Tag Archives: community

Bulletin Board 2.0


An article in our student newspaper on Pinterest.com caught my eye this morning.  It is described as an online pinboard for sharing photos, recipes, and other content.  Content is shared when users pin content from someone else’s pinboard onto their own.

In this way, Pinterest is a bit like Tumblr or even Twitter in that content can echo around and be amplified as more users repost it.  Interestingly, most (if not all) of the content is image-based.  In some ways, this is limiting because a recipe is actually a picture of food that you can click on to get to the site that originally posted the recipe.  In effect, Pinterest actually feels more like a different interface for photosharing websites like Flickr.  There are lots of interesting boards that are pictures organized by color or by different topics.

From a quick glance, it seems like Pinterest is a very good internet meme incubator.  I’ve already been sucked into looking at pictures (and the blog posts they link to) that include hilariously ugly knitted shorts and a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made from over 4000 Rubik’s cubes.  There are also plenty of funny and inspirational signs and slogans as well as the requisite cute and funny pictures of kittens and puppies.

Could Pinterest be useful to ESL students?  Perhaps.  It could provide a way for them to store and organize web content that can be shared within the classroom community.  It’s very smooth and clean and the opportunity to interact with the site-wide community could be interesting.  And the site terms and conditions prohibit nudity and hateful content, which can be reassuring for teachers.  If a course is not using a web-based course management system, Pinterest could be a quick and interesting way to build a community that could generate some interesting discussion.  But is it the next Big Thing?  Probably not.

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Online Bulletin Boards

bulletin board

Most schools and classrooms have bulletin boards, but what is the online digital equivalent?  If you are using a course management system, there are lots of tools built-in that approximate this experience.  But if not, there are various options that offer lots of options for interaction between users.

They can be used asynchronously so that people can leave messages anytime and the conversation happens over a long period of time.  They could also be used in real time so that users can interact in a very visual environment.  Messages can be various sizes, color-coded, and dragged around so they can be grouped together in various ways.


One online bulletin board is Wallwisher.com, which allows a user to create a wall to which other users can add “sticky notes.”  It’s quick and easy to use, but unfortunately it appears to be a victim of it’s own success — in my recent experience the site is not loading quickly, possibly due to being overwhelmed by a large volume of users.  If these issues can be worked out, Wallwisher will be a very useful tool.


A very similar tool is Stixy, which allows sticky notes and other items (photos, documents, and dated to-do list items) to be posted on the wall.  Clicking on an item opens a menu with lots of options for color, font, as well as placement (in the front or in the back, relative to the other notes).  You can also lock certain notes so that instructions or introductions, for example, can’t be moved around like the rest of the notes.  And the site doesn’t seem to have any problems loading due to demand.  Yet.


This site also allows the creation of sticky notes, including very small word-sized stickies, which could work very well on an interactive whiteboard as a way to make fridge-magnet-poetry dragable words.

Google Docs

In addition to the sticky-specific applications above, it’s worth noting that documents created in Google Docs can be configured to be edited by a group of people.  Create a new document and use different colored boxes in place of stickies and the same effect can be achieved.


For information on these tools and others, visit The Pursuit of Technology Integration Happiness which includes several examples that you can test drive.

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Feeding the Extracurricular

facebook cupcakes

I’m a big proponent of extracurricular activities, particularly in an intensive ESL program.  Of course, the curriculum must be good — that’s a given — but the extra curricular activities play an extremely important role in students’ learning by immersing students in English through trips, activities, and connections to other speakers of English.

Like many intensive ESL programs, we offer a wide range of activities to students: field trips, conversation partners, movies, lectures, and more.  We have also started a Facebook page as a way to publicize our activities and to build community around these activities.  We have also embraced an online course management system (CMS) which we use to interact with and disseminate curricular information to students.  But, is there a way to integrate the two?

There is.  I have recently created a widget for our CMS that instructors can add to their course pages in order to put extracurricular info in front of students on a regular basis.  To do this, I took the feed from our Facebook page (originally I planned to use the RSS feed, but the atom feed displayed better on our pages) and fed it into feed2js.org to get javascript that I could configure to display the most recent items posted to our Facebook page.  (Feed2js also allows various combinations of colors, fonts and sizes via cascading style sheets, but unfortunately CSS are not compatible with our particular CMS.)

