Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflecting on the Web 2.0 course

Since 1986 when I first starting teaching, my brain has taken a sabbatical in the summer. I've done some short pro-d workshops, but have not taken a class in 23 years.  I enrolled for this class with mixed feelings, Throughout my years of teaching, I've come to know myself better as a learner, and I was excited about getting to be a student. Our home on Cortes does not have internet service, so I was a little concerned about how I would 'keep up.' I use technology in my classroom and consider myself capable, but not yet competent, so I was unsure of how I would manage the course load without the tech. support that I can access at school. Overall, the experience has been worthwhile and illuminating. 

My biggest stumbling block was not with the actual course, but with my internet accessibility. I found myself frustrated knowing I could be working on my class if I had internet at home, but only being able to work on it when I planned it in advance and went to work. It was only during a week I spent in San Diego doing a workshop when I had wi-fi in my hotel room, that I realized what I was missing. I feel I lost what is probably the most rewarding part of taking a class on line which is the flexibility to work on it anytime. I would constantly write myself notes and reminders so that when I was working, I'd remember all of the things I'd thought of when I couldn't work. It also got annoying when I posted a blog, then found more information a day or two later that would have been fabulous to include. It became easier when I printed off some of the resources, and typed my blogs off line, prior to posting. Things I sorted out as the course progressed. Although the lack of time for thorough research at first exacerbated my frustration, I soon became philosophical and realized that although it wasn't going to improve my mark, I was still learning.

As Steven Lee pointed out in Coming of Age, we learn best when we actively construct knowledge during group social interaction and collaboration.

I have been running weekly tutorials in my class for several years now and did not need to be convinced about the power of collaboration in learning. My experiences in this course reaffirmed that yet again. I began by collaborating with my daughter as I wasn't entirely comfortable with signing up onto the various technologies.

As m knowledge and comfort level of the web technologies expanded I found myself preferring to do things on my own. Something I know occurs when I teach. You have to provide scaffolding and support in order to allow students to gain knowledge and expertise.

 Reading my classmate's blogs and discussion entries, I was very comforted to know that others were going through the same frustrations and highlights as I was. Knowing that I was not alone made me feel better about what I was doing, and like I really was part of a class rather than a student in limbo. Some of their findings are things I will use later such as the internet safety article by Shariff Shaheen and the 100 best blogs for librarians. 

Being able to ask questions and receive timely answers added to my feeling of being connected. It was not as rewarding as a face to face discussion as I would often think of more questions which I would have asked in a conversation, but felt like I was being too picky when typing out a whole new response on line so didn't bother. A fault in me as a learner.

Once I sorted out the way the eclass page was set up, and how to access page 2 and 3 of the WebCT/Blackboard, life became easier as well. I missed the first discussion because I had not figured out all of the eclass page yet. My advice to other students would be to carefully go through the entire eclass site. It also took me a long time to sort out the U of A library, and I'm still not clear on how to find certain items. My own lack of technology knowledge was the most frustrating part.

The most rewarding part, was the amount of new information I received. It was overwhelming at times, and my first order of business once this course ends is to sort through all of my notes, check all the things I made notes to check, read all the things I bookmarked and delete all the things I know I won't use. My paper file is a jumbled mess of notes and to do items that I need to take time to arrange. Once all of my personal information is organized, I want to make a Web 2.0 overview for my colleagues so that they can look over it and then ask about any thing that interests them so we can work together to use it. I will also let them access my blog, so they can see what I did this summer. My district is doing three pro-d days prior to the start of the school year, and in one workshop a librarian from an adjoining district is doing a Web 2.0 overview so hopefully that will also inspire some teachers to learn more.

I have all sorts of plans for specific things I want to do with the technologies we've learned. For myself, the pro-d available through blogs and nings is the most exciting aspect. I will also try more twitter to give it a fair chance. For my students, I am hoping to use wikis for increased collaboration and blogs for journal entries. For my colleagues, I would like to increase our ability to have meaningful discussions and collaborate more probably using wikis and blogs to start. For the library, I want to encourage more use of web 2.0 technologies for effective research, including checking through virtual libraries, and also teach students about bookmarking and RSS feeds. For my school, I am going to learn more about our district technology policy and work with our technology expert to create lessons that help teach appropriate internet behaviour for our students.

