaborize Classroom also boasts many support features for teachers including a Topic Library, and links for an FAQ section, email contact, as well as webinars.
Collaborize Classroom offers a great foundation on which teachers and students can build meaningful interactions and conversations -- even beyond the school day, if your students have access. The site's multiple response options -- as well as teachers' ability to embed videos, attach PDFs, MS Word documents, and images -- should help all students feel empowered during in-class discussions, no matter their learning style or preference. And, with the opportunity to review the results of each discussion, students will quickly see “proof” that their opinion matters.
Should a teacher want to post assignments on the site, it can be done -- albeit awkwardly so -- within a discussion post. A nice addition to the site would be an area just for updates and assignments, separate from any discussions, comments, or voting.