Sunday, 21 December 2008

Hi all you followers (Do I have followers? If you're readingthis then I guess so!) I just wanted to quickly update you on what I've been doing. I have spent the last three weeks working tirelessly to complete my final project in EDES 540: Intorduction to Teacher-Librarianship. Of course I went way overboard and created a wiki with two thousand pages (ok maybe not TWO thousand, but alot!). I am happy to report that I am finally finished and would like to post the link here for all you fellow teacher-librarian wannabees (and alreadybees!) to puruse at your leisure. I created an Advocay Plan of Action for Increased Collaboration between the teacher-librarian and the teachers at her high school. Here is the link, feel free to take a look and leave comments if you like.

I also wanted to mention that after all that talk about getting the teachers at my own school on board with using wikis, I found out that at least one of the teachers is already using a wiki with her students and I just wanted to give credit where credit is due. So here it is, take a look and see what you think:

Have a happy holiday and a great New Year!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Great Video on Connectivism

Hi all I recieved this video from a colleague in my other class, Valerie Martineau. It really sums up everything we've (I've) learned in this course. It's all about the ideal 21st century classroom experience and the networked student. Watch it NOW!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Final Reflection? I think NOT!

So I’m supposed to reflect on the past three and a half months and discuss my key learning for this last (?!) blog post. That’s easy, I learned everything that was covered in this course! (I know that sounds so much like a middle years kid response, but I’m serious, let me explain . . .) My vast lack of knowledge on the topic of Web 2.0 tools only paled in comparison to how much I learned about them in this course. When I first started I didn’t even know what “Web 2.0” meant, let alone what tools were available online and at my disposal. So what did I learn? I learned what Web 2.0 means, that these tools exist and not only are they relevant to teaching and learning, but they will probably become essential! I still shocks me how in the dark I was before this course!

Definitely one of the lowlights of this course is that I feel like I have not left the computer for 3 months (you know like Rip Van Winkle, only instead of sleeping I’ve been blogging!) I was so totally immersed in the world of Web 2.0, and now I understand how learning a language through immersion works, you really have no choice but to learn it! But even though I feel like I haven’t left to computer for eons, the structure of this course did allow me to learn an immense amount in a very short period of time and now I feel totally comfortable going out into the “unknown” to learn tools we didn’t cover (like Trailfire, Glogster, webquests, pathfinders . . .).

Oh, there were definitely times when I felt I was going to overload my brain circuits and my husband would find me stuttering in front of the screen saver at 3 am. But once I learned to manage my time and the information coming at me, I became adept at learning the tool, researching their use by others and blogging about it all.

What do I plan for the future? Well I’ve already created the class wiki which I hope to use as an easily updateable site for handouts, info on assignments, to show case student work and as a starting point for most of my projects. (I plan to do a lot more project type learning and a lot less worksheet type learning too.) I also set up a “class update blog” and my plan is to assign one student per week to write short (paragraph long-ish) daily updates on what was covered in class and then provide one “good” link to further information on that topic. Of course, I need to discuss evaluating websites with the students (our province has a good link to a sample lesson plan when the students have to look at some fake websites and determine if they are real or not!) as well as some (a lot?) digital citizenship stuff (such as appropriate language, cyber bullying, online safety measures, respect for others work, plagiarism etc. All these links are sample lesson plans from the Manitoba Government). I also have two bigger projects in mind, one involving the class wiki as an online science text and the other involving students teaching other students using Trailfire, sort of like an online virtual jigsaw. But I haven’t fully formalized those ideas yet! I also hope to use Voicethread and have been searching for curricularly (is that a word?) applicable podcasts to use with students. I also have some ideas about booking our computer lab for Student led conferences and having the students show their parents everything they can do (hopefully!) for their conference. I know it’s a lot, but if I don’t get it all in this year, then there’s always the next year and the next and the next and . . . .

Will I keep blogging? YES! I plan to keep trying new things and telling whoever’s out there what I learned and thought. I also plan to do some reflecting on what I’m doing with my students, you know what’s working and what’s bot! I also hope to eventually use this blog as a “show and tell” for my colleagues in a PD aimed at convincing them of the benefits of Web 2.0 tools!

Oh, and speaking of colleagues, how can I even begin to explain the amazing experience of learning from, with and through peers who have such a vast amount of knowledge and insight to share!!? I made some friends along the way, people I feel I will be able to call upon when (or if?) I get a TL position for advice and guidance and I also learned quite a bit about Web 2.0 from their blog posts and discussions. Three of my favourite blog posts by colleagues are Heather’s ABC’s of Blogging, April’s KWL on RSS, and Selena’s The Strange World of Social Networking Sites. What's more, is through the discussion site and my fellow classmates’ blogs I was able to learn about how my own fellow teachers may react to the world of Web 2.0. How did conversing with virtual strangers (now friends!) help me learn about the friends with whom I work at my school? That’s easy, the insights, experiences, feelings and thoughts of my classmates (and myself!) ran the gamut from fearful and nervous to wary and careful to skeptical and doubtful to excited and eager. This is the same journey I expect that most of my colleagues at school will go through too. But in the end we all (I think) came to the conclusion that Web 2.0 tools are incredibly important and have great impacts on our teaching and the learning of our students. Knowing that we made it through gives me hope that my colleagues at school will too!

Saying bye for now (and see you in January)
Happy Holidays
Christine :)

Sunday, 30 November 2008

What’s Next? Wikis for all of course!

So I’m having trouble focussing this week. My brain is full with thoughts of returning to work (planning lessons and units, I can never do the same thing twice, that’s just too easy!) thoughts about my “big project” in EDES 540 (not to mention the 4 remaining smaller assignments!) and of course thoughts about this blog post (and about Christmas, shopping, cleaning, swimming lessons . . .). To add to my brain overload, I met with a friend and mentor (a great TL) for breakfast yesterday and got energized to fight for a Teacher Librarian (TL for short) position in our division for September. (Actually, I think my exact words were, “I plan to take over our division and if that doesn’t work, I’ll take over the province.” I was obviously talking from the perspective of improving the TL situation in my division, and province. What did you think I was talking about?) I also attended our Province’s annual SAG conference on Thurs and Fri. I went to a great certificate session put on by the Council of School Leaders called Building 21st Century Schools which also filled my head with great ideas (because apart from taking masters courses, being a mother to a 2-½ yr old and a 9 month old, and having to plan for my return to work, I’m also working towards my Level 1 Admin certificate! CRAZY!) So . . . I have all sorts of great ideas floating around in my brain and I feel like it’s going to explode and I might lose the ideas! AHHHHH! Its ok . . . I’ll be alright. I just need to FOCUS!

