Tech Focus: Prism Scholars’ Lab

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.


What is Prism Scholars’ Lab?
Today’s installment will focus on Prism Scholars’ Lab.  According to their website:

“Prism is a tool for ‘crowdsourcing interpretation.’ Users are invited to provide an interpretation of a text by highlighting words according to different categories, or “facets.” Each individual interpretation then contributes to the generation of a visualization which demonstrates the combined interpretation of all the users. ” 

How did this look in practice?
My favorite feature of Prism Scholars’ Lab is its versatility.  When I learned about this tool at a professional development session in August, I was excited to think about the various ways I could use it.  This past month I chose to utilize it as a way for students to practice peer-editing skills.

I used this activity with Italian 3 students who were working on their Term 1 writing assignment.  After students created their own rough drafts, I wanted them to peer-edit.  However, in the past, I felt like students weren’t totally clear on what specific errors they should look for in a peer’s work.  The feedback in these previous cases was limited, non-specific and not very helpful to the author.  Here’s where Prism came in.

First, I posted a text that I created, with lots of commonly-seen grammatical errors.  Next, I created three categories of errors – things like incorrect verb conjugations, subject/verb agreement and incorrect gender.  I assigned each of these error types to a highlighter color.

Finally, I shared the link with students.  Their task was two-fold: instead of simply recognizing errors, students also had to categorize the type of error by highlighting in a particular color.  Here’s a glimpse at the student view, including the text (on the left) and the three highlighter colors for error types (on the right):


Prism screenshot

After students highlighted the text independently, I was able to view the class “results”.  Words that were highlighted multiple times became larger, showing me which errors the students were able to detect.  We reviewed the text as a class to be sure that everyone was clear on the errors.

Why I would use it again…
I strongly believe that peer editing is a valuable, essential activity in a world language class, particularly upper level courses that involve longer writing tasks.  However, I’ve often failed to provide students with hands-on practice to be able to approach a peer’s writing and evaluate it critically.  I found that after completing this exercise, students were able to provide practical, specific and just better quality feedback to their peers that was much more valuable than “this looks wrong”.  In a future post, I’ll focus on how we used comments in Google Docs to peer-edit following this activity.

Overall, I’d say that Prism Scholars’ Lab is a versatile, easy-to-use tool for providing students with an opportunity to evaluate texts for a variety of purposes.  I’m already brainstorming about how I could use it in the future: perhaps students can categorize situations that use each of the past tenses in Spanish, or maybe use it in a discussion about a cultural topic?  I love that the possibilities are so broad, and I will definitely use it again this year.


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