[Updated] Apps in Action: Increase Student Participation and Collaboration with Padlet

Update: Padlet now has its own iPad app, check it out:

IMG_0932-0Padlet by Wallwisher, Inc. is available for free on the App Store.


Whether you’re a newbie or an EdTech whizz, Padlet is an app you absolutely have to use! If you haven’t heard of it already, Padlet is a web based application which allows you to create a digital wall on which posts can be placed. Posts could include pieces of text, photos, videos (Eg. YouTube links) or website links. Think of Padlet as an alternative to placing Post-It Notes on a white board and you’ll get the idea. It’s a fantastic tool for collaboration.

Classroom Uses
Padlet is a fantastic way to enable learners to share and collaborate with one another. I’ve used it to create digital question walls for classes. Each class has a digital wall where they can post any questions they have. What makes Padlet so great is the fact that learners can all see the wall, so they can respond to each other’s questions too: a great way to encourage collaborative learning. Another advantage of this is the fact that this is always available allowing them to learn 24/7. If learners have a question when they are at home, or if they want to refer to something on the wall, it is always there for them.

This is also a fantastic tool for collating research which can then be shared with either a group or the whole class. One example where I’ve used this is when studying flooding in Bangladesh. Learners were split into group of 4, with each group having a different wall. One person from each group was assigned a topic related to a flooding case study to research:

1.) Background, contextual information
2.) The causes
3.) The effects
4.) The responses

This enabled them to work both independently, but also as part of a wider team. Furthermore, since they were just focusing on one specific area, they were able to delve much deeper and find out a lot more rather than just scratching the surface.

Setup
First you’ll have to sign up for a Padlet account, which is free. All you’ll need to do is enter a valid email address, create a password and you’re good to go! Although you need an account to create walls in Padlet, learners do not need an account to post to a wall, which is a bonus.

Once you have signed up and logged in, you’ll be presented with your Dashboard. I recommend bookmarking this, or even adding it to your Home Screen if you’re going to use it regularly: it just saves a bit of time. The Dashboard is pretty self explanatory, however your first step is to click Create New Padlet:
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It’s that simple, you’ve just created your first wall! However there are a number of settings you may want to change to make using the app easier.

Title and Description
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After selecting settings (cog button) you’ll first be asked to give your wall a name and description. This might sound trivial, but adding this information becomes vital as you begin creating a number of walls. You can even add a portrait, like a profile picture. It gives you the option to either choose one of the preset portraits or to add one from your Camera Roll.

Wallpaper
Like adding a title and description, adding a wallpaper may not seem essential. Similarly to adding a portrait, you can either choose a default wallpaper or upload one of your own. It can serve two main functions. Firstly, it can make your wall more visually appealing, which is cool, but doesn’t really add anything in terms of learning and may even cause a distraction. If I do change the background for this purpose, I tend to keep it quite simple, like a solid colour for example. However, with a bit of creativity, you can use the wallpaper function to have an impact on learning:
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The example above is one of the default wallpapers, but shows what is possible. One way I’ve used this feature is creating a KWL table in Pages, taking a screenshot, cropping the photo and using the image as the wallpaper. Learners then put their posts in the appropriate column, making it a useful way to help organise information.

Layout
There are 3 different ways to layout your Padlet wall:
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By default, walls are set to free form. This enables learners to place their post anywhere on the wall. This is especially useful when using Padlet for categorisation tasks as it means learners can place their posts in the most appropriate place. Furthermore, it’s also useful for general discussion where learners can perhaps post a response next to a question asked by somebody. However, one issue with this is it can get quite messy if learners are placing lots of posts in random places, so be wary of that.

Stream addresses these issues by presenting posts in a stream format, similarly to posts on Twitter. Once a learner posts something, it will appear underneath the post before and so on. This certainly appears much tidier which is useful when compiling research on a topic. However posts are organised by the time they were posted, so if students are replying to one another’s questions, this isn’t ideal as the answers may be a number of posts away from the original question. Grid is another similar variation, whereby posts are displayed in a grid layout.

Once you have created your wall, the layout is not fixed and can be changed at any time. I find this a particularly useful feature as I’ll often allow learners to post in free form mode, however when I want to export it and share it via Showbie for example, I may, depending on the task, switch to stream before exporting since it’s much neater and often easier for learners to follow.

Privacy
There are a number of privacy settings available which make using Padlet more secure:
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You can lock your wall to ensure only the people you want to contribute, can. You can do this either by adding an email address or by assigning a password which must be entered beforehand. Alternatively, you can opt to keep you link hidden. This means that it will not show up on any internet search engines.

Perhaps the most significant tool for an educator here is the ability to moderate posts. This means that anything that is posted on the wall will need to be approved by the teacher before it appears on the wall. This is particularly useful as it means that if anything inappropriate is posted by a learner, you can prevent it from being seen by others. This may not always be necessary and is down to your judgement. I know which classes I have to use this with and which I don’t. However in my experience, I’ve found that once learners know that anything they post will have to be approved by me first, they do not even try to post anything inappropriate.

Address
This setting enables you to modify the web address of your wall. By default any walls your create will have the address: padlet.com/your username/random alphanumeric code:
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Padlet gives you the option of changing the end part of the address to anything you wish, assuming it hasn’t already been used by somebody else. I generally use the year, followed by the class code and then the topic; for example “158SDubai“. This makes it much easier to share the URL with learners as typing that in is much easier than a random mix of 15 numbers and letters. Alternatively, if you have your own domain name, you can host a Padlet wall yourself.

As well as this, by pressing the share button Padlet provides lots of other ways to make it easier to share your wall with learners:
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It links with numerous social network sites which is great. For example, if you and your classes are using Twitter, you could Tweet a link out to a class: a very simple way to quickly distribute that link to all. Just be wary of the fact that the link is then public, meaning anybody who clicked on it could make a post. Furthermore, Padlet even conveniently creates a QR code, linked to your wall which learners can quickly scan and be go straight to the page. I’ll often display the QR code on the projector and ask learners to scan it as they walk in so that they’re ready to go from the off.

Conclusion
As mentioned already, Padlet is a fantastic tool and if you’re not using it already, you have to give it a go! It gives every learner a voice and ensures nobody is left out making it a great tool for AfL too.

IMG_0932-0Padlet is available for free online as a web app.

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