Sunday, September 30, 2007

A helpful tool or a way to cheat?

There has been some discussion on LM_Net recently about this website: It calls itself a Thesis Builder and Online Outliner and promises it will help students draft a clear thesis statement for your persuasive essay. It then give students a set of directions to use the site.

I currently have 4th and 5th grade students who need to write persuasive essays. So, I took a look at Thesis Builder Online Outliner to see if it would be a useful organization tool to help them with their essays. First, I am not sure it is a good thing for elementary students that cannot type. But, when I worked at the high school I did have students who could have benefited from using this website to organize their essays. Keep in mind that I am not 100% convinced that it is a useful tool yet. I have used it two or three times using various arguments and it seems to give me nonsense back. I tried to put in an argument regarding episode 82 of Cranky Geeks. The geeks argued about bloggers being considered journalists and therefore entitled to protection under shield laws. The guest was Josh Wolf, a blogger who according to the blurb on the website “received the Longest Content-Related Jail Term of any Journalist in U.S. History--For Not Turning Over a Video” to police. I would love to use this podcast to spur a first amendment discussion in a high school government class. But I digress; when I put in the information into Thesis Builder, I got some nonsense back. They took the information I put into the blanks, and jumbled it around. There were double periods in some sentences and in one spot there was a comma at the beginning of a sentence. If students are looking for correct punctuation, and a way to cheat this site will not give it to them. But, if students are stuck for a thesis statement and want to organize and re-organize their thoughts, I think this is a great site. It is no different than giving students graphic organizers to help them plan out their papers. I think it is neat that it is online, it may appeal to those reluctant to use paper graphic organizers. It could be another tool for teachers to introduce to students. I don’t agree with those who think it is cheating because the students have to plug their own ideas into the blanks on the website. At most it helps them organize their thoughts. Oh, now that I am thinking of it, I wonder if the website wants students to put to leave out punctuation in the blank boxes and then it will put the punctuation in itself. I will have to try that next.
Anyway, if you have not listened to the John Dvorak Cranky Geek episode above, listen and then let me know if you think bloggers should be considered journalists… and if Sebastian is correct that journalism schools are a waste of time. It was a very lively discussion and I found myself talking back to my computer!