The tools we use may be great, but the ideas behind these tools should be great in the first place to shine through these different tools, such as blogs, forums, wikis, websites or social media. If we let our students go at least one step back in the activities we give them; we will have a chance to help them think about thinking rather than just perform a pre-defined task we specify for them.
I will give you an example of learning Shakespeare and metacognition. Here is what a traditional piece of homework on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 might be like:
1- Paraphrase the first stanza, …
2- Find examples of imagery used in the sonnet…
3- Why is the poet comparing his lover to a summer’s day?
4- Is there any evidence in the sonnet that the poet is egotistical?
All of the questions mentioned above may be nice and revealing to some of the meaning and the art of the sonnet, but they are all straightforward that students are not at least encouraged to think about what they need to do because they know exactly what to do; we just told them that in a very specific way. If we use blogs, wikis, or what have you for any of the examples I mentioned earlier, we will give the students a cooler way to do their homework, but I don’t think that there will be any added value to their metacognitive skills.
However, we can give them better things to think about like the following examples:
1- Why is this poem not a ballad? (Here the students will be encouraged to think about how they want to plan their answer, and this will give us many different answers, which reflects the different ways students think.)
2- I believe Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 sucks; can you prove me wrong? (This was an actual question I used for my students and I was really amazed at the many different ways they came back to me to prove the poem was a good one. Some of them gave traditional answers, but others thought in an entirely radical way that we had never talked about in class.) (Excuse my using the word “sucks,” but I used this exact word in class, and to be honest, it made students like the assignment better!)
In these two examples I just mentioned, using blogs, wikis, forums or any other collaborative tool is extremely useful because the discussion these tools make possible and easy will not center on the answer to a given question, but on the possible ways to think about the question and the possible ways to think about how to construct an answer to this question, which is the key here. I think this way we will be using technology to help our students think more broadly, and more importantly, in their very own unique ways.