One of my biggest fears coming into this course was the security issue.  I  agree with Miguel Guhlin who said the act of use casts out the fear of change. It has. I now see that Will Richardson was right in saying that we fear them (Web technologies) because we don't know how to use them. My fear has diminished. Richardson also states that it is imperative we be able to teach our kids how to use them effectively and appropriately because they don't have models to follow. We can't do that if we don't learn how. I have seen what is available and the type of safety precautions that are out there,  and will continue to explore and use the Web 2.0 technologies, sharing with others as I become more comfortable and when I see opportunities for the technologies to have a purpose and make our busy lives easier.

My brain was not on sabbatical this summer. It was engaged and working overtime. I found myself getting more and more comfortable in front of a computer screen, and I am starting the year with all sorts of new, exciting and helpful tools to use. I need to make sure I approach this carefully and slowly so that I don't give up in frustration.   It has indeed been a worthwhile and illuminating endeavour.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sharing Web 2.0 

This upcoming year will be one of many new beginnings for me. I am not changing schools, but my role within the school will be significantly different. For the past 20 odd years, I have been a classroom teacher, and every year, the assignment and/or grade levels have varied, so I have never felt stagnant or in a rut, but this year I'm stepping out of the classroom. I am going to be the teacher-librarian in the school with 4 blocks of library time in which to ensure that the library is a vibrant, up-to-date, welcoming useful part of the school and the librarian a helpful, collaborative teacher and colleague. I am also taking on a one block teacher leader position in which I hope to work collaboratively with teachers in our school to ensure that our assessment and teaching practices are consistent and in line with what works best for students. As well, I'll be in the classroom for three blocks teaching. 
 As I reflect on all of the Web 2.0 tools, and decide which one I am most likely to share with colleagues, I find it difficult to choose just one, and certainly hope to introduce more than one throughout the course of the year, but to start?  What is going to be the most valuable for teachers and students in my school? 
Carol Simpson in her blog, The School Librarian's Role in the Electronic Age, notes that 'new more student-centred teaching methods, requires that the librarian venture from the library to collaborate with teachers and administrators.' Charlotte Danielson in her section on Teachers as Leaders (The Many Faces of Leadership, September 2007, Vol. 65, #1, pages 14-19) concludes that 'in the most successful schools, teachers supported by administrators take initiative to improve school wide policies and programs, teaching and learning, and communication.' 
As the largest part of my job next year will be collaboration: with students, with teachers and with administration, the tool that best comes to mind is wikis because 'the social nature of the wiki makes it ideal for group projects.'(Laura K. Booth,"Old School", Meet School Library 2.0)  
During the Web 2.0 course, I started a book review page on a wiki. I want to continue with it in the fall. I'm going to start by spending time going over my wiki with teachers on staff. I want to encourage teachers to have their students add to the wiki based on the reading they have done. As I also teach an English 9 course, my students will start by each writing up a book that they read over the summer. This will give us a base. I will also invite students who frequent the library to put their reading onto the wiki. It is my hope that as teachers begin their literature circles or are looking for novels for sustained silent reading, they will refer students to the sight to help them choose a book. Throughout the year, students can continue to create new reviews, or add to old if someone else has read the book, or perhaps, we publish the best from each class on the wiki, but all students can look through it as it builds and see what other students in the school are reading, and if there is anything that catches their eye. 
The collaborative nature of the wiki means we will have constantly changing 'reviews' and hopefully build up a sort of in-school wikipedia for books that are being read by students in the school. Clay Burell who has done collaborative work with students both within a school and on a more global scale, found that 'for teens collaboration in a building is far more engaging than around the globe,' so having them start by collaborating on a school based wiki makes sense.  I don't foresee much difficulty getting contributors as the students are empowered to become authors in their own area of interest. (John Bidder, pg. 87, Coming of Age.) 
I still need to address concerns I have about confidentiality, but I think I've found a way to get everyone exposed to wikis and contributing with a privacy setting that removes the risk of outside influences. Students will also create user names, so they are not posting personal information on line. Because students who want to contribute will have to sign up first, and do it through the librarian (me) or perhaps through their classroom teacher, we won't be getting any unknown input, yet everyone can access the information. 
 I plan to share with teachers all of the tools I've used throughout the Web 2.0 course, and give them the examples of things I created. I'm certain other staff members have areas of expertise within the read, write web, and I hope to find out what they are and encourage them to share.  I plan to continue blogging, and to use other people's blog postings as discussion instigators, so hope to lure people to the edublogosphere in that way. Using the wiki as a working example in a whole school setting, where I can work with my colleagues to encourage their students to input information, and to get other students to use the information provided to help them pick a book, is a simple, useful, collaborative endeavour for all.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blogs, RSS Feeds and Professional Development

