Paperless Research Papers

It’s March… which means we have entered the “Heartbreak Hill” section of the teaching marathon. Not only this month mark the longest stretch of uninterrupted teaching all year, it also marks the point where I embark on the yearly task of teaching research papers.

The month of March consists of me teaching students: why we cite sources, how to research with scholarly sources from peer reviewed databases, how to write introductions, why Wikipedia is not an approved source. And of course, how to capitalize letters… Just kidding on the last one.

In all seriousness, writing research papers with high school students can be frustrating because so much of what humanities teachers do during the writing process is antiquated. Students simply don’t understand the purpose of writing research papers. I think most students believe we are simply trying to make them jump through hoops. “Cite that source!” “Double space that paper!” “Size 12 Times New Roman Font!” These are actual quotes from a nightmare I had a few nights ago!

This is a copy of an assignment I provide to my U.S. History II Honors students. It describes details of the assignment and the requirements of the paper.

As a history teacher at Waltham High, teaching research papers has always been the Wild West. The only requirement placed on teachers is that we have students write a research paper at some point during the year. The assignment itself depends on the teacher. I usually write a traditional research paper with my students.

This month’s blog post illustrates my attempts to utilize Google Classroom and Google Docs in an effort for students to complete research papers without actual paper. I attempted to rely solely on these online platforms for the writing, submission, and grading of papers. Not a radical idea by any means, but also one I had not yet tried.

A screenshot of the first page you see when you enter a Google Classroom. It displays the active classes you have. A screenshot of a few assignments I posted on Google Classroom.

Google Classroom is an application featured through the Google Suite and it is offered strictly to teachers. There is no surprise in the name, it offers an online classroom similar to online platforms like Edmodo. Since Waltham High School (WHS) provides all students with a google account students simply have to log in to their Google Account to access the Classroom application. Students must use their WHS account to access Google Classroom, they would be denied access if they attempted to log in with a home account.

Once students log in, they can join a teacher’s classroom by entering a password that is provided by the teacher. Once inside the

More Google Classroom assignments. classroom, an email is sent to students whenever a new assignment is created by their teacher or when their teacher has returned or graded one of their assignments.

For the teacher, Google Classroom serves as a place to post assignments. Assignments can be anything from a discussion question that asks students to post a response, to an essay that needs to have a document attached.

Over the course of this year, I have used Google Classroom for small formative assessments. This allowed me to familiarize my students with the application, so that we wouldn’t have logistical problems when we depended on it later in the year.  The early use of Google Classroom was building towards my larger goal for the month of March: to use Google Classroom as the sole platform for interacting with students’ work while they wrote traditional research projects.

A PDF attachment of a reading and questions posted on my Google Classroom.

Throughout the year, I have created many different types of assignments for my students to complete in our Google Classroom. The first week of school my students posted answers to discussion questions, and followed links to surveys about themselves. Later in the year, students completed extra credit readings and attached answers to questions. Students also were able to access links to Google Form quizzes (mentioned in an earlier post).

This year I told students that I was not accepting hard copies of their research paper. I know this may seem like a radical move, but I think going paperless makes complete sense. It cuts out excuses about printers and allows students to turn in assignments from any device. Therefore, students were to type their research papers in Google Docs and submit them through Google Classroom. Throughout the month of March, I posted assignments that asked students to attach segments of their research project as we progressed to the final copy. In the end, each student attached a draft of their paper as well as a final, edited copy.

Unsurprisingly, I have really enjoyed using Google Classroom. For one, it has allowed me to go almost completely paperless. Instead of having students flood me with paper, I have electronic copies that I can edit and grade online through Google Docs. Students can see the changes or suggestions I have made and decide whether to reject or accept them.

A paper I edited and made comments on in Google Docs.Another paper I edited and made comments on in Google Docs.

More importantly, I find myself grading electronic rough drafts and final copies much faster than paper copies. Therefore, I am saving precious time. Furthermore, I can post students grades as soon as I am done grading and send them an email notification letting them know that I have finished reviewing their paper.

Overall, I think using Google Classroom for project submission andA screenshot of the screen a teacher sees while grading on Google Classroom. Google Docs for essay writing is a no brainer. I think the only drawback to Google Classroom is that sometimes students are stumped by its interface. I have had a few students unsure of where to post on the Google Classroom, so they simply email me the paper. It is a small frustration, but one I can handle.

In sum, I recommend going paperless and using Google Classroom and Google Docs to write traditional research papers. I think it saves time, cuts out excuses about printer and computer problems, and prevents students from losing papers or forgetting to save their papers. And of course, the trees will thank you!

 

Touchcast: A New Look for the Screencast

For this month’s experiment in technological integration, I attempted to use a fairly new app called Touchcast. I chose to employ this application after learning about it in a course I took last summer. I liked the functionality and uses of the app. So, over the past few weeks, my students and I have been experimenting with this new app in an effort to “semi flip” my classroom.

Touchcast is new take on screencasting. For those of you that have used Explain Everything, you will be familiar with the idea of screencasting. Simply put, screencasting is when a user records their actions on their computer screen, creating a step by step video. Touchcast takes this idea to a different level. Instead of recording one’s computer screen, Touchcast allows its user to record their iPad screen. Moreover, Touchcast allows users to video record themselves or video record other individuals. While recording, or after recording is finished, the user can overlay images, more video, text, maps, and pretty much any other web based visual representation.

