The following is a simulation of email correspondence between Louann Reid and me regarding Web Pals. I had asked her for some comments regarding her experiences this year, as Web Pals is new for her.
I'm not quite sure what to tell you. The preservice teachers are working with three sites online--yours, Ted's, and papers on a Blog that a teacher in eastern Colorado set up. They have had inordinate difficulties getting connected. (Ted's technology was down for a while.) And then they are anxious because the students aren't replying to them.
I need to know if students aren't replying. We sometimes have a problem with our spam filter. If messages are getting caught, then both sides think the other is not sending messages. It causes bad feelings and can damage the whole program.
They want the students to take their advice or, at least, to say that it was or was not helpful. Oh, and one noted that the young man did not seem interested in further correspondence when she wasn't willing to talk about going on a date with him or what college is *really* like.
Was this one of my students?? I need to know. One thing we teach through our CE classes is proper behavior online. I would certainly address this with my student.
I have asked them to write reflections on the experience, but those aren't due until after Thanksgiving. I do know that, historically, students are thrilled to work with "real students." I also know that this is invaluable experience because they have to wrestle with "What do I respond to?" "How do I respond in such a way that students get help AND encouragement?" "Should I edit the paper/site for them?" We have discussed those questions in class, but each case presents another question--which is why I like doing something like this.
These are all good questions and are part of the process. As teachers, they will ask these same questions, especially at first. This is exactly why I think a telementor program like this is beneficial to the college students. They get an extra authentic experience.
I'd like to know more from your point of view, too. How is it working for your students?
So far, several of my students are having a great time. I probably should monitor the emails, but I don't want to because I want the conversation to be honest and open. I don't think that would happen if they knew I was reading everything. Plus, it would seem like an assignment then. Now it seems like fun. Though of course, I do want them to talk about writing.
I did take a poll recently to find out how many emails each student had received and how many replies they had sent. I had two or three who said they had no emails yet (not good for everyone should have received at least one). There were three students who had between 4-6, and they were really excited. For them, the experience is something they look forward to.
I've enjoyed working with you on this, and I hope to refine things on my end when I have the same class--but different students--next semester.
I know that Vicki Hester found ways to make the experience better after having gone through it the first time. It would be a good thing, I think for the three of us to meet in a moo to talk about it (and invite your other partners as well).
In reflection, I think I should push harder for more of my students to be involved, but I hate to build web pals up too early in the year in case I can't get enough college students to participate. But this year, with your students, I found that I had a harder time getting my students to volunteer. Vicki really wanted two of my students per one of hers and I couldn't make that happen. A program like this needs a few years of positive results behind it to give it momentum.
November 2005, used with permission.