"A world of learners is waiting to connect and engage with you." So says Miguel Guhlin on his website Engaged Learners Corner. As educators we have to stay constantly on top of new ideas and changes occurring within our realm. The same principles that apply for why blogging is good for students, apply to why blogging is good professional development for educators.

The information available through edublogs is mind boggling. There is a world of professionals, all sharing their thoughts and ideas. They discuss interesting pieces of writing, reflect on their work and share their experiences. It is like attending on line pro-d workshops anytime you want on just about any topic you want.

Well written blogs provide countless resources involving up to the minute information. The BCTLA blog (BC Teacher Librarians) is full of information about upcoming events pertaining to librarians in British Columbia. It has links to best practice videos and a forum for discussion. I can see myself referring to it regularly in the upcoming year.

Blogs like Beyond School by Clay Burell where I linked to a great weblog rubric and a lesson idea on broadcasting, as well as Edublog Insights by Anne Davis, have countless interesting pieces I'd like to sit down and read. (and I will!) Davis' most current entry discussed a question asked by someone named Sara. "Can a blog that is mostly public be a space for the meaning making that happens prior to drafting a manuscript?" Davis answers with a resounding yes and goes on to add "blogs can extend learning and facilitate transfer of learned concepts." Isn't that what professional development is all about?

Writing your own blog, makes you reflect on your teaching and analyze what you are doing. Teachers who try new things in their classes and post blogs on their experiences such as Darren Kuropatwa and Stacy Baker, both mentioned in Will Richardson's Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, not only experience their own pro-d by reflecting on their teaching and their students' learning, but help others as they can read the posts and learn from their experiences. When responses are written, and a discussion ensues, the learning becomes that much more powerful.

Writing your own blogs will help you to reflect on your own practice. You are provided with an audience for your thoughts and you are able to interact with them. Sharing ideas and discussing with colleagues is what most teachers like best about pro-d opportunities, and it is available on line.

Blogging helps us to make sense of the internet world. Following blogs of technology 'experts' allows us to keep abreast of what is new, what tools are out there, and how they can help us in our schools. Stephen's Lighthouse has links to all of his articles written for his Multimedia and Internet @ Schools column. His recent entries list has numerous articles that look worth reading. Miquel Guhlin's blog, Around the Corner,  includes a lot of discussion on a wide variety of topics. His most recent discusses a Washington Post article on teaching and technology. I looked at others on Google Apps and wiki solutions. The part I liked most on his site was the interaction between himself and others. It was like listening in on a great conversation.

As a teacher, I am constantly asking my students to work on their reading and writing skills, but I get few opportunities to work on my own. Blogging improves reading and writing skills. It teaches us how to sift through information more quickly and easily. We have to read critically, evaluate for accuracy, analyze the work, reflect on it, and perhaps respond to it. Things we constantly ask of our students, but rarely have time to do for ourselves unless we are taking part in pro-d activities.

Blogging encourages us to be organized and clear. We have to deal with never ending information and we learn how to manage the enormous amount of information more effectively for ourselves and for our students. RSS feeds help us to keep the information organized, and help us to keep on top of current information. As John Evans states in his article, "What Are RSS Feeds and Why Haven't I Heard About It?" (Coming of Age, pages 25-28) RSS feeds are good pro-d because they are time saving, provide up to the minute information and are great for current events.

I joined Google reader when I created my blog, and put all my classmates' blog url's on it. I love the way the first few lines of each blog appear, so that I can read the start, and then decide whether to read on or not. It has made it very easy to follow everyone's writing.

I had not put any other blogs on my Google Reader, but decided to try moving some from my Diigo bookmarks. I did not have a lot of success doing this, but am slowly sorting it out. I did have success using the search in Google reader and then subscribing to the blog. I tried it with a keyword (bctla) and with a url ( I feel far more comfortable with the Google Reader set up than with Diigo, and although I know they have different functions, can see myself using Google reader more and more, unlike Diigo.

