Tapped In Member Perspectives: Meet Derrel Fincher
Derrel (Derrelf) spent fifteen years in engineering prior to becoming a teacher
in 1998. He switched careers when he found himself in front of a class of sixth
grade math students for nine weeks in 1997 and realized he liked it! Now with
certifications in K-12 Mathematics and Elementary Education he is a Math and
Technology teacher at the American School in Japan. He discovered TAPPED IN
when it was a requirement for his coursework in Pepperdine University's Online
Master of Arts in Educational Technology (OMAET) program but he found it so
useful he now uses it with his middle school students as well as using it for
discussions with other professionals.
The most significant learning for individuals occurs within a social context,
whether it's an engineering team trying to create a new product or authors
discussing writing. I try to give my students the same experience of learning
within a social context I enjoyed as an engineer.
Synchronous communications supports the social context and it allowed me to
pursue two key goals: build on the emphasis on mathematical discourse I had
in the classroom and help my students learn how to engage in professional
discussions online. After investigating several chat options, all of which
had one failing or another that would have made it difficult to use with
sixth graders, I decided to try TAPPED IN as I felt I knew the advantages
and pitfalls fairly well from my own experiences.
When I first introduced my students to the environment, I gave them some time
just to "play." I quickly found myself in the middle of sixth grade virtual
reality still sounding just like a teacher: "Jane, please don't get champagne
from the vending machine. Tatsu, please don't sic Balrog on Saori unless she
wants to play. Bobby..." Well, you get the idea. When I next went into my
virtual office, I found virtual toys all over the virtual floor. I started
ejecting toys back to their owners, muttering to myself how I would have to
remind them they shouldn't mess up my office when it hit me - I was reacting
just like they had left toys in a real office! I was seeing the environment
as an extension of my classroom. Unlike my classroom, I could build new rooms
in TAPPED IN. I quickly built a student plaza off my office and added several
additional conference rooms so that students could meet in small groups or
gather in one large area without popping into my office when I was in a meeting.
Several students saw the improvement in my real estate and wanted their own
rooms, which I was happy to give them. Students were soon checking into TI
daily to chat with others, with many creating their own objects or rooms, and
teaching others how to do it as well.
This was quite an adventure for all of us but was it worth the time we were
dedicating to it? I'll let some of my sixth graders tell about how they saw it:
- "I think that the TI class discussions went very well in class. TI went
well because it is sort of like you are not pressured to talk, you can just
follow along and say something when you are ready."
- "I think TI was useful in learning. When we were discussing our algorithms,
I found out, using TI, that mine wasn't correct. I also thought deeper when
we were talking about Samantha's tile problem. I also think that TI is
different from talking in class. I feel that I get distracted easier in
class than on TI. Maybe it's because I can play with things in class. It's
possible to do that on TI, but I find it more fun to actually touch and play
with things. It could also be because I can sort of talk easier with people
when I'm not face to face. I feel more comfortable at my house."
- "I definitely think that TAPPED IN was helpful in learning. Even if you
were pretty sure about the answer you got you could still discuss it with
other people, without having to be at school, and get other points of views.
Sometimes I find it easier to discuss in TAPPED IN because you can write
whatever it is you want to say and then you can read over it real quickly
and make sure it makes sense. In the class room you can't do that since when
you say something it's hard to take it back."
Comments such as these, as well as the interactions evident in their transcripts,
showed we had successfully created a viable social context within TAPPED IN that
supplemented the classroom. We will be in TAPPED IN again this year.
It wasn't always a smooth trip in our TAPPED IN adventure and I made plenty of
mistakes. If you are contemplating having students in TAPPED IN, the following
points are well worth heeding:
- Send the students' names to your contact at TAPPED IN so each student will
get their own account. It's easier to identify the students and they will take
ownership over their persona.
- Require every student to get a recorder and check occasionally to make sure
they have it.
- Create an email address just to receive the transcripts so you can monitor
the online activity. Your Internet service provider or school can often set
one up for no charge. I downloaded Eudora and used the free version on a
separate machine to check that address. I had set up filters in Eudora so
that when the transcript came in, it would redirect one copy to me and one
to the student if they had given an email address.
- Let the students' parents know what you are doing and why.
- Stress to the students that the student account is for them to use and
has several safeguards. They may not register as a regular user because
they do not meet the requirements and they may not use a guest account.
(I had to deal with both issues.)
- Stress appropriate behavior and explain the guidelines for using TI. Remind
them you will be reading all of the transcripts.
Using TAPPED IN
- Model and expect professional-level communications from your students
when they are engaged in professional discussions. This includes using
correct capitals, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and spelling to the best
of their ability, as well as staying focused on the etiquette of a discussion.
Your students already know how to chat, but most likely they only do it
with friends and have not had a chance to learn or practice communications
in a professional setting. After a few TI sessions, discuss what behaviors
help a discussion and what hinder it. My students were most annoyed by mood
changes and comments that fail to move the discussion along, as well as
side discussions that people would start with each other.
- Encourage students to use TI for class topics and have them send an edited
transcript to you. Don't let them just forward a transcript - you already
have it. Having them edit the transcript will help you see if they really
understand what they are doing and know how to pull information from the
- Create a separate room off your office for your students to gather in
and have them set that as their home. Create several rooms off that room
so you can have students gather in small groups to discuss a problem.
- Meet your students online outside of school on occasion, and don't be
surprised if the quiet child suddenly becomes one of the biggest contributors.
- If you get stuck, ask for help and suggestions from TAPPED IN staff and
other users. Sharing is a way of life in TAPPED IN.