This week our fantastic instructor gave us the following task: “Which of the tools we have learned about would you choose to introduce to your staff?” This was easy for me because as the course progressed, in the back of my (already full) brain I have been building a PD plan to share all my Web 2.0 learning with my fellow teachers when I return to work. My first inclination was to discuss Voicethread. It’s easy to use, and our staff is currently hooked on PhotoStory, which is similar but not collaborative, as there is no comment aspect. But then I thought (stupidly) that was too easy, and if I really wanted to show my staff the power of the “Read/Reflect/Write/Participate Web” (Richardson, p. 133) Wikis were the way to go. If I really wanted to “get them on board” I figured I should demonstrate the immense collaborative clout of this tool. So I stole (borrowed!) an idea that I found while writing a previous post (From this article about a poetry professor’s use of a wiki) and created a page on my class wiki that I will use to illustrate how wikis can be used.

But I’m getting ahead of my self! Firstly I need to help my staff understand the collaborative nature of wikis and how using wikis can really enhance their students’ learning. I figured, why not use other Web 2.0 tools to show this?! I found this great video from pb-wiki about collaboration:

And there is also this video (also from pb-wiki) called Helping Educators Educate. I also found a sort of testimonial (called Wiki Supporter) from teacher Ken Kellner about his experiences using a wiki with students. Then there is this podcast from Mobile technology in TAFE where Adam Frey (the co-founder of Wikispaces) talks about using wikis in education. I think I might even show them the trail fire that Joanne created for the class on wikis, as it has some great info in it. Now those things should convince my staff that wikis are at least something worth trying. The next step would be to show them some fantastic examples, so I would go to Vicki Davis’ many wiki’s as listed in my previous blog post on the subject for those examples, and of course show them my own experiences with wikis (here and here). But I also found Educational Wikis, and would show them it as well. Basically, it’s a wiki that provides resources for how to use wikis in education!

If all that fails to convince them of the greatnes of wikis, I also found this article from Newsweek International Edition called “Power in Numbers: How wiki software is reforming bloated bureaucracies and changing the face of communication.” Here’s the first paragraph:

“The United Nations, notorious for endless deliberations, is trying a technological quick fix. Its Global Compact Office, which promotes corporate responsibility, has embraced a once fringe social technology—the wiki—in hopes that it will help staff in 80 countries share information and reach consensus with less deliberation and more speed.”

The article goes on to say:

“Now the technology is increasingly spreading outside the world of tech geeks and into the mainstream, being adopted by workplaces, corporations and even governments. In what's been dubbed the "wiki workplace," a growing number of organizations have begun shifting from traditional hierarchical structures to self-organized and collaborative networks, using wiki software—a basket of technologies that include wikis, blogs and other tools—to foster innovation across organizational and geographic boundaries. Executives say the new tools make it easier for teams to collaborate and share information, and to get projects up and running on the fly. "Collaborative software has become a very important part of how businesses will invent and innovate," says Ken Bisconti, IBM's vice president of messaging and collaboration software.”

There, that is some powerful information for teachers to take in. The UN is using wikis, and so are big businesses, to help their “people” collaborate. So WHY AREN'T WE USING IT!!??!?

That’s when I would do the activity I created on my wiki see the link referenced above), to show them just ONE possible way they could incorporate the tool into their teaching.

Ofcourse I know that one day of PD does not a trend make, so how would I continue the momentum? Well I personally will dedicate myself to using the wiki on a regular basis and I will make sure that all my students are experts when they leave my classroom at the end of the year (thus giving them the skills to use wikis for other assignments, whether it's required or not!) . I would be willing to work with colleagues and students to help them create wikis. I would even be willing to do a follow up, after school PD session on “How To Wiki” for those afraid to explore on their own, and to take a handful of kids (myabe 1 from each class?) and show them the ins and outs of wikis so they become experts in their classes.

I would also set up a staff professional development wiki for our teachers to add info, links and reflections to on the subjects they feel are important to their personal PD, and are relevant to our school’s situation (i.e. not just wikis, but have pages for all kinds of best practices and educational issues).

I would also like to revamp the school’s horrible school web page into a school wiki, where all parties collaborate in its growth, but where informational pages are locked (as I’m not totally delusional and niave to believe that some student or other party won’t try to vandalize it!)

I’d eventually like to get the teachers on board with blogging, Voicethread, social bookmarking for research projects, and using podcasts (i.e. moving towards more Web 2.0 tools and moving away from looking for specific sofware applications). BUT . . . as I said I’m not delusional. I understand that there will be stuggles, and some will flat out refuse to adapt, and others will be enthusiastic but then fizzle out and still others will be angry at me for making them have “more work” to do, or for giving their students ideas they themselves have chosen not to understand. But my personality is one of perseverance and so I figure that in the coming years, if I continue to advocate for the use of Web 2.0 tools with students (and staff) and continue to model their use and continue to badger the school tech coordinator to put links to my sites on the school homepage and contiue to offer PD workshops to my staff, that I will eventually succeed!

Here are some articles that I may also occasionally photocopy (or email) for the staff and anonymously put in their mailboxes, you know, just little reminders:

A Wiki for Classroom Writing

The "starving time" wikinquiry: using a wiki to foster historical inquiry.

Wiki man

Wikis are for You

Wikis and student writing

Wikis and literacy development

Wild about Wikis: Tools for taking student and teacher collaboration to the next level.

7 things you should know about…wikis

Educators Experiment With Student-Written 'Wikis'

Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Boy, do I have a PD opportunity for you!

A blog (letter, email, call, plea, shout, scream?!) to my fellow teachers: If you want some truly valuable Professional Development keep reading!