Why are blogs and RSS feeds good professional development? They provide a medium for increased access and exposure to quality information. We become connected to a world of educators and are able to tap into their expertise. The connective nature encourages us connect with other educators and gain deeper insight through responses and feedback. Blogs encourage us to reflect on our own practices and learning and RSS feeds keep us organized. Only by reading what others think, reflecting on what we do, learning from our triumphs and failures and honing our skills can we continue to develop professionally. Blogs allow us to do just that.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Everyone seems to be a-twitter over twitter. In the Vancouver Sun newspaper several weeks ago there was an article extolling the power of twitter in getting up to date information about the Okanagan fires not only to people who might be travelling in the area, but also to keep news agencies updated as twitter was faster than any other tool they had. In USA Today on July 29th there was another article about how the British Government is now encouraging its employees to use twitter and has published a 20 page set of guidelines for its use. The article went on to say that the British and US governments are both actively using twitter to keep voters and constituents informed. President Obama has a twitter stream managed by the Democratic National Committee which encourages its over 1.8 million followers to tweet their congress members about political issues. Another twitter account 'promotes official government news.' Back in Britain, various government agencies tweet their activities and the public can follow the daily movements of their ministers. Canada, Denmark, Israel and Spain also have government twitter presences.

According to Will Richardson in his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, twitter is a 'running river of conversation and ideas,' where you can 'share, connect and create with many of like minds and interests.' Soren Gordhamer says the main focus of twitter is to discover and share news, but he adds it can also tell you a lot about the person who is tweeting. Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson claim you can get 'great nuggets of information on tweets.' It appears to be a fairly simple information gathering tool where people are encouraged to share their ideas and thoughts with others. In the article comparing facebook and twitter, by  Gordhamer, most responders who used twitter really liked it, although a few did not.

I asked a friend what she thought of Twitter, and she said it was 'too much,' she didn't like it. My time on twitter left me with the impression it is great for extroverts. People who are extremely social and feel they have a lot to share. They are the people that you love to have at a party because they like to talk and they like to listen. They are great conversationalists.  As Michael Martine points out in his article Twitter is Like Sex , to truly appreciate the twitter experience, you have to give as well as get. The best people to follow are those that provide cool links, humorous tidbits and lively conversation. They have to be very social and really enjoy interacting with all sorts of people. 

So what does this mean to a teacher-librarian in a school setting? Will Richardson warns in his book that Twitter can be 'too wild west for most school situations,' which makes me think that it is better to use for connecting with other professionals and using it for professional development, more than in a classroom setting. Miguel Guhlin suggests that Twitter be used to build a professional learning network, or a support group. Twitter can provide inspiring projects and keep you in touch with like minded people. All of these seem like great ideas.

Twitter provides all sorts of tools to help manage all the tweets. Twitterific catches updates, Tweetscan allows you to search the tweets that occur in a day. Also, you can subscribe your results to an RSS feed so that critical tweets can come to you. Charles Arthur in his Guardian article, How To Make the Most of Twitter,(trailfire/marks/295576) lists numerous 'helpful' sites for sharing, summarizing,and visualizing your tweets. Twitter was quite easy to join, and I liked using the search button. After signing on to Twitter, I accidentally added a 'celebrity' list of people to follow. I went to the help section to try to learn how to delete them, but only found a lot of other people's tweets asking the same question, and no answers. I am going to continue trying twitter for a while, but thus far I'm not sold on it.

I checked out which is a permission only learning environment and found a lot of ads for Godaddy. When I tried to explore the page further, it went to the Godaddy homepage. I decided not to search further. 

Some educators have used twitter successfully for journal entries and recording ideas. Michael Guhlin also notes that it could be used to develop media literacy and be used as a collaborative tool, but I can't see myself doing this. I searched 'teen' on my twitter page and came up with the 'conversation' about teens using twitter, or not. As I read some of the entries, I noticed they were done in that lovely new 'language' used to communicate quickly online. As an English teacher, I object to the short cuts used in these communications as they often transfer into my English class. It is not something I would encourage ever, unless it was in developing their own note taking style. 

