Make haste slowly

Recently I pulled a hamstring shoveling snow. It was totally frustrating, as I had intended to go hard practicing yoga over the holidays to catch up after a term of intense teaching and learning. When I expressed this frustration to my yoga instructor, the response was ” Sometimes you need to make haste slowly.”
I am someone who always dives in to things with a passion. I get excited and completely immerse myself. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, often it leads to me being exhausted as I try to maintain the many things that are important in my life: school, family, yoga, friends, exercise, and university. In both my working and my private life, I am usually the first to say “Let’s try it!” or “Of course I can.”, and then putting all of my energy into being the best at everything I do. Recently, this has caught up to me. I realized that I had to let something go. Letting go of my my family or my teaching was not an option, so my university course for the winter had to go. It was a difficult decision to make without feeling like a failure. Fortunately, George Couros recently wrote a post about dropping a plan for his school that he held dear. He spoke about understanding when it was time to back away and to solidify what we have. I have made great gains in my learning about technology: using Web 2.0 tools, using Twitter as a PLN, and using a blog to increase my growth and learning in technology. Time is always an issue, but if my goal is to make small sustainable changes rather than big ones, I need to develop a workable plan to continue my learning. Tweeting, writing, and researching technology can be done in small steps. Like yoga, I can practice technology slowly and with care, building my strength and flexibility rather than pushing and injuring myself.

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The Neverending Story – Web 2.0