The result is a list of 5  extracurricular (or other) announcements and reminders that students can click on to see more information on our Facebook page.  As a bonus, the Facebook RSS feed only includes items posted by our page administrators.  So, even if students post messages on our wall, which we encourage, they will not be able to send messages out to all of our course pages.  And because our Facebook page is public, students don’t need to be logged in to Facebook to read these messages.

Does it work?  We’re still rolling it out, so it’s too early to call it a success.  But I think integrating our Facebook page into our course management system makes a lot of sense because it multiplies the usefulness and reach of our online presence.

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Facebook for Books

friendwheel diagram from Facebook

I’ve been using Facebook for a while, primarily as a way to share news and photos from our program with students.  We had tried doing this with a Moodle, but could never get enough momentum behind it for it to become popular enough to work.  Many, if not most, of our students are on Facebook, however, which has made it easier to build an online community.

But should we connect with our students in their space?  I have a colleague who uses Facebook in place of our institutional course management system.  This is not unprecedented.  On the other hand, the argument has been made that teachers should not invade students’ personal spaces online because they would prefer to separate their personal interactions from academic ones.  I agree to the extent that I have trouble with requiring students to use their personal Facebook accounts to interact with teachers, but I think these new technologies inherently bring interactions of all kinds together — personal, academic, professional — for better and worse.

So what else can be done with Facebook?  I like what we’re doing in our program, but I’m always looking for opportunities to try out  technologies in other ways.  I recently happened upon the perfect opportunity to deploy Facebook: The Buckeye Book Community (BBC).  Every year, first year students at Ohio State are given a book during orientation and asked to read it before they return for classes in the fall.  The book is then used first-year orientation seminar courses and across campus via different programs and activities.  This common reading experience is not unique to Ohio State (Google it to see others), but what got my attention was the opportunity to have our ESL students read the book and then interact with the native speakers in the community (by hosting a discussion between one of our classes and one of the first-year seminar classes, for example.)

no impact man book coverThis year’s book is No Impact Man by Colin Beavan in which the author, a self described guilty liberal, tries to live with self-imposed rules that reduce his environmental impact to zero.  Clearly this is not the easiest thing to do in New York City, though urban life does offer some advantages.  After reading it, I was struck by his transition (and his family’s transition) to the culture of environmentalism and, even more so, his transition back to his native culture after his experiment is finished — an experience ESL students can surely relate to when they travel to an English-speaking country to study and then return home.

So where does Facebook come in?  Well, I’ve become involved in the activities planning committee and come to the conclusion that a Facebook page would be the perfect supplement to this community.  Participants can post comments, feedback, photos, videos, etc., etc. as they read the book and participate in the programs.  If / when they participate in No Impact Week (a challenge which condenses the author’s experience into seven days) they can discuss what challenges they faced.  I’m hoping our ESL students will be able to participate in this community as well as a meaningful and engaging way to practice English.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary use of Facebook.  In fact, it was designed around facilitating these kinds of experiences.  But, I’m looking forward to being a part of this community to see how it works on a much larger, campus-wide scale, as opposed to just within our own program.  If you have thoughts, suggestions, and ideas for facilitating online communities, I’d love to hear them.


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Service Learning @ Free Geek

Service learning at Free Geek Columbus.

Students installing and testing Ubuntu Linux.

Last week I set up a service learning trip to Free Geek Columbus.  Service learning falls roughly in the middle of a continuum between an internship, which largely benefits the student, and volunteering, which largely benefits a community organization or charity.

Free Geek is an organization that takes donated computers, refurbishes them, and gives them to people and organizations in the surrounding community that cannot otherwise afford new computers.  They also offer training so people can learn to use the computers.

Students disassemble donated computers and sort reusable parts.

Students disassemble donated computers and sort reusable parts.

After a quick tour, students were trained to do two tasks: pull and sort parts from donated machines, and install Ubuntu Linux, an opensource operating system, on computers which had already been assembled.  The tasks were simple and straightforward, but interesting and productive.  Students also got to work alongside other volunteers, who were native speakers of English, which gave them more opportunities to communicate.

In addition to being a great organization, Free Geek was a great place to volunteer because students can go back on their own, if they wish.  At least three of the students expressed an interest in volunteering again.  By participating in this project, these students have made an authentic connection within the community, which can be very difficult to do.

Thanks to Scott Merrill and the other great volunteers at Free Geek, we plan to continue this relationship by offering this activity to students each quarter.  I also plan to seek out other organizations that can offer this kind of opportunity to our students.


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