As I read through Michael Guhlin's twitter page, I found a link to his article 'Tear Down The Walls? Twitter in the Classroom' , in which he states he is 'not convinced that Twitter is ready for use in grade 3-12 classrooms.' I have to say that I am of like mind. It is too open and at present, am not sure about privacy or security. I could see following a specific 'conversation' with them,but I can't see letting them use it individually. For the moment, I will follow a few conversations, and throw out a few questions to see what I get. Then I'll see.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Social Networking

Everywhere we look, people are communicating using technology. You see people constantly on their phones, or texting, or emailing, or checking one of their many social networking sites such as myspace, facebook or twitter. The world is on an instant connection to someone, somewhere all the time. In my opinion, all of this social networking is making us lose the ability to connect socially face to face, but that is an argument for a different time. For now, I'll look at some social networking sites, specifically facebook and nings, to see how effective they can be in the classroom.

I found an interesting piece by Soren Gordhamer the author of Wisdom 2.0 entitled

"When Do You Use Twitter versus Facebook?"  He points out that a growing number of people use more than one social networking site, but that they use each one for a different purpose. He compares both twitter and facebook, but as I'll be discussing twitter later this week, I'll only report on his findings regarding facebook. According to Gordhammer, facebook is primarily seen as a tool for communicating with those you know well. It provides different options for holding discussions. Facebook enables you to have sustained conversations or you can have an instant chat if the other person is online.Of the 136 people who responded to Gordhamer's piece, an overwhelming amount agreed that facebook was for communicating with friends. These findings were reiterated through a panel discussion held at the University of British Columbia.

In February of this year, the University of British Columbia held the first Teaching and Learning with Technology Speaker Series. It's topic was the use of facebook for educational purposes. Michael Wong, the  Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the U.B.C. Office of Learning Technology reported on the session in his estrategy update. Although both weblogs and wikis are used in classes, the forum was to discuss the value of using facebook. What he learned from the panel and the student discussion was that facebook is used by students to talk to, and stay connected with, other students and of course, their friends. They use it to raise awareness of issues, mentor and/or advise other students, hold on-line discussion groups and receive information updates. As the discussion progressed, the issue of requiring students to join facebook for a class arose. There was concern around privacy and the disclosure of personal information as the server is in the United States.  It was felt that expecting students to subscribe meant asking them to join something that they might, or might not, fully understand, and if they weren't careful with privacy settings, could disclose their personal information to strangers. Students need to be able to preserve anonimity and, according to Wong, this is not possible on facebook. The Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian, Sheryl Adams, said she attempted to use it with students but found it did not work for a student/professional relationship. Facebook was more suited to a peer/peer relationships.

Facebook can of course be used by interest groups focussed on specific subjects. I read some very interesting discussion on the facebook page of the International Society for Technology In Education (Iste) which dealt with students, classrooms and the use of technology. This link was on their Ning site. I explored numerous Nings and found all of them to have interesting items to read. Nings seem to focus on specific interests, whether it be sports, social issues, entertainment,education, or....

The teacher librarian ning started by Joyce Valenza opens with a great map showing where everyone on the ning can be found. It allows you to ask questions, post comments, and post blogs. It provides links to other associated nings. The education ning I found, had a teacher who used nings in the classroom, asking a question about reusing it with new students without having to start a whole new ning.  It had only just been posted, but I'm going to return to it to read what response he gets. The education ning also had information about how to get a ning for students that would not have any ads. As I went through the various sites, I  found a wealth of useful information and found myself wanting to respond to numerous posts. Of course, in order to respond, you have to belong to the ning and I am hesitant to join too many, so rather that jumping in all at once, I've joined the teacher librarian one, but I'm going to follow a few more to see which ones best suit me and my needs before joining too many. I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and informative much of the information was to me.

In exploring both of these social networking sites, facebook and nings, I constantly reflect back to my question of how these tools can help me to create an enriching, safe learning environment for students. I have come to realize that ignoring sites is not an answer. We have to model to students how to use all of the internet safely and responsibly. I know some coaches use facebook to inform students about practices etc. I know others use facebook to create profiles of potential guest speakers. I could see myself using specific facebook discussion pages such as those on the Iste site as readings to start of a socratic seminar or to provide information to help a student with specific research. This would help to show them that facebook can be for more than just 'chatting and sharing' with friends. I cannot see using a classroom facebook site as I agree with both  Gordhamer and Wong that it is more suitable for friends or colleagues and not for student-teacher relationships. 