When I began the Amazing Race for Web 2.0 Tools, I thought of myself as fairly competent with technology. After all, I could create a word document, surf the Internet and send/receive email! I had started to become familiar with cloud computing through our school’s technology cohort and involvement in the ‘Portal Project’, an intranet site for our district where staff and students could create sites and blogs and use Google Apps for Education.  As a new teacher librarian, I was the troubleshooter for technology problems involving computers, Smartboards, laptops and wireless. I had also used wikis, Glogster and blogging in inquiry instruction with students. I felt confident as I embarked on this journey, worrying more about my complex teaching assignment than any roadblocks on the Web 2.0 highway. The route for my journey seemed clear: reach one destination per week, collecting information, ideas, and connections, describe and reflect on both the experience of travelling to the destination, and its value in promoting student learning. Little did I know what I had in store. At the end of the journey, I am still passionate, but weary, and the ‘Lissa Van’ is slightly battered, worn, and cluttered both with the usual debris of a journey: papers, books, fast food containers and empty tea cups, and the technical debris: stray websites, numerous passwords, logins and Evernotes, the odd microphone or two, a full Dropbox, battered keyboards and an iPad touchscreen in deep need of a cleaning!
The road to my first destination; Photosharing, was rough and rocky. Teaching kindergarten (33 four and five year olds!), grade 1/2 (26 students and a new grade for me!) and trying to maintain my library presence in just .27 FTE was challenging enough by day, nevermind transforming into SuperScholar at night! Maintaining a presence on the online message board took most of my free time, with occasional forays into the Web universe to research my first topic: using Flikr. Not being a photo type of gal, I found it difficult to relate to Flikr. I did find some interesting ways to use Flikr in the classroom, but overall was not really motivated to research the tool (sorry, Flikr afficiandos). This was not my finest hour. After this posting, I shared some information on Flikr with one of my staff, and she went bonkers over it. As a scrapbooker, she loves Flikr and was thrilled to get some ideas of how to use it in her classroom. Learning no. 1: Never assume that, just because it’s not your thing, someone else isn’t going to love it.
My next stopover was Videosharing. Although still struggling to multitask and juggle so many roles (did I mention that I have a husband and three children, too?), I managed to stay on top of the online discussion and spend more time on research. Videosharing was digitally distracting! I kept getting sidetracked by interesting video clips both on TeacherTube and YouTube. Much of the information I discovered about videosharing was related to its blockage in most school districts (including my own) and the corresponding difficulty for teachers who wish to use this highly engaging tool with their students. Later on, as I continued my journey towards other destinations, I discovered more ideas about not only showing video clips in the classroom, but how the creation of video clips helps students with 21st century skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and evaluation. With the ease of using tools such as Jing and Flip cameras, video sharing is simple and easy for even the youngest students to use.
After this post, I tried creating some video clips of my students in grade 1/2 to showcase their learning about seasons in science. They were highly motivated and excited to be able to see themselves on tape. It also allowed those students who had difficulty with writing to show their learning in an alternate way, and be successful! Learning no. 1: Don’t overlook the teaching value of something that seems purely entertainment. Learning no. 2: Students will learn better when they are motivated and engaged.
On to Social Bookmarking. By now, we had hired another kindergarten teacher to assist in my classroom, my grade 1/2s were settling in, my first collaborative unit was well underway, and my children had settled into their university courses. (Notice my husband is not on this list…he still insists that I’m having a double affair with my computer and iPad!).  Diigo and Evernote were tools that I already had some experience in and found very helpful in my own life. As a student, teacher, and regular Internet user, I needed every tool I could get to stay on top of and manage the information barrage. Feeling motivated and connected, I found it much easier to research, discuss and share. As I re-evaluated both sites and reflected on my use of them so far, I found myself using them more and more regularly. Now, I can’t imagine NOT using them daily. Learning no. 1: Students and staff are more motivated to use tools that fill a need and have personal relevance to them. I tried to get my staff to sign up for Diigo, enabling us to share useful sites, and enabling them to store bookmarks where they could access them whenever necessary. Ooops! The computer lab (terminal server 😦 ) would not allow them to sign up to the site, and so they ended up watching me demo and talk about Diigo, left and promptly forgot how/why to use it. Learning no. 2: Always expect a glitch. Learning no. 3: Staff and students need to USE technology, not just see it in action. During this experience, I found out that some of them didn’t even know how to use their Favorites or Bookmarks bar on Internet Explorer. Learning no. 4: Never assume the experience/comfort levels of staff/students with technology.
Next stop: Podcasting. Although this journey was characterized by a flat tire or two, some of the learnings from Videosharing came into play. Wow, let’s look for help on YouTube! Roadside assistance was offered by total strangers via YouTube tutorials. High-ho, YouTube to the rescue! Once I arrived and had a chance to explore Podcasting, it seemed like my kind of place…probably because I love the sound of my own voice! Podcasting allowed me to use all my hidden drama…without worrying about what I looked like :). It was simple to use (after the tutorials:)), fun, creative and educational. Another tool I took and used right away in the classroom and in the library, creating podcasts of booktalks, as examples of fluency, and collecting podcasts for social studies. Students and teachers loved creating and listening to them. Learning no.1: Teachers and students are more motivated to use tools that are relevant and fun for them. (Have I said this before?) While using Audioboo and Audacity for podcasting, some glitches came up within our system. (You’re surprised?) Learning no.2: Always expect a glitch. (I think I’ve said this before?) A district tech dude said we should try a cloud-based computing tool, Aviary. Once more back to the YouTube tutorials. Learning no 3. The learning never ends…technology is ever changing, ever growing.
Onward and upward to the wonderful wayside stop of Wikis. My familiarity with wikis (I had used them frequently last year) made this post a joy to write. I finally felt that I knew what I was talking about! (Can you sense the foreshadowing here?) It was easy to share my wiki successes, much more difficult to share my struggles. OK, failures. Putting your screw-ups out for the world to see is uncomfortable. I know, I know, we learn so much more from our failures than our successes, but I’d prefer to learn in private :).  Learning no.1: Successes are easier to share than failures. Staff and students at my school loved using wikis. Their simplicity of use and the final result give you a big bang for your buck. Learning no. 2: Staff and students enjoy tools that are simple to learn and fun to use. (Do you see a theme here?) The collaborative aspect of wikis, aligned with the ability to upload videos, images, and links to create a mini-website, made it a versatile tool. As much as I thought I had learned about wikis, researching them gave me so many more ideas about how to use them: as class websites, as PLNs, as a tool for online learning, and more.Learning no. 3: The learning never ends. (Oh, oh, oh, another theme!)
Ah, the byways of Multimedia Presentation Tools. There are millions (OK, maybe thousands) (OK, maybe lots) of presentation tools. Which byways to explore and which to give a pass. It was difficult, all seemed so inviting. I finally settled on five tools, Voicethread, Animoto,  Jing, Prezi, and Vuvox. First, I needed to create  a presentation using each tool (duh). I had discovered a wonderful wiki about digital storytelling tools, where the author, Alan Levine, used the same storyline to demonstrate each tool. Great idea! However, the muse took over and I ended up using different ideas for each tool. Learning no. 1. When the muse hits you over the head with an idea, STOP and THINK about how much time and effort it’s going to take! Even though creating the presentations took up a massive amount of time, it was fun to do. Learning no. 2: When it’s fun, you do it and it doesn’t feel like ‘Learning’. As I began using Jing, I found it rocks to create instructional videos for staff! No longer was I rushing from room to room or trying to simplify and type out instructions in an email when we had a common question (Like: “How do I get the banner off when I print to the copier?”, or “Where can I find the P drive?”). Now, I just create a screencast and send the link. Staff who require repeated explanations can save the links in their bookmarks to have them at their fingertips to peruse over and over again.  Learning no. 3: There’s a million (OK, maybe thousands) (OK, maybe lots) of ways you can use these tools. While I was able to create an overview of each tool for my post, it was clear to me that each tool could have used it’s own post. Learning no. 4. There’s always more you can add….but you gotta stop somewhere!
By now, the ‘Lissa Van’ was getting droopy, but I struggled to embrace the scene of Social Networking. This one was tough. Once again, this was a tool that did not have personal significance for me. While I realize that I am in an online, wired world, and participate in that online world, I just don’t do Facebook (unless someone (aka my daughters) makes me!). On the other hand, I am a big believer in community, and as I researched more and more about social networks, I found myself connecting  to the idea of building community, and a global community at that. Once again, the professional side overtook the personal side. The networks I used the most were ones connected to work and professional development, such as Classroom 2.0 and Teacherlibrarian Ning. I was amazed at the statistics of how many students are hooked into social media, and one of the most powerful quotes for me was from Chris Lehmann “Schools have always taught kids how to present themselves — that’s why we did oral presentations in the classroom. Now we need to teach them to present themselves electronically.” Learning no.1: Doesn’t matter if I don’t use it, social networking is a fact of 21st century life, kids ARE using it, and it is my responsibility to to teach them how to use it appropriately. However, I still thought of it as a middle or secondary school thing. After taking an informal poll of my division two students, I was surprised to find how many of them are already on social media sites. Learning no. 2: Never assume….students are using technology at younger and younger ages.
Needed a major overhaul on the road to Twitter. Did not want to go to Twitter, would have loved to detour around Twitter, but there it was, sitting solidly on my path. I had been told to sign up and follow tweets from certain people, and had done so faithfully in preparation for this trip. I signed up for TweetDeck and Hootsuite, and dove in the raging river of Twitter. I was quickly lost as tweet after tweet washed over me. The ‘Lissa Van’ was sinking! Learning no.1: I need time to process! I require time, and the Twitter ‘waterfall’, as xxx commented (link to comment) is  never still. Learning no. 2: Sometimes, there’s no time to process, and you just need to make it work for you. Creating a Tweet Plan helped. As I researched and used Twitter more often, I began to see it’s value, especially as a professional development tool. Learning no.3: If a flock of professionals you trust tell you to try something, it’s probably a good thing. Learning no.4 Sometimes you need to stick with and work through the uncomfortableness and try, try, try again. This stop was also where I experienced my first ‘traffic ticket’…a comment that asked me to think beyond the ideas that I had presented and consider other learnings. OMG! Somebody’s listening! Learning no. 4: When you blog, you are truly out there…it ain’t just you and your computer, babe!
Penultimate stopover: Blogging. Well, this should have been familiar territory. After all, blogging has been the way we have recorded our travelogue. However, as always with the Web 2.0 highway, there were new learnings along the way. Once again, researching and reading ideas from leaders in the field and other teachers gave me insights as to the whys and wherefores of my blogging successes and failures (there’s that word again!). Learning no 1:  There’s always something new to learn. (The theme continues!). RSS feeds to my iPad opened up a whole new world of teaching ideas, philosophies and issues. I felt I was learning so much every day. Learning no.2: Do not read your RSS feeds on your iPad in bed before you go to sleep, it makes your brain sizzle with thoughts and ideas and you have to play many games of Spider Solitaire before you can get to sleep… much later than you expected. Some days, my blogging voice seemed bang on…I had an idea and the words flowed. Other days, it seemed to come and go, and while I was presenting information well, I felt I would have liked to put more of myself into the post.  Learning no3. Blogging is WRITING! I know, I know, it seems an oxymoron, but blogging requires all of the traits of writing, and editing, editing, editing.
The Most Frequent Five Learnings:
1. Students and staff are more motivated to use tools that fill a need, are simple and fun to use, and have personal relevance.
2. Students and staff will learn better if they are engaged with the tools and using the technology themselves.
3. Never assume the experience/comfort levels of technology for staff/students.
4. Always expect a glitch.
5. The learning never ends. The learning never ends. The learning never ends.
What tools will I take away for immediate use with staff/students? Well, as the song below says, “They can’t take that away from me!” All of the tools I have learned in this course will stay with me, some to be used now, some later.
In determining which Web 2.0 tools that I will share with colleagues and students, I think of Steven Baule’s (2010) recap of research in why some schools do not embrace technology: poor accessibility, the reliability of technology and lack of professional development. I work in a school that has a great deal of technology, including a dedicated computer lab, laptops and netbooks. We recently increased our bandwidth to enhance our internet speed. Our technology has a few glitches (see Frequent Five no. 4), however, for the most part, working in cloud computing has eased many technical problems. Our principal is dedicated to icreasing our use of technology as a teaching tool. She has created a technology leadership team that is given extensive PD, and is expected to teach and support teachers in their use of technology to engage students and move their learning forward. While Prensky (2001) can argue that older teachers are digital natives, I have found it is more the lack of motivation and time than any lack of ability for teachers of any age to embrace technology. Time still remains an issue for most educators I talk with. While schools and districts recognize that 21st century skills are necessary and technology is a tool to drive these skills, time (read: money) for teachers to learn and explore new tools is scarce. Teacher-librarians need to be interested in and willing to spend the time researching technology, in order to truly lead students and staff into the global world of the 21st century. Joyce Valenza’s post You know if you’re a 21st century librarian if…. and her sequel, Apps for Student Teacher Librarians, highlight the skills we need to acquire and be comfortable with. Not only do we need to be comfortable with them, our goal must be to share our knowledge and skills with others.
Understanding that the universe of Web 2.0 tools is ever-expanding (keep in mind Frequent Five Learnings no. 5), how can I decide which tools will be best to begin teaching to my staff and students? Baule (2010) to the rescue! While his article The components of successful technologies shares criteria for deciding on hardware and programs to use, I believe the same criteria can be effectively applied to Web 2.0 tools.
1. The tool must be user-friendly (see Frequent Five no. 1)
2. It must be engaging (see Frequent Five no. 2)
3. It must fill a need. (see Frequent Five no. 1)
4. It must be flexible: able to adjust to the experienced and novice user, as well as lend itself to different uses. (see Frequent Five nos.1 and 3)
5. It must be results oriented. Remember Web 2.0 tools are just that…tools. Our focus should always be student learning and growth.
In my school, rather than thinking of which specific tools to work with, I think we should create a scope and sequence of technology, creating a technology plan to introduce a variety of tools over time, say the rest of this year and next year. We have already explored wikis, are continuing to explore blogging, and are beginning to create podcasts. At the moment, my vision of our timeline looks like this:
  1. Introduce (again) Diigo to enable staff to share website resources.(try the laptops first to ensure no glitches this time!). Staff are constantly reinventing the wheel in their search for websites for themselves and students. Many sites are forgotten or cannot be accessed when needed, as they are on their desktop at school. Diigo will allow our staff to build and share a common repertoire of useful websites, including the ability to share highlights and  annotations. We will also be able to use Diigo for education with our students, allowing teachers to share subject specific sites with them, or allowing students to create their own groups to share sites. Sites can be accessed by staff and students 24/7 from any Internet connection. This is also a gentle introduction to using Social Networking with both staff and students.
  2. Introduce new Multimedia  Presentation tools (time to move past Powerpoint!). Staff continue to use Powerpoint, because they are familiar with it. Students are exposed to so much more media that is interactive, that they find Powerpoint tired and ‘lame’ to quote a few. Interactive tools such as Animoto, Voicethread, Prezi, and others allow students the ability to share information in a way that excites and interests them. Staff are looking for presentation tools that are simple to create, engaging for students and meet learning needs (Frequent Five no. 1). Staff who are explaining how to use computer tools over and over again, from year to year or class to class, can use Jing to save their teaching, and simply show the video to students when needed, allowing students who require extra help the option of getting it whenever they need, simply by clicking on a link (saved in Diigo, of course!)
  3. Develop our use of Videosharing: focusing on students creating and sharing video. We have purchased one Flip cam per grade level team, and the expectation is that they will be used by staff and students to record events, student plays, projects or readings, etc. Staff are interested in how to best use the Flips, and in sharing the clips via their class websites, or by loading them onto TeacherTube (YouTube still being semi-blocked by the district). Teachers are also interested in sharing curriculum related Internet videos, perhaps by using a site like Vodpod, or just using Diigo for this as well.
  4. Deepen our understanding of wikis, blogging and podcasting (see Frequent Five no.5). We have already begun to use wikis and blogs, however we have just scratched the surface of using these sites with our students. So far, our blogging efforts have been mostly teacher posts requiring student comments. We need to move to students creating their own content through posting as well as commenting, creating their own blogs to show their learning, as both process and product. Teachers can be creating their own blogs to reflect on their learning, and if we ask teachers to comment on each other’s posts, we can create a reflective, collaborative tool to increase our own learning and deepen our practice. Wikis have been used in our school as pathfinders, note-takers, storytelling receptacles and presentation vehicles. Why not try using them for collaborative problem solving, journaling, portfolios, study guides, or notes collaboration? With the emphasis on collaboration in creating global learners, we should continue to explore and use this tool with students. We have just scratched the surface of podcasting and there is so much to learn about using it as a tool with students to create booktalks, showcase their learning, write and perform plays, create study guides, and more. Students can also search for and listen to podcasts in curricular areas such as social studies, language arts and more. Teachers can create podcasts for parent information, class notes for those who struggle with taking and reading notes, record professional development for others who are unable to attend, to present their ideas for teaching and learning in an alternate format, snf more. Even though we have already explored and use these tools, Frequent Five no. 5 says that there is no end to our learning. I am reminded by a quote on learning meditation from Lawrence Le Shan (2004): “When you get there, you find there is no there there.” The learning goes on and on. 🙂
Does this mean that the other tools will be set aside, or ignored? Not at all. I will continue to use Twitter, and will continue to expand my knowledge and use of  Social networking and Flikr (see Frequent Five no. 5). Like any good teaching, you need to start where your staff/students are. We were at an Alan November conference recently, and when he started talking about the benefits and advantages of Twitter, I could see their eyes glazing over. They are not ready to embrace Twitter as a tool , so I would be best to focus on the tools that fulfill their needs, have relevance for their teaching, and are simple, fun and easy to use.( Frequent Fives 1 & 2). My top personal tool? Definitely social bookmarking. I use Diigo and Evernote daily. My top professional tool? RSS feeds and blogs. Who knew that I would be reading blogs daily, bookmarking and sharing them on Diigo, and tweeting them out to the Twitterverse?
We have been asked to highlight a few key things we learned from others in the class…well, this would be a whole dissertation! Our mini-social network has made me re-think, reflect and review ideas and sites.My discussion group: Cecile, Kim, Kristie and Tanya have given me so much of their vision and experiences. There have been many moments where I thought, “Oh, interesting idea (or link, or lesson, or book).” or have said, “Wow, someone else feels/thinks that way!” Beyond the discussion group, so many others in the course have been my teachers: Janet (when do you sleep, woman?), Jeff, Shelly, Yvonne, Anne, Franki and Jacqui, to name a few. I have madly clicked on links, bookmarked sites, signed up for accounts (do you have any idea how many passwords I have in my Blackberry??), and tried new ideas. Not only have I learned through the course material, the discussions have been the best PD I could have had. I believe we have created a community of online learners who have supported each other and helped each other grow. The ‘Lissa Van’ is not the same vehicle it was when it started out. If true learning is being profoundly changed by the information we learn, then I have achieved true learning from the interactions with my fellow students. Thank you to all of you for your insights, compassion, fervour, and reflections!
So is this the end? I think my story, like Bastian’s is a Neverending Story. My quest is to work with others to bring them to the world and experience of Web 2.0, not as an expert, but as a fellow journeywoman on the way, sharing her knowledge and learning from others. What, specifically, am I going to do to continue this journey? After a pit-stop to refuel, relax and refresh, the ‘Lissa Van’ will continue it’s journey towards lifelong learning: adding and reading RSS feeds, my Twitter plan, presenting my scope and sequence to my principal, and trying to use blogging as a professional development tool.
References:
Baule, S. (2010). The components of successful technologies. In Rosenfeld, E. & Loertscher, D. (Eds). Toward a 21st century school library media program. Lanham: ML. Hi Willow Research and Publishing.
Le Shan, L. (2004) How to meditate. Macmillan Audio; Abridged edition.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants.  On the Horizon (NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5. Retrieved from: http://www.albertomattiacci.it/docs/did/Digital_Natives_Digital_Immigrants.pdf

