“Web 2.0 is any World Wide Web technology or website that allows interactive content,” includingblogs, wikis, online games, virtual worlds, video posts, podcasts, social networking sites, RSS feeds, and videoconferences (Tammy, 2008, p. 1) as well as forums, chat rooms, and classroom portals. Increasingly, teachers are integrating the use of web 2.0 tools into classroom instruction. As a result, they find that the effective use of these tools increases student motivation and improves learning. At the same time, educational research demonstrates that authentic, engaging homework assignments improve student learning, as well (Marzano, Pickering, Pollock, 2001, pp. 61-71).
One of my challenges as a middle school language arts teacher is to increase my students’ motivation to extend their learning through the completion of high quality homework assignments, while they would prefer to socialize after school. Therefore, I propose a research study to determine how the meaningful use of web 2.0 tools affects student performance on homework assignments in the middle school language arts classroom. Data gathered in this study will answer three questions: In what ways are teachers most effectively incorporating the use of web 2.0 tools into homework assignments? Are students more likely to complete homework assignments that require them to use web 2.0 tools versus traditional textbook homework assignments? Is there a difference in the quality of homework completed when web 2.0 tools are used versus the quality of homework completed without new technologies? Research currently available does not definitively answer these questions.
Current research does suggest that middle school students’ performance improves when school-wide laptop programs are implemented, and their use of computers for homework increases at the same time, but studies have not analyzed these students’ performance on homework specifically. Studies have determined that students are using web 2.0 tools effectively in class, but perhaps not to their fullest potential outside of class. Research also shows that students benefit from the parental support created when teachers use web 2.0 technology to communicate with parents about homework assignments. Additionally, studies show that students benefit from the feedback from teachers and peers made possible through web 2.0 tools. They also benefit from having an authentic audience online; fears about online safety are one of the factors that sometimes prevent schools from integrating technology with homework. More research must be done to determine whether the integration of technology with language arts homework assignments has a positive effect on student performance overall, and to determine if this is a key to motivating middle school students to complete homework assignments.
Laptop Use Improves Student Performance
Many middle school students are provided with laptops they can use both during school and for homework. A Harvest Park Middle School (Gulek & Demirtas, 2005, p. 1) study measured the effects of school-wide laptop programs on middle school student achievement by following students at 259 middle school students participating in a laptop immersion program in a school of 1085 students. The demographics of the group of students using laptops closely mirrored the demographics of the overall student population. Students’ GPA’s, end-of-course grades, writing test scores, and state-mandated standardized test scores in language arts, math, and writing, showed no significant differences initially between laptop and non-laptop students.
After one year, students with laptops showed significantly higher achievement in almost all these categories. Analyzed again in a second and third year, these students continued to show higher achievement (Gulek & Demirtas, 2005, p. 3). This quantitative study found that students who received laptops spent more time doing homework online. They also worked collaboratively more frequently, and participated in project-based learning and self-directed learning more than non-laptop students. Student who received laptops produced more writing and writing of higher quality than non-laptop students, and they demonstrated greater skill in research analysis (Gulek & Demirtas, 2005, p. 5).
Students Already Use Web 2.0 Tools Outside School
British researchers found that students spend more time using a computer to complete school work outside school than they do during school, “with 34 per cent of all learners estimating that they spend only an hour each week using a computer at school” (Luckin, Logan, Clark, Graber, Oliver, & Mee, 2008, p. 6). They also found students use computers differently outside school, with more collaborative activities taking place and with greater use of audio and video tools taking place outside school.
Researchers in this study determined that students are consuming content more frequently than they are creating content, and that they are not consistently acting as critical consumers of information outside school. Therefore, teachers have a role in providing students with “the technical skills to use the tools effectively and the metacognitive, synthesis and critical reflection skills to use web 2.0 applications to support learning wherever they are” (Luckin, Logan, Clark, Graber, Oliver, & Mee, 2008, p. 6). Not only can students benefit from strengthening web 2.0 literacies within the classroom, but outside school as well.
Teen Bloggers Write More Than Other Teens
In a large-scale survey, The Parent & Teen Survey on Writing, conducted in 2007 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 700 12 to 17 year olds and their parents completed telephone interviews. The data collected showed that teen bloggers write more frequently than any other group of teens, including social networking teens. In fact, “fully 47% of teen bloggers write for personal reasons several times a week or more… 23% write outside of school just about every day” (Lenhart, Arafeh, Smith, & Macgill, 2008, p. 7). Teen bloggers do more types of writing than other teens, including “short writing, journal writing, creative writing, write music or lyrics and write letters or notes to their friends” (Lenhart, Arafeh, Smith, & Macgill, 2008, p. 7). Teen bloggers also recognize the importance of writing more than other teens. “Fully 65% of teen bloggers feel that writing is “essential” to later success in life, compared with 53% for non-bloggers and 56% for teens as a whole” (Lenhart, A., Arafeh, S., Smith, A., Macgill, A., 2008, p. 7).