The nings I explored all got me very excited about the potential for my professional development and the ability for increased interstaff communication. I can see starting a ning within the school for teachers to share lessons, discuss best practice, assessment, and many other topics. As teachers  are so busy during the work week, we rarely get into the staff room to have these chats and a ning would be a great way for anyone wishing to take part to belong and have ongoing conversations when it suits them rather than when they see someone. It would aslo be a great place to put links to similar conversations happening elsewhere. The ability of the developer of the ning to have control over levels of viewability and membership would help to make others more comfortable sharing their views.

Alexandra Levit, a Wall Street Journal columnist, wrote about "How To Deal with Social Networking Overload." She talks about being clear in your purpose for using any specific site, creating boundaries, differentiating your presence on each and making it clear to others why you use it. I think it is really important that we start to do this. There are so many tools out there, and more seem to be available every day. We need to pick and choose what we use and how we use it, so that we create a balanced curriculum with different and exciting options for students, but we have to be careful not to spread ourselves to thinly and to ensure everything we do works to improve student learning.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The term mashup brings forth images of my husband's dinner plate where everything is lumped into an unappetizing mess. When I looked at mashups I saw that -yes - they are made from a mixture of different Web 2.0 tools, but unlike the dinner plate, the end result is very cohesive and well put together.

As I was on an airplane when I started my research, I began by reading the book, How To Do Everything with Web 2.0 Mashups by Jesse Feiler. From her I learned that mashups are a "dynamic combination of data from multiple sources or in multiple formats" where "the presentation enhances the information."(page xv) Mashups "synthesize the information so that everything is presented 'at once' rather than through numerous links." She went on to say this makes it much easier for the user as less time is wasted browsing through sites and everything is at your fingertips. It sounds great, but you still need to know what you are looking for and how to find it.

Mashups can be used to sell things, provide information, or create art. Fowler gives several examples of each use in her book. Everything from real estate sites complete with maps and house information, to advertisements and business presentations. The rest of her book became more technical as she discussed in detail how to create a mashup. She explains clearly and goes step by step, but it is intended for someone who is familiar with different scripts and API's, so I started to feel overwhelmed. I did get the sense that if I had lots of time, I could probably create a mashup from scratch using Google and Flickr.

Luckily for me, my plane landed and I was able to go on line to do more research. My first task was to google Voicethread and Animoto. Both home sites were great and to my intense relief showed me that others had done all the hard work outlined by Fowler and things were much more user friendly.

I went first to Voicethread . It calls itself a "simple tool for web collaboration where groups can have conversations that are collected and shared." As I looked through various examples, I realized it does just that. I looked at one site  that had numerous family photos and different people had commented on the specific photos. It was very easy to move from picture to picture and to zoom in on certain parts. The picture being discussed was in the centre, and small pictures or icons of the people who made comments were around the outside edge. To listen to what someone said, you simply clicked on their picture. Some people had recorded their comments: you can do this by phone, webcam or microphone. These you heard. Others had typed in their comments. These appeared as speech bubbles next to their pictures. Another example showed a child's drawing with an explanation spoken by the child. Various teachers, friends etc. had commented about the picture on the outside. This seems to me to be a great way for students to present something, and then get all types of feedback on it. Or, one could put in historic pictures or documents and students could add their comments. Much like a group discussion, but done on line and kept for others to share.

The other example  I looked at was created by an art history teacher for her students. It showed the interactive ability of voicethread in that, as she talked, her 'doodles' to highlight specific parts appeared on the painting. The lines disappear in 5-7 seconds, and she was also able to use different colours to show different things. Students responding were also able to make annotations. This would be awesome for any online course, or for specific lessons you know need visuals to be really clear. I think it would be great for students to create mini-lessons  and share with the class.

Voicethread has an education section which gives a long list of suggestions for how to use voicethread with students. It also claims to help students to find their 'voices'. I agree in that every time students present, they get better and learn more about themselves. I also like that it takes the onus off of them being 'up front and centre' when sharing their knowledge.