We are always striving to find valuable PD opportunities (uh, if you’re not, then you definitely need to keep reading!), that both meet our needs as teachers and don’t bore us to pieces by repeating old, outdated, or irrelevant advice. If the last PD session you went to made you think, even for a second, “this better not waste my precious time,” then do I have a PD opportunity for you! (Keep reading. I promise, I won’t waste your time!) Just so we’re clear, to me the term “Professional Development” implies just that: developing as a professional: growing, learning and reflecting on experiences as both an educator and as a professional. I see 3 ways that blogging can accomplish this goal for you:

As a reader of educational blogs (or Blogging as a form of professional learning)

Reading blogs of noted edubloggers (see the edublog awards for some good ones, or see the side bar of my blog --->) is a way to learn from prominent people in the field of education, even when they are half way around the world! Through these blogs you can learn new ideas, get links to current research (as in this post from Will Richardson, kindly flagged by my marvelous instructor, or this post about the Digital Divide, kindly forwarded by Jennifer Branch, or this post I found about Blogging in Education), and stay on top of the latest best practices in almost every field within education (like this post which discusses one of the worst barriers to implementing the use of educational technology across the school: teacher tech illiteracy. It’s called, “Oh, Sir, You Are too Kind” and don’t forget to read the comments too!). It is especially helpful to read about how a noted edublogger has tried similar things that you have tried and is reflecting and learning the same way you are (just like this series of posts from Cool Cat Teacher Blogger Vicki Davis about the uses of wikis in teaching, called “Where do I start with A Wiki” Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, also thoughtfully provided by my tremendous instructor Joanne for a previous assignment).

As a writer of an educational blog (or Blogging as a form of refection)

Frank and earnest (no, not my cousins from the farm!) reflection through blog writing on what you’re trying, what has worked for you, what you need to try, or even posing questions to the world (whether you’re looking for the answers or not) can provide a much needed tool for professional growth. Even expressing frustrations at how things are not working the way you had hoped can be helpful (see my own previous posts regarding uploading Word Documents to Blogger, which led me to find other Web 2.O tools that suited my needs, as I report in this post about Wikis). I believe blogging is truly beneficial for educators, allowing you to rethink your beliefs and theories, your roles, your lessons, your strengths and even come up with new ideas. Essentially this all allows you to grow as a teacher.

As a participant in the edu-blogosphere (or Blogging as a form of collaboration between the blogger and their select audience)

When you post your reflections to your blog, you are sharing with the world. To be honest, its hard to believe that some 6 billion people will read your blog (6 billion? The world . . . duh!), but there will be some who read it and many who may begin a dialogue with you about what you have said, expressing their ideas, thoughts and reflections in turn (like this post of mine on Facebook in Education, which resulted in a flurry of responses and even some further reflection from Jose Picardo on his blog. Note too that his posts on this subject are also a perfect example of how thoughtful reflection on your practice as a teacher can lead to growth and learning by you, but also by others who read your reflections and see your growth). This may or may not (but should) provide you with an important collaborative reflection on what you’re doing as a teacher, as long as you continue the dialogue, that is (see this post called “Is It Okay To Be A Technologically Illiterate Teacher?” where Karl Fisch respondes to the article by Terry Freedman and says, “If you're visiting this post for the first time, please read the comments as well - that's where most (all?) of the good stuff is.” Karl won an Edublog Award for the most influential post of 2007 for this post!) These discussions can even lead to online class collaborations (maybe like Vicki Davis’s Horizon Project of 2006 and 2007 or Flat Classroom Project 2008). And the best part? You can collaborate with colleagues from other parts of the world, whom you never would have had occasion to even meet, prior to your blogging experience.

(Just an aside for Joanne: I’ve been thinking about your comment on RSS feeds and when to cover this in the class. My first gut response was that yes, you should cover it earlier, as it would have really helped to learn about it sooner. But then I thought, “If I had learned about it earlier, what would I have done with it,” as I hadn’t gotten “into” the course enough to have anything to subscribe to. So my final conclusion is that maybe it could be done a little earlier, possibly during the same week that our class discussion responses revolve around managing information overload? That way we have some things to subscribe to already and we are staring to get to a point where we need RSS and we can see that RSS is really great and useful to manage info overload. Does that make sense?)

Sorry to the rest of you for the virtual "private" conversation, but I felt the need to continue that line of comments and I thought it might be a good way to show how continued dialogue can enhance both your and your reader’s your professional development!

Just as your teaching (and your learning!) should never remain static, but evolve and grow, so should your blog writing, and maybe even the purpose for your blog writing. Even if you just start out as a novice blog-reflector (or even just an occasional blog reader), as you learn and grow you may just evolve into one of those “noted bloggers” I mentioned. And who knows, maybe one day, novice teacher-bloggers will be turning to you for their professional development reading!

Happy learning, reflecting and collaborating :)

Friday, 14 November 2008

Aggregator Alligators and Vanity Feeds

I have been using RSS’s since we began this class, mostly because when I first set up my blog we were told by our brilliant instructor that we should “Sign up to a blog aggregator (RSS feed service such as Google Reader or Bloglines) and subscribe to a minimum of 5 blogs (for your own personal professional development) that you will follow throughout the course and reflect on in a later blog post.”

So I did as I was told (strangely, as I’m not usually one to do that sort of thing!) and signed up for a Bloglines account, and went through the process of figuring out how to add “feeds” to my “aggregator.” To be honest I was totally lost, and it took me some time before I figured out how to find the right URLs to paste into the feed box! But I persevered, and accomplished my task. Then I set about trying to post these feeds to my blog and realized I had to go through the whole process all over again with blogger’s “Blogs I’m Following” on my dashboard, because Bloglines and Blogger wouldn’t allow me to just copy them over! But still I persisted and finally figured out how to get those blog feeds from my dashboard, to my blog (I didn’t actually have to put them on my dashboard, but I guess some element in the universe decided I needed the practice and enticed me to do it!).

To be honest I had not returned to my Bloglines account until this week’s assignment, because I had the feeds that I wanted on my blog and I accessed them through it whenever I needed or wanted. So I really didn’t see the point of an aggregator, (I may have also been avoiding the object of my frustration and pointless repetitive work!). Then I read Chapter 5 of Richardson’s book and got the lowdown on what RSS’s are actually good for. “Hrmph!” I thought, “Wish I would’ve read that chapter earlier.” (Actually, I had thought about reading it waaaayyy back, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for this week’s assignment. Yes surprise. Don’t YOU think of new readings as little educational surprises all wrapped up in pretty covers? Weird . . .)

