By: Professor Heather Gram (Wake Forest)
Like many educators this past summer, I found my days consumed by webinars, conferences, and virtual meetings all designed to introduce me to new technology for the fall. While most were helpful, I still felt overwhelmed at times. Would I be able to figure out my third Learning Management System in five years? Could I learn how to effortlessly pop into pre-designated breakout rooms without accidentally ending the session for everyone? And if I taught online, how could I build that same rapport with students that comes naturally with face-to-face classes?
Luckily, I stumbled onto a demonstration of Padlet™ and recognized that it might be what I was looking for. According to a 2018 article, “Padlet began as a free digital bulletin-board where teachers and students could exchange ideas, materials, and comments.” It has “a simple interface that allow[s] users to drag and drop files from their desktop and add links from the web onto a web-based canvas (called a ‘padlet’).” While Padlet™ originally offered the unlimited creation of padlets, two years ago it capped the number of free padlets per person to five.
Padlet™ immediately reminded me of the high school locker that I shared with my best friend. That locker had been a place where I could post notes to her about assignments (“Do you understand the reading for tomorrow’s class?”), questions (“When is our AP History test?”), and articles about movies, music, and more. Padlet™ seemed to provide a similarly creative way to reach my students in a less formal manner than just posting announcements on Canvas™.
I was intrigued but still unsure how I could use it to build community and strengthen my relationships with my students, so I watched this video tutorial. The host, Jamie Keet, had a friendly, soothing voice and was adept at explaining how to set up a padlet and what to post on it.
As the tutorial makes clear, Padlet™ is very easy to use. You can pick your background (custom or one of many pre-loaded), determine the layout (in a grid, freeform, in columns, as a timeline, etc.), choose an icon for your class (animals, emojis, etc.), and personalize the URL. (I used the course name).
In addition, it’s simple to share with your students either by emailing them a URL link or by embedding a link directly in a webpage or blog. I included a link to our course padlet page in the first correspondence I sent my students in August, and I had them log on to Padlet™ before class even started.
As with any interactive technology, when you set up a padlet there are a few decisions you need to make regarding the commenting and posting rights of students. Since I wanted this to be a positive experience for everyone, I allow students to post comments, but I disabled the “like” feature to discourage favoritism. To ease the administrative burden, I also disabled the feature that would require me to approve any student posts before they went up. While I understood the concern about policing material that was added to the padlet, I felt like that might take up a substantial amount of my time. Instead, I enabled a feature that replaces profanity with emojis just in case someone tries to post inappropriate language.
Finally, it was time to decide what specific resources to post. I wanted to offer opportunities that would help my students form bonds online that they would normally form in person. I decided to have a Q&A column so that if one student asks a question whose answer would benefit the entire class, I could just post it on our padlet. Too often I receive an email with a question and end up emailing the entire class with the answer; this significantly streamlined that process.
I also added an icebreaker, in video form, to help the students get to know each other. I asked that they each record a short video with “Two Truths and a Lie” about themselves, and I said that we would reveal which was the lie on the first day of class. It was a fun way to quickly get to know each student and have them engage with each other from the outset.
Then I created a column where the students could post links to videos and GIFs throughout the semester that describe how they are feeling at any given time. It seemed like a potentially good outlet for them to express themselves and has introduced me to some very funny material.
All things considered, I am glad to have tried this new platform and pleased with how students have responded to our padlets. They’re easy to create and provide a fun and engaging way to disseminate information. I hope that it has also helped my students build community by encouraging them to share their questions and creativity with their classmates.
Have you recently incorporated new classroom technology? Share your thoughts and ideas at teachlawbetter.com, and we might just post them.