The best part about voicethread for me, is the accountable environment it has created. All accounts are private by default and all comments must be approved prior to being made available to others. The teacher who creates the site, controls who gets to edit, view or comment on a site. This is great for those who worry about child safety issues primarily because it eliminates 'bad' feedback or inappropriate comments that could hurt a student. The other part is that the 'creator' can decide to keep it private (among a chosen few) or go public so all can see. Although I believe in giving students control over their learning, I like the idea of the control on this site.

Animoto was quite different from voicethread. It is much flashier and promises to "bring your classroom to life in a magically easy way that grabs attention and creates a visual context."  It creates a polished end product rather than providing an interactive site like voicethread. I looked at several 'productions' and they were very polished. I saw it used by a student to create an anti-bullying video, a teacher provide a mini-lesson and another mini-lesson using a podcast. I can definitley see how these productions would grab the attention of most students. They are quick, flashy and have music. 

The trailfire article "Creating A Simple Library Video  with Animoto"  had lots of information although it was a bit overwhelming. However,  I decided to try to create a production. It was very easy to sign up and it walked you quickly through the steps. Animoto gives you options to download pictures, use your own from your computer, or use theirs. For simplicity, I used theirs. At first I had difficulty moving them around, but soon got the hang of it. I was told a 30 second short could have 12-15 pictures, but in reality, I could only get 9 in if I didn't want anything cut. It was easy to put in text, and I was glad to see that they limited your word count. Most students tend to put too much reading in their presentations. After your pictures are done, you select your music. Again, you can choose your own, or one of their selections. There was an error in saving my pictures, so I had to redo that part, but afterwards the computer put it all together. The end result left out some images, so I edited and reproduced. I saved it to my facebook page and it can be seen there.

Joyce Valenza in her article, "Announcing: Animoto for Education" says it is an easy way to grab attention, produce professional public relations products, archive events or visually showcase best work. She's right. People are always impressed by 'flash' and that is what Animoto delivers. She also points out that some people object to Animoto because the process does not encourage creativity or higher level thinking. To a certain extent that is correct. It did not take any critical thinking for me to produce my 30 s. short. I did however have to plan what I wanted to say, select the images I wanted and decide what music would best suit my message; so although I was not responsible for the final product, it was my creative input that provided the nuts and bolts that produced the end result.

I don't think anyone would want to have students rely on Animoto for all their assignments, but it is certainly appropriate for the type of work mentioned above. I mentioned it to a colleague at a workshop I am attending, and she loved the idea. I'm also going to share it with the teachers at my school in the fall.


As a teacher I can see how Animoto would be a great way for students to plan the content of a piece, such as the public service announcements my students did on sustainability last year. It is fabulous for when you want flashy results, but don't want students to spend forever creating them once they have decided on their content and shown their understanding. I can see more uses for voicethread, although again I'm not sure that it is more effective than a well organized small group discussion. I like the fact that it is more permanent however, and available to more than just the 'group' that would discuss around a table. I love the idea of using both forms, and perhaps trying some other mashups with Google maps, to help deliver curriculum to my students. You can create great lessons, share them with other staff, and have them collaborate to hone and improve them. Both tools definitely have a niche in our education system, but I still think we need to hang on to our old, conversational and presentational techniques as well. All things in moderation.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wiki Spaces

The concept of everyone working for the common good is certainly not new. Various groups throughout history have attempted to develop societies where everyone lets go of personal ownership and works for the betterment of all. Unfortunately, it hasn't always worked. Wikispaces, however, are showing that people from different societies can work together for the common good, without concern of ownership in a system based on a free market principal with no barriers to accessing and passing on of knowledge, where the users self regulate the information and misinformation can be corrected immediately. (Terry Freedman, page 85, Coming of Age). As with any utopian sounding system, there are those who doubt. John Bidder (page 87, Coming of Age) talks about how many distrust wiki due to its openness, while others worry that "anyone can amend information so contentious issues can be passed on as facts and inaccuracies can go undetected." (page 85, Coming of Age) Many teacher librarians worry about its reliability when 'experts' aren't in control of the information, but wiki is about so much more than just the information outcome. 

