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A safe collaborative space for student projects

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While checking Twitter one day, I noticed a number of Tweets by “FHS Mock Trial” which mentioned itslearning. I became curious, did a bit of research and found out that the posts were written by Mike Walsh, coach of the Mock Trial team at Franklin High School in Franklin, Massachusetts. I emailed him to find out how he uses itslearning…

Mike told me he’s been teaching at Franklin High School (FHS) for thirteen years. He currently teaches US History and National Government & Politics, while also coaching the extracurricular Mock Trial team. Mock Trial is a popular activity in schools across the United States. It provides students with public speaking and debating experience, as well as skills relevant to the practice of law. Mike said he uses itslearning to provide Mock Trial students with a safe online space for collaboration.

Student trials conducted in local courts

The FHS Mock Trial team consists of 50 students from grades 9-12. Competitions against other high school teams take place in local district courts. At the beginning of the trial season, participating schools are issued information packets containing material relevant to the specific case to be tried. Trial topics, such as drunk driving, are often geared toward teenagers and tend to encourage debate of moral issues. The winning schools from each region advance to a state-wide elimination tournament.


Franklin High’s Anirudh Singh consults with his defense team during a mock trial at Milford District Court. Franklin defeated Milford to win a spot in the “Sweet Sixteen”, becoming regional finalists in the Massachusetts Bar Association competition this year.


Interested FHS students audition for the roles of attorney or witness. Mike posted this year’s audition results on itslearning instead of waiting until the students were back at school, as originally planned. He Tweeted that the results were online and watched as his screen “lit up” with students logging in to itslearning to find out what roles they’d been assigned. “This just shows how wired students are to their phones,” Mike remarked.


itslearning Mock Trial project space

Mike created an itslearning project space and invited all his Mock Trial team members to join. A project is a closed area where teachers and students can collaborate and exchange information. In advance of competitions, there’s a lot of material to study: police reports, witness reports, etc. Instead of making copies of these documents, Michael uploads them all to itslearning. He posts field trip consent forms and links to other helpful resources as well.

Come rain, come snow…

To prepare for mock trials, student defense attorneys consult with defendants, prosecuting attorneys question witnesses, etc. Mike and his students meet several times a week to practice. All meetings are posted on itslearning as Events on the project dashboard. During stormy winters in Massachusetts, meetings are often cancelled due to inclement weather. itslearning helps notify students of these cancellations and allows students to collaborate online when they can’t get together. “itslearning is great! I use it in conjunction with Twitter. I grab students’ attention with Twitter and tell them to check itslearning for more details,” Mike informs.


My students are better at using itslearning than I am,” Mike informed me. He said his students were the ones who suggested starting a discussion board on the itslearning Mock Trial community site. They also upload helpful resources, such as the cross examination questions they’re working on, so that others can substitute for them when they can’t make it to practice.

itslearning’s conference and chat tool

The typical Mock Trial member at FHS is a real “go-getter”; a busy student who’s involved in many extracurricular activities. Mike chooses four team captains and gives them lots of responsibility. It’s hard to find a time when these four active students are able to meet. Mike finds it effective to communicate with them using the itslearning conference and chat tool. “It’s been great,” he raves, “I like the real-time, text-based communication it provides.” Mike sometimes schedules chats that all 50 Mock Trial participants can join. He supervises student comments during the chat sessions.

I asked him why he chose itslearning’s chat tool instead of other popular chat tools. He explained that FHS is very consistent with the use of itslearning. “itslearning has received the stamp of approval from our school regarding security, so teachers and students can use it without worrying about legitimacy or crossing boundaries. Besides, itslearning just makes things happen so much faster. Kids can log in wherever they are,” Mike explained.

Thanks so much Mike, for demonstrating how itslearning can facilitate the coaching of Mock Trial teams! Congratulations to your team as well on becoming regional finalists this year!