So I knew I could get feeds from blogs, and from news sites, but what I didn’t know is that you could get feeds of searches. (Again I thought, “Hrmph, this would have come in very handy as I was doing the research for my other class, and greatly reduced not only my reading, but also my stress level!”) Well this I had to try, and I did (see, its over there --->, a Google Blogs search on using RSS in Education. Yes I know, clever. It came up with some interesting stuff too!) I also realized that I did not have a subscribe button on my blog, so I added one of those as well. (Totally off topic but. . . I think I’ll go back when time permits and add tags to all my blog posts to make them easier to search, something I am realizing just now that I failed to do!) Then I realized that I could get an updated feed of the searches I was doing on the U of A’s Library databases (like ProQuest and Eric) so I tried that as well, but I couldn’t get it onto my blog for some reason (I’ll keep working on that one, don’t you worry).

I hadn’t fully thought out how RSS could help me do all my research for my classes until I read the following quote from Brigham Young University’s website. (they narrow down RSS feeds to being useful for time, convenience, research, currency, sharing, podcasts, and blogs)
“An RSS reader can be a powerful research tool. As you discover information on the Internet that supports your research interests, you can place those sites into your RSS reader and organize them according to topics. As you write and publish, your RSS reader will help you quickly reference critical information.” And further along in the same article a professor says, “To me, RSS feeds are website abstracts and have by far been the best way for me to keep up-to-date with the latest journal articles. Because most articles are published online before they are printed, I am actually able to know the second an interesting article comes out — and I’m much more likely to read the abstract from my RSS feed . . .”

Apparently you can also get RSS feeds for podcasts (ok I knew this, I have 3 on my blog, I just wanted it to sound like something amazing), photo sharing sites, videos, social bookmarking sites, and a whole host of other things (see this site for a list of 100 Cool Things You Can Do With RSS or this site for 30 Different Uses for RSS and this site that expands the list from 30 to 34 by including 4 more ways that apply specifically to education)

So far my favourite way to use RSS is this idea from NCTE Inbox by Traci Gardner “If students have computers and Internet access, set up a homework blog with RSS feeds. Show students how to set up readers and subscribe to your fee. No more "I didn’t get the assignment!” Now their excuse will be, “My aggregator ate my homework!” (HA! Aggregator sounds like alligator, you know like “my dog ate my homework”, only its an aggregator-alligator. . .never mind)

I also especially like the idea of a “vanity feed” just so I can see if anyone out there is actually reading and referencing my blog, so I did one and included it on my blog as well! (Really I just want to be popular and have 10 million friends on Facebook, oh wait, wrong blog post, that was last week’s . . . sorry . . .) Unfortunately, the only hits I got so far were my own blog posts! Oh well . . .

Here’s another great idea: using RSS with your iPod (or rather students using RSS with their iPods, ‘cause I don’t have one, but its on my Christmas list!) This article by Rob De Lorenzo is all about using RSS with iPods. The author says “ . . . RSS on an iPod? You bet. If you happen to have an iPod Touch with WiFi capabilities, you can essentially subscribe to RSS feeds using an online RSS feed reader as you would using a computer.” And “The educational applications of using RSS in a mobile way are huge. Students can use a device they already own to subscribe to newspaper feeds, or feeds from educational content providers and keep up with curriculum relevant information from wherever they are. Uploading content to their devices is as simple as syncing their devices as they would using iTunes. At its most simplist, RSS allows students to spend more time with content and less time searching for it. Since the information is online, much of that content is relevant and up-to-date as well.” Sounds too good to be true, like an educational utopia! I’m skeptical my middle years students would attain that level of involvement with their curriculum, but its still a great idea, and worht a try. In this article I also found a link to a document by Quentin D’Souza which provides “RSS Ideas for Educators.”

I also found this article by Sharon Housley that says even “Financial institutions are reaching out to clients using RSS feeds. While banks and financial institutions are usually slow to adopt new technology, that is not the case with RSS adoption. More and more professionals are using RSS in innovative ways, to stay ahead of their competition.” Then the article goes on to list 20 ways that financial institutions and business people are using RSS feeds to get ahead.

In my never-ending search for RSS info, I also came across this site that provided some good answers too: RSS Guide by Robin Good.

Finally, why should we bother using RSS with students or teaching them how to use it, other than because it makes our lives easier? Again I think it comes back to the “new literacies” that our students will need to master in order to be successful in the future. In this post from Stephen Downes’ Blog, there is a quote attributed to Teemu Arina that speaks to this:

“This is exactly why people who use RSS readers to scan through thousands of feeds, read blog posts from various decentrally connected sources and who engage themselves into assembling multiple unrelated sources of information into one (probing connections between them) have much greater ability to sense and respond to changing conditions in increasingly complex environments than those who read only the major newspapers, watch only the major news networks . . .” (bold emphasis is mine)

There you have it. If we want our students to be able to have this skill, then they should start learning to use RSS right NOW! (I mean it: RIGHT NOW, plan a lesson that shows your students the potential of this tool and teach them TODAY, if you haven’t already)

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Correction Notice

Hi all, Steve Hargadon was kind enough to point out to me that he actually did not create the Study Groups Application that I referenced in the article below (Facebook, posted Nov 10, 2008) It was, in fact, a man named David Whitmore. I apologize for my mistake.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Facebook: Taking Over the World One "Friend" at a Time!

I first joined Facebook when I was on maternity leave with my first daughter. I was mainly interested in finding a way to share pictures of her new granddaughter with my mom who lives in Ottawa. But then I found that it was interesting to find and reconnect with people I’d lost touch with, like friends from junior high. I was a little bored and really had nothing other than breast-feeding and diapers to fill my days (for the first few months anyways), so it was an amusing way to pass the time. I invited my mother (my sister and brother were already on Facebook) and I began posting “albums” of my family for my other family members to see. Then I found and reconnected with those “old” friends and it was neat to see what they were doing with their lives and what their children looked like. Then I realized I could find my other family members who were spread out all over Canada and the US and keep in touch with them and see their lives unfold and have them see what I was up to also. Then I found my current friends on Facebook and it became a way to send messages to each other.