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Blogging: Today my thoughts, tomorrow the worlds’

What is a blog? Will Richardson (2009) says that it is an “easily created, easily updateable website that allows an author to publish instantly to the Internet from any Internet connection.” (p 17). No knowledge of programming or html is necessary, just a computer and access to the Internet. Not only can bloggers create text on their websites, but they can also include links to other sites, images, video and audio. Blogs are personal website creation for the masses. And the masses are creating them….there were 151,226,424 blogs as of today, and of those, 43,588 were created in the last 24 hours (as per BlogPulse, November 28, 2010). What do people find to blog about? Richardson (2009) says there is a blog for everyone and everything, from aardvarks to knitting to zen. Whatever people are interested in, or want to talk or learn about, that’s what they will blog about. Blogging doesn’t necessarily even need to be on a blog site. Richardson (2009) believes that in essence, Facebook and MySpace are also blogging platforms, in that people use them to create mini-websites based on their identities. What makes a blog different from a website or wiki? The key to blogging is its interactivity (Richardson, 2009). Not only are you able to say what you want to say, you can share it with the world and through commenting, the world can share their thoughts and ideas back with you. The blog becomes a conversation. Berger and Trexler (2010) state that, even though a blog is a reflection of one person’s voice, feedback is “the gateway to the discussion that the blogger hopes to generate” (p. 103). They suggest that feedback can be given not only through comments, but also through links or trackbacks to your post from other’s blogs. In this way, one blog post, say on using wikis as a storytelling tool, is referred to (and a trackback created) by a second blogger who builds onto the original discussion. Other bloggers then read the second blog, refer and create their own trackbacks to it, or they may follow the link back to the original blog, read it, and then refer to the original post on their blog. The discussion becomes a virtual spiderweb of interrelated blog posts, creating a rich and full discussion.


