Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Brainstorm and Debate Collaboratively

This morning I spotted Solvr on MakeUseOf and decided to give it a try. Solvr is a free easy and interesting way to collaboratively brainstorm and attempt to solve problems online.

It's very simple set up. You just got to type your problem into the field and then click 'Start'.
You will then see your problem with a number of options underneath.

You can add different elements of the problem, make suggestions by adding ideas and leave comments.

The collaborative part comes in when you share the URL with someone, then other people can come and join in the problem solving and brainstorming. Here's the URL for the 'Making a living 'problem I set up.

I also set up a problem earlier on today, which was about integrating technology into the ELT classroom. I added a couple of elements of the problem and then posted it to Twitter. With a few minutes, the problem started to develop as people added in comments solutions, and even started to vote on the solutions.

If you would like to see how this problem is developing go to and feel free to contribute.

So how do we use this with students?
We can set up a whole range of debates and online collaborative tasks.
  • You could set up debates on the environment or other issues that your students find relevant. Here's an example on how to end world hunger. Each students could have their own topic to brainstorm the elements and causes of the problem, then students could exchange links and try to offer solutions to each other's problems.
  • You could use Solver to get anonymous feedback from your action research tasks. This would also enable you to enter into debate with the students and get a deeper level of understanding of their responses.
  • You could use it to address classroom issues or learning issues and explain some of the rationale behind activities. This would enable students to safely and anonymously discuss the issues with you. Here's an example We don't like reading in class
  • You could use it to brainstorm vocabulary around a topic or theme and then get your students to add definitions, and other elements of information about the words, like their parts of speech, collocations, example sentences etc. Here's an example on politics. Feel free to add to it.
  • We can get students to share their strategies for learning English. Example: How can we improve our English?
  • You could use Solvr to plan an events like a class outing, party or doing a play. This way you can get students to think about the different jobs involved and decisions to be made, decide who will do them and explore the potential obstacles.
What's so good about it?
  • It's free. very quick and really simple to use.
  • It encourages critical thinking skills and the breaking down of problems into manageable elements.
  • It encourages debate and interactive discussion.
  • It's very versatile.
  • Great for interactive homework tasks
  • It can be used synchronously or asynchronously.
  • It can give students time to think about and review what they write.
  • Students can see the ebb and flow of ideas and opinions and the way they interact.
  • Solvr also seems to work in Second Life. Check out Peter Miller's posting: Problem Solvr
  • It's anonymous so students can be honest without being identified.
What I'm not so sure about
  • It's anonymous, so can be open to abuse.
  • It shouldn't be used to replace face to face debate in class, where that is possible, but could be useful to prime students before class so they have more ideas when they come to class for discussion.
  • Carries some advertising, but students can be asked to ignore the ads.
  • It's still being tested, so you debates could disappear or there could be bugs.
I think Solvr is a really useful addition to any teacher's technological tool set, especially if you are involved in any kind of distance learning courses. I hope your students enjoy it and that you think of other useful ways to use it.

Related links:

Nik Peachey