So, for a while I thought Facebook was great. I was keeping in touch with cousins and aunts and my mom and old friends and current friends and everything seemed awesome. Then I began getting invites to silly things like “Who’s your Celebrity Match” or “Zombie Wars” and people began sending me all sorts of “drinks” and “poking” me and I was inundated with Facebook email updates and requests and invites and AHHHHHH! Then my “old” friends starting posting old pictures from junior high for all the world to see and they kept tagging me in these horrible awful pictures where I looked like a cross between Molly Ringwald and a poodle that had a horrible accident with a back-combing maniac. And then the last straw: a horrible ex-boyfriend whom I hoped I would NEVER run into EVER again, sent me a friend request. Turns out he had been looking at my Profile Page through a common friend and wanted me to add him to my friends list. I have to admit I FREAKED OUT! It turns out that I had not set the privacy settings to a level that was comfortable for me. And then I started learning more about Facebook’s security and privacy and became very nervous that all those stupid viral videos which were amusing for us adults, would somehow come back to bite me if a student ever found my Profile. I had this realization that this could potentially be quite an inappropriate thing for me to be participating in. Ever since then I have increased my security and been hyper vigilant to remove and delete any offending items or photos or tags that may be inappropriate. I also made lists of people who are allowed access to my photos so that crazy exes can’t just stumble onto my profile and see my whole life on display. The whole experience made me realize that I am a lot more private than I thought I was (hence all the weird ramblings in previous posts about keeping pictures of my kids off the net).

So when the idea of using Facebook with students in an educational setting came up for this class, I was extremely skeptical. I NEVER would have thought for one minute about using Facebook with students for anything. But then Jes invited me to join Classroom 2.0 (Thanks Jes!) and I finally saw what a social networking site could be. Not some inane site where people spy on those they haven’t seen in years and then Spam them with absurd applications, but a place where like-minded people can gather, share ideas and experiences and learn from others.

I was amazed! I immediately began searching this network for other educators who may be using Facebook and I found this document: Drive Belonging and Engagement in the Classroom: Using Facebook, which basically outlines how one could go about using Facebook with students. Then I found a link to the Study Groups application on Facebook. Steve Hargadon, the same guy who set up Classroom 2.0, designed this application and it is mainly geared towards student use. It’s a pretty great thing that allows students in the same class to discuss topics, use a white board, upload and store documents, schedule events (like meeting times or study dates) and keep track of tasks in the class.

In response to a comment about this application being similar to Blackboard he says: “While our application is somewhat similar to Blackboard, we're not trying to be a heavy-weight content- or learning-management system. Instead, we're trying to bring simple, easy-to-use e-learning activities onto a website/platform that students are already using - Facebook. We've found that many students have found it useful to start up a Study Group quickly and easily and have been able to actually get their peers to log in and use the application.”

This alone could make me rethink the idea of using Facebook with students. Imagine telling students their homework is to go home after the first day of school and add this application to their current Facebook account and then join or create a study group for each of their classes. I’m still not sure how the teacher would play a role or how privacy and security would be monitored, but it’s worth further investigation.

Most of the testimonials that I read in the above document by Michael Staton (Drive Belonging . . .) are from post-secondary instructors, and for that age and maturity level I can definitely concede that Facebook could be a wonderful tool, but I needed to find examples of it being used by Middle years students and teachers and maybe even (gasp!) Elementary, to convince myself that it was feasible in my own classroom or school. Of course the first article I stumbled across was this seethingly negative article about the evils of Facebook, called “With Friends Like These . . .” by Tom Hodgkinson, and so I was a tad bit dejected. But it was an interesting read, even though it was a bit over the top pessimistic. Here are some of the things that Hodgkinson hates about Facebook (and boy does he hate it!) :

Facebook “encourages a disturbing competitivness around friendship: it seems that with friends today, quality counts for nothing and quantity is king. The more friends you have, the better you are. You are "popular", in the sense much loved in American high schools.” (This I agree with, I hate the “I have 10 million friends on Facebook” mentality as well)
“Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? . . . Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.”
The author also states that Peter Thiel, one of the founders of facebook, believes that “people are essentially sheep-like and will copy one another without much reflection,” and that “Facebook is a deliberate experiment in global manipulation.”

“Futhermore, (says Hodgkinson) have you Facebook users ever actually read the privacy policy? It tells you that you don't have much privacy. Facebook pretends to be about freedom, but isn't it really more like an ideologically motivated virtual totalitarian regime”

Yikes! Like I said, this guys HATES Facebook. He does make some points that I had never even cosidered though. I used to only find facebook annoying, now I’m worried about it taking over the world! I better look at something a little more positive before I barracde myself outside for fear of a rising tide of Facebookers coming to my online profile to advertise me to death!

Interestingly, I found this blog post by Jose Picardo who writes on Box of Tricks, which was written in response to Hodgkinson’s article. Picardo states that just because the founders and creators of Facebook may be evil, doesn’t mean Facebook itself is evil. He says:

“Just imagine what would happen if everyone suddenly stopped using products on the grounds that the personalities of the people who made them are questionable . . . We could go to our libraries and burn all the books ever published by those who were vile, wicked and loathsome in character. But we are not going to, because we can see how their work has a good use or can be put to a good use”. (Ok, this is a good point, I’m no longer worried about a Facebook invasion)

Picardo also points out that “there are a growing number of people . . . that can see how social networking sites, such as Facebook and other social media available online, can be used to improve communication and collaboration within an educational setting in a number of different ways.” But he doesn’t list or name any of these people or ways!! Hmmmm, discouraged, let’s try looking at the old standard: Will Richardson, he always has good ideas.

Oh lucky day, I found this article by Richardson: Footprints in the Digital Age from the November 2008 edition of Educational Leadership. In it he describes Networking as the “new literacy” that teachers and parents should be teaching their kids to use appropriately. He says:

“Whether we like it or not, social Web technologies are having a huge influence on students who are lucky enough to be connected . . . A recent National School Boards Association survey (2007) announced that upward of 80 percent of young people who are online are networking and that 70 percent of them are regularly discussing education-related topics. “ (Really, my students are discussing education-related topics, now I’m impressed!)

