by UW|Bothell faculty Sarita Y. Shukla | @SaritaYShukla
The best app for your coursework is not a single app. ~Beth Holland
The Learning Management System (LMS) offers a ready-to-use environment that can be used to meet many instructional needs. On the other hand, it can also limit creativity. Morris (2018) aptly underscores this point when he notes that “…LMSs are limiting structures, that their interface and functionalities control how teachers teach online.” If the LMS is the only digital tool within our pedagogical repertoire, it is likely that we have to adapt our teaching to fit what the tool can offer us. The classic discussion board on any LMS may be a case in point.
In my quest to find an alternative to the limited features of the typical LMS discussion board, I stumbled upon Padlet. Padlet is a digital wall that can be used for discussions, but offers other features that make this tool stand out when compared to the typical LMS discussion board. Padlets have now become an important part of my pedagogical practice. Several ways in which the tool has enhanced my classroom practice include: active learning, classroom belonging, authentic audiences, multiple modalities for access, and customization of Padlet walls.
I use Padlets for entry/exit tickets in my classroom. While I have used paper and LMS discussion boards for entry/exit tickets in the past, Padlet offers me the opportunity to pose a question and get immediate responses from all my students (even ones who might not be physically present). I usually offer either a Padlet entry or exit ticket for each class session. Entry tickets are questions that I pose at the beginning of the class. Typically, students take 5-10 minutes to respond to the question.
What makes Padlet infinitely more interesting is that I can read student responses while they are writing them. I also think that student ownership and accountability increase when they see their names displayed with their posts. The entry tickets allow students to summarize the big ideas, make connections to previous content discussed in class, list muddy points, pose questions, etc. I often summarize student posts and weave in the Padlet entry questions/muddy points to dive deeper into the readings. I usually improvise my instructional plans and am responsive to students by discussing content that directly emanates from questions raised by them. On the other hand, if all or most students miss an important aspect of the reading as is evident from the Padlet entry tickets, I bring that up in our conversations too.
The exit tickets come at the end of the class and help students summarize class discussions from that day, extend learning by connecting materials discussed in class with prior learning, or other classroom content. This helps me understand how students are integrating content across classes, the points that stood out to them from class discussions, how their thinking transformed, questions that are still unanswered or questions that students are still left wondering about. This becomes the fodder for beginning the subsequent class session. I often summarize what was discussed in the previous class Padlet responses before we move on to discussing materials for that class session.
In addition to sharing their thoughts about the readings, I encourage students to respond to each other via Padlet. Students have often remarked that reading each other’s Padlet posts helps them see different points of view. This sentiment is echoed in the remarks made by this student:
Padlet was a new educational tool for me and this was the first class in which I learned how to use it. I enjoyed Padlet because it enabled class members to have a discussion without the social pressure of speaking up in class. I also found that reading through other students’ Padlet entries enhanced my learning and made me think about some of the readings from different perspectives.
This fosters the sense that there is value in diverse perspectives and learning from one another in real time. It also helps students realize that there is an authentic audience interested in what they have to say. Incidentally, it also promotes students’ situational interest in the content when they hear and see fellow student comments on their post. Overall, Padlets have helped me create classroom belonging where students feel that their voice matters.
If a student is uncomfortable with using their real name on Padlet, I offer students the choice to use a pseudonym for Padlet posts. Fellow students and I know who wrote the post but their name is not associated with their responses on Padlet. Yet again, students benefit from peer interaction but in a way that allows them an opportunity to decide how they would like to enter this online space.
Multiple modalities for access and posts
While choosing tools for classroom learning, I like to use tools that have functionality across digital devices. Students can access Padlets on their phones, as an alternative to any other digital device that they might choose. Students have reported that the functionality and their user experience is unchanged when using Padlet on their phones. Given the ubiquitous use of cellphones in my classroom, student access of Padlets via cell phones is important. Students do not have to carry laptops for completing class activities on Padlet.
I often have students use different modalities beyond the written word when completing entry/exit tickets. Students post images from the internet, share audio-visual content, use memes, and GIFs from the internet. Anecdotal comments from students indicate that completing entry/exit tickets using these different modalities works well on their cell phones too.
As an instructor, a big draw for me is the ability to create Padlet walls that meet my classroom needs in the moment. For instance, the option to create a canvas wall on Padlet where I can group content is useful in some situations. At other times, the ability to stack student comments on a Padlet wall in a shelf-like fashion is helpful. Additionally, there are several possible ways in which instructors can customize the Padlet wall including color, background, appearance -vertical or horizontal posts etc. This makes this tool aesthetically pleasing too.
School Closures and Online Teaching
I have used Padlets in my face-to-face classes but this tool can be incorporated for online classes too. A pandemic led to our university moving all face-to-face classes to an online format for the last 3 weeks of winter 2020. In one of my face-to-face classes, students were to present their research inquiry presentations in the classroom. I was able to move these research presentations to Padlet. First, students were requested to include audio along with their visual presentations and upload their audio-visual presentations via Padlet. All students were then to view and pose comments on each other’s presentations. Finally, students responded to peer questions or comments via Padlet.
Although this move was a quick response to an unexpected situation, I am now intentionally thinking about ways for incorporating Padlet in my fully online classes. I will share what I learn from taking this tool from a face-to-face class to a fully online class in a future post. Overall, Padlet has helped me plan classroom activities with students as the focal point of this experience while leveraging the use of existing digital devices to promote student voice and active learning.