There are a number of popular, free blog hosting sites. Among them are Edublogs,  Blogger, and WordPress. Richard Byrne has a good overview of the three different platforms on his blog Free Technology for Teachers. I have not used Blogger, but have used both Edublogs and WordPress.

Personal Learning about the tool:

I chose to use WordPress for this blog, as I felt it had more features than Edublogs. Once you have signed up and created your blog, you are then taken to your ‘dashboard’, the control center for your blog, where you can start to play with the site, personalizing it to suit your style and purpose. For appearance, WordPress has over 100 themes you can choose from, many of them with customizable headers. Each theme has its own colour and style, with different header, footer, column, widget, category and page layouts. As you look at the different styles, consider the purpose of your blog. Do you need more than one column? What theme is going to be the simplest for your visitors to navigate? Are they going to be able to easily view pages, posts and comments? Do you want/need widgets, and does the theme support the number of widgets you want to have? Once you have chosen a theme, you can play with the other features of your dashboard, or you can begin the conversation with your first blog post. On the dashboard, choose New Post, and start typing.

I began using a blog with my students in the fall of 2007. Our school had an inservice on creating and using blogs in our classroom. Unsure of all of the ways I could use a blog, I decided to use it as a tool to write about their home reading. Each student was required to read at home every night, and I asked them to comment on the blog about the book they were reading. Comments were structured to reflect the reading strategies that we were working on. I enjoyed setting up the blog, and my students were excited about using it. They commented furiously for some time. The key was responding to their comments and continuing the conversation. After a while their comments started dropping off and it seemed to become more ‘homework’ for them. I began to showcase comments in the morning, using the projector and Smartboard, and the interest picked up again. Once I began working as a teacher librarian, I used the blog in the same way, creating an online reading club for our school. The response was overwhelming at the beginning. I found it difficult to keep up with responding to each child, working on the computer for hours after school. After the initial excitement, I found it was the same students who commented over and over again. I began asking them to comment to each other, and they carried on the conversation for most of the year. Meanwhile, I had created a blog for our family. With one brother living in Toronto, and one daughter living in Ireland, I envisioned it as a collaborative tool for us to keep in touch with each other. However, a blog is only going to work if you use it, and since no-one else had the interest, time or energy to post, it died a natural death.

My first attempts would not be considered blogging by Will Richardson’s (2009) standards. I was very structured about my students’ comments, and only I had the ability to post. I was maintaining control and the blog was only a one-way street. It would be considered a level 1 on Richardson’s (2009) scale of blogging.

1. Posting assignments (Not blogging)
2. Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
3. Posting links. (Not blogging)
4. Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
5. Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
6. Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
7. Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience in mind. (Real blogging).
8. Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging). (p. 31)

Now I have a very different vision of what blogging is and have come to a greater appreciation of what blogging can be. I believe I have come closer to real blogging as defined by Richardson (2009). I have created posts that are reflections of my explorations and practice with using technology, adding links to other sites/blogs that either emphasize points or reference ideas that I have presented. Have I moved to complex blogging? Perhaps I am on the way. Each post has been on a different topic, or Web 2.0 tool, however each one has been a deeper adventure, built on my previous experiences and links. I can’t say that I have built on previous comments, as I have had few comments from others on my blog. True blogging should be a conversation, as Richardson (2010) points out in a comment on Kim Cofino’s post on creating a scope and sequence for blogging:

“Since that writing (which I found I had originally posted on my blog almost six years ago now…yikes!) I’ve also been thinking a lot about the “connective” nature of blogs, the idea that we write in blogs with the intention not just to publish ideas to the world but to really connect to others and get feedback. (Kinda what’s happening here, right now.) If one of the affordances of the technology is that readers can interact, how does that change the intention of the writing.” That social interaction can come even when the blog is a form of journaling, as in these comments on posts from the Yarn Harlot’s blog (although we knitters can be a chatty bunch.)

Social interaction in the form of comments and responses can move a blog from being the blogger’s reflection on ideas or learning, to an interactive, social experience that helps the blogger deepen their own understanding and perhaps, the understanding of others. Although I had few comments on this blog, in my last post on Twitter, I mentioned that as a user of Twitter for PD, I was not really interested in the social chit chat, and mentioned a ‘social chat’ Twitter from Dean Shareski that I remembered having read. Dean commented on the post, and said, “I will argue for the fact that part of the appeal for many is building relationships that include a degree of silly and seemingly trivial. This is one way we build social capital as well, these tools are social. There is a blending of professional and personal…” His comments, and the comments of others (who found my blog through Shareski’s tweet :)) made me stop and reflect on the social experience of using Twitter. It helped me to consider the importance of building community when we use Twitter. After all, when I’m at a conference, I will often talk with my colleagues about my family, or my interests; it gives me (and them) a sense of who we are as social beings. Why should it be different on Twitter? Thus, the conversation between the commenters and myself deepened my understanding of the topic.

This is what I believe blogging can be at its best; an analysis or exploration of a topic or idea which leads to a conversation between the blogger and his/her readers, leading to a growth in understanding for all. It is the hope that others will read, reflect, and respond that increases bloggers’ motivation to write.

Personal use of the tool:

As I said above, my personal family blog is no more….sniff. However, I love to read blogs by others on knitting, yoga, storytelling, and art. The biggest personal (and professional) use of blogging for me has been opening a Google Reader account and subscribing to blogs I follow using RSS. The video below explains how RSS can help you to track and follow blogs:

I use my Google Reader (and the Feeddler app on my iPad) everyday.

Blogs and newspaper feeds are sent to my inbox, waiting for me to open and read them. After supper I hit the couch with my iPad and start reading. Often I will tweet, bookmark or email the links I have found to others. Reading blogs has become addicting, I learn so much!
Will I create and use a blog personally? Not at the present moment. I am more interested in using a blog to reflect on my professional practices as a teacher and teacher-librarian. Maybe when I retire, I will start a storytelling/knitting/yoga blog of my own!

Professional use of the tool:

The uses for blogging in the classroom are as varied as the uses for websites: as a communication tool for teachers and students, a presentation or writing tool, a collaborative discussion space, as eportfolios, and more.

Blogging with students can be teacher driven, as in responses to literature, or student driven, focused on the student demonstrating their learning.

Berger and Trexler (2010) share 7 ways that blogs support student learning:

1. supports critical thinking, encouraging students to think and reflect prior to writing
2. motivates and engages students
3. provides an opportunity to improve literacy skills
4. offers an authentic audience, encourages students to write responsibly
5. provides a forum for feedback, collaboration, and discussion
6. involves student in a community of learners
7. helps student develop their voice and provides equity (p. 105)

As students become aware of the idea that their teacher, peers, parents, and perhaps the world will read their work (depending on the nature of the blog), they plan and think about their work more carefully. In my class, students who were careless about the writing they handed in to me were much more thoughtful about the writing that they did for our class blog.

Kist (2010) reports an increased motivation for writing in students who are blogging. This makes sense to me…aren’t we talking about kids today being digitally connected? They are used to sharing their lives and thoughts with the world using technology. Even those who may not yet be on Facebook (and the age for those on Facebook is getting younger and younger) regularly MSN or text each other. Taking a poll in a grade 6 classroom at my school, 75% of students connect with their friends through text or social media. They are already writing for an audience, our job is to help them learn how to focus and craft that writing.

Alan November (2008) says that blogging shifts the locus of control from teachers to students. It expands the audience for student work from the teacher to the world.This connects to comments by Dean Shareski in his slideshare “What do we keep and what do we throw away?”

He suggests that one of the things we need to throw away is the notion of teachers as the expert centre of all knowledge. Blogging can increase the conversation from a direct line where the teacher sees if you’ve learned to see the world the way that the teacher sees it, or sharing your visions of the world with the world, allowing others to comment and add to your learning. He quotes Will Richardson as saying “We…need to think of ourselves as connectors first and content experts second.”