Richardson goes on to say that “one of the biggest challenges educators face right now is figuring out how to help students create, navigate, and grow the powerful, individualized networks of learning that bloom on the Web and helping them do this effectively, ethically, and safely. The new literacy means being able to function in and leverage the potential of easy-to-create, collaborative, transparent online groups and networks, which represent a "tectonic shift" in the way we need to think about the world and our place in it (Shirky, 2008). This shift requires us to create engaged learners, not simply knowers, and to reconsider the roles of schools and educators.”

This is something I can buy into. Although I may not like Facebook, or find it all that educationally engaging, as an educator I have an obligation to realize that my students are using it. If I want them to be safe, and use this network in an effective and ethical way, then I need to teach them how to do that. To do THAT I probably need to use the actual tool myself. This argument makes sense to me. Richardson also states that:

“Our students must be nomadic, flexible, mobile learners who depend not so much on what they can recall as on their ability to connect with people and resources and edit content on their desktops . . . Our teachers have to be colearners in this process, modeling their own use of connections and networks and understanding the practical pedagogical implications of these technologies and online social learning spaces. . . . These new realities demand that we prepare students to be educated, sophisticated owners of online spaces . . . More than ever before, students have the potential to own their own learning—and we have to help them seize that potential. We must help them learn how to identify their passions; build connections to others who share those passions; and communicate, collaborate, and work collectively with these networks. And we must do this not simply as a unit built around "Information and Web Literacy." Instead, we must make these new ways of collaborating and connecting a transparent part of the way we deliver curriculum from kindergarten to graduation.”

Amazing! Richardson can always be counted on to put things into educational perspective for me. Now I feel I have an responsibility to find a way to show my students that Facebook (or any other social networking site) can be a tool for education and not just a way to share photos and lame applications with their friends. Social networking can be like Classroom 2.0: like-minded people gathering to share ideas and experiences and learning from each other.

I wasn’t able to find any examples of Facebook being used by educators (I’m sure they’re out there, I just couldn’t find them!), but that’s not going to discourage me from trying to incorporate social networking when I return to work. I may start simple though, and maybe create a Ning for “All Those Who Are Sure Mrs. Robinson is the Greatest Teacher Ever!” I’m certain to have a large membership!

In the end I think it’s all about giving our kids ALL the tools they’ll need to succeed in the future. Who knows, maybe Facebook will grow into something completely different; maybe its users will forsake the advertisements and help it evolve. Or maybe, one of my students will create a new form of social networking that has a much nobler goal than advertising to the masses. Maybe, because I tried incorporating a social network into my teaching, one of my students will see a hidden potential and change the world. (I know I have high hopes for my students, but in this day and age, anything’s possible!)

In the end, I’m a little less skeptical about using Facebook with students and isn’t that what this class is really about? Opening our minds and eyes to the potential that exists with online tools? Mine have been opened, if only slightly!

Happy networking :)

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

An Unexpected Political Comment!

Hi all, I know that this blog is actually not a political one and most (all?) of my posts have been related to education and the learning I'm doing in my master's course, but one important thing I've learned about blogging is that it is a very powerful tool that enables me, an insignificant Canadian, to add my voice to the many around the world who are commenting about yesterday's US Presidential election.

I'm a Canadian, so I really have no say and what I think probably doesn't matter all that much, especially to those in power. But I feel this overwhelming need to sincerely congratulate Barack Obama on his win, and strangely (because I disagree with Republican politics at the very core of my being) to commend Senator McCain for an amazingly honest and gracious speech after concedeing his loss. I was even impressed (maybe too strong?) with President Bush's speech. It was also quite gracious and for the first time in his presidency he seemed (to me anyway) to speak with heartfelt intelligence and sincerity.

I also want to congratulate the American citizens who are celebrating a great moment in History. For a country that prides itself on being "the most powerful country in the world" its been a long time coming and this election has certainly made an impression on the world.

To President-Elect Barack Obama: May you continue to make positive impacts in the world and maybe help usher in a new era of peace and understanding that will change our world for the better.

Also to the American people, from one insignificant Canadian: I thank you for voting, its truly the only way to excersice your democratic rights. Your vote did count.

Christine :)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Super-Terrific Awesome-licious Educationally Stupendous Tool: VoiceThread

To be honest, I’m not really “into” writing my blog this week. I’d rather be playing with my wiki or planning lessons that incorporate podcasts or following up on trying to figure out how to create my own pathfinders and webquests or browsing Voicethreads for interesting examples to show my colleagues. What’s that you ask? Voicethread? What, huh? That’s what today’s blog is about: Voicethread, which is actually a great multimedia-sharing tool. When I say great I mean AWESOME! Plus its super easy to use! I can embed it on my class wiki or my blog, its easier to record ideas and thoughts than podcasting, it allows for uploading many file formats directly from your computer (pdf, word, PowerPoint, video, pictures, etc) and it’s totally interactive! Interested? Here’s an example of a Voicethread I found by Michelle Pacansky-Brock on how it’s the best tool ever:

See! The potential for implementation in a classroom or even collaboration with colleagues are endless. And remember I said it was easy! Just go to the Voicethread home page and everything you need to know is right there on that page. They even have a “tutorial” for each topic.

But what IS a Voicethread? Well it’s like a slide show of items you upload, for example, pictures or documents or video. But you have the option to interact with each slide of the slide show, using 5 different tools. You can narrate each picture using a simple microphone (no having to fiddle with audacity or the Levelator of iTunes!), or using a webcam you can comment through video, you can type text in to say something about each slide, you can doodle on the slides (I’ll come back to this one later) or you can call in a comment via the telephone (but only form the US currently!).

