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