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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2 Comments

Filed under Web 2.0 Tools

2 responses to “The Neverending Story – Web 2.0

  1. Jennifer

    Excellent reflection and thinking about the process, the learning and moving forward.

  2. artisanall

    Comprehensive post! I’ve just started blogging and am thinking about trying Flikr. I am a librarian by profession so all of your links and information are “spot on” for me. Thanks.

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