My recent posts have centered almost exclusively around the looming demise of Storify. I swear I’ll move on from that soon, BUT I did want to write a post about the program I used to get me through one of my assignments this year that I usually use Storify for! I have since then discovered Wakelet, which I blogged about here and which I will most likely use for this particular assignment in the future, but I did get some interesting experience with a new option in the meantime.
Created in 2012, Padlet has been around for awhile. I’d heard teachers talk about it, I’d seen demonstrations, and students had shown me some work they’d done using it, but I’d never actually used it. When I discovered that Storify was dying approximately 24 hours before the class in which I needed to use it, I shrugged and decided to give Padlet a try.
Padlet has been described quite accurately in my opinion as “an online virtual ‘bulletin’ board, where students and teachers can collaborate, reflect, share links and pictures, in a secure location.” Upon creating an account, users can set up a background using any color or image on which they can arrange the information they choose to curate. That information can either be imported using links to images, sites, social media accounts etc. OR it can be uploaded directly from your computer. The Padlet creator can then decide if they want their Padlet to be public or private and if they want to invite collaborators to contribute to the work.
For this assignment, students had to research and create a summary of the rhetorical situation surrounding a set of photos by a particular photographer as a pre-writing activity to an essay in which they read the photos.
Padlet worked well for the students in that it was profoundly flexible. Unlike Storify, which featured a single, linear layout, Padlet is more open-ended. Students could arrange information and links in ways that were more spatially and visually diverse. This reflected their individual learning styles more accurately. The linear thinkers could choose a layout more similar to Storify, but some students chose layouts that more closely resembled word webs or flow charts. The visual nature of Padlet, much like Storify, prompted students to consider the way their visuals communicated the ethos of the photographer they were researching, engaging some unconscious multimodal thought. Also, much like Storify, the shareable nature of the information made it easy for students to collaborate and compare notes.
As with all things in life, there were aspects that created difficulties. The open-ended nature of Padlet was overwhelming for some students, particularly those who were not as experienced in visual composition or those who did not have much background using digital apps. These students tended to shy away from thinking too deeply about the role of their information’s layout, which led several of them to simply throw information onto the board in a haphazard manner. For these students, a pre-determined linear layout would have been beneficial. The difficulty of learning an unfamiliar program was stressful for some students, although I believe that is an important process for them to experience safely and with my support.
Ultimately, while Padlet actually created more affordances and opportunities for some students, it was a little too free-form for others. Because of this, I will most likely use Wakelet for this assignment next time, but I MAY recommend Padlet to a few select students who I think it would be a good fit for.
Here are some examples of students who created what I consider to be really smart Padlets that served as their research hubs for the essays they went on to write:
- Padlet on Sergey Ponomarev’s photos of Syrian refugees
- Padlet on Uriel Sinai’s photos of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake
- Padlet on Uriel Sinai’s photos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
At the end of the day, if you give smart students cool tools, they’ll do smart and cool things with them. And Padlet is a cool tool to have in my set.