Both Freedman and Bidder discuss the positive learning outcomes for students. They both point out that Wiki empowers students to become specialists in their own areas. It encourages collaboration and teaches students how to work together; to discuss and question the validity and style of written material. " What is most important is not the source of information, but the pupil's ability to evaluate its plausability and accuracy using a range of techniques." ( Terry Freedman, page 85, Coming of Age) Because it is community driven, it builds teamwork, provides leadership opportunities and teaches students social interaction skills. (Freedman and Bidder, pages 85-88, Coming of Age) As I see it,  wikis give students ownership of their learning and make them into thinking contributors in the learning process rather than receptors of knowledge dished out by teachers. It also allows teachers to teach the necessary 'techniques' that develop critical thinking skills in students. It encourages collaboration and working towards greater knowledge rather that who gets the best mark. One difficulty I foresee in this from a teacher perspective is the assessment. I have long used group activities and collaboration in my classroom, but have never used those in formal assessments as you need to assess each individual on their own merits. For every wiki 'project', teachers will have to ensure they also create some type of assessment that allows for each individual to show their personal learning and understanding of the expected learning outcomes.

As I delved into the world of wiki, I explored numerous sites. I saw some very positive things, such as the wiki on Global Warming which was incredibly well laid out, clear in the explanation of the different aspects of the 'space' and offered great guidelines for anyone wanting to contribute to the site (by encouraging respectful behaviour.) The contents page explained how you could look things up, while the main page had all sorts of relevant, current information. There was a link to a community portal that was very welcoming and let you know what other sites required input. It was very sophisticated and easy to get around.

Another positive was the site created by a teacher for his students to collaborate on study notes.  The site was protected, but I looked at the study notes created for King Lear and the links that had been added and was impressed. It was a very simple site, but clearly useful for any student wanting to review. The beauty of it in my mind is that it encourages students to review material over and over. First they have to discuss what is important to put on the page, then they have to put the information in, then they re-read to edit, plus they reread again to see what others have added and they continue to discuss.

In my AVID 9 class, students are required to participate in self directed tutorials on a weekly basis. At times, tutors come down from the high school to help guide the tutorials, but at other times, no tutors are available and kids are on their own. I can see these wiki spaces being an excellent place for them to put in their Cornell notes on a given topic, where other students not in that specific tutorial, or students requiring the material at a different time of the year, could all contribute. Also, tutors could look at the material when they were available and add to the discussion. At the end of the year, everyone would have a great set of collaborative notes to help them prepare for their final exams. Actually, any group of students can produce any wiki, for anything they are studying. I've had my students create collaborative notes in Social Studies on paper that gets circulated, but the wiki would be a far more effective forum. My only concern, is getting enough lab time to give them adequate access to computers.

Unfortunately, I also came across numerous sites that had not been updated in several years. It seems to me that wikis need to be kept current. If wikis are about the sharing of knowledge and a site is not developing or growing with new information, then perhaps the information is better suited to a different medium. Some other wikis were extremely sophisticated and clearly targeted to an 'expert' group. One example of this type of wiki is Planet Math.  I tried searching through a few math terms I thought I was familiar with, thinking my AVID students might benefit in tutorials, but it was way over my head and it felt like you needed to belong to the ongoing conversation, and have a degree in mathematics, to really understand what was going on.

After visiting one of Joanne's trailfire links , I decided to attempt creating my own wiki. I decided to try the wikispaces link because I liked what Will Richardson had to say about them in his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts. (pages 55-69) He made it seem easy. Also,  two years ago I attended a presentation by a teacher who used wiki spaces and although my efforts then never really got very far, I remembered her enthusiasm. 

 I chose to set up a library site that my students will be able to use in the fall. It is called Phoenix Book Talk, and I'm hoping that interested students will sign up to log on and talk about the different books they are reading. Also, if any student wants suggestions for books to read, they will be able to go on the site and see what other students are reading and what they think of those books. It was really easy to do, and I had my daughter go in and sign up as a contributer. (I made it a protected site). It is still in its 'construction' stage, but I'm hoping that by September it will be an inviting site that many students will want to visit.

I'm beginning to understand why that teacher I heard two years ago was so excited about wiki spaces. I don't think that wikis should be used as a sole research tool, as students need to double check that the information is accurate, and no one should use only one source when researching. I also agree with John Bidder that students need guidance to truly experience and appreciate the power of a wiki space (page 88, Coming of Age), but with the ability to protect and manage what goes into one's 'space', and the ability to empower students in their learning journeys, I truly think we have created an idealistic, collaborative work environment.