This is extremely useful for the classroom teacher, because once a Touchcast is finished, it can be viewed by members of the class. The reason Touchcast is so appealing is that students not only learn from making the project, but they can then view classmates’ projects and manipulate the images, watch embedded video, play with maps, games and any other vApps. (TouchCast vApps are actually just interactive web pages added on top of video. Usually, videos exist in their own box on web pages). Therefore, a finished Touchcast is more than just a static video; it is an interactive experience. The better the Touchcast is made, the more there is for the viewer to learn and do.

If all this sounds sort of complicated, it’s because it kind of is. The app is certainly a new way of thinking about technology, and there is a steep learning curve for students. Therefore, I knew I would have to give my students ample time to work on their Touchcast projects. I chose major events of the Early Cold War as the topics that my students would be covering. Therefore, my students would be building Touchcasts about the Early Cold War in place of the lessons that I would normally teach on the subject. This is the “semi flipped” classroom I mentioned earlier.

After explaining the uses of Touchcast to my students, and how it is different from a regular documentary, we embarked on a day of experimenting with the app in our school’s iPad lab. As you may recall, I am attempting to integrate technology in a classroom that does not have 1:1 technology. Therefore, lab time is essential. For the first day, students were instructed to play around on the app. A few students made goofy videos about cats and cute babies, etc.

Microsoft Word Version of the Project: Touchcast Project

I thought that the next day would be best spent researching appropriate, scholarly sources and having students write scripts to use when broadcasting their Touchcasts. I think these are important skills for juniors in high school to be able to effectively demonstrate. Accordingly, we spent the next two classes in computer labs, not to be confused iPad labs. Students researched their topics on history databases and began scripting and blocking their Touchcasts.

After these two classes, we returned to the iPad lab. I planned to give students three class periods to complete their Touchcasts, and on the fourth day, we would watch and manipulate the Touchcasts for an entire period.

The first two days of our iPad lab time went well. Students were still researching, finding vApps, and beginning the process of taping their Touchcasts. There were a lot of mistakes made, videos lost, iPads that ran out of battery, and problems that my students and I had to brainstorm how to fix (more on this in the next paragraph). Nevertheless, on the whole, the process was going smoothly.

As I mentioned, there were many unforeseen problems that we had to figure out. One of the biggest challenges was how to save student projects that were created on iPads that they did not own. One of my biggest fears was that students would work on the communal iPads only to have their projects deleted or the iPad they were working on disappear overnight. To avoid this potential issue, I had to find a way for students to upload their Touchcasts to the “cloud.” While my students were taping and scripting, I spent an entire period searching Touchcast for a solution.

I discovered a solution which proves that the fine people at Touchcast had thought about groups like mine that do not have 1:1 technology. Touchcast allows students to create their own Touchcast channels. Each of my student groups created one of these channels with a unique username and password. Each day when students entered the iPad lab, they would log in to their channel. After working on their Touchcasts, students would then upload their updated video to the cloud. After uploading their video, they are given a code by Touchcast that allows the user to pull the video down from the cloud to any iPad. This process allowed us to feel confident that student projects would still be there when we returned to the lab the next day.

Then, external events interrupted the momentum we had created. We had two, back to back snow days during classes where lab time was scheduled. Consequently, my due date was pushed back and we had a serious time crunch, because I wanted to finish the project before winter break. When we returned to school after the snow days, I gave my students two additional class periods to finish their projects. I explained that any additional work beyond those days would have to be done on their own time.

It was at this point that some of the pitfalls of the Touchcast App were exposed. Students began having difficulty uploading images and videos because of our school’s web filter. (I always joke that we are like Communist China). Other students were losing segments of their video or having difficulty understanding how to use the editing tools for Touchcast. That being said, I think many of these problems are ones that you have to expect when you are using new technology.

Shockingly, one student expressed to me that they wished they had simply written a research paper instead. I told the student not to worry, because we will be doing that next month!

After seven lab periods, students were finally finishing their projects. We had a few final hiccups were students had difficulty uploading their completed videos to their channels. However, by the last lab day, I had all of the completed Touchcasts.

In the end, I was satisfied with the final products. I have to give my students credit for creating a project using an application that was completely new to them. My students navigated a big learning curve, largely on their own, where they had to tape, edit, and imbed images and clips into a video. Impressively, they successfully did all of this and with only a few complaints.

The final projects all have issues. Some are not edited together tightly enough, and others lack a coherent story or do not include enough vApps. However, I think each video displays different strengths of the Touchcast app and the student groups that made them. Some Touchcasts use a lot of images and video clips, while others are more like documentary style videos. In the end, students provided solid content and varied videos. I think that they also enjoyed tapping into their creative side to present on the Historical event they had researched. I would definitely use this app again in the future. Furthermore, I can now say that I know how to use it.

Check out the finished videos below!

Truman Doctrine & Marshall Plan

Berlin Blockade & Berlin Airlift

Korean War

NATO & Warsaw Pact

Massive Retaliation & Brinkmanship

Duck & Cover – Civil Defense in the Nuclear Age

U2 Incident