November (2008) also points to the use of blogging as a classroom note-taking tool. He shares a blog that is used by a calculus teacher, where, each class, one student is chosen to be the ‘note taker’. They take notes and post them on the blog, and other students can comment or add. November (2008) writes, “Before blogging, we would expect hardworking students to be able to read the calculus textbook. Darren expects his students to write the ‘book’-i.e. blog.” (p.82).

Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano has developed a ‘step ladder’ approach to using blogging with students in the classroom on her Langwitches blog:

Her goal is to move her teachers “from a purely informational, static, one-way-communication site to a global communication center.” (para.1). The video in the post below shows 2nd grade students from her school teaching their families how to use the blog. Notice how they are developing a shared language, learning (and teaching others) to navigate their blog, and preparing to present their writing to the world. In this picture, you can see their practice blog,  a variation on the paper blogging activity from the No Matter, There blog.

How do we assess blogs? Clarence Fisher has developed a blogging rubric that he shares on his Remote Access blog.


Interestingly,  not only does he provide the rubric, Clarence also provides the link to the Google Doc of the rubric so that others can upload and modify the document for their own purposes and classes, as well as a link to Kim Cofino’s blog post, where she invites readers to work with her on a Google Doc to build a scope and sequence for blogging. Both of these posts show the power of blogging, where the blogger and his/her readers build meaning together.

Blogging can also be a powerful tool for professional development. George Couros has asked all of his classroom teachers to begin using blogs. These are classroom blogs as opposed to student blogs, showcasing not only the learning in classrooms, but also the learning of teachers. In his post he shares ideas for administrators to use teachers’ blogs to help them stay in touch with what it happening in their school.
1. Add classroom blogs to an RSS feed. This is such an easy way to follow what classes are doing, without continuously checking if sites have been updated. I use Google Reader to create bundles, so I can follow the content of all my classrooms in one place (similar to this one). If you do not understand what RSS is, here is a short little video that will help you understand.
2. Take the time to share posts with other teachers in their school. It is hard to come up with ideas (here is a great list of them that my PLN created), so sometimes we can be inspired by what teachers in our building are doing. Celebrate and share!
3. Take the time to comment on teacher blogs. This shows everyone that you appreciate what is happening in the classroom, and the extra time teachers are taking to communicate and collaborate with their classroom. Reading is not enough. Be a leader and show how to properly comment to your school community while also gaining the opportunity to communicate with students, parents, and teachers. (para. 4).

Again, included in his post are links to  a video to help increase his readers’ understanding of RSS feeds, and to a Google Doc that shares ideas for teachers’ use of blogs.

Dean Shareski has written a post entitled How to Make Better Teachers. In it, he discusses how his blog has helped his growth as a professional; “The reflective writing has been valuable but definitely the nearly 4,000 comments have been even more of a learning experience. This is the single best professional development experience I’ve had.” (para. 2). He goes on to share his plan to use blogs to create better teachers:

“Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least 5 other teachers in the district as well as 5 other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and 5 other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better.” (para. 6).

Notice that his plan includes subscribing to five other teachers (using RSS). Thus, teachers are not only reflecting on their own practices, but reading the reflections of others. I might add; Ask each teacher to comment on at least one other teacher’s blog, to help build the conversations. Both this and Couros’ post discuss having teachers reflect on their practice and ‘going public’ with it, inviting others to comment and join the conversation.

Reflective practice is a tool to help us to consider our teaching practices and change them for the better. Blogging allows us to invite the world to share our learning, and to work as a global community to develop better teaching practices for the 21st century.

 

 

References

Berger, P. & Trexler, S. (2010). Choosing web 2.0 tools for learning and teaching in a digital world. Santa Barbara:CA. Libraries Unlimited.

Kist, W. (2010). The socially networked classroom. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.

November, A. (2008). Web literacy for educators. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.

Richardson, W.(2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.


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The 25 Basic Styles of Blogging … And When To Use Each One

Interesting presentation on how to blog, what to blog. Not really focused on Education, but some valuable ideas, nonetheless.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

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Twitter, twitter, cheep cheep PD!

When Belgarion first learns the language of birds, he is amazed at how simple their twitters are…all about food and mating. When I first heard about Twitter, I was sure that pretty much summed it up. From what I gathered in the media, people were tweeting their lives: I’m getting up now, now I’m going to the bathroom, thinking about breakfast….way too much information for me! Then I began hearing about Twitter as a tool for a Personal Learning Network. Once again I pooh-poohed the idea. Who could post something interesting in only 140 characters? Fortunately, I was required to sign up for Twitter for my EDEL course…and after some hesitation, I am enjoying it.
Personal learning about the tool

Twitter is a social learning network of microbloggers whose posts (tweets) are only allowed to contain 140 characters. Often these posts contain links to other websites, videos or images. Starting an account is free and easy to do, as is posting your tweets. Then you need to find people to follow. I began by following the suggested list in our course outline, branched out to follow bloggers I read regularly, then began following some I found tweeting with the hashtags I was interested in. No, not hashbrowns, but hashtags. Hashtags are ‘twitter tags’, words or short phrases created by an interest group on Twitter. These words are prefixed with a #, such as #edtech or #edchat. Hashtags are similar to tagging in that they allow certain types of posts to be grouped together (Wikipedia, n.d.). For example, posts tagged #edtech will usually have information related to ways to use technology in education.
You can use the Twitter site to view and manage this information, however, there are other platforms available. Tweetdeck is a free download that allows you to tweet, create columns of; hashtags you follow, direct messages, your tweets, and tweets that mention you….although I don’t really have to worry about those 🙂 . You are able to have multiple accounts, so you can add in your Facebook account or create a personal and a professional profile, if you wish. When Tweetdeck is open, incoming tweets are heralded with a…yes, a tweet. You have the ability to set the timer for tweet notifications every second, or every 1000 seconds. (You can also turn the tweet sound off, should it become too annoying 🙂 ) While Tweetdeck is a download to your desktop, you may prefer a web-based platform for anywhere access. Hootsuite has the same functions as Tweetdeck, but also allows you to add your blogging account, so you can have a stream of your blog posts as pre-shortened urls, making them easily tweetable. Trying to decide which one to use? Here is a comparison chart fromJames Johnson for the two platforms:
Things you can do with TweetDeck
  1. Update Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn.
  2. Large Twitter API Rate
  3. Custom Retweet or Twitter style
  4. Record, share, and watch video clip
  5. View YouTube Videos within TweetDeck
  6. Manage Multiple Twitter accounts
  7. Trending of local events and Twitscoop
  8. Create and mange Twitter List
  9. Follow Topics in real-time through saved searches.
  10. Saved Searches can be edited through the column
  11. Update Facebook
  12. Ingrates with LinkedIn Professional contacts
  13. See who is following you – you can have a who’s following you column so you can see what they are tweeting
  14. Preview short URL before opening. You can Also see the original link
  15. Backup TweetDeck by using sync and back-up
  16. Report and Block Spam Button ß Love this feature, it kills @mention spam quickly
  17. Flickr, Twitgoo and mobypicture is now supported
  18. keyboard shortcuts for speedy messaging

Things You can Do With Hootsuite

  1. Schedule Tweets
  2. Ping.fm Integration so you can update social networks that are not supported by Hootsuite
  3. Team Workflow
  4. Add, create and manage Twitter Lists
  5. Topic Search and Keyword Tracking
  6. Create Columns based on searches
  7. Secure Log in
  8. Web App – I can use hootsuite on any PC, Mac, Linux system as long as I have access to Hootsuite’s page
  9. Message Drafts
  10. View, manage, schedule, post to WordPress
  11. Ow.ly and Ht.ly URL shorteners
  12. Track Statistics
  13. Featured User List
  14. Update Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, and Foursquare
  15. RSS feed from your website to all of our social networks
  16. Preview Short Links and see Original Links before opening them.
  17. Report and block spam
  18. Follow User Lists in their own column
  19. Separate tabs for the different social media networks”

Sarah Worsham also has an insightful post comparing the advantages and disadvantages of Hootsuite vs Tweetdeck. For her, Hootsuite wins out. James Johnson ends up using both platforms; Tweetdeck when he is on his home computer, and Hootsuite when he is needing remote access. After using both for a time, I decided to do the same; I am currently using Tweetdeck on my desktop and iPad, and Hootsuite when I check in for tweets at school or other remote computers. Follow this link to see a screencast of my Hootsuite, and this link to see a screencast of my Tweetdeck.

