Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not Quite Real Time Collaboration

I have started my students back on Diigo in the past week. We are working on poetry now, and I set up a wiki having learned from my last experience that Diigo gets wiggy on slower websites. Wikispaces, with its emphasis on collaboration, seems to be able to handle the extra layer of Diigo well.

However, all problems are not solved. My students can do great work when they have time outside of class to add Diigo comments and highlights. They did this for Gwendolyn Brooks's poem "We Real Cool" -- see their ideas here. Today I began class by having them read the comments on the poem, then they had to write a blog post about the poem incorporating something they learned from a classmates' comment. By the time we were ready to discuss, they had the poem pretty well dissected in their own minds. They shared the best ideas they had read, and I asked them if they felt they had a good grasp of what Brooks was trying to say. They did, so we next listened to her read her poem then read this interview with her. They were really impressed with themselves to learn that they had thought about all of the things Brooks herself had thought about. Neat.

But then things broke down. My next plan with Diigo which was to tackle another poem applying what we had learned about line breaks from Brooks. I planned to record their ideas on the poem using Diigo, and this is the wall I hit. As they were sharing ideas, my highlighter would work only half the time; comments sometimes appeared therefore and sometimes not. I ended up using markers on my dry erase board (which doubles as my projection screen) to do the highlighting just so I could stop hindering the forward flow of the discussion. Not quite what I had envisioned with using this tool.

My students were very patient with me as I struggled through this, but it ended up provoking comments from them on their experiences with Diigo. Turns out that most of them have these same problems repeatedly. They find Diigo therefore frustrating, and while they are obviously persevering and getting the out of class work done using it, it is not at all what I had thought was happening when I saw all of their homework done. I talked to them about how I love what Diigo can help us do -- how seeing each others' comments earlier in class had really informed their individual interpretations. Because they are kind people, they nodded and could see what I meant, but I am not sure the frustrations are not winning out in their minds. To be honest, they are starting to for me. An entire poetry discussion was derailed by trying to make Diigo work.

My wonderful tech resource Susan Morgan has done research for me into these issues, and what she has learned has left me feeling a little hopeless about solving them. Evidently, Diigo can be messed up by random settings on individual laptops. So, what could be stopping my highlights from always appearing is probably not the same problem that is stopping one of my students from seeing any of his comments. I am glad that Diigo seems to be a secure program, but I cannot troubleshoot individual blocks. I do not know enough, for starters, but who has the time for that?

What to do? Is this technology not the right answer for this work? Am I trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for the sake of technology here? I do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I struggle with using Diigo only as an out-of-class tool when what I really want is a real-time, immediate collaboration tool. Something I thought Diigo could be ...