Using Web 2.0 for Parent and Teacher Communications Improves Student Performance
In another study, teacher-researcher Lewis demonstrated that communications technology (in this case “the SchoolCall system, a phone-based telecommunications device designed to facilitate parent and teacher communication, and a teacher-created website to communicate with parents”) can positively affect both homework completion and accuracy. Lewis collected baseline data for one week and compared the rates of homework completion and the percentage of accuracy over a three-week intervention period while using these technologies.
This study was limited by the fact that participants were 64 of Lewis’s own English students, but Lewis did not reveal the two dependant variables (homework completion and accuracy) to her students. She simply introduced the new forms of communication and measured the results over three weeks. It would be interesting to observe this group over a longer time period, to determine whether homework improvements are maintained. Another limitation of this study was that the teacher assigned only homework that was easy to grade for accuracy (such as multiple choice questions.) Therefore, the measure of “accuracy” in this study does not necessarily answer my question about whether “quality” of homework is improved through the integration of technology. Clearly, though, the web allows for improved teacher/parent communications, which Lewis demonstrated can improve homework completion rates.
Students Prefer Writing Online
In a 2007 study, teacher-researcher Witte creates an online journaling project with her middle school students, called the “Talkback Project.” Witte finds that, while she has difficulty engaging students in classroom writing, they are actively writing poetry and prose in their own blogs outside school, particularly on Xanga. Therefore, to promote writing and make her class more engaging, Witte established a blog for preservice teachers to collaborative with middle school students by discussing literature. The first year, feedback from the preservice teachers indicated frustration with students not reading the required literature closely, and feedback from the students indicated a reluctance to discuss their thoughts with teachers they felt “talked down” to them (Witte, 2007, p. 93). Keeping these results in mind, the next year the preservice teachers developed engaging discussion topics that relied less heavily on the literature studied, and the feedback was positive. Students wrote more and stated that they appreciate the teachers’ commitment to the project (Witte, 2007, p. 94). Unfortunately, because of fear about a student mentioning the neighborhood he lives in, the administration asked the teacher to remove the blog. However, the students and preservice teachers continued their “conversations” on paper through journals for the remainder of the school year. Students then expressed frustration that their blog was removed, and discussed the issues of Internet safety and their rights to participate in a “global society” (Witte, 2007, p. 96).
These authors indicate that web 2.0 tools can be used to encourage collaboration and self-directed learning during homework, to engage students in project-based homework assignments, and to elicit more and better writing from middle school language arts students. They also suggest web 2.0 tools can also be used to elicit critical thinking during homework, such as in research analysis. Furthermore, teachers can provide instruction that will improve students’ use of web 2.0 tools outside school; and perhaps we can also take advantage of students’ preferences for audio tools, video tools, social networking, and blogging within the classroom and during homework assignments to improve our instruction. There is evidence that student performance and accuracy on homework improves when teachers use web 2.0 tools to communicate with parents, and that students are motivated and engaged when using web 2.0 tools for writing online. All of these pieces can be tied together by a proposed study of the integration of technology with language arts homework in middle school.
In my own middle school, I plan to distribute a survey to measure the number of teachers integrating various web 2.0 tools into homework assignments, and the percentage of homework assignments that require the use of web 2.0 tools. I will also learn how teachers are integrating technology into homework using qualitative methods, such as “narrative descriptions” (McMillan & Schumacher, 2006, p. 62) and interviews with teachers and students. To evaluate the relationship between student completion rates on homework assignments requiring the use of web 2.0 tools versus completion rates on traditional textbook homework assignments, I will collect data about my own students’ performance and those of my colleagues over a one month period, measuring the completion rates on assignments that use web 2.0 tools and on assignments that do not. To determine differences in quality of homework completed when Web 2.0 tools are used versus quality of homework completed without new technologies, I will collect quantitative data (homework grades) across several classrooms that will serve as sample populations. I will also record the observations of teachers, students, and parents; since quality of homework includes not only grades scored, but also student learning and increased student interest in subject matter resulting from the homework. Finally, I will analyze my own students’ responses to homework questions when they are communicating online versus composing hand-written responses.
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