Personal use of the tool


I could not see the use of Twitter to me in my personal life. To me, Twitter was like Facebook on steroids. And, as I have mentioned in previous posts Facebook is not really my thing. When I first connected to Twitter, I found it absolutely overwhelming. Reducing my columns to just those I follow and setting them up with hashtags helped, but there is simply an incredible volume of Twitter traffic. I am the type of person who HAS to answer the phone if it rings, and every ‘tweet’ sound coming from my computer seemed to twitter ‘Lookatme, lookatme’! Yet, if I turned off the sound, I forgot to check the tweets…so I finally just adjusted the timing so I was notified every 5 minutes (and sometimes, I just closed the darn thing :)). I decided I need a ‘Tweet Plan’. Fortunately, Nicole Nicolay wrote a wonderful post about developing your own Twitter plan.
However, MY Tweet Plan looks a bit different:
Yet, this Tweet Plan is decidedly for my professional use of Twitter. What about my personal use? David Carr, in his New York Times article “Why Twitter will Endure”, suggests that Twitter is a quicker way to get news, a more reliable way to share your ideas and  research the best buys. Ted Nation of the Globe and Mail, recounts his efforts to find his daughter who was traveling in Chile after an earthquake hit. Through Twitter, Facebook, LinkdIn, Google, Skype and email, they finally located her and spoke with her. Given all of that, I still must confess I find the thought of wading through all the dross to find the gold just too daunting. I could use it to connect with my daughter in the Yukon, or other relatives in the East, as Will Richardson (2009) suggests, but I use texts, phone calls, email and (sometimes) Facebook for that.
Professional use of the tool

Will Richardson (2009) suggests that one the benefits of using Twitter is that ‘you get smarter’ (p. 87). Through asking questions, sharing ideas, linking blogs or resources, he believes Twitter serves an ‘addicting’ (p. 87) addition to your PLN. The selection of hashtags I use, #edchat, #edtech, #elemchat, #tldl, all ensure that (most) of the tweets I get are related to ideas, thoughts and links I can use to further my teaching practice, to integrate technology into my lessons, to develop the library, and to deepen my understanding of how to best teach in this brave new digital world. I am interested in buying Kindles or Nooks for the library, and have found many tweets with information to help me make that decision. Alan November suggests that Twitter is essential as a PLN for educators (notes, Oct 4, 2010). He believes that librarians should work with staff to develop hashtags for their learning community and start to build a Twitter network within the school. Smaller elementary schools may be resistant…i.e. “Why not just walk down the hall?”, however, I can see it being useful in larger schools, for districts, and for cohorts of schools that are working on the same focus. If you had three or four schools who were working together to develop their practice in technology, for example, building a Twitter network would allow teachers in all schools to be part of the conversation, sharing thoughts, links and lesson ideas.
Laura Walker shares nine reasons to Twitter on the Tech & Learning blog:
1. Together we’re better
Twitter can be like a virtual staffroom where teachers can access in seconds a stream of links, ideas, opinions, and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals.
2. Global or local: you choose
With Twitter, educators can actively compare what’s happening in their with others on different continents. GPS-enabled devices and advanced web search facility allow searches that tell you what people are tweeting within a certain distance of a location, so if the other side of the world isn’t your bag, you can stick with your own patch.
3. Self-awareness and reflective practice
Excellent teachers reflect on what they are doing in their schools and look at what is going well in order to maintain and develop it, and what needs improvement in order to make it better. Teachers on Twitter share these reflections and both support and challenge each other.
4. Ideas workshop and sounding board
Twitter is a great medium for sharing ideas and getting instant feedback. You can gather a range of opinions and constructive criticism within minutes, which can help enormously, whether you are planning a learning experience, writing a policy, or putting a job application together.
5. Newsroom and innovation showcase
Twitter helps you stay up-to-date on news and current affairs, as well as on the latest developments in areas of interest like school leadership and technology.
6. Professional development and critical friends
One of the best things about training days is the break-out time between sessions, when teachers can get together to talk about what they are working on or struggling with. Twitter enables users to have that kind of powerful networking capacity with them all the time. It’s just a matter of finding the right people to follow.
7. Quality-assured searching
Trust the people you follow. Hone and develop the list of people whose insights you value. Once your Twitter network grows past a critical mass, you can ask them detailed questions and get higher-quality information back than a Google search would generally provide.
8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Expressing yourself in 140 characters is a great discipline. You can become better at saying what needs to be said in my professional communications with less waffle and padding (even without txtspk).
9. Getting with the times has never been so easy!
Many of her reasons speak to why I believe Twitter can be an good way to build a PLN. It is, indeed, like a virtual staffroom. I like to talk about and share my ideas with others. On Twitter, I can get new ideas, check out and add to my ideas, and, through following good people find great links. Its easy and cheep, cheep PD. 🙂
What about using Twitter with students in the classroom? The video below suggests that Twitter is a way to connect to your students and their parents to keep them informed about what is happening in your classroom:
Our district is focusing on building and retaining student engagement in learning. In this video, high school students report being more engaged in their learning when using Twitter and other social media tools:
Berger and Trexler (2010) share some ideas for using Twitter with students. One is to following the tweets of John Quincy Adams’ trip to Russia (tweeted by the Massachusetts Historical Society). Each tweet is a line from his diary, with links to maps of his journey. Another is to follow Charles Darwin on his voyage in the Beagle. In Canada, you can follow @canadianhistory or @todayincanhist  for daily tweets about Canadian history. What about student writing? Kist (2010) talks about a collaborative writing project that  had students from different countries create a story on Twitter. Kathy Hanson, on her A Storied Career blog, talks about how people are using Twitter to create and share stories. Carol Cooper-Taylor, in her blog post 50 ways to use Twitter in the classroom, has these ideas on using Twitter with students:
  • as an opinion poll.
  • directing student’s attention to important points
  • building an instant “backchannel.”
She also suggests that Twitter can be used with parents to get their feedback. Her ideas seem to be directed towards secondary students. Perhaps elementary students could start on a site like Twiducate to get them used to the idea of Twitter. A sideways way to use Twitter FOR your students, rather than with your students is #comments4kids. This is a twitter hashtag of teachers that are using classroom blogging and are looking for other teachers and classes to comment on their students’ blogs.
Will students use Twitter? I was doing my 15 minute check in on Twitter when @2footgiraffe twittered, “small mile stone. Stu asked wht we did in class 2day. He missed. 2nd stu responded via twtr & sent him the link 4 the prezi 🙂 #edchat” (@2footgiraffe Wed 17 Nov 21:08 via Tweetdeck)
Final thoughts