That’s not the best part though, NO SIREE! The best part is that once you put your Voicethread “out there”, others can also comment using the same 5 tools, so your slide show becomes the centerpiece of a collaborative discussion. Just think of the possibilities!
Ok, let’s talk logistics. It is very easy to upload all kinds of file types, as I’ve already said, and it’s also easy to create the slideshow part of the Voicethread. But it’s also quite easy to add comments and control who is seeing and commenting on your Voicethread. You have the option to make your Voicethread private, so only those you invite can see it and comment. You also have the option to moderate (or preview) comments before they are available for the world to see. So that covers pretty much all of my worries about student use. The teacher can screen who is seeing and who is commenting, as well as the comments themselves. Also the students cannot see each others comments until the moderator allows them to be seen, which allows the teacher to ensure all comments are both applicable and appropriate. Voicethreads can even be exported to an MP3 player (for a cost). I was able to upload a bunch of pictures, reorder them, comment on each one using my microphone and post it to my blog in about 10 minutes! I said it was easy.

Just for a second, let’s talk about the doodle feature. This feature essentially allows you to draw on the file you uploaded (in any colour you choose), while you are commenting. For an example of this (and Voicethread in general) see my Voicethread My Wedding Day, which is posted below this post. I am able to point out people as I talk about them, I’m able to point out items, draw diagrams, and even make silly faces if I want, all while I am commenting. This is a great feature to use science or even math (or any subject for that matter!)

I was going to talk about all the possibilities of this tool (there are soooooo many), but I thought I’d show you instead. Here is a Voicethread where a poem is analyzed:

Here is an example of using a document in Voicethread. This is an awesome idea because I often hand out assignments and explain them to my students by adding information or anecdotes to help them understand what I’m asking for. This tool would allow me to do this and record it and then embed it on my class wiki for all my students to see and listen to whenever they needed. They could also leave questions using the comment feature.

Here is an example of a math lesson where the students watch the lesson and then try it themselves using the doodle feature:

Here is an example of map use:

Here is an example of a book review by students:

And here is an example of a possible Lab Report assignment:

See, isn’t this tool awesome! And the possibilities are so immense! Not only could I use this tool in a multitude of ways, but it’s so easy to use that my students could use it to create just as easily, and then they can embed their assignments on the class wiki. But again I also see the possibility for Professional Development with a collaborative group of teachers. Imagine if a school Teacher-librarian created a monthly or biweekly Voicethread on Library services available for staff and students and then sent it out in an email. What a great advocacy tool!

(I’m starting to see a trend in all the tools we’ve learned to use. Not only are all these tools great for teaching and learning, but they’re also great tools for teacher-librarians to use to promote the collaborative nature of their jobs. Plus, having a teacher-librarian in a school that knows all these tools would be such a powerful thing that teachers may be enticed to use the teacher-librarian more.)

In my “search for what the pro’s think” I found that The Women of Web 2.0 (WOW2) used a Voicethread last year to create a tribute to Vicki Davis who was a co-founder of WOW2, but who decided to “retire” from the WOW2 podcasts. They then embedded this Voicethread in a whole wiki and had educators from all over add to the wiki and the Voicethread to say thanks to Vicki for all her work! What a great way to showcase the collaborative nature of both wikis and Voicethreads.

I also found this example of a teacher (Mr. Warner) blogging about his experience using Voicethread with his class: Using Voicethread to Develop Empathy Skills, as well as this Wiki dedicated to Voicethreads in education: Voicethread for Education Wiki and this ning (also dedicated to Voicethreads in Education) Voicethread for Educators. In this blog post by will Richardson, he shows an example of how a teacher used Voicethread to showcase her learning from a conference and then share it with her colleagues. The really cool thing is that the teacher invited actual presenters from the conference to comment on her Voicethread!

So even though I wasn’t REALLY in the mood for blogging today, I just had to tell you all about the super-terrific awesome-licious educationally stupendous tool Voicethread. (I guess I’m a little excited about it!)

Happy Voicethreading (is that even a word? Such bad grammar on this blog, who writes this thing anyway . . .)

Benny the Ferocious

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Serious Talk About Wikis

Ok, I’m getting serious for this post. No goofy anecdotes about my dog (who just ate my daughter’s food wrapper in what I can only assume is a collaborative effort between my husband, my dog and my kids, to get my attention and make me clean up the basement that has completely gone to heck since I discovered wikis). No silly amusing side conversations with myself (Umm, I don’t think that’s going to go over very well, Christine). No funny business, just serious academic discussion about how TOTALLY AWESOME WIKIS ARE!

Oops, got a little excited there, sorry, back to being serious . . .

This week I did everything in the “correct” order (I know, totally out of character for me!). I read Chapter 4 of Will Richardson’s book, and then I followed the trailfire left by our illustrious instructor, Joanne. I could barely contain my excitement. It was like discovering the Lost City of Gold for me. Since the beginning of this class, no . . . since before the class even began. Since I knew I was enrolled in a technology related course, I have been trying to find something that I could use as a classroom “website”. I put quotations around the word website mostly because at the time I began my search, I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and so that’s what I thought I was looking for. Boy was I wrong.

Let’s back up a bit. I’m a share-er (I know this isn’t a word, just bare with me. Boy, I’m not good at curbing the crazy self-talk am I?). I share everything with colleagues (well no one knows my pin number or what size pants I wear, but I do share most of my professional self . . . yes I know: curb the crazy). I am constantly offering up ideas and resources to colleagues, parents, students, admin, friends and just about anyone I think can use it or benefit from it. Its not that I think all these people can’t live without my help. I just know that when I first started out, I was so thankful for all the help I got from my teaching partner. I figure, if I’ve already done it, why not pass it along so someone else can make use of it too? I mean we’re busy enough without having to always reinvent the modem. So naturally I also love to collaborate with fellow teachers on everything from single lessons to whole integrated units to running in-services or to facilitating committee meetings.

But when it came to my quest for the perfect Web 2.0 tool for me to use with my class, I just kept coming up disappointed. I thought maybe this blog would be a great thing to use, then I discovered that I can’t upload and post word documents (see my previous posts on this topic!) among other obstacles. Why oh why couldn’t I find a great web resource that would allow me to continue my sharing and collaborating ways? Then I discovered wikis. Yep wikis! Now that’s what I’m talking about!

In fact, I got so excited about the collaboration possibilities, I actually created two separate wikis (using two different wiki providers! I’ll get to that later, I promise. . . ) With maybe a third wiki a possibility (and maybe a fourth for a staff professional development I would love to do for my school on all this awesome tech stuff I’m learning!) Maybe a little over the top, you might say. But WAIT! Let me explain. Each of my wikis has a distinct purpose and use and very different audiences.

