Tech Focus: Collaborating and Communicating with Verso

Nipmuc’s 1:1 iPad initiative has given teachers and students alike some fantastic opportunities to innovate how we learn and teach.  This year in Room 238, we’ll use at least one new technology tool per month to help us in our language-learning journey!  I’ll post about the results here periodically in special “Tech Focus” posts.

Verso

What is Verso?
This first installment will focus on Verso.  According to their website, “Verso Learning’s teaching platform offers an education app that gives every student a voice and allows educators to personalize instruction.”  As the teacher, I can post any type of media – a linked video from online (or a video I create myself), photos, articles and more.  Then, I create open-ended questions to students based on the content.  The Verso app allows students to first elaborate on their answer by typing in a customized response, but then allows them to view/comment upon their peers’ responses to the same question.  The student view of responses is anonymous, while the teacher view offers visibility to individual names/responses.

How did this look in practice?
I felt that the anonymity of Verso’s student view made it particularly useful for a classroom debate.  It would allow students to share their thoughts in a public, yet still anonymous forum.  I chose to use Verso to approach a lesson on bullfighting: a cultural topic that is marked by controversy and often very differing opinions.

First, I used class time to expose the students to several different perspectives on bullfighting: we watched a Spanish news report from 2010 that detailed the efforts of anti-bullfight activists to ban the sport in the region of Catalonia; we watched the reaction of a French and Spanish bullfighter to the same news report; and finally, we viewed a National Geographic film on the bullfighting tradition in Mexico.  Students were also exposed to a New York Times article on Spain’s effort to ban bullfighting in recent years.

Next, I set the students free to create their own posts about the content they saw.  I was so impressed with the quality of student responses: they were thought-provoking, mature responses that really demonstrated higher-order, critical thinking skills at work. They discussed the concept of cultural perspective, compared bullfights to other cultural traditions and raised important questions about ethical boundaries.

After they posted their own original responses, they were able to (anonymously) view the responses of their peers.  Students were to find posts that they agreed and disagreed with, and comment accordingly to their peers.  The result was an engaging, mature, thoughtful and fascinating discussion about this controversial issue.

Why I would use it again…
While the traditional in-class debate can produce lively, thoughtful conversation about a controversial issue, I have found that it often excludes the opinions and thoughts of students who may not want to verbally volunteer their ideas.  Furthermore, disagreeing publicly with a classmate is difficult for some students, and a true “debate” is often sacrificed due to social dynamics.  Verso was able to overcome this obstacle and provide a public, yet anonymous forum for students to share and react to their peers’ thoughts.  Not only did it serve as a way for me to encourage full-class participation, but it also resulted in a higher quality, more diverse conversation than a traditional debate could have offered.

Overall, I’d say Verso is a great tool for posing open-ended, critical thinking questions to students.  It is easy to use for both the teacher and the student, and I will definitely use it again this year.

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