I have found Twitter to be a good tool for professional development. It’s like having a flock of professionals in your backyard. 🙂 The links you click on have already been reviewed, so to speak, and if you have a question, you are sure to find someone who can help, or direct you to a resource where you can find help. However, I do find it tricky to find the time. Blog posts are static, they stay there when you go to get a cup of tea 🙂 and if you don’t get a chance to finish reading them (or you want to reread them), they are still there when you come back an hour or a day later. Twitter is like a conversation at a cocktail party, once you’ve left the room, the conversation is over (for you). I think I will stick with my Tweet Plan and go on for 15 minutes after supper (mind you, that 15 minutes could easily turn into hours if I fall into a great conversation!). Tweeting blog posts I read is easy…i am a regular user of the ‘Retweet’ button on blogs I follow, however, I feel that I should be adding a comment to my tweet saying why I consider this worth tweeting. Creating original tweets will be trickier, as I am often unsure of whether my ideas are worth tweeting. As well, I believe that when you tweet your thoughts, you need to be a part of the conversation, instead of doing a ‘drive-by’ tweet. 🙂 It is finding and taking the time to be a part of the conversation that I find difficult. So, why continue tweeting? Others that I look up to have tried to give it up and cannot. 🙂
David Warlick says he rarely tweets, yet one day he was watching, and followed Vicki Davis tweeting quotes from a session she was attending given by the Digital Learning Council. It started him thinking and he wrote a thoughtful post about the ideas that were being presented. (Interestingly, he didn’t tweet his thoughts, he blogged them, I presume because blogging offered him the opportunity to share his thoughts in an in depth way)
Doug Johnson wrote a post about giving up tweeting, but he must have started up again, ‘cause I follow him! 🙂 Recently, he wrote a post about Twitter where he suggested that the quality of tweets would be greatly improved if people were limited to five tweets per day. As a reader of tweets for professional development, I would agree. (While I enjoy @ shareski’s thoughts on education, I really don’t need to know that he is at his mother-in-law’s watching a football game.)
Will I continue my ventures into the “Twitterverse”, as Richardson (2009) calls it? Yes, I will. The trick will be in moving from being a passive  passenger on the Twitterflight to an active flyer in the conversations.
References
Berger, P. & Trexler, S. (2010). Choosing web 2.0 tools for learning and teaching in a digital world. Santa Barbara:CA. Libraries Unlimited.
Kist, W. (2010). The socially networked classroom. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.
Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.

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Social Networking: Building ethical, global communities

What are Social Networks?

What is a social network? It used to range from family to neighbours to the parents who get together for coffee at my school every Friday. At every one of my family gatherings, we talk about our lives, seeking advice, asking questions, telling our stories and looking for validation. My neighbours and I discuss the weather, our children, our neighborhood, our gardens, and occasionally, politics. The parents that meet at school discuss the same. We make meaning of our lives through social situations and conversations. According to constructivist theory, we learn best through social interaction and collaboration with others (Wikipedia, n.d.).  Social networks today have grown far beyond the borders of our day to day interactions with those in our community.  Harangdon (2008) states that they are “collections of Web 2.0 technologies combined in a way that help to build online communities.”  Berger and Trexler (2010) define social network sites as having: A profile page to allow users to describe who they are, a list of friends who are on the same network, a public commenting system so friends can write public notes to each other, and a private messaging system for private messages. Now, through social networking, our social horizons are expanded, and we can meet and communicate with others globally rather than locally. We can connect with others who share the same interests, vocation or ideas.

Process of Learning about the tool


Facebook and Myspace are the two names that first come to mind when we talk about social networks. I have been a member of Facebook for about 3 years, but did not know too much about it as I used it rarely. I have since learned how to delete people (I feel so bad when I do that), how to manage my privacy settings (although I don’t put anything up on Facebook that causes me any worry J ). When I do go on, my daughters are used to me calling them upstairs with a “How do you….?” Through them (hey, can I cite them as a source? They’d love that!:) ) I have learned how to follow people on Facebook, create events and groups, upload links,  photos and video, change my privacy settings (essential for an educator!), and get applications and games. Will I use all of them? Not sure…

What are my other online social networks? I belong to Classroom 2.0, Diigo, Shelfari, Goodreads, Ravelry, Teacher Librarian Ning and the CASL Teacher-librarian Ning. Of these networks, only one is related to my social life, the rest are related to my career and to my interests. These are sites that I have found through recommendations from friends with the same interests, or through searching the web for information. Each site except for Diigo meets the characteristics Berger and Trexler (2010)  suggest for a social network. As well, these sites add information relating to the interests of its members, i.e. knitting patterns on Ravelry, books on Shelfari and Goodreads, and Web 2.0 tools and information on Classroom 2.0 and the Teacher Librarian Nings. (Diigo allows you to follow people and check their websites, but doesn’t allow you to contact them directly.) However, I would argue that Diigo still meets the criteria for a social network in that it allows you to view the profile and recommended websites of members, and groups.

Other social networking sites that I explored were Twiducate, Ning and Edmoto. Twiducate is a closed social network where I can create a class, add students, post assignments, add links and dates. Twiducate allows students to connect with each other in an instant message, Twitter-like format. As always, there’s a video on YouTube about it! I am not sure how students will respond to Twiducate. I think that they might find the format limiting, however, it would certainly teach them to be concise! 🙂

Ning is a site where you can create online social networks for a specific population. (Nings used to be free, however they now cost from $20 to $500/year). I have not used Nings, however, in my social network of teacher librarian friends, one described her success with using a Ning for an English class she taught. She reported that students were highly engaged, focused on the task, and demonstrated higher level thinking in their discussions and responses. After watching the video below, I thought that using a Ning would work best for middle and secondary students.

Edmodo is a free site where you can create a closed online social network site that has the look and feel of Facebook. (Screencast with Jing). It allows you to create groups, invite students, create posts of class alerts, assignments, upload documents and links, and have your students submit assignments. Students can post to discussion groups or individuals in their class. Like Facebook, they can upload video or links in their posts, and similar to a wiki, you are notified when students post or comment. There’s even a gradebook where you can store the class’s grades. Edmodo can be used school-wide, so you can connect with other teachers.

Personal use of the tool

I am not the best Facebook friend you will ever have. I am friends with 36 people…my daughter has 300! Most of my friends come from the yoga community (how do you say no when people ask you to be their friend?) some from family and some from work. I rarely go on Facebook, preferring to connect with those I am close to by phone, email or in person. To be honest, I barely have time for the friends and family that I am close to, never mind spending time chatting with my cousin from Toronto who I haven’t seen in years, and don’t feel a connection to (can she see this???). I loved Will Richardson’s (2010) tweet: “Spend my 10 minutes a week on Facebook? Check.” It gave me permission to say that 10 minutes a week works for me!

On the other hand, I enjoy checking in with Goodreads for reviews of books that I am reading, or would like to read, or to check in with my groups (Adult YA Fiction Addiction, Children’s Literature, Wild Things: YA Grown Up, and KidLit),  checking out discussions on books in my shelf and discussions in my group ‘Great Books for Teachers’ in Shelfari,  or looking in at Ravelry to see some new patterns and check in with the Edmonton Knitters and Knitting with Ewe groups. However, most of my social networking is professional in nature.

Professional use of the tool

The social networks I belong to in relation to my professional life are: Classroom 2.0, Diigo, Twitter, Teacher Librarian Ning, and the CASL Teacher-librarian Ning. These are the sites that I look for information on, read the blog posts, check out new videos, discussions (loved this one on using YouTube) and forums. Groups like Elementary Teacher Librarians, Classroom 2.0 Beginners, and Tech Tools for Teachers give me the opportunity to learn and ask questions. I would like to form a group for my school on Classroom 2.0, and invite those teachers who I know are interested in technology to join. However, the push in our district is to use a private site they have developed called ‘Share’ for our Google Apps Education. The teachers in our school are expected to use the Share site for most of their technology needs, including classroom blogs, websites and eportfolios, using Google docs for sharing with each other and for student homework, assignments and calendars. We are supposed to be able to use Google Talk as well, however we have not yet discovered how to use that feature. This site allows us to teach students some social networking skills, and is a ‘safe’ site for students to use and to share. I think it falls short of other social networking sites such as Twiducate, Ning and Edmodo in that it is not truly similar to the real world of social networking, however, the ‘Share’ site is a work in progress, so it may evolve toward evoking a true social network feel.

Diigo is a site I have written about in a previous post. I love the ability to share sites I find useful with others, and to see the sites that the groups I belong to, such as Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0  have bookmarked. I have created a group for my school for teachers to share sites in curricular areas, both to use with students and for professional development. I am in the process of helping them to create education accounts to use with their students.

Teacher Librarian Ning and the CASL Teacher-librarian Ning are sites that I usually use when I am interesting in doing some reading of blog posts, or looking for some information or ideas. I have not yet joined any groups in those networks.

Should we use social networking with students? This is a question I would add to George Siemens’ 2010 post of “Questions I’m no Longer Asking.” Our students ARE using social networking sites. Its time we stopped chopping off their tentacles, as David Warlick (2007) says, and start teaching them how to use these tools appropriately. In my own family, my daughters regularly use Facebook, not only for social situations, but to also ask for homework help and to share information on assignments. Conversations around the table have included what and how to post appropriately, what to do when others are posting inappropriately,  how to be digitally aware, and how to be a good friend on Facebook. Concerns have been raised about issues such as cyber-bullying, however, we don’t ban recess. Instead we teach students to be good citizens. Why not teach them to be good digital citizens as well? Berger and Trexler (2010) share a study done by The Mac Arthur foundation that states that, through social  networking, teens are ‘navigating complex social and technical skills that they need to fully participate in contemporary society.” (p. 162).

I believe that we should be using sites like Edmomo, Ning and Twiducate, especially for elementary students, many of whom will not yet have a Facebook account. (Just spoke with a grade 4 teacher. Apparently many students in her class have Facebook accounts! This means that it is even more essential to include teaching social networking skills to younger students. ) They introduce students to social networking in a safe and controlled environment and provides teachers with the opportunity to teach appropriate social networking skills. Angelita Williams (2010) talks about the importance of college students learning how to create a ‘personal brand’ in today’s global market and lists steps for students to take to create their brand through social networking, including identifying goals, separating friends and work and using appropriate pictures. All of these are skills that can be taught previous to college. Why not teach skills before students begin and develop bad habits?

How do you teach appropriate behaviour when using social networking? Fran Smith (2007) quotes high school principal Chris Lehman;

“You ask: What does it mean that fifteen-year-old kids are calling themselves nineteen and posting racy pictures online? What does it mean that college kids are posting raunchy spring break pictures that a prospective employer can find? The idea that we are the stories we tell has never been more important. Schools have always taught kids how to present themselves — that’s why we did oral presentations in the classroom. Now we need to teach them to present themselves electronically.” (para 3).

Keith Schoch (2010), on his blog Teaching that Sticks, talks about the learning in his grade 6 classroom after 5 days of using Edmodo:

“Technically, students learned how to:

  • follow and contribute to a threaded conversation, rather than firing off comments into the great abyss;
  • consider audience when choosing a group with which to share a given message, link, or video;
  • tag comments for friends to find;
  • use a filter to sort through collected postings to find what was needed; and
  • change avatars to match their personalities, while at the same time protecting their identities.

Socially, students learned to

  • think before posting, and edit remarks when peers disapproved;
  • refrain from certain conventions and language which, while acceptable with friends outside of the school setting, are considered inappropriate in school;
  • select hyperlinks and videos which would be enjoyable and appropriate for everyone in the group; and
  • disagree with ideas without attacking the students who posted them.” (para. 5)

Final Thoughts

Davis (2010) says: “it’s (social networking) a world that students feel at home in and is unlikely to disappear” (p. 2). She quotes Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, a 21st century learning specialist and popular educational blogger as saying, “It creates a global awareness. Students find it’s just as easy to collaborate with a class in England as with the class next door.” (p. 3). Hull and Stornaiuolo (2010) discuss how social networking in the classroom can lead to students seeing themselves as global citizens, able to share and appreciate the point of view of the ‘other’. Students in their study began developing a “…self-reflexivity that is both inward and outward looking, balancing one’s position in the world with a consideration of others and our obligations to them.” (p. 7) and a “…critical distance, gained from considering one’s position in the world relative to others..” (p. 7).

Is this not the way that we wish our students to become? True global citizens, connected to and vitally aware of themselves and others.

References

Berger, & Trexler,  (2010). Choosing web 2.0 tools for learning and teaching in a digital world. Santa Barbara, Ca: Libraries Unlimited.

Davis, M. (2010). Social networking goes to school. Digital Directions, 3. Retrieved from https://vista4.srv.ualberta.ca/webct/urw/lc5122011.tp0/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct

Hull, G., & Stornaiuolo, A. (2010). Literate arts in a global world: Reframing social networking as cosmopolitan practice. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 54(2). Retrieved from https://vista4.srv.ualberta.ca/webct/urw/lc5122011.tp0/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct

Schoch, K. (2010). Using Edmodo in the classroom: Five days later. Retrieved from http://teachingthatsticks.blogspot.com/2010/02/using-edmodo-in-classroom-five-days.html

Smith, F. (2007). How to use social-networking technology for learning. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/how-use-social-networking-technology

Wikipedia (n.d.). Constructivism learning theory. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(learning_theory)#Learning_is_an_active.2C_social_process

Williams, A.(2010). 5 Easy steps for students to establish their personal brand using social networking. Retrieved from:

http://www.emergingedtech.com/2010/09/5-easy-steps-for-students-to-establish-their-personal-brand-using-social-networking/

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Edmodo | Home

An overview of Edmodo, a closed social networking site for teachers and their students.

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Edmodo | Home, posted with vodpod

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The Power of Multimedia

Why use multimedia in the classroom? In this day and age, with the tools we have available to us, why not? We live in a digital world with students who are digitally wired. David Warlick (2007) in his post Our Classrooms are Leaking talks about how our students are digitally connected with ‘info-tentacles” in their daily life, and then, when they come to school, we “chop their tentacles off” (para 5). Multimedia tools give our students the ability to reconnect and use those tentacles at school.

Singh and Means (nd), in their project Technology and Education Reform, looked at nine schools where technology was being incorporated. They found students had a better awareness of audience and purpose for their projects, an increased ability to collaborate, use more higher-order thinking skills, and showed an increase in motivation and self-esteem. The role of the teacher became more facilitative, rather than directorial.

The University of South Florida’s Education department state that “Multimedia activities encourage students to work in groups, express their knowledge in multiple ways, solve problems, revise their own work, and construct knowledge.” (para 1).  As I read over this list, I immediately think of the 21st century skills we deem so important for students: collaboration, creative expression of knowledge, problem solving, editing and presenting work for an audience, and constructing their own knowledge. Multimedia tools and activities engage and motivate students. Every time I have introduced students to a new multimedia tool, they have immediately become more excited about the subject we will be using the tool for, whether it is language arts, social studies, or science.

In the posts below, I have explored five multimedia tools: VoiceThread, Animoto, Vuvox, Jing, and Prezi. Each one has its own power:

VoiceThread: the images and the conversations between students

Animoto: the energy and vividness of the medium ( music is essential)

Vuvox: the creation of a storyline using photos

Jing: the ability to share your compute screen with the world

Prezi: the ability to share your thoughts in a nonlinear fashion with the ability to zoom in and create focus and drama for your thoughts

All of these provide you ways to share your ideas, stories, research, teaching and learning in a deep and rich way, appealing to the multi sensory outputs of your audience. They all help you to focus and consider the audience for your work, and is that not the power of communication? It allows us to create together and share our work with each other in meaningful and powerful ways. In this way we learn together, and our learning is deeper and richer.

References

Singh, R. & Means, B. (nd). Technology and Education Reform. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdTech/index.html

University of South Florida. (nd). Why use multimedia in the classroom. Retrieved from http://fcit.usf.edu/multimedia/overview/overviewb.html

Warlick, D.  (2007). Our classrooms are leaking. In 2 Cents Worth. Retreived from http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=1166

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VoiceThread on the 7 Habits

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