Firstly I decided to use PBWiki, because everything I looked at or read said it was super easy and I liked the idea of being able to control the privacy and security of each page. That way I could create non-editable pages to provide information and still have editable pages that my students could use. (At least that was originally my thinking. But as usual, the tool did not live up to my expectations, but I’m getting ahead of myself . . .)

Because of the collaborative nature of the tool and also because of the video Joanne provided in her trailfire (Wiki’s in Plain English) I was immediately inspired to use a wiki to help we with my “Big Project” in my other course (EDES 540). The project involves me working in collaboration with the Teacher-Librarian of a high school to create an advocacy plan of action, in which we aim to increase collaboration between the TL and the teachers of the school. There’s more to it, but that’s that course and this is this course, so let’s just stay on topic!

So here is my first wiki: All was going according to plan, until I began creating a page that I wanted to limit security on (specifically the “Services for Teachers” and “Services for Students” pages because I wanted those to be editable by me and the TL, but no one else, whereas, I wanted full access for two other pages). What I discovered is that the awesome feature that PBWiki advertised as being so great for educators is actually a feature that you have to pay for (if you’ve been reading my posts you know how much I hate the idea of paying for a tool that I can get for free from somewhere else, especially when its touted as “free” for educators). Unless you sign up for a “contest” to “win” a free upgrade (for only a year) by sucking other unsuspecting educators and friends into signing up for a PBWiki account. I just think that’s a little despicable. But I had done all that work, so I figured that wiki would be fine for the purpose of collaborating with my colleague on the action plan, and if she wanted me to set up the Library wiki (see my wiki if you’re confused), I could copy those pages into a new wiki somewhere else at a later date. Still, it’s quite frustrating (ARGGG!)

So then I went back to Wikispaces, where I had originally thought about going, but was enticed by the FALSE ADVERTISING of PBWiki to abandon. This is where I created my classroom wiki that I hope to use on a regular basis upon my return to work in January. Here it is:
This wiki will be a place for me to keep administrative type stuff (in pages only editable by me) like class policies and course outlines and class notes and assignments. The reason for using a wiki for this is simple, its simple. No really, its so easy to update my policies from year to year, change a due date if my class has successfully lobbied for a postponement, and upload class notes on a daily basis in literally seconds. It’s also a way for parents (and students) to stay in touch and find out more about me and my beliefs about teaching and learning. But . . . (here’s the BEST PART!) it will also be a place where my students can collaborate on all sorts of online projects (which I haven’t fully developed yet, but I have so many ideas . . .), link up to pathfinders and webquests I will create for them (which I would really like to learn how to do in the 2nd half of this course Joanne: HINT HINT), store links to their online projects for their parents to visit at student-led conference time, and even maybe help me in the creation of a respectable virtual library for our school! (After last week’s assignment I’m still reeling at how bad our school’s site is!)

The great thing about having set up two wikis, is that now I can compare them. For anyone wondering about the differences: they are virtually identical in their ease of use and interface. Both have limited options to customize the look of the page, but with the ability to change colour and theme, Wikispaces wins on this one. Both have great security features, and if PBWiki just gave these features to teachers without the games, they would definitely win out on the security issue. But again Wikispaces wins because they GIVE AWAY free educator accounts with no strings attached, and no having to suck friends in to get it either. They also offer a function that allows you to “lock” a page so no one but the organizer can change it (which is virtually the same as PBWiki’s security for each page feature). The editing on both is easy, but I’d say that PBWiki has a better format for editing (PBWiki has an undo button, which would definitely be an asset for Wikispaces to add). Both providers make it easy to upload all file types (even word doc, pdf, jpeg, just about anything you can think of), directly from your desktop. That’s right, no having to upload to the net first! (I knew it didn’t have to be that hard!) So you see, there really are not that many differences and if I wasn’t jaded by the false advertising, I’d say it really didn’t matter which site you used!

The best uses of wikis I’ve seen so far are all of Vicki Davis’. She has a class wiki (which is a great example for me follow), and special wikis for special projects (like Digiteen which I will use as a resource with my students, Horizon Project and Flat Classroom, which I will follow this year and may think about trying next year, maybe. Or maybe I’ll find my own great book for inspiration and start my own worldwide project!) There are obviously many many wikis on the web and I have only seen a few, but I am still really impressed by Ms. Davis and her use of online tools. Another example of wiki use is Joyce Valenza’s Links for Teachers which can be accessed off of her virtual library. This wiki is simply a list of good links under various topics. This is quite a useful site, even though its really rather simple. Another wiki I came across was teacher librarian wiki which is also run by Joyce Valenza and also has some very good links, but unfortunately it is unfinished (as most wikis usually are I suppose, but this one has pages that haven’t been updated for years!). I also came across these interesting wikis: Alice Yucht Wiki, Teach Library, Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki, and for something a little wierder: Obsolete Skills Wiki.

In my search for some “research” on the subject of wikis. I cam e across this article in The Cronicle from July 15, 2005. In it a Professor’s foray into wiki use is described. I mention this because one of the ideas presented was very interesting:

“On the wiki that Mr. Phillipson set up for the course, John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" appears not as an old war horse, but as a hot topic of conversation. By clicking on an assortment of key phrases sprinkled throughout the poem's text, visitors can link to students' ruminations on the language's imagery and its import.”

I had never thought about posting a story or poem and having students respond to it by highlighting specific sections of text and creating a new page where they discuss their thoughts on that specific section. Really cool idea! This article also explains that the professor involved set some important guidelines for his students, mainly that they could not delete another student’s work and they had to post with usernames (no anonymous comments). The professor said that “those restrictions are necessary to keep a wiki focused on scholarship, not name-calling.” I complete agree and will definitely incorporate those rules into my classroom use of the wiki.

The article goes on to say:

“A key language of the wiki is the hyperlink: Sites expand when users select a piece of text from an existing page and create a new page about that term. As a wiki grows, these networks of links become more labyrinthine. And concepts like authorship and organization take a back seat to the exchange of ideas, at least in theory. The ideal wiki is "a group of serious people working out a way of looking at things," says M.C. Morgan”

I knew wikis were serious buisness.
(I think you can